HC Deb 15 April 1874 vol 218 cc595-607

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: It is now just 21 years since the present betting law was passed. The Bill was introduced by Sir Alexander Cockburn, then Attorney General, and the speech he made on that occasion so entirely met the assent of this House, that it passed through both Houses without any discussion. Why Scotland was exempted from the operation of the Bill I have been unable to discover; but I am very-sure that if Sir Alexander Cockburn and the Parliament of that day had been aware of the result of that exemption, it would never have been made. For a considerable time the Act was not put strongly in force in England, but for some years back it has been actively carried out, and the result has been not by any means to put down the system for the suppression of which the Act was framed, but merely to drive betting-houses out of England and Ireland. Many of the betting agents settled in the Channel Islands, and at Calais and Boulogne; but they soon found they could carry on their business more conveniently in Scotland. The result, therefore, has been to send those betting men from protected England to unprotected Scotland, and in recent years the number of betting-houses in Scotland has been greatly extended. As you are aware, several attempts were made during the last Parliament to get a remedy for the evil. These attempts have never been defeated on their own merits. In no case have any of the Bills come up for discussion in this House. One of them—the Bill introduced by Lord Morley three years ago—passed through the House of Lords without opposition, and came down to this House, where it was lost merely for want of time to discuss it. Every attempt that has been made since to get the law remedied has fallen through in the same way. The reason of this is, that the late Government, no doubt with the best intentions, over-burthened itself with heroic measures, and blocked the way of all Bills introduced by private Members, and in addition to this, Scotch business was rather systematically shelved during the reign of the late Government. There has been no debate on this question, and neither party is committed in regard to it. If any party is committed against it, I think it must be the Home Rule party, for I see two distinguished Members of it have put down hostile Amendments. Indeed, they put them down before the Bill was printed, and therefore I suppose they took it for granted it would be the same as last year's in respect of being purely Scotch; and they being Irish Members were bound to interfere with Scotch legislation, it being, as I presume, one of the objects of the Home Rule party to govern Scotland according to Irish ideas. I do not object at all to their interference. I am very much pleased to sec Irish Members taking an interest in Scotch legislation, and think all Members of Parliament ought to do so. The objects, then, of this Bill, are in the first place to amend the English law, which is deficient in so far that it permits betting advertisements and circulars; and after it has been amended in this respect, to extend the law to Scotland. I consider these two objects equally important. The English Act has hitherto acted towards Scotland very much in the way of the humane gardener who got rid of the vermin in his garden by throwing it into that of his neighbour. Some English Members say I want to pass a Bill to throw it back again. It is not so. Indeed, it is precisely because I do not want to do so, that I wish to amend the English law before extending it to Scotland. In the matter of advertisements, at present, the English law attempts to put them down. There is a clause in the Act against advertisements; but when it came to be interpreted a few years ago, it was found that the authorities were unable to enforce it, because it provided that advertisements to be illegal must invite people to resort to betting houses in England, and therefore that advertisements which invited them to betting-houses in Scotland were not illegal. I wish to make it as much illegal for Scotland as it is for England. If we extend the law to Scotland without putting down advertisements, the effect will be merely to drive these betting houses out of Scot-hand and let them go to the Channel Islands, and to Calais and Boulogne, whence they will continue to hood England, Scotland, and Ireland with their advertisements, and, in short, carry on the same game as they have been doing in late years from Scotland. The extent to which this kind of advertising is carried in the country is not generally known. Hon. Members who read The Times or The Standard never see the advertisements to which I refer. I had the curiosity to look at the sporting papers of Saturday, and in one paper called The Sportsman, which is published four times a-week, I found no fewer than 56 betting advertisements, including those of the "tipsters"—learned gentlemen who advertise their willingness to confide to correspondents the names of the certain winners of particular races. In another paper, The Sporting Life, which I believe is published twice a-week, I found no fewer than 70 such advertisements, and other papers had smaller numbers. I have been informed on good authority that one betting-house alone in Edinburgh pays a single London newspaper so much as £80 a-week for advertising, and that house advertises in other papers also. One class of advertisements are called discretionary adver- tisements; and these being undoubtedly dishonest, the newspapers charge a very high price for inserting them. Now, I was very much struck, in looking over the London sporting papers on Saturday, to find that not one of them had a single "discretionary" advertisement. A few weeks ago the same papers were full of them, and it is only since this Bill has been printed that they have wished to appear as virtuous as possible by excluding these advertisements. The Sportsman, I see, has announced its intention of not publishing any more of them. That paper, however, has for years shared the plunder of these discretionary advertisements, and all the time the editor, in his Notices to Correspondents, was warning his readers against them, thus showing that he knew very well the nature of the advertisements. In fact, all newspaper editors know perfectly well what they mean. I have extracted a few of the advertisements to show the House what they are like. Hero is one from a paper rejoicing in the name of the The Sporting ClipperThree splendid speculations. Great success. For the trifling stake of 15s. you can realise £3,000, for £1, £12,000, and for £8, £37,000. For particulars, apply without delay