HC Deb 24 May 1870 vol 201 cc1348-64

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to Horse Racing, said, that since he had placed his Notice of Motion on the subject on the Paper he had received a large number of letters, assuring him that the evils which attended on the sport of horse racing had spread more widely and much more deeply than he had any idea of. One letter which he had received was from a turf agent in times past, who had conducted many large money operations, and who stated that he had witnessed the ruin of hundreds of persons of all classes, and could tell of bankruptcies, robberies, suicides, and other ills, all arising from the habit of betting, as well as the rise to wealth of some of the greatest and most illiterate vagabonds. He had also had many letters, chiefly anonymous, abusing him for taking the step which he was now taking. In one of those letters—he would pass over all the personal abuse with which it opened—it was stated that it was, in fact, difficult for any one to define in what the evils of betting consisted; that in the opinion of the writer they were more imaginary than real, and that they existed in the minds only of prejudiced idiots, as thousands of persons were getting their living by betting. Now, his reason for bringing the subject before the House was precisely this—that thousands of people were getting their living by betting, just as thousands were getting their living by picking pockets openly. He would refer, in support of the view which he took, to a case which had happened within the last few months. It appeared, from the sporting newspapers, that at a race meeting at Chester—a very important meeting—a gentleman well known on the turf had a horse which was a favourite for an important race. That gentleman, it seemed, on arriving at Chester, communicated with persons interested in racing in the town his intention not to run his horse. When asked why he came to that resolution, he said he had not money enough on the race, that his price was £14,000, and that if he did not get that sum his horse should not run. There was no pretence of sport; but it was simply a case of speculative trading of a mischievous character. Now, that was a case which clearly showed, he thought, that betting was degenerating into a trade, and no one would maintain that it was a useful trade to the country. It was, however, said—"Why not leave the whole matter to the Jockey Club?"—and so far as he was concerned he should be glad to do so, if the Jockey Club of the present day were only like that of our fathers or grandfathers. The Jockey Club of 60 years ago were vigorous rulers of the national sport. They had turned out of their own body the highest Gentleman in the realm, the then Prince of Wales, and prohibited him from running his horses on the turf, on the simple suspicion that he had instructed his jockey not to win a race when he could have won. The jockey, whose name was Chiffney, published a pamphlet, in which he brought forward evidence to show that the accusation was untrue. He had not himself seen this work, which was so rare that a copy of it was, he believed, now worth something like £5. In it, however, Chiffney made a solemn declaration that he had not been instructed not to win, and that he had, in fact, done his best to win. But be that as it might, the Jockey Club, in former times, proceeded on mere primâ facie evidence, while the Jockey Club of our own day had not shown the same power of dealing with such matters. At the commencement of the reign of her present Majesty there were four Acts by which affairs relating to the turf were regulated. There were the Acts of Charles II., and of Anne; and, by the combined operation of those Acts, any person who lost more than £10 by betting on horse racing was empowered within three months to sue and recover that sum from the person who won it. If, after the expiration of three months, he did not so proceed, power was given to any common informer to proceed against the person who won the bet, and he was entitled to recover three times its amount together with the costs of the action. Besides the two statutes he had mentioned, there were two of the reign of George II. The first of these was the 13 Geo. II., by which it was enacted that no person but the actual owner could run any horse; that no person should run two horses in any race; and that no race should be run for a less stake than £50. Again, there was the 18 Geo. II., which provided that any person who either won or lost a sum of £20, on any one day, in betting should be liable to be sued by any person who might take the matter up, and that five times the amount might be recovered, either from the persons who lost, or those who won. For the alterations made in the law as it stood at the beginning of the present reign the Jockey Club were responsible. The first alteration took place in the third year of her present Majesty. In 1840 the Duke of Richmond of that day brought in a Bill, as the representative of the Jockey Club, to repeal the 13 Geo. II., and that Bill was passed. The result was, that within three years afterwards the whole country was filled with little races. Every second-rate town, where a publican found a spot to set up a racecourse, came to have its races for all sorts of small stakes. That was the commencement of the system which brought