HC Deb 16 June 1871 vol 207 cc171-9

rose to call attention to the existence of Illegal Lotteries, and to move— That the provisions of the Lottery Acts ought to be impartially enforced by Her Majesty's Government against illegal Lotteries, irrespective of their objects, in all parts of the United Kingdom. In the first place, the hon. and learned Gentleman remarked that the law pronounced all lotteries, of whatever kind, and in whatever part of the country they were established, to be illegal, with the exception only of those in connection with Art Unions, and even these had to be approved by the Privy Council, or carried on under Royal Charter; and in connection with that part of his subject, he was only asking the House to re-affirm a principle of which it has always been a strenuous advocate—namely, that the laws be impartially enforced without fear or favour. Moreover, the laws made no distinction between lotteries for religious and secular objects, as all lotteries were pronounced by the State to be illegal, because they had a direct tendency to promote gambling, and to swell the tide of pauperism and vice. It was true that an Act passed in 1856 deprived private persons of the right to sue promoters of lotteries for the recovery of deposits or penalties; but that was done in order that the prosecution of offenders should rest in the hands of responsible officers of the Crown, and should not be left to the caprice of individuals. Nothing, however, could be more capricious than the proceedings of the Government in carrying out the Lotteries Act; the Home Secretary had made distinction between lotteries without any legal authority, and he had even expressed regret that the Lord Advocate had by a circular secured the withdrawal of lottery tickets in Scotland —against which country he (Mr Charley) had nothing to complain of on account of the occurrence of the practice—because he thought it would be better to allow the law to be violated than deprive certain benevolent institutions of the profits arising from the lottery. The Home Secretary, in fact, seemed to think the end sanctified the means; but the principles of Ignatius Loyola ill-became a Minister of the British Crown. Passing from Scotland to England, he found that the law had been very strictly enforced in England also with reference to lotteries unconnected with so-called religious objects. Two cases had recently come before the metropolitan police magistrates, one of which concerned what was described as the South London Art Union. The other was the case of a lottery promoted during the Franco-German War for the benefit of the Gorman wounded, and honoured by a communication from Count Bismarck. The promoter was informed by a detective that lotteries in England were illegal, and upon the promoter saying that he would write to the Foreign Secretary, the reply was that he might if he pleased; but the answer would appear, if made, not to have been in any way favourable, for both speculations were alike remorselessly suppressed. If the promoters, however, had endeavoured to get up a lottery in favour of some Roman Catholic institution, the threat of an application to a Secretary of State might not have been regarded as so hopeless. He now desired to call the attention of the House to the case of a lottery at Oldham, advertised to be held in support of some day and Sunday schools, with a view to the enlargement of premises and keeping them out of the hands of the school board. The lottery was stated by its promoters to be conducted on the principle of the Art Union, under the patronage of the Bishop of Manchester, and among the prizes to be distributed were a bust of Napoleon, a set of Mr. Disraeli's novels, including, he presumed, a copy of Lothair, a likeness of the Bishop of Manchester, and an excellent portrait of the late Earl of Derby. The announcements about this lottery, which were widely distributed throughout Wales, especially among Sunday school teachers and servants of clergymen, gave details of the poverty of the "parish," and purported to come from the "rector;" but if ever there was a lottery got up on false pretences it was this one, for it might surprise the House to know that the lottery was in aid of Roman Catholic schools, and the "rector" from whom they proceeded was a priest of that Church. It would be found by a Return for which he moved last year, that the attention of the Home Secretary was drawn to this, as well as to other lotteries, by the Secretary of the Scottish Reformation Society, and in answer, it was stated on behalf of Mr. Bruce that the Treasury Solicitor had already been instructed to warn the parties concerned of the illegality of the scheme in which they were engaged. In the subsequent correspondence it was stated that on the receipt of the first notice the promoters of the lottery had recalled the tickets and stopped the affair; but, despite the assurances of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, there were many who had been unable, after having subscribed, to obtain the return of their money. The "rector," as he called himself, or, in other words, the promoter, a Mr. Brinton, had inserted an advertisement in a local Oldham paper, stating that those who applied for their money would have it returned; but there were many who would not see the advertisement, and who, failing to make the application, would never get their money back. In Ireland he believed there had been 55 lotteries of late years, and that 16,000,000 