to so and so, Guernsey. I found a number of other advertisements hailing from the Channel Islands. One was to the effect that a gentleman had, by long and careful study of the average of chances, discovered a system by which the telling of a winning horse was reduced to a mathematical certainty, and was willing to give the benefit of his discovery to all who sent him 5s. in postage stamps; while another one set forth that a former owner of race-horses was willing to send the names of certain winners, on condition that they were not backed in London, and that the applicants sent 5s. in postage stamps, the object of the charge being to stave off merely inquisitive people. Of course, the idea that there is any mathematical process whatever by which the absolute winner of any race could be foretold is so absurd, that it is hardly credible any people would believe it; but the fact remains that this class of advertisement is steadily increasing in number every day. A few years ago they were to be numbered by twos and threes—now they appear in swarms. This shows that there is a steadily increasing crop of fools ready to waste their money by sending it to these people, who profess to have these wonderful secrets, and at the same time to have so much generosity that they are willing to part with them for 5s. The extreme absurdity of the thing never occurs to the young men who send their money to get the valueless information. Advertisements of the kind I have been describing are perfectly legal. I ask hon. Members if they ought to be so. I ask them if they are not most immoral and prejudicial in their effects. We do not allow advertisements about gaming tables or lotteries; then why should we allow them about houses of this kind? One remarkable fact is that respectable editors will not admit this class of advertisements at all. Perhaps the most respectable sporting papers in this country are The Field and Land and Water. These are papers that encourage horse-racing, but neither of them will admit one single betting advertisement, not oven a tipster's advertisement. I have letters from The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily News, The Standard, The Hour, The Echo, and The Globe, all stating that they had made it an absolute rule to refuse insertion to every betting advertisement, some of them adding that they had come to this decision, notwithstanding the fact that they were offered double their scale prices for them. What conclusion can be drawn from this? Why, no other than that the editors of these newspapers know that there is something bad about the betting advertisements. We all know that newspapers are most anxious to cultivate their advertising columns, and we may rest assured they would not refuse these particular advertisements unless there was something decidedly wrong about them. 80 far, as I have been able to see, The Advertiser, and The Morning Post are the only two daily London papers that ever insert them, and they are very mild sinners, all they do being to smuggle one or two in now and then, and they always put them in very small type, as if they were ashamed of them. The worst sinners, I am sorry to say, are the provincial papers. The Glasgow Herald, however, has set a good example by refusing to insert them altogether, and I hope some others do the same. And now as to the betting-houses. These are of two classes. One class is an absolute swindling class. The keepers of them are nothing but swindlers. They take the public money without the slightest idea of ever paying anything back. All those who profess to have discretionary or optional investments may be considered as belonging to this swindling class. I would like to give some idea of what sort of inducements these men hold out to the public. They all begin their advertisements by stating the immense success they have achieved at different race meetings, and then proceed to give instances of the sums gained through their agency, stating that thou-sands are weekly made by betting on their advice, and that there is no surer method of making a fortune. Discretionary advertisements may not be generally understood. I will explain the system. A person who wants to bet, probably by way of showing his discretion, trusts his money to a man he knows nothing about, and the money is to be laid out at that man's discretion, and to be accounted for after the race is over. I have one of the accounts in my hand. It is from a house which has very many advertisements informing the public that it has an infallible method of winning, and generally at long odds. The gentleman who sent it to me invested £5, and the account shows ten bets in all—four of them winning and six of them losing bets, and the whole stake being lost. The remarkable feature is that the winning bets were in every case a bet at evens—a horse against the field—or a bet in which odds were given on the horse, while all the losing bets were those in which the odds had been accepted. Therefore, the infallible method of winning always fails unless the public favourite is backed. These discretionary advertisements are called among sporting men "muff traps," and I think the phrase is very expressive, because the advertisements only take in simpletons. It may be said that this sort of thing cannot last—that men will find themselves swindled once, and will take care not to be taken in again. It must be remembered, however, that there is a constant crop of new men growing up, and these betting men go on the theory that they can always get new customers. One of themselves very well expressed it the other day by saying—" There is a fool born every minute, and, thank God, some of thorn live." Some people think fools were made for the benefit of rogues. In some quarters it is thought to be an interference with the providential balance of equities to legislate for the protection of fools, and hon. Members will remember how the "Claimant" expressed this view—"Surely them with plenty of money and no brains were made for them with plenty of brains and no money." That is the principle on which these betting men act. They think that they can always get new customers when they have disgusted their old ones. Then there is the respectable class—those who pay their obligations when they lose; and although these are comparatively honest men, I think I will be able to show their system to be the more immoral and more dangerous of the two, because while the others all trust to new customers, these men load on the old ones from one step to another till they are more or less completely ruined. The profit they get is by giving loss than the market odds—in fact, these houses create the odds. Everybody