HC Deb 25 May 1875 vol 224 cc867-74

moved, "That this House, at its rising, do adjourn till Thursday next."


I am quite sure, Mr. Speaker, that the House, as well as myself, must be very much disappointed by the non-appearance in his place of the Prime Minister. I hope he is not kept away by indisposition; because if he had been here I should have hoped to have heard from him some reason why he calls on the House on this occasion to take a holiday. But, as he is unfortunately not present, I must endeavour to give my reasons for thinking that the House had better not take a holiday on the present occasion. I remember, Sir, some time ago, that when we on this side of the House were in office—in those happy days—there were three Gentlemen in this House—namely, the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Lowther), the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck), and another Gentleman, the late Mr. Thomas Collins. [Laughter.] Well, Sir, I think I am perfectly in order in styling him in that manner, for in a Parliamentary sense, at all events, he is defunct. These three Gentlemen formed a combination in this House, and they were always—or, at least, they were very frequently—moving the Adjournment of the House; but one of the three—I will not invidiously name him—told me that, in his opinion, the longer the House sat the more harm it did, and therefore he always moved the Adjournment of the House on principle. I do not suppose that my right hon. Friend who has just now made this Motion, or the Prime Minister himself, would have adopted that argument to-day; because it is only a fortnight ago that we were informed that the Government had a great number of important Bills on the Table of the House, and that they intended to carry every one of them, if they kept the House sitting till Christmas. I took the trouble to look and see how many Bills there were brought in by the Government, and I found that there were no fewer than 70. If that be the case, this is not the time to take a holiday, with such a gloomy prospect before us. I am disposed, however, to think that the real reason why the Prime Minister is in favour of this Motion is because, when Lord Palmerston first took upon himself as Leader of the House to make a similar Motion, he said he looked upon it as "part of the unwritten law of Parliament; "and we know by late occurrences that the Prime Minister has almost a fanatical reverence for the "unwritten law of Parliament." But I wish to disabuse the House of an idea entertained by some Members, who are not so well informed on sporting matters as they ought to be. I believe there are a good many in this House who imagine that the Derby and the Motion for Adjournment for the Derby form part of the British Constitution—just as much as Magna Charta, the Lord Mayor's Show, or the exclusion of Strangers from the Gallery of the House of Commons. But I will prove by-and-by that that is not so. Before doing so, however, let me clear myself from the suspicion of any wish to interfere with the innocent pleasures and amusements of Members of this House. I do not object to Members of this House going to Epsom, Ascot, and Newmarket, if they be so minded, in their individual capacity. We know that a great many honoured and respected Members of this House regularly take their holiday while the House is sitting, and go to Newmarket or Ascot; and the House is very much pleased that they should have their amusement, and they are glad to hear that the House gets on very well without them, and that Public Business suffers no impediment in their absence. But I wish to show that this is really not an old-established institution—the Adjournment for the Derby. Will the House believe it, that the Adjournment for the Derby was never moved in this House until the year 1847, about 30 years ago? It was at first continually opposed, and was carried by only small majorities. That was the case over and over again; and let me tell the House it was never moved by the recognized Leader of the Government in this House until 1860, when Lord Palmerston took upon himself to do so, on the occasion when he used the expression about the "unwritten law of Parliament." Ever since that day it has become a popular thing for Prime Ministers to move the Adjournment of the House over the Derby Day. The late Prime Minister moved it in 1872, and the reason he gave for making that Motion was—and I wish the House to mark that he did not express his own opinion—that— The House believes horse racing to he in itself a noble, manly, distinguished, and, I may say, historically national sport."—[3 Hansard, ccxi. 794]— and the present Prime Minister, speaking a few nights ago on a question connected with sporting, said that horse-racing was "a noble and inspiriting sport." I am not going to set myself up against sporting authorities like the late and present Prime Ministers; but I call attention to this subject as much with the object of eliciting useful information as for any other purpose; and I want somebody who is very much in favour of the Motion for Adjournment over the Derby Day, to get up and explain to me in what respect horse-racing is "a noble employment?" What is is there "noble in going down to Ep-and seeing 20 jockeys spurring 20 horses for the sake of putting money into their own pockets and those of the owners of those horses?