tickets, representing £400,000, had been sold, and in most of these lotteries a supplementary ticket in a lottery, to consist of all prizes, had been offered to those who disposed of a certain number of tickets as a bribe to induce them to exert themselves to sell these tickets. In one of the announcements of these lotteries was a quotation, excellent enough except as regarded its neighbourhood, from a speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland, and close by was an advertisement about a foreign lottery, where one of the prizes amounted to £20,000, although the insertion of these advertisements was forbidden under a penalty of £50. Moreover, some of these lotteries appeared to be annual lotteries. When he had, on a former occasion, put a Question on this subject to the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. C. Fortescue), he had received a very unsatisfactory reply, for that right hon. Gentleman's answer was, that those lotteries had no tendency to increase gambling, and if anybody deemed them contrary to the letter of the law the Courts were open and the question might be tried. The noble Lord the present Chief Secretary, in the same way, in reply to another Question, said that if the lotteries were illegal there was no difficulty in bringing qui tam actions against the promoters. A qui tam action was one in which a person sued as well for himself as for the Queen; and as by the Act of 1806 the forfeiture was taken from the informer and given entirely to the Crown, it was practically impossible to bring an action of this description at the present time. The noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland practically said to the Irish Protestants that they might violate the law if they chose, but as one of the promoters of the Irish Church Sustentation Fund he (Mr. Charley) should be very sorry to resort to any such mode of raising the wind. It would be most unfair after they had disendowed the Church in Ireland to allow the clergy to gamble for endowments. There were some persons whose practice fell short of their preaching, but the Home Secretary was an exception to this rule, for in his case the preaching fell short of the practice, as exemplified in certain rules laid down by the right hon. Gentleman in the last Session of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman laid it down that it was better for the law to be violated than that the promoters of these lotteries should be deprived of the benefit to be obtained from them, and that, therefore, the Secretary of State ought to possess the power of allowing the holding of lotteries for objects which he approved; he also said that the practice had been to threaten the promoters of these illegal lotteries, but not to carry out the threat in cases where the object of the lottery was a charitable one—a line of conduct which, in his (Mr. Charley's) opinion, was rather calculated to bring the administration of the law into contempt. The right hon. Gentleman not only did this, but he laid down the extraordinary distinction already referred to between religious and secular lotteries, thus producing an agglomeration of principles which needed only to be enunciated to be condemned. The right hon. Gentleman, moreover, appeared to forget that it required two sets of persons to form a lottery—the promoters and the persons who purchased the chances; and though the promoters might desire to confer benefit upon very desirable objects, it was self-evident that they appealed to motives beyond or other than charitable ones. If the person buying chances in a lottery were a friend of the promoter or of the object promoted, he would be willing to give as a subscription as large a sum as he paid for chances; but if he were—as was the fact in the majority of cases—unknown to the promoters and cared little or nothing' for the objects sought to be gained by the lottery, he would be simply a man possessed by the gambling spirit, and desiring to enrich himself by a small pecuniary outlay at the expense of the promoter, who in his turn was laughing in his sleeve at the gullibility of his would-be victimizer. Again, as in the case of the Oldham lottery, false pretences were sometimes resorted to, and persons were trapped into supporting by the purchase of tickets objects to which they were altogether hostile. It might be said that the maxim caveat emptor applied, and that the purchasers of lottery tickets must look out for themselves; but in his opinion the principle upon which later legislation on the subject had been founded was that of protecting the public against extreme recklessness in speculation and consequent ruin. Only a short time ago the case was related of two highly-respectable young women, who had gained a scanty livelihood by needlework, but one of them falling ill they were reduced to poverty, and the other risked their little all in the purchase of a lottery ticket, hoping to retrieve their position. The chance failed, however, and they were ruined. He would say, in concluding, that as State lotteries had been prohibited by Parliament so far back as 1806, he wished to know if it was now to be said that the Church had a less scrupulous conscience than the State, and begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the provisions of the Lottery Acts ought to be impartially enforced by Her Majesty's Government against illegal Lotteries, irrespective of their objects, in all parts of the United Kingdom,"—(Mr. Charley.) —instead thereof.