racing into the position in which it now stood. The Jockey Club appeared to have soon become alive to the mischief of the change, and in 1843 the Duke of Richmond, again as the representative of the Jockey Club, took very strong measures, for certain persons were ordered out of the racecourse at Goodwood to mark the sense in which the Jockey Club viewed their conduct. In answer to this decided declaration of hostilities, actions, varying from £5,000 to £120,000, were brought against gentlemen of the highest position in the country on account of Bets they had made—one of the Gentlemen, the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory), being at that moment in the House. He had no doubt that the result of these actions afforded great relief to the mind of the hon. Gentleman and his fellow-sufferers. The only one really brought to an issue was the one against the late Lord George Bentinck. That action was brought to recover three times the amount of a bet of £3,000 laid by the late Lord George Bentinck, and it would have gone hardly against him had it not been that the late Mr. Gully, then a Member of that House, appeared as a witness, and stated that the bet had been made with him instead of with the person whose name was mentioned in the indictment. Before the other actions could be brought to trial the then House of Commons decided to interfere, and a short Act was passed in 1844, suspending all legal process while inquiry into the matter was made. A Committee of both Houses sat, and the result of their deliberations was the Act of the 8 & 9 Vict., which was the present law for regulating horse racing. By that Act the whole of the statutes on the subject were swept away, a tabula rasa was made, and all the notice that the statute took of the subject was in the provision that money lost in betting on horse racing could not be recovered in a Court of Law. It was stated at that time that the matter would be effectually dealt with if left to the direction of the Jockey Club. The next time that the House legislated on the subject was in 1853, when the Betting House Act was passed, which provided stringent remedies against the system which had sprung from the repeal of the old statutes—namely, the system of betting houses, advertising agents, and cards. The unfortunate omission of Scotland from the operation of that Act, he was happy to hear, was to be rectified in the present Session by a Government measure. No doubt matters improved considerably from 1853 to 1860; but in that year they had again become so bad that Lord Redesdale introduced in the other House the Light Weights Bill, which was to fix the minimum weight to be carried by any horse at seven stone. In opposition to that Bill the late Lord Derby represented, on behalf of the Jockey Club, that that body were prepared to deal with the evil of light weights and handicaps. Upon that representation the Bill was withdrawn. Nothing had been done since that time by the Jockey Club, or by any other racing body in the coun- try, nor had any further legislation taken place, and things had now become so bad that he submitted it was high time that the House should do something instead of relying any longer upon the Jockey Club. The House might, perhaps, remember the story of the Kentuckian who, boasting of his strength, offered to bet his walking companion—a small Englishman—that he could throw him over a pretty wide ditch. The Englishman accepted the wager, and the Kentuckian, taking him by the scruff of the neck and the waistband of his trousers, flung him into the middle of the water. Scrambling to the bank the Englishman demanded his 10 dollars, whereupon his companion answered—"No, stranger, I guess not. I did not say I could do it the first time or the second time; but lean do it." And if the House trusted to the Jockey Club to get them over the ditch, they would find, in the same way, that they would only be thrown, over and over again, deeper into the mire. There was no wish on the part of the Club to interfere. The question must be looked at from two points of view, and the first regarded horses. He believed that the very highest evidence had shown that the present system of horse racing must result in the deterioration of our breed of horses. [Mr. OSBORNE: No, no!] He was willing to confess that his hon. Friend behind him who cried "No, no!" was more conversant with the subject than he was [Mr. OSBORNE: Hear, hear!]; but to race horses under two years was simply using beasts before they had arrived, at maturity, and could only be likened to subjecting to competitive examinations and training for boat races boys of seven years of age. He held in his hand a letter signed by two of the highest authorities on this subject—Sir Joseph Hawley and the hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin). In that letter, the Gentlemen to whom he alluded said— We do not join in the cry so often raised now about degeneration; as yet we believe that our horses, properly used, have not materially suffered; but we are no less firmly convinced that, deterioration being shown by experience to be as clearly possible as improvement, the running of two-year-olds, and the consequent prevalence of short courses, will as surely effect it as the care and judgment of our ancestors turned the ponies of the last century into racehorses of to-day…The