—for the whole thing is money, and nothing but money, from beginning to end. I do not suppose that the jockeys, though they may be very good people in their way, are exactly entitled to be called the highest types of Christian heroes. I do not know even if they have the requisite British virtue and excellency which the hon. and gal-land Member for Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) would desire to see, and are quite so broad in the chest as they ought to be. But I want to know what there is that is noble in this sport more than in any other sport in which the people of this country indulge? Mr. Speaker, do not imagine that I object to holidays on proper occasions. There are plenty of opportunities for them. When, the other day, we launched one of our large ironclads, many Members went down to see that operation. Some of us might not like to go and see preparations made for the destruction of our fellow-creatures; but we are a small minority, and no doubt, that was a national object. It was paid for by national money, and was under national control; and we had a religious service conducted by the head of the national Church, who prayed that the ship might be successful in destroying his fellow-Christians in all parts of the world. But that occasion does not suffice. There is the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. That is quite as much a national sport as a sweepstakes at the Derby, and there is something about the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race which you cannot say about Epsom and other races in this country. There is no suspicion of a "sell" in that matter. But if that does not suit you, go to the Eton and Harrow Match. We like to go down to see our boys bowling one another out there, who will spend their lives hereafter in bowling one another out in this House. I have made these remarks because I want my right hon. Friend who moved this Resolution to get up and explain what is meant by the nobility of horse-racing. As I have so little information from those who put forward this Motion, I want to go to those who do know something about horse-racing. We have all read the Greville Memoirs. The author has been much abused, poor man, now that he is dead—not because he has said a few things that are not true, but because he has said so many things that are true. Mr. Greville was one who moved in the highest circles of the racing world; racing was a passion with him, a delight, and an employment; and this is what he says about these races which we are called upon to patronize. Having come back from a racing campaign, he speaks of "the degrading nature of the occupation," and of the degradation of" mixing with the lowest of mankind." Mr. Speaker, would you wish us to mix with such characters? Mr. Greville spoke of degrading oneself in that way— For the sole purpose of getting money,—The conviction of the deteriorating effect on both the feelings and the understanding—all these things trouble me, and ought to turn my pleasure into pain. Referring afterwards to Doncaster, he said he met with "all that is basest and lowest on earth." Now, I want to know whether racing has so much improved since then? Is Epsom so much better than Doncaster or Newmarket? Has the Turf improved since those days? I do not know; but I read in the papers continually about the deterioration of the Turf, and of its having become nothing but the means of gambling and dissipation. That being so, I wish my right hon. Friend opposite, whose Party came in with the laudable intention of sustaining the religion of this country, to tell me how they can find it in their hearts to adjourn the House only for two hours on Ascension Day, and for 24 hours on the Derby Day? There are several Bills on the Paper for to-morrow—one dealing with imprisonment for debt, another for the amendment of the medical laws, and a number of other Bills belonging to private Members, who do not often get a chance of bringing forward their questions. Would it not be better to get rid of some of these than to go and disport ourselves at Epsom? We are not the only branch of the Legislature. In the other, there sit—and, probably, will sit for a long time—a great number of ecclesiastics. Now, can anybody fancy the Archbishop of Canterbury moving in that House, and the Archbishop of York seconding, a Motion for adjournment over the Epsom Paces? But, I must say, there are differences of opinion about this matter, and the House will excuse me if I make a short quotation from a paper which I believe most highly-minded people read (The Spectator) which said last year concerning the Derby business— It must be urged that it is a sight which the House of Commons does well to revive its faith in humanity by solemnly adjourning to witness once a year. Then it adds— In truth, only one great element of English life is conspicuously wanting—the sacerdotal. It is a very pleasant thing to meet the clergy in the hunting field or in the cover. No one shoots truer or rides straighter than an agreeable clergyman. Is there any other place where the clergy are ashamed to be seen? We had statements about racing during the Recess—about a clergyman we had race-horses running at the Derby; but the Bishop of his diocese came down upon him in a very severe manner—so much so that he obliged the poor man to give up his living, though he could not give up his race-horses. I should like to hear what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Lincoln (Mr. Chaplin) has to say about this. He, in this House, legislates for race-horses, and out of it for horse racing, and he should be able to give us the opinion of the Bishop of Lincoln in this matter, for I find it stated in a letter in The Times, signed "Holy Friar," that Mr. Henry Chaplin is one of the Bishop of Lincoln's "lay consultees," chosen by his Lordship in conformity with the de- cision of a Diocesan Conference. I should have liked, therefore, to have heard his opinion on this matter, because he would have spoken with Episcopal authority. I mean to go to a division in opposing the Motion now before the House; but I think I should be disposed to withdraw my opposition on one condition, and that is that my right hon. Friend will be consistent. Of course, he