HC Deb 03 June 1890 vol 344 cc1882-91
(6.24.) LORD ELCHO (Ipswich)

In rising to move "That this House at its rising do adjourn until Thursday next," I feel that I do so under circumstances which are somewhat disadvantageous, to myself. I will not allude to the fact that there was a time when such a Motion was made, as a matter of course, by the Government of the day, but those times have long passed away. Members on this side of the House are continually being told that their actions should be a reflection of the views of their constituents; that they should follow public opinion, not attempt to lead it. Well, I venture to say that if any hon. Gentleman opposite were to appeal to his constituents as to whether he should favour them with one of his speeches or go to the Derby, the answer would, in the large majority of cases, be an emphatic "Go to the Derby." Whether we approve or whether we deplore it, the fact remains that tomorrow the "flowing tide" will be towards Epsom. I venture to say that the prospects of the Session are by many less intelligently discussed than those of the racing season, that the withdrawal of a great Government measure would cause less excitement than the scratching of the favourite; and that, greatly as the country respects right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Bench, the news that the whole of them were laid low by a severe attack of influenza would be received with a feeling mild in comparison with that which would be displayed if the horse which has been principally backed were to suffer from a mild attack of the same complaint. What makes hon. Members hang over the tape machine in the Telegraph Room, on which five pages out of six deals with racing matters? The present House of Commons is more popularly elected than any which has previously dealt with this question, and I do not think this House will be the first to break a timehonoured custom by refusing to adjourn for what is a national festival. Looking over the House I am at a loss to see where the opposition to my Motion is to come from. On the Front Government Bench, for instance, I see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture. England expects that right hon. Gentleman to be at the Derby, and in my own humble judgment it would be an act of inhuman cruelty to compel him to remain here answering questions as to the slaughter of foreign cattle at the port of embarkation at a moment when an heir of Hermit might be carrying off the racing honours of the year. Why, the dogs which he has muzzled would sympathise with him in his enforced absence from the Derby. I turn to the Front Opposition Bench, where the hon. and learned Member for Hackney (Sir C. Russell) ought to be and is not. Perhaps he has anticipated the verdict and has already adjourned to Epsom, where he is as popular as in this House and in all the Law Courts of the Kingdom. I am quite sure the followers of the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (Lord Hartington) will go to the Darby. I approach with greater diffidence that part of the House where the uncompromising champions of the rights of the people usually sit. I refer to those who follow the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). Surely it speaks volumes for the popularity of the great national racing event of the year when that hon. Member, who is always so jealous of the waste of public time, should, even when his own Party is in power, have moved the adjournment of the House over Derby Day. There is one other quarter, namely, that in which the Irish Members sit, by one of whom the adjournment of the House over Derby Day has before now been most ably moved. There is one Member to whom I look for support with much confidence, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). We have seen the phenomenal success of the Star placarded over the whole Metropolis. We have been taught to identify the success of the Star with the hon. Member. I do not wish to under-estimate the value of the picturesquely-written leading articles in contributing to that success, nor yet his efforts to sweep out the "old gang" from power, nor yet his endeavours to raise the political, social, and moral tone of the working classes. But I would suggest that the success of the paper is due entirely to the excellence of its sporting information and to the racing prophecies of its turf correspondent, "Captain Coe." I do not know whether "Captain Coe" is the name under which the hon. Member (Mr. O'Connor) goes racing; but I hope he will vote for the observance of a day, the phenomenal popularity of which has tended to his paper's "phenomenal success." If there had been any legislation of importance to come before the House tomorrow I should not have brought forward my Motion. There was a time, in 1882, when the House unanimously agreed not to bring forward that Motion, because the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian was daily and hourly engaged in passing a measure for the preservation of peace and the maintenance of law and order in Ireland. But the right hon. Gentleman is not now engaged in the preservation of law and order in Ireland. Wednesday afternoon is the private Members' ewe lamb from which the rapacious hand of the First Lord of the Treasury has as yet been kept aloof, and if there were on the Paper one of those Motions which fill the House and the Lobbies and give so many gentlemen from the country an opportunity of seeing the Metropolis, I should not have moved my Motion. But there is not a single Member of the House—not even the hon. Baronet the Member for Coekermouth (Sir W. Lawson)—who will maintain that if we sit to-morrow, one single Statute can by any possibility be added to our record at the end of the Session. It is true there is a Local Option Bill before the House to-morrow; but I think I am right in saying that its supporters are not in earnest about that Bill, but are looking forward to another fight on a different occasion. I think the hon. Member for Cockermouth himself wants rest. He has a heavy week before him, and he will have the demonstration in Hyde Park on Saturday. He surely will require a few days' rest to re-dress that old banner, and prepare that old speech for delivery. I move the Resolution because I believe that by granting it the House will be acting strictly in accordance with precedent, that in keeping a time-honoured custom they will not interfere with the course of any legislation, and that they will be giving an opportunity to many people of seeing the great race of the year. I know that hon. Members may go to the Derby or not as they like; but there are others who, though not Mem- bers of this House, have to remain in the House while it sits, and on their behalf I ask for the adjournment over the Derby Day on the grounds I have stated.

SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

rose to address the House.


Does the hon. Member second the Motion?


resumed his seat.


I beg to second the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House at its rising do adjourn till Thursday."—(Lord Elcho.)

(6.39.) SIR W. LAWSON

I believe this is the first opportunity the present Parliament has had of giving its decision on this question, and I am sure the Motion could not have been brought forward in a more able or agreeable manner. I do not see, however, that there was very much argument in the noble Lord's speech, and I am glad I looked back at the Debate which took place on the Motion for the Derby Day Adjournment in 1886. The Motion was then moved by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who said that anyone who opposed the Motion must be either a bad man, a crotchety man, or a Scotchman. I am not a Scotchman, but I may be a bad man, and I certainly am a crotchety man. The reason given by the Seconder of the Adjournment in 1886 was that it would give a holiday to the Irish Members, who were the most hardworking and deserving set of men that House. That was before they became criminal conspirators. The arguments generally used in favour of that Motion appear to be three—first, that horse racing is a noble sport; secondly, that it is a national sport; and, thirdly, that the Adjournment is a time-honoured custom. I do not think horse racing has anything very noble about it. I find it stated in a newspaper published a few years ago that a racecourse, or indeed a town where a meeting is being held, is a veritable Alsatia, where murderous ruffians break windows and wreck public houses, and which decent people cannot safely enter except armed and in bands. In fact, it is said it is positively dangerous for a well-dressed man to venture on a racecourse. That statement is made in Truth. That is the opinion of racing given by my leader. Now, I will give the opinion held by the late leader of the Tory Party. Lord Beaconsfield said in his last novel, speaking of a former time— The Turf at that period had not developed into the vast institution of national demoralisation which it now is. That was some years ago; but no one who reads the newspapers can believe that the Turf has much improved between then and now. So much for the noble sport. Now, how about its being national? In one sense, no doubt, horse racing is a national sport—that is to say, it is very popular; but what is national is not always rational, and in my opinion, if the House takes a step of this kind, it ought to have the sanction of virtually the whole of the nation. I object to what I may call ecclesiastical adjournments for Saints' Days and so forth, simply because there are a large number of people who do not hold views in favour of them. On this question of racing, I think you would find that one-half of the nation would be against the proposal. Horse racing is most popular with the lowest and with the highest classes, with what Mr. Bright called the residuum and the aristocracy—with the dregs and with the scum of society. But notwithstanding that, I maintain that there are hundreds and thousands and millions of people, whose opinions are well worth considering, who strongly object to this sort of thing. Then it is said that the Derby is a time-honoured occasion. Well, the House of Commons, I believe, is about 700 years old; but this so-called time-honoured institution was only started about 43 years ago. From 1860 to 1879 the Adjournment for the Derby Day used regularly to be moved by the Minister of the day; but in the latter year, in the days of Sir S. Northcote—very much, I think, to his credit—this was given up, and after that the Motion fell into the hands of the small fry of the House of Commons, such as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Chaplin), my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. R. Power), and the hon. Member for Wigtownshire (Sir H. Maxwell). I daily see in the newspapers and in the speeches of public men lamentations deep and solemn over the enormously increasing vice of gambling; but what is the use of it all if the House of Commons sets an example by giving its sanction to the greatest gambling day in the whole year? Let me read an extract which I obtained from the Manchester Guardian a little while ago:— Now one thing may be taken for granted If all the Archbishops, Bishops, Incumbents, Curates, Ministers, Elders, Deacons, Missionaries, and District Visitors in existence were to devote their whole time to a combat with this evil they would effect nothing so long as the present facilities for gambling are afforded. It is ill order to encourage one of these facilities that we are asked to adjourn to-morrow. The House is asked to give a sort of popular lesson and a national sanction to a system which is blighting and demoralising the body politic. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench have been stumping the country for the last fortnight like members of a Good Templar lodge, declaring that they are the greatest advocates and promoters and supporters of temperance the world has ever seen. I hope they are not going to make up for that zeal in the path of temperance by going a little astray in another direction. I remember a tale of a quaker gentleman, who was very much troubled on account of his coachman's free use of bad language, and who gave the man an old coat on his promising to try and reform. About a fortnight after the quaker said: "Well, John, and since I gave thee the coat hast thou altered thy bad manners." The coachman replied, "Yes, Maister, I've given up swearing, but I've taken terribly to lying." Do not let it be said that Ministers of the day having given up drinking, have taken to gambling. We have heard a great deal said about the congested state of business. There are eight most important Bills down for to-morrow. I will not read the titles of them all. I will only read the title of the one first on the list, and which will come on for discussion if the House meets. It is the Liquor Traffic Local Option Bill. I venture to say there are millions of people who are much more keen about that Bill than about what horse will win the Derby to-morrow. Let the noble Lord who has submitted the Motion go to the Derby. We can spare him. Let us do our duty in legislating for the masses of the people. We shall then be doing something-far more creditable than taking this stupid, silly, vulgar stop of adjourning the British House of Commons to go to a horse race.