prescience of one whose experience has justly placed him at the head of turf authorities (Admiral Rous) long ago recognized the danger of present tendencies, and has more than once denounced the insatiable appetite for early racing as 'a crying iniquity which ought to be forbidden by Parliament.' Again, they add— Still, when we find that while for 10 years no English-bred aged horse has started for any of the three great cups, yet an enthusiastic supporter of the present system can nevertheless declare 'our four-year-olds to be unexampled specimens of perfection, and Belladrum and Wild Oats the two grandest specimens ever seen by man,' the time for action seems to have arrived. There could be no doubt, if figures went to prove anything, that the breed of horses was suffering very much from the habit of premature racing. A return from the Racing Calendar showed, during 25 years—from 1843 to 1868—the number of two-year-olds run at races had increased four-fold, while the number of races of a mile and upwards had decreased. Then, again, with regard to betting, could they leave that matter in the hands of the Jockey Club? He was speaking under the correction of hon. Gentlemen; but he believed it to be a fact that the Jockey Club had advisedly declined to accept any jurisdiction in the matter of betting, and the time had come when the House should step in and deal with the subject by definite legislation, if they wished to check demoralization, and to rescue the old popular sport of this country from deterioration and degradation. Therefore, the question was what should the House do. After conferring with the best authorities, he had prepared a Bill, which he now asked the House to read for the first time. The provisions of the Bill were very simple. The principal provision of the Bill was the abolition of two-year-old races. The second was to return to the state of the law as it stood before 1833, when none but three-year-old horses could start for a Queen's Plate. The Queen's Plates were a very old institution, and there were now upwards of 30 of them. This clause, therefore, provided that no hors, eexcept he was four years old, could win a Queen's Plate. There were other matters connected with racing with which he did not feel competent to deal. There was, for instance, the very intricate system of handicapping, which he did not pretend to understand. Authorities differed very widely about it, and many thought that no Bill of this nature would be complete which left that question untouched. If, therefore, any hon. Gentleman who understood the matter would prepare a clause on the subject, he should be willing to add it to the Bill. As to "P.P. betting," he did not wish to deal with it in the first instance, his object being that the Bill should stand upon the simplest and broadest grounds. But as he was told that no real reform could be introduced unless that subject was grappled with, he would be ready to accept a clause imposing penalties on "P.P. betting." With respect to betting, Her Majesty's Government had expressed their intention to bring in a Bill to rectify the Act 8 & 9 Vict. c. 53, and to extend its operation to Scotland, and within the last few days they had shown a disposition to carry out the provisions of the present law more stringently. But that law only applied to the owners and occupiers of places where betting was carried on, and therefore he proposed to introduce a clause, providing that any person who took a deposit of money for the purpose of betting, on the understanding that another sum was to be returned in a certain event, should be amenable to the penalties of the Betting Act; or, in other words, should be liable to a fine of £30, one-third to go to the poor of the parish where the offence was committed and two-thirds to the person who should prosecute. By this means not only the owners and occupiers of particular houses or rooms, but all persons who made a trade of betting, and took deposits of money, would be brought under the Betting Act. He had heard the argument that if such a Bill were passed it would affect the amusements of the poor. He did not think there was anything in that argument; for the great beauty of the sport was, that a poor man could enjoy the sight of the horses running quite as much as the rich man who might be the owner of horses. He had explained the provisions of the Bill. The evil was great and pressing, and he hoped the House would give him leave to introduce the measure. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that he had resided for many years in France and taken some share in the racing there, and he believed the time would come when we should go to that country for an example by which to regulate our sports. That House, based as it was upon a large franchise, was bound to deal with that which was injurious to public morality. He regretted that there was no clause in the Bill to meet the evils resulting from "P.P. betting" and handicaping, and he himself, if no other Member should do so, would introduce clauses on the subject. There was scarcely a Member in that House who did not know persons who had been led into immoralities by the present system, and something ought to be done to render racing what it once was—the sport of English gentlemen.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to Horse Racing."—(Mr. Hughes.)


