HC Deb 28 May 1872 vol 211 cc789-95

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will, at the rising of the House this day, adjourn till Thursday next."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


On the last occasion of this kind I gave Notice that, if the Motion were made again, I should take the opinion of the House upon it, and I propose to do so to-day. I confess I am surprised that the Motion should again come from the Treasury bench, after the House has undeniably shown that its opinion upon this subject has changed during the past year. ["No, no!"] Perhaps hon. Gentlemen who cry "No, no!" will hear the reason I have for making that statement. If I am wrong the House will correct me. Previous to the present year there were always two occasions, and two only, when Motions of this kind were made. Those two occasions were, one a principal festival of the Christian year—namely, Ascension Day—and the other the principal festival of the English Turf—the Derby. On the 8th of this month the House passed a Resolution that hereafter—at all events for the present year—the usual adjournment which had taken place in previous years for the purpose of allowing Gentlemen who were so inclined to attend the services of their Church upon Ascension Day, should not be continued. The House decided, by a considerable majority, that there should be no suspension of Business. ["No, no!"] Well, I ask whether it is not the case that such a vote was taken on the 8th of this month? I happened to be absent, and I admit there is always a difficulty in ascertaining the reasons upon which the House acts unless one is present. But, so far as I could gather from the newspapers, the vote was of the nature I have described, and certainly the House did not adjourn as usual. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) said, I think, that there were a number of very important matters—Gas Bills, Railway Bills, Water Bills, and other measures interesting to the business public in general—which required to be attended to, and that we ought not to allow them to lie over for two hours, because some hon. Members were so old-fashioned and superstitious as to desire to attend Divine worship on the day of Ascension. That I understood to be the opinion of the House, after carefully reading the reports of what took place on the occasion. Then, surely, when at the beginning of the month the House has refused hon. Members two hours for the purpose of public worship, it is not going to stultify itself at the end of the month by devoting a whole day to a purpose which I venture to think no one in the House will consider of the same importance as the other. Now, as to the first of the two festivals, it has been the custom to keep it in England for—I will not say 1,800 years, but at any rate since St. Augustin with his monks marched from the coast of Kent to Canterbury. That gives it a great start as compared with the festival of the British Turf, for which it is proposed to adjourn to enable hon. Members to spend to-morrow at the races. So far as I am aware, the festival of the Derby has not existed for 100 years. The other has, therefore, at any rate, had the start of more than 1,000 years. I am not going to compare the importance of the two institutions; but I will say that, at any rate, whatever the Christian religion may have done for the British nation—["Oh, oh!"]—hon. Gentlemen may cry, "Oh!" but they will have an opportunity of answering. ["Oh, oh!"] If the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) has anything to say in opposition to what I am saying, he will have an opportunity to say it. Let us see what the other institution to which we are now about to give a special advantage has done for the British nation. I am told—I do not pretend myself to know much about it—that the British Turf has very much improved the breed of horses for the nation. I have doubts upon that subject. I know that many eminent authorities think that it is by no means the case. Without going into that question, however, as to which I am no authority, I do know what the British Turf has done for the British nation in other matters. It has given to the British nation a system of gambling the most corrupting, the most insidious, and therefore the most mischievous and abominable that has ever cursed any country in the world. Now, upon that subject I suppose most of us are, to a certain extent, authorities. Even in my own personal experience, in my own profession—which deals, of course, with matters of this kind—I have known hundreds of instances in which this system has been the absolute ruin of young men in this country. In the case of settlements under which I myself am trustee, I have had to raise for different families no less than upwards of £20,000 for youngsters who have lost it in gambling on the Turf, and all that money has gone into the pockets of some of the greatest rascals who remain unhung in this country. Therefore, I say, that the great festival of the English Turf is not a proper one to be recognized by this House in the manner now proposed. I have as great a love for sports as anyone in this House, and know as much about them as most hon. Members, and I say, that if we are to choose some sport for special recognition and distinction of this kind, do not let us choose the one which has done most harm, but some one which is doing good in the country. If anyone will move that this House should adjourn for the International Boat Race, or the Shooting Match between the Two Houses of Parliament at Wimbledon, or the Gentlemen v. the Players' Cricket Match, I would not oppose the House coming to such a vote as that. But when it is perfectly notorious to every Gentleman in the House what is the nature of the institution of the British Turf, we are, I think, stultifying ourselves, and setting an evil example to the country if we postpone all Business that is down for to-morrow for the purpose of allowing Gentlemen to celebrate their festival at Epsom. Let me point out to the House that the effect of rejecting the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman will be, not to stop anyone except, perhaps, a few hon. Members who would have to sit in Committee to-morrow, from going to the Derby, but merely to show that this House does not place the Turf festival above that of the Church. If the Motion of the Prime Minister should be rejected, any Gentleman may still go to the Derby as he may go to a dog fight or cock fight if such things still exist, or to a pigeon-shooting match, or any other manly sport of that kind, which this House does not specially recognize. Two years ago I brought into the House a Bill to deal with some of the worst portions of the present betting system. That Bill was received with a good deal of favour, and the House seemed willing to go into the matter. Then the Home Office took it out of my hands, and put my clauses into a Bill that they have had for two years before the House, and which deals with this question. In order, therefore, to provide some useful Business for to-morrow, as there seems to be no chance of the Government bringing on their Bill this year, I have placed a few short clauses in a little Betting Bill which I propose to bring before the House for a first reading to-night, and which I have put down for a second reading to-morrow.