(6.55.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I had intended to give a silent vote, but I wish to put my hon. Friend who has just sat down right in regard to my position on this question. It is true that I have made observations to the effect that there is considerable objection frequently to race meetings, but the objection which my hon. Friend cited ought really to dispose him to allow race meetings. I said I had observed that persons who went to race meetings were inclined to wreck public houses. I thought that the essence of the views of my hon. Friend was that in this matter he was a wrecker himself. The hon. Baronet seems to think there is a race meeting to-morrow at Epsom. There is simply a race meeting in name. There is an old-fashioned custom of going down at this season of the year to Epsom to welcome the summer solstice. The object is to enjoy the breezy air of the downs. It is true there is a race, amongst other amusements, but the race is a mere pretext. I speak from practical experience. I can assure my hon. Friend that the very last thing persons trouble about at Epsom is the Derby. I have been there frequently, and I really believe I never saw the Derby run in my life. This, Mr. Speaker, is a utilitarian age. We are always seeking to improve ourselves or somebody else. I regard this proposal to adjourn as a mere concession to the fact that people cannot goon improving themselves and others for ever, but must have some slight enjoyment. That is, I should say, the reason why this House has always adjourned on Derby Day. I can appeal to my hon. Friend for his vote on another ground. I support the Adjournment because I am in favour of temperance. The public houses and the downs are entirely antagonistic, and it seems to me most desirable to encourage the toiling thousands to go down to enjoy themselves on the downs at Epsom instead of soddening themselves in the public houses in London. My right hon. Friend may think there is a lot of drinking there. He is mistaken. I can assure him that there is not nearly so much drinking at Epsom as there is on Bank Holiday. People go down there not to drink but to amuse themselves. Let my hon. Friend go and look at any costermonger driving his family down. It is a glorious sight to witness, and when I see it I say to myself, "That man, instead of going into the public house, has been saving up his money in order to take himself, his wife, and the family down to the breezy downs; his example will encourage other persons to do likewise." Therefore, it is as an advocate of temperance, and as one desirous that temperance should prevail in this country, that I hope the House will by precedent and example encourage persons to go to the Derby.