said, that while the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Salford (Mr. Charley) spoke of the Acts being "impartially" enforced, the whole scope of his arguments went to prove that they ought to be enforced indiscriminately. This was the point of difference between them, and his (Mr. Bruce's) contention was, that the fact of the Legislature having taken lottery prosecutions out of the hands of common informers and vested them in the Attorney General on behalf of the Crown, showed that it was intended to give the Executive Government a discretionary power, to be exercised according to circumstances, in regard to the holding of these lotteries. If that were not so, why was the power taken from the informer at all? Then came the real question—Was that power so removed wisely exercised? So far as his own line of conduct was concerned, it was that which had been pursued by his predecessors in office, of whatever party, and he believed it was a line consistent with the intentions of the Legislature, and approved by the majority of the people. The hon. and learned Gentleman maintained that there was no power now to bring qui tam actions. That contention was quite correct; but it was no less true that a remedy might be found in an indictment for a nuisance, or by summary proceedings before a magistrate. The original lottery statute passed in 1802 was severely penal upon those who offended against its provisions, imposing penalties to the extent of £500, or in default of payment a term of three months' imprisonment; but in 1806 another Lottery Act was passed, for the purpose of granting to the Crown a sum of money to be raised by lotteries, and fixing strict rules as to the mode in which the lotteries should be conducted. He confessed that the object of the statute seemed to be rather to keep in the hands of the State the sole power of holding lotteries than to abolish them altogether; but, however that might be, the law existed, and it was the duty of the Government to apply it for the protection of public morality. Some lotteries were conducted solely for the purpose of gain, generally by persons who resorted to the most dishonest means, and swindled weak-minded and ignorant individuals. Against such lotteries the power of the law was always unsparingly applied; but there were also cases in which the attractions of chance were used for religious or educational purposes. The course he had in such cases pursued, in imitation, he was bound to say, of his predecessors at the Home Office, was as follows:—When a case was brought under his notice, he warned the persons who were conducting the lottery that their proceedings were illegal, and as far as he was aware the warning had never been given in vain. The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to a lottery got up for some religious purpose at Oldham. Now, it was remarkable that information respecting lotteries of this kind was never given either by Englishmen or Irishmen. The Attorney General had assured him that no complaint respecting them had ever been made to the Government by any person residing in Ireland. Indeed, the sole informant against these lotteries in Ireland was the Secretary of the Scottish Reformation Society. On the reception of the information respecting the lottery at Oldham, he at once communicated with the persons conducting it, and informed them that if they proceeded further with it they would subject themselves to prosecution. They promised to relinquish the scheme; but shortly afterwards he received another communication from the Secretary to the Scottish Reformation Society, who said he believed that, in spite of the assurance which had been given, the lottery was actually being proceeded with. Thereupon he made inquiries of the Mayor of Oldham as to whether this was so, and he might remark that he should certainly have caused a prosecution to be instituted against the promoters of the project if, after the warning, they had persisted in it. The Mayor of Oldham informed him, however, that they had abandoned the scheme, and returned the money received from the subscribers. This, he submitted, was a course which could not fail to commend itself to the good sense of the House, as it must be obvious that cases of this kind called for a warning rather than a prosecution by the Attorney General. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that it was very strange that people would not give their money directly for a charitable object, instead of advancing it indirectly by lotteries or bazaars. Well, it was no doubt a very curious trait of human nature that persons would give large sums of money at bazaars for articles which were not of the slightest value, the prices they paid depending far more on the rank or personal attractions of the conductors of the bazaar than on the intrinsic value of the articles sold. And it would be further found that when the generosity of the customers was exhausted the proceedings almost invariably terminated with a raffle, in which everybody present took part, without imagining for a moment that the transaction was an illegal one. Surely no one would maintain that the Attorney General ought to prosecute in such cases. There was a rational distinction to be drawn between lotteries got up for mere purposes of gain and those which were got up for the purpose of promoting a good object; and the good sense of the House would readily determine that the moral consequences were less injurious in one case than in the other. At the same time, he admitted that a great many of the latter kind of lotteries came within the rule he had laid down, which would subject them to prosecution—namely, those which appealed very strongly to the mere love of gain. In the cases mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman, where hopes were hold out to the subscribers of obtaining a considerable sum of money, or articles of great value, such as a pair of ponies, piano, and a cottage, the principle, and what might be assumed to be the object of the law were violated, and the action of of the Crown might be fairly demanded. All he claimed on the part of the Crown was the right to discriminate between different kinds of lotteries. In cases where the object was clearly bad he instituted a prosecution at once; but where the object was not bad, he acted by giving a warning in the first instance, and prosecuting only in the event of that warning not being heeded. He believed the House would not think it was the duty of the Government to pursue any other course than that which he had indicated.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was not less bound by the terms of the law than any other person. In determining questions of degree, value must be taken into account, and the right hon. Gentleman had himself pointed out cases in which ponies, pianos, and cottages were raffled for. In that, as in other cases, the right hon. Gentleman was apt to interpret his obligations very loosely, for there was nothing in the Act of Parliament which warranted the exercise of the discretion he claimed. He (Mr. Newdegate), moreover, did not think that if the Home Secretary considered himself entitled to dispense with the law, he set a good example to the other officers of the Government. Why, he would ask, should the law be restrained in the case of quasi-monastic institutions? In his own county large numbers of lottery tickets had been received from Ireland, and he had been repeatedly asked why any lotteries were permitted, except those which were sanctioned by law, such as the Art Union lotteries. The fact that certain exceptions were made by the law militated very strongly against the wise discretion which the right hon. Gentleman assumed the right to exercise.


said, he must call attention to the fact that the law had been more widely interpreted by the right hon. Gentleman to-night, than it was three years ago by the then Attorney General.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 60; Noes 33: Majority 27.

Main Question proposed.

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