I wish to correct my hon. Friend as to some statements that he has made, for he is dreadfully afraid of the consequences that may result from no Business taking place here to-morrow. He need not be afraid, because no Committees are going to sit to-morrow, and therefore the case that he has alluded to is not at all analogous to that which was mentioned the other day by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie). The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock based his opposition to the latter Motion on the ground that if the Committees did not sit until two hours after the usual time on Ascension Day, there would be a great delay in the Private Business of the House, and an unnecessary expenditure upon those interested in Private Bills, because although only two hours' work would be done, counsel and solicitors would have to be paid just the same as though a full day's work were performed. Now, no counsel will appear to-morrow before Committees—they will be at Epsom. My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mr. Hughes) will of course be there also, because in many instances I have found him extremely inconsistent. For the reason I have mentioned, his objection falls entirely to the ground. It certainly would have been hard that persons who had business before the Committees should be called upon to pay double for the services of counsel and solicitors. But in this case it is clearly understood that it will be a blank day with the Committees, and therefore no inconvenience of that sort will arise. I do not think that it is becoming in the hon. Member for Frome that he should get up and preach to us in the manner which he has done. We must all be well aware that there is a good deal of money lost by betting upon horses; but horses are not the only things upon which money is lost. Is there no such thing in connection with cards and with dice, and are there not thousands of modes by which people could he ruined if they would. There is no doubt at all that the breed of horses has been improved in this country by racing. I know nobody who doubts it except the hon. Member for Frome, and he did not express any very strong doubt, and only, in fact, asked our opinion upon the point. I sincerely hope that he will not divide the House upon this question. It is a sort of sanctimonious course that he is pursuing, and one may well be surprised that he, at all events, should have brought it before the House. I say this because we all know what were his pursuits in early life, and I repeat that I hope that we shall not be troubled to divide.


said, he did not think the vote with regard to the adjournment on Ascension Day could be regarded as a test of the opinion of the House on the subject, because that division was taken unexpectedly, and even against the desire of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie). The division was forced on by a small knot of hon. Members below the gangway, and after all they only obtained a majority of 5 in a House of less than 100 Members. He hoped that the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Hughes) would not take the opinion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Locke), because he (Colonel Beresford) should be glad if he would divide the House, because then it would be seen what a small following he had, and probably he would not bring forward the question again next year.


As I must say a few words upon this question, I will observe that it is perfectly clear that my hon. Friend (Mr. Hughes) has misapprehended the nature and authority of the vote given by the House in reference to Ascension Day, for the two questions have really no parallel. The special objection to this vote is taken upon the ground of the immorality that is unfortunately associated with the practice of horse racing; but the objection in reference to Ascension Day was certainly not the immorality of anything connected with that day. It has been truly said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Beresford) that the affair was an accident; and the divi- sion was accidental so far as the right hon. Member who made the Motion and the Members of the House in general were concerned. I believe that numbers of hon. Members were present in Committee at the time, and, hearing the bell ring, they thought it must be for a counting of the House, or for a division upon a Private Bill, or for some other purpose of the kind, and that it could not be for anything that required their attention. I may mention, as an illustration, that my hon. Friend the Member for Shaftesbury (Mr. Glyn) was placed in such a forlorn condition in that division as the representative of the Government, that he had not one on his own bench to accompany him in his telling, and was therefore obliged to fall back upon the good offices of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass), in order to get somebody who would march with him up to the Table to announce the majority of 52 to 47. What I suppose to be the case is this—the House generally agrees with my hon. Friend in his denunciation of the foolish, vicious, and, I will say, ruinously vicious practice in many cases associated with what the House, notwithstanding, believes to be in itself a noble, manly, distinguished, and, I may say, historically national sport. The House is disposed, in looking at this sport, however, to feel that it is not bound to take cognizance—and it is not expedient to take cognizance—in connection with such a Motion as this, of those abuses which, though much to be deprecated, are not of necessity essentially connected with the sport itself. But if we are to take cognizance of these abuses—if we are to take our stand upon putting down these practices, which are of so vicious and detrimental a character—we should do something more decided than merely to decline to adjourn over to-morrow. We should endeavour to make these practices the subject of some aggressive action in our legislative capacity. Without entering any further into the excuses for this custom having come into use, I can only say I think it is a custom regarded by many who do not probably care much about the Derby as a security for the holiday. I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Frome, in a division, will succeed in obtaining an accurate representation of the mind of the House, because I believe that many hon. Members who value the holiday will vote against him on that account, whilst some will vote against him on a question connected with the race itself.


remarked that for 30 years it had been the custom with the House to adjourn over the Derby Day; but it was not the custom formerly for the Motion for Adjournment to be made by the Government, but by an independent Member. The course was adopted, not so much for the Members of the House, but with a view to let the officers of the House take advantage of the holiday.


said, he intended to vote against the Motion of the hon. Member for Frome as a protest against the division which took place with reference to Ascension Day. The reasons for the one adjournment and for the other were as different as possible, but in its external aspect the present Motion resembled that of the other day. Each was a Motion made without Notice, and calculated to disturb a well-established understanding. It should be borne in mind that many persons had made their arrangements for the Derby in anticipation of the usual holiday, and any sudden departure from the established custom would entail great and general inconvenience upon a large number of persons. He must conclude with the remark, that any Member who might appear in what he believed would be the majority in the present day, and who had also appeared in the unlucky majority on Ascension Day, would not be able to congratulate himself upon his consistency, or his regard for the feelings of other hon. Members.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 212; Noes 58: Majority 154.