did not offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill; but he considered that neither the Mover or Seconder knew anything of the subject of which it dealt. The hon. Member (Mr. T. Hughes) had shown himself utterly wanting in the most elementary notions about racing, and the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the subject of the popular franchise knew just as little about it. He reserved any observations he might have to make on the measure for the second reading.


said, he did not intend to offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill. What he considered the real part of the measure should have his cordial support, and he might say also the cordial support of the body which had hitherto watched over racing in this country. When he said "the real part" of the Bill he meant that portion of it which dealt with the betting that had grown up among us to such an extent of late years. The Jockey Club felt that that was an evil with which they were not competent to deal, and, therefore, they would most cordially welcome the action of that House in correcting so great an evil. But when the hon. Gentleman proposed to legislate on other matters which more nearly affected the details of racing, these were things which he ventured to say the Jockey Club were more competent to deal with. It might not be within the knowledge of all the Members of that House that at this moment there was a committee of the Jockey Club appointed to consider these matters, and of that committee the two very high authorities which the hon. Gentleman had quoted—namely, the hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) and Sir Joseph Hawley—were members. That should be some guarantee that the various matters which formed the subject of inquiry would not be lightly passed over. The hon. Gentleman had been somewhat hard upon the members of the Jockey Club for a period of years, and had gone back half-a-century to show how they had deteriorated. The hon. Gentleman was not quite justified in what he had said on that point, inasmuch as there was no evidence to show that, if the same circumstances arose, they would be inclined to deal more leniently than the Jockey Club had done in the case referred to. Such circumstances had not arisen, and lie trusted would not arise; but he had no hesitation in saying that if any member of the Club were proved to be guilty of such practices as were shadowed forth by the hon. Gentleman he would be dealt with in like manner.


said, he had great pleasure in supporting the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. The only thing he would suggest would be this, that a clause should be introduced in the Bill to suppress Tattersall's; and now that public lotteries were forbidden, it would be a great means to put a stop to betting if the publication of the odds in this kingdom were not allowed.


said, he was opposed to the Bill, and he trusted that the House would not consent to its introduction. In almost every club there were Derby lotteries, in which were the names of Members of that House and some of the most distinguished names in the country. Those lotteries had nothing to do with horse racing. They had nothing to do with the evil effects of horse racing. Neither had Tattersall's. He was of opinion that the evils connected with the present condition of the turf had been greatly exaggerated, and that betting, when legitimately conducted, was a very fair business. He did not think the House was called upon to legislate for foolish young men and foolish old men who might choose to throw away their money. He did not know that the breed of horses had deterio- rated in consequence of horse racing. Only the other day a horse was sold for £5,000. If the House consented to read the Bill a first time, he hoped its rejection would be moved on a future stage.


desired to say a few words on this subject, because it was one on which he had had some experience. He entirely concurred in the judicious observations of the noble Lord the Member for Cambridgeshire (Lord George Manners). The Bill was intended to do away with great abuses. They had the avowal of the two great heads of the Turf on different sides—of Sir Joseph Hawley on the one side, and Admiral Rous on the other, that unlimited betting, and especially list betting, was a very great evil. One of these gentlemen said it was a gangrene in our moral system; the other said its effects were such that one could hardly judge of the amount of evil they produced. The 1st clause of the Bill met the question of very early racing; the next portion of it was to put a stop to three-year-olds running for Queen's Plates. The latter was a matter that fairly came under the consideration of the House, because there was a question of a grant of public money involved in it. The great object of those prizes was, no doubt, to induce persons to keep hardy horses to run at a more advanced age; but the most important portion of the Bill was that aimed at list houses. It was notorious that many men-servants, clerks, and other persons in responsible positions had been ruined by these houses. List betting had nothing whatever to do with good racing. In his opinion it was most injurious to good racing, because it encouraged robbery and rascality. Young men were induced to enter into it by the hope that they might at once become rich. He would not go into the question of the running of two-year-olds. He was not himself opposed to all "two-year-old running;" but when two such authorities as Mr. Chaplin and Sir Joseph Hawley thought it ought to be prohibited, he thought the point was not one which could be discussed at 10 minutes past 12 o'clock. It was one of the gravest possible subjects connected with racing. Certainly it was one on which there was very great difference of opinion. The Jockey Club was now considering it; and, therefore, he thought the better course would be to read the Bill a first time to-night, and postpone the second reading till after the Jockey Club had come to a decision.