who knows anything about betting knows that, as a rule, the backers of horses lose money even in the fairest betting, and it can easily be understood how much more likely they are to lose when they are obliged to pay their share of the enormous expense of large establishments and advertising. It is very like playing with loaded dice. Every person knows that loaded dice do not always turn up against you; but it gives them a tendency to do so, and over a long course of play you are certain to lose. In the same way, over a long course of events the balance must undoubtedly be against the backers of horses. They will always come to grief in the end. The result may be delayed—a man may occasionally win; he may even win large sums now and again; but these winnings will only encourage him to go on till he gets deeper and deeper into difficulties, till at last he reaches complete ruin, or his career terminates in some such climax as this—the paragraph is one I cut from a Glasgow paper— Alleged theft of £100.—A young man named———was yesterday brought up at the Central Police Court on a charge of stealing £100 from the office of his employer. It is stated that the prisoner had recently become addicted to betting. I have letters here from the police of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and would like to read a few short extracts. The Glasgow letter says— At the present time there are no less than 28 betting-houses in Glasgow, the number having been nearly doubled within the last two years. The more stringently the Act is enforced in England, the more numerous become the houses here. A few years ago there were none at all. The great majority—almost the whole—of the betting men are strangers who have had to flee from London, Liverpool, Manchester, &c. That the existence of such men and places has had, and is having, a very demoralising and prejudicial effect on the young men of the city there cannot be the least doubt. The writer then proceeds to give instances, but those I need not trouble you with. The Edinburgh police letter gives a list of 13 betting-houses existing in that city. There are two mentioned as being large establishments, which employ several clerks each. Four are mentioned as doing a very extensive business, and it is said they have £5,000 or £6,000 on every important race. Then there is a list of seven which take stakes from 1s. upwards. These houses are said to be frequented mostly by the poorer classes; but nevertheless they are frequented in such numbers that they take from £250 to £1,000 on the principal races. The letter goes on to speak of cases in which the police interfere. It states that in one house in Elder Street they found upwards of 300 letters enclosing money and stamps, and about 1,500 circulars. I have other information which I believe to be thoroughly accurate, and I am told that there are two houses in Scotland that are making £20,000 a-piece per annum. There is therefore a high pecuniary stake at issue, and the parties interested will no doubt make every possible effort to get the present state of the law continued. I now come to the objections that are urged against the Bill. First, it is said that it would be a blow to our great national sport. There could be no more unfounded objection. It does not interfere with horse-racing at all. Indeed, its only effect in regard to horse-racing would be to rid it of one of those blots which tend at present to make a noble sport appear disreputable. If it were otherwise, would The Field and Land and Water—which refuse to admit these advertisements and support horse-racing—approve of the Bill? ["Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear "Hear, hear," from the hon. Member for Mid-Lincoln- shire (Mr. Chaplin), and I hope he will give us the benefit of his opinion on the subject, because I am sure there is no man to whose opinion on such a subject the House would attach more weight. If this Bill interfered with horse-racing, would a Bill more stringent—Lord Morley's—have been allowed to pass another House without any question? We know noble Lords are not likely to pass any measure that would interfere with horse-racing, and my Bill is really milder than Lord Morley's, because it leaves out a strong clause he succeeded in passing through the House of Lords. The men who frequent those betting-houses as a rule know nothing whatever about horse-racing. Most of them never saw a race at all, and know nothing about race-horses, further than that they have four legs, and even that is hardly true of some of the wretched outsiders they are induced to back. Another objection to the Bill is, that it is a piece of class legislation—that it is an interference with the poor man's privilege of betting. It does not take away his right of betting. It does nothing to interfere with anyone's right of betting. It only interferes with the poor man's privilege of being robbed. It only interferes with those unfair inducements which are held out to men to make them bet. I myself do not feel that betting is in itself an immoral act, and therefore, I am not prepared to prohibit betting. I say nothing whatever in regard to those men who can afford to make bets. The immorality only comes in when the element of fraud is introduced, or when men who cannot afford to lose are induced to bet by false representations—men who, if they did lose, would do serious damage to those dependent on them, or to employers who trusted them with their money. It is only with those two points—of being fraudulent, and of unduly tempting young men to bet—that my Bill deals. The only other objection I have seen is to a particular clause which is intended to put down circulars and letters sent by post. A great deal of dirt has been thrown at this clause, which, it is said, is intended to interfere with the privacy of our letters. There is, however, nothing whatever in the Bill, or in the particular clause referred to, to give anybody any power to interfere with any letters at all; but the way in which that clause will work—and it will be very effectual—is this, that it will put the sender of a circular always at the mercy of the man he sends it to. Every one who sends a circular will know this, and it will tend greatly to decrease the number of circulars, and to make the man who sends them careful not to attempt to swindle those he sends them to; because he would know his punishment could be so easily brought about. That, however, is a point of detail, which can be dealt with in Committee. I hope I have now made my case sufficiently strong to induce hon. Members to support the second reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. George Anderson.)