(7.0.) MR. COGHILL (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

The hon. Member has informed us that, having been to the Derby several times, he has not seen it run. Under these circumstances I think the House will have very little faith in the temperance proclivities of the hon. Member. I must protest against the House of Commons adjourning for a race meeting. It is said that horse racing is a national sport, but if that be so, I deny that it is the chief national sport. Why should Parliament adjourn for a horse race any more than for a cricket match? There is now being played a very important international cricket match, and if the House adjourned for the Derby it ought to adjourn for an international cricket match. There is an important Bill down for to-morrow. The hon. Member for Cockermouth (Sir W. Law-son) has recently interested a large number of Members in his support as temperance reformers, and I trust they will vote with him this evening for the rejection of the Motion. I earnestly hope that, for the dignity of this House, and in the interest of the business of the nation, we shall adopt a more dignified course than that of adjourning for the Derby.

(7.3.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I want to emphasise for the benefit of our constituents the contrast between the appearance of the House this afternoon and its appearance last night. We have had some excellent fooling this afternoon. I am not one of those who object to see hon. Members amuse themselves at the proper time and in the proper place, but this is not, in my opinion, a proper opportunity for spending time in jocular observations, or for passing a Motion of this kind with the connivance of the Government for the purpose of going fooling elsewhere. We are sent here for serious business; and yet, whilst last night we had to discuss the affairs of the Empire to empty Benches, to-night the House is crowded to listen to the jokes of the hon. Members for Cockermouth (Sir W. Lawson) and Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). We are about to enter on the discussion of one of the most important matters affecting the people of this country, namely, the Education Vote, and I shall be interested to see how many hon. Members on that side of the House will remain here to consider it. Gentlemen opposite have been proclaiming that they are the most zealous advocates of temperance, and I would remind them that to-morrow the first order on the Paper relates to a temperance measure, in which the constituencies take the most lively interest. Are we going to have any declaration from the Government for or against the Motion for Adjournment? If they are going to-vote for it, I should like to know with what face they can continue their rampage throughout the country against us on the allegation that we are blocking business. If they vote for the Motion, they will deliberately place themselves in a position in which they can never again raise any cry of obstruction against us. If the Government refuse to give any sign as to what course they propose to take, I think the most decent thing they can do will be to walk out of the House.

(7.6.) MR. T. FRY (Darlington)

I wish to move an Amendment, in order to-test the sincerity of the Government in reference to the charge of waste of time. It is to leave out all the words after the word "that," in order to add "to-morrow Government business have precedence over all other orders of the day."

MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

I beg to second that Amendment.


Order, order! The Amendment is out of order, as it is not relevant to the matter before the House.

(7.8.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

I rise with great diffidence after listening to all the speeches which have been made, and I must express my sincere regret at the time which has been lost this afternoon, and the time which is proposed to be lost if this Resolution is adopted. What is proposed is that to-morrow, which ought to be placed at the disposal of private Members, should be given up to the study of horse racing. We have heard a great deal about horse racing this afternoon, but not a word has proceeded from the Members of Her Majesty's Government, who are now sitting on the Front Bench like a series of figures in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds. The Government should certainly express some opinion on the Motion, and I think that some Member on the Front Opposition Bench might also express some opinion regarding it. I wish to ask Members opposite whether they prefer horse racing to doing the business of the country. Let the country judge between us. I certainly hope the Government and their supporters will be very properly condemned for their action in this matter, and for the general indifference they have displayed when matters of urgent public importance have come up for consideration in Committee of Supply. No doubt this evening we shall have an opportunity of seeing whether the supporters of the Government are in earnest, whether they care more for horse racing, for fooling, for amusement than for doing what they are sent to this House to do, namely, to attend to the business of the country.

(7.11.) The House divided:—Aye 160; Noes 133.—(Div. List, No. 115.) s