could not help expressing his astonishment that a subject of this kind should have been brought forward in that House. Whatever might be the mischief arising from the wrongdoings of young men or of old men, or however bad the running of young horses or of old horses, he did not think the time had arrived when such subjects should become matters of argument in the House of Commons. The discussion of this question had been raised by letters which had appeared in a portion of the Press; but the matter was of such trivial import that he almost blushed at having to address the House on it. It was true that, at a time when gambling had become a great evil to society, Parliament did direct its attention to the suppression of gaminghouses; but no such necessity for legislation existed in the present instance. He contended that a horse was an animal—an animal like an ox or a cow, which when in the possession of a person became his property. If stakes were to be run for, and a man had a good horse which he thought would win, he ran him for profit. ["No!"] He thought he knew more about the matter than the hon. Gentleman who cried "No!" Men did run horses for profit, and he thought a man was entitled to exercise power over his own animal. Questions like the one raised by the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes), and which affected quadrupeds, were not interesting in a House which met to legislate for bipeds. He believed no gentleman in the House could speak with more touching feeling on this subject than the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory). The turf was a sport, and he admitted that anyone who speculated upon it encouraged gambling to a certain extent; for speculation had its losses as well as its gains, and, he believed, that the former much exceeded the latter. He, however, contended that the House had no right to interfere with the public in this matter. ["Oh, oh!"] He did not understand these demonstrations. He had lived—he was not ashamd to own it—with gentlemen, and it was not the habit of gentlemen to receive opinions contrary to their own with demonstrations such as these, and which he had heard hon. Members of more experience than himself notice and condemn. He did not mean to oppose the introduction of this Bill. It might do good; he did not think it would do any. The evils of betting in "list-houses" had, he believed, been much exaggerated, yet he admitted that they encouraged men-servants, and even maidservants, to embark in matters with I which they ought not to have anything to do. But there was no more immorality in such transactions on the part of house-maids or kitchen-maids than on the part of hon. Members. If it was wrong for A. to speculate 6d., it was equally wrong for B. to bet £1,000. If the House attempted to legislate on betting, hon. Members would enter upon a difficult subject, and one with which they could not deal effectually, although, if the House would declare that no betting should be permitted in this country he would applaud the resolution, but he defied hon. Members to carry it out. A bet was a contract—it was an obligation, upon honourable people which law could not enforce. The Jockey Club were willing to do all they could to put an end to what were called "turf abuses." He had, however, opposed Sir Joseph; Hawley's propositions, on the ground that betting was a matter not for legislation, but for settlement between man and man. [Laughter.] No doubt many hon. Gentlemen who laughed had had bet now and then; but they had probably never considered that if they made a bet and lost it they would probably have to pay. There was no law or Act of Parliament about it; but there was no question that a man was more fidgety about paying a bet of £10 than a grocer's bill of £5. The House of Commons had never hitherto interfered with questions of public sport. The hon. Gentleman might get excited about the turf—to which he believed he should not attend; and people who wrote for the public Press excited the public mind upon the subject; but he did not believe their legislation would produce any effect. He would not oppose the Motion; but he would oppose the Bill on its second reading, when he would make some comments, and would probably move its rejection.


