§ *(9.0.) MR. PICKERSG1LL
I rise to move—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the growing prevalence of Betting and Gambling; to ascertain to what extent the Statutes dealing therewith are evaded; to con eider whether any, and what Amendments should be made in such Statutes; and to Report their opinion thereon to the House.I do not think I need occupy much time in discussing the evils against which this Resolution is directed, because they are recognised and sufficiently obvious. The existence of gambling hells in the West End of London is notorious. The statement was recently made in the Echo newspaper that within a one-mile radius of Liverpool Street, City, there are 18 such establishments. Mr. Montagu Williams, the Police Magistrate, is responsible for the statement that within the district of his Court there are upwards of 60 betting and gaming houses; and, more-ever, throughout the Kingdom, in every country town, there have sprung up within recent years betting clubs which imitate Tattersalls. I do not think, therefore, I need trouble the House with further illustrations, but I should like to quote one authority, because when I state it is the authority of a man who has had a life-long connection with the turf, it will not be thought he is prejudiced either against horse racing itself or, I presume, against betting upon horse racing. The gentleman to whom I refer is the well-known Mr. William Day, who, in the Contemporary Magazine, for June, 1890, quoted and endorsed the following words:—The extent to which the evil of betting is carried on in the large and important towns of A."—the names are not given—"with 50,000 inhabitants, and B., containing over 76,000, is 1263 almost incredible, and is doing terrible injury not only to the men but to the women and children of those places, who, if they cannot obtain the where withal to indulge in this evil by honest means only too often resort to means which are dishonest.I can understand the position that the instinct of betting and gambling is ingrained in our countrymen, and that it is useless to take any action against a universal instinct; but I do not sympathise with it because I believe that if the opportunity and facilities for laying out money in betting are decreased, the desire to bet will not be so insatiable as some people profess to believe it is. But whatever may be said in favour of that position, it is not a position which bas been taken up by the Legislature of this country; nor do these arguments lie appropriately in the mouths of the Executive Government, because the Executive Government are active enough with reference to these questions in some directions. Only a little time ago half a dozen bargemen on the Thames were arrested and carried off to prison for gambling for pennies on a boat on the river. Their work for the day was done, and they were beguiling away their leisure hours in a manner not essentially different from the way in which their betters—sometimes, at all events—amuse themselves. Justice was rigorously dealt out to those men, but they and their class ask why they should be punished whilst, for example, the fashionable baccarat players are allowed to continue on their course with impunity? Again, scarcely a week passes without a raid on some betting club in the East End of London. People at the East End want to know why the same measure is not dealt out to the clubs at the West End of London. Thirdly, the police are constantly interfering with bazaar lotteries or Christmas goose clubs. They are, no doubt, infractions of the law. I do not object to this action on the part of the Executive Government, but I ask for a fair and an equal law, and for an impartial administration of that law. I should like to point out that, historically, it is not true that the Executive cannot put down gambling, and I think that lotteries are a very significant illustra- 1264 tion of that truth. Years ago, as every one knows, lotteries were as prevalent and as mischievous in this country as betting is now. For many generations the Government were very half-hearted in their dealings with lotteries; they actually patronised State lotteries while they endeavoured to put down other kinds of lotteries or "little goes," as they were called. This unequal dealing with a great mischief was practically inoperative, but at last the Government put down State lotteries. From that time—1826—the lottery mischief has practically ceased to exist. My subject naturally divides itself into two parts, the question of gaming or gambling and the question of betting. According to English law gaming may be unlawful, either by reason of the place where the gaming is carried on, or by reason of the unlawfulness of the game itself. As regards the first reason, the law mainly depends on a Statute passed as far back as the reign of Henry VIII.; as regard "the second reason, it depends upon a series of Statutes which were passed in the reign of George II. The Statute of Henry VIII. has commonly been regarded as aimed exclusively at the encouragement of sports which were calculated to" promote the defence of the people; but I should like to point out that the Preamble of that Statute alleges as mischiefs aimed at not only the decay of archery, but the impoverishment of the people. I think, therefore, we may regard that Statute as a Statute against gambling in the ordinary sense of the term; and although the Statute is no doubt an ancient one, and may perhaps so far be supposed to have lost a great part of its authority, I should like to point out that that objection is met by the fact that