proposes this Motion because he thinks it is a national affair. That is right. He thinks it a national holiday, or he would not submit this Motion to the House. Now, my mind reverts to the national holiday we had on that happy occasion on which the whole nation rejoiced, when we were called upon to congratulate ourselves and give thanks for the recovery of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales from his dangerous illness. Nobody disputed that that was a national holiday. What happened on that occasion? You, Sir, went through the streets of London in the Speaker's coach, drawn, Sir, by brewers' horses—never before put to so noble and laudable a service. That was all right. That was a national occasion to carry out a national object in a national spirit, and with all national ands and appliances; and what I have to say, Sir, is that if my right hon. Friend will add to his Motion a rider that you go down to Epsom in your state coach to-morrow, I will make no opposition, but, on the contrary, I will promise that a very large number of the Members of this House will accompany you, to protect you from the people you will be amongst. But I ask the House, really and truly. whether they think that we are called upon to take this holiday, and whether they think that that will add to the respect with which this House is regarded in the country? The newspapers were filled last winter with letters from people living in the neighbourhood of London describing the miseries, and injuries, and nuisances which were caused to them by the suburban races. Pamphlets were written about them, associations were formed for the purpose of putting them down, and I happen to know that an hon. Friend on the other side was contemplating bringing a question before the House on the subject with a view of trying to abate the nuisance. So bad were these races that The Saturday Review, which is not a squeamish paper, described them as "scenes of filthy ruf- fianism." Now, let somebody who understands these sporting matters get up and say if Epsom Races are anything more than these 41 suburban races rolled into one. In speaking yesterday to an hon. Friend of mine, a county Member, I said—" Are you going to support me in opposing the Adjournment over the Derby Day?" He replied—" Oh, no; I shall vote for the Adjournment. I came up from my county with a train full of roughs, and I must oblige them." I say, then, that this Motion is not a thing worthy of this House. It is said that we ought to be" Gentlemen first and patriots afterwards;" but I say—"Let us be Gentlemen first and betting men afterwards." In this House there are many men of many opinions. We differ widely on all questions, social, moral, and political; but I think I am justified in saying that in one sentiment we are practically unanimous—and that is that the honour, the dignity, and the reputation of this House is dear to everyone of us, Sir, from yourself in the Chair to the humblest private Member. I ask hon. Members to follow me into the Lobby to-day, and declare that no longer shall this House—the first Assembly of Gentlemen in Europe—be degraded by allowing itself to be paraded before the world as the patron of Cockney carnivals and suburban Saturnalia.


The hon. Member for Carlisle has, as usual, added great zest to the opposition offered to this Motion by indulging in a great amount of humour and of what may be called "chaffing" at those who are in favour of adjourning the House over to-morrow. He has put forward several reasons why he thinks we ought not to adjourn. First, he has told us that the Government has so much Business on hand that we ought to have devoted to-morrow to pushing some of it forward; but, if we had attempted to do that, I do not know that anyone would have been more severe on us than the hon. Member for Carlisle himself for interfering with the rights of private Members. The Government have no interest in the day in comparison with that of the private Members who have been able to put their Motions down for to-morrow. Then, the hon. Member told us there were many other occasions when we might have adjourned with greater advantage, and he mentioned the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. Of course, I am not inclined to disparage that event, and I dare say it would be a very proper day for adjournment; but, as a matter of fact, it always takes place on Saturdays. [SIR WILFRID LAWSON: Not always.] For many years it has taken place on Saturdays, and on that day, as a matter of course, the House is not sitting. The hon. Member then says that unless it is a national matter we ought not to adjourn. I view it in a totally different light. It has become a House of Commons matter. Since 1847, at all events, it has been one of the regular holidays of the House. We have not had a long Whitsuntide; and, for myself, I confess that it is of considerable national importance that the House of Commons should not be unnecessarily overworked, and that, as far as possible, we should sit upon days when it is convenient to every Member to attend. Though I have not taken any deep interest in this race, I cannot help thinking that a great many of those who will vote for sustaining "the honour and dignity of the House" will mix with the motley crowd on Epsom Downs tomorrow; and after this adjournment has been going on for so many years, without impairing the honour and dignity of the House, which as the hon. Baronet admits, still exists—for he says we are the first Assembly of Gentlemen in the world, notwithstanding the fact that we have been adjourning over the Derby day every year since 1847—I think we may well adjourn on that day in 1875 without any risk of losing either our honour or our dignity.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 206; Noes 81: Majority 125.