Sir, I had hoped that a question which has been represented as one not only appertaining to the dignity of this House, but also to the morality of the country would not have been left simply to the advocacy of members of the Jockey Club, of which I believe the noble Lord who spoke last is a distinguished representative. He is, at any rate, an esteemed Friend of mine. I had hoped that some Member of Her Majesty's Government, one or two of whom I see on the Treasury Bench, representing the racing interest as well as that of public morality, would have given us their opinion upon this Bill. Now, Sir, whatever may be the sentiment of this House upon this Bill—and some ridicule has been thrown upon it by the way in which it has been treated—I think it is only duo to this House that some observation should have been made as to the course that Her Majesty's Government intend to pursue with regard to it. I do not feel that anxiety with respect to the female portion of the community that has been manifested by the noble Lord the Member for Cambridgeshire (Viscount Royston). He has made a noble speech, at all events, and has told us about his housemaids and his ladies'-maids. But there is another view to be taken of this subject—is the time of this House to be wasted in discussing questions with which we are totally incompetent to deal? It is said that this Bill contemplates legislating with reference to the racing of two-year-olds. This is a very respectable House of Commons, and the majority of its Members, as far as I can make out, keep gigs; but, as far as legislating upon the racing of this country is concerned, we all are pretty well aware that if we were to pass a Bill to put a stop to two-year-old races, we should simply be wiping out racing altogether. It has been said by the hon. Member before me (Mr. W. H. Gregory)—a retired member of the Jockey Club—that Sir Joseph Hawley and the hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) contemplate abolishing two-year-old races altogether. Now, that is an entire mistake. All that those gentlemen propose is to delay those races. Well, we are asked to give leave for the introduction of this Bill, and the Government sits silent. I do not mean to refer to the Home Secretary, because I do not see him here [A laugh.] Oh, is he there? Well, I did not see him. Well, then, I should prefer to leave the legislation upon the subject of this Bill to him. We shall probably give leave to bring in the Bill, and we shall read it a first time out of compliment to the hon. Member who introduces it; but would it not be more sensible of us not to allow him to bring it in? He has got up his speech very carefully as far as the history of racing goes, although, were it not so late an hour, I might be able to point out one or two points in which he was in error; but is it not a work of supererogation for us to read the Bill a first time, in order that it may be printed at the expense of the country, after which we shall hear no more about it? The Jockey Club, in whom I have the greatest confidence, in spite of the speech of the noble Lord (Viscount Royston), held a meeting on Saturday last, and are about to legislate upon this matter. We had better leave the subject in their hands, and if they do not deal with it efficiently it will then be time enough for us to take up the question. The hon. Member (Mr. T. Hughes) has made an excellent speech—he has given us a synopsis of Buff's Guide to the Turf, and he ought to be satisfied with his achievement. I say, therefore, let him withdraw his Bill, which is a sample of amateur legislation, and is full of moral crudities. If no one else does so, I shall move that we do not give the hon. Member leave to introduce the Bill. I should like, however, to hear the opinion of the Government upon the matter.


In answer to the appeal of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne), I must say that I do not profess to possess much knowledge upon the subject of this Bill. I think that the hon. Member has given the hon. Gentleman who asks leave to introduce this Bill (Mr. T. Hughes) some excellent advice, although I myself would not be guilty of the discourtesy of moving the rejection of the first reading of the Bill. There is a great deal in what the hon. Member who spoke last has said about leaving the question of two-year-old races in the hands of the Jockey Club. With reference to the betting question, I shall be happy to give every assistance in my power to put down what I believe to be a great source of evil.


, while acknowledging the right of the House to interfere where gambling became an evil from which society suffered, thought the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. T. Hughes) should be content with the promise of Her Majesty's Government to do their best to put down betting, and with the assurance of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) that the question was now before the Jockey Club.


said, he could not consent to withdraw his Bill without some assurance being given by the Home Secretary that the principle of his Bill would be incorporated in the Bill the right hon. Gentleman intended to introduce in the course of the Session. The Jockey Club had had opportunities of legislating; but since 1853 matters had been getting worse rather than better, and they had over and over again pledged themselves in 1860 to do something, but in vain. He was quite ready to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory) to postpone the matter until the Jockey Club had had an opportunity of dealing with it.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 132; Noes 44: Majority 88.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. HUGHES, Lord ELCHO, Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN, and Sir HENRY HOARE.