said, the matter with which the Bill dealt was so important that he felt it would not be right for it to pass without some one saying a few words on behalf of the Government. There was one broad principle which should guide them in dealing with this question, and that was that what had over since 1853 been deemed necessary for the conduct of public morality and order for one part of the Kingdom, should apply to the whole of it. The Act of 1853 was passed with the view of correcting the very errors and faults which had been brought so prominently forward by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson); but since the passing of that Act the sister kingdom of Scotland, which had been omitted from its provisions, had been made the nest of the men who had previously carried on their betting-operations in England. As he understood, the Bill now proposed would extend the provisions of the Act of 1853 to Scotland, and it would also correct one or two defects in the Act itself. The statute of 1853 enacted in the 3rd clause that advertisements with respect to betting transactions in England and Ireland should not be published in any paper belonging to those parts of the country, and the result was that advertisements from Scotland and France could be published with impunity, and were published in the English newspapers, so that the intention of the Act in that respect had been defeated. The present Bill would meet that defect. When it was objected that the Bill of the hon. Member was class legislation, he would say that it was a Bill that did not come within any such definition. It did not deal with the poor man more than with the rich; but it insisted that betting transactions should be carried out on a system of honour, and not on such a system of deposit as now existed. The Government felt themselves justified in supporting a Bill of that kind, though brought in by a private Member, reserving to itself the right of making Amendments when it got into Committee. So far as the principle was concerned, they were glad to give it their support.


said, he felt it his duty to notice a remark which had been made by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) in moving the second reading of the Bill. The hon. Member said he observed that two Irish Members belonging to the Home Rule party had given Notice of Amendments hostile to the Bill. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) regarded it as an unfortunate circumstance that every opportunity should be taken by some hon. Members in that House of introducing insinuations of that nature in debates relating to other subjects. The hon. Member, moreover, was mistaken in supposing that the two hon. Members he referred to belonged to the Homo Rule party. One of them was not a Home Ruler; on the contrary, he was very much opposed to it. Home Rule should be discussed on its merits. So far as he was concerned, the earlier it was discussed the better; and he did not think that it would then be found to be a measure that could justify hon. Members on either side of the House pointing to those who hold the Home Rule faith as being, in consequence, unfitted to legislate, or to express an opinion upon general questions of the kind now before the House.


Representing one of the cities to be affected by this Bill, I desire to say a few words. I have received a Petition from the Chamber of Commerce of Edinburgh unanimously agreeing to the principle of the Bill. Some time ago I presented a Petition numerously signed from the inhabitants of the city and county of Edinburgh, likewise expressing approval of the measure, and I have just received a Petition in its favour from the Trade Protection Society, numbering 1,300 persons. All the gentlemen who sanctioned these Petitions complain of the injury that has, to their own personal knowledge, been done to young men in their employ by the facilities for gambling-held out to them by these betting houses in Edinburgh, and I am satisfied that the moral injury which is inflicted, upon the rising generation, by these betting houses is something more lamentable than hon. Members can easily conceive. Many persons in Scotland, who betted to largo amounts, and lost, have been utterly ruined, to the great injury of their families. The Petition of the Scottish Trade Protection Society is deserving of serious attention. It states that many evils have arisen; that many persons have been led into vicious and dishonest courses by these betting houses, which are greatly on the increase; that betting houses were almost unknown in Scotland until by the operation of the Act repressing betting in England, the men carrying on this nefarious trade were driven out of the country and removed to Scotland, where they have been instrumental in bringing about the most calamitous results. The question has been so exhaustively treated by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) that I will not say one word except with regard to the remarks which have fallen from the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department. I rejoice that the Government are going to support the Bill. If they desire to enlist on their behalf the sympathies of the people of Scotland, they cannot secure that object better than by supporting such a beneficial measure as this. Regarding what has been said by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry.) I myself have remarked that if Irishmen honestly and zealously wish that they should govern themselves by what they call Home Rule, it is certainly incumbent on them to assist the people of Scotland in this small measure of home rule; and that they are in a peculiar manner inconsistent in opposing a Bill of this kind—if they are really opposing it—seeing that they are so strongly in favour of the Home Rule principle being carried out in their own country.


said, he desired only to make an explanation to the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry). He was sorry he should have said anything at which cither he or any other Home Ruler could take offence. It was not intended; for he said he welcomed them, and was glad to see them taking an interest in Scotch business, and always should be glad to do so.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time; and committed for Tuesday next.