the Statute is practically embodied in the Gaming Act passed during the present reign. What, then, does the Act of Henry VIII. prohibit? Put shortly, it prohibits the playing of certain games in a common gaming house. But what is a common gaming house? It is clear from the reasonings and arguments of Sir Henry Hawkins in the Park Club case, that a bonâ fide members' club, or even a private house, may be a common gaming house within the Statute; and there is in, an old authority a passage which 1265 strongly, as I think, supports that contention. I refer to a passage in Dalton's Justice of the Peace, which runs as follows:—It was resolved in 3 James 1. that if the guests in any inn or tavern call for a pair of dice or tables, or for their recreation play with them, or if any neighbours play at bowls for their recreations, or the like, there are not within the Statute of 33 Henry VIII., c. 9.It would seem, then, that playing for mere recreation is the test of innocence, and that if a few neighbours even meet and play in such a way and to such an extent as cannot fairly be regarded as playing for recreation's sake, then ipso facto, the place where they play, becomes a common gaming house. Secondly, what are the games prohibited by the Statute of Henry VIII? Certain games are named. I need not say a word about them, because, so far as they are concerned, the Statute may be regarded as repealed by subsequent legislation. But after the enumeration of particular games comes a general prohibition in the following terms:—"Any new unlawful game hereafter to be invented." The Park Club case decided that baccarat is an unlawful game within the meaning of the Statute. In the next place, I desire to say a word or two about the Statutes of King George II., which I think are of extreme importance with reference to the legality or illegality of baccarat. I pointed out just now that the games which are within the Statute of Henry VIII. are not absolutely prohibited, they are only prohibited under certain circumstances, that is when they are played in common gaming houses; but the games which come within the Statutes of George II. are absolutely prohibited whenever, wherever, and however they may be played. Those games comprised certain games well known to our ancestors, such as basset, hazard, and roley-poley. But I call special attention to the general prohibition in the 13th George IL, chap. 19, which is in these words—Every other game invented or to be invented, with one or more die or dice, or with any other instrument, engine, or device, in the nature of dice, having one or more figures or numbers thereon.I think it will be conceded at once that baccarat comes within the mischief of 1266 this Statute of George II, and I submit also it falls within the express words of general prohibition. It is quite true that dice are not employed in the game of baccarat. Cards are used, but cards are used, as I submit, to perform the function of dice. The cards are not used as they are ordinarily used. The court cards are ignored altogether in baccarat. The object of the game is merely to make up particular numbers, and drawing a card at baccarat is an act essentially of the same nature as casting a die. Therefore, I submit that the card at baccarat is "an instrument, engine, or device in the nature of dice," and falls within the Statute of 13th George II., chap. 19. I should like to point out one construction which the Courts have put on the judgment of the Queen's Bench Division in the Park Club case. Since that case was decided an action was brought in the Blooms-bury County Court to recover money lent for the purpose of playing at baccarat, and Judge Bacon, in that case, entered judgment for the defendant, on the express ground that baccarat is an unlawful game. According to the Solicitor's Journal, of the 20th of October, 1889, Mr. Poland has given an opinion that it is illegal to allow baccarat to be habitually played in bonâ fide members' clubs. If that is so, why has not the opinion of so eminent a criminal lawyer been acted upon? Not long ago, at the trial of an action in the Mayor's Court, it was sworn that baccarat was played nearly every night at the Brabant Club, Philpott Lane. Why was not the Brabant Club prosecuted? It is true that in one case the police did proceed against a duly constituted members' club—the Cranbourne—and convictions were obtained against all the members of the club on the ground that they were joint owners of the premises, and were, therefore, liable under the Statute. But the Cranbourne Club was only a very humble affair, and was mainly frequented by foreigners. I want to know why the poorer classes are alone interfered with, while the so-called better classes are allowed to go scathless? To prosecute for an offence of this kind only one portion of the community, and that the poorer class, is not only ineffective but is positively mischievous, with 1267 regard to the object we have in view, because it inevitably arouses public sympathy on behalf of those who have broken the law. I ask, therefore, not only for a just law but for its impartial administration. As to the second, and perhaps the more important portion of my subject—the prevalence of betting—the evil is almost intolerable in extent. I do not desire for one moment to suggest that we ought to make the making of a bet a criminal offence. That would be, if not absurd, at all events ineffective, because it would be far out-running public opinion. I desire not to deal with the public who are led to make bets, but to make the law stringent, so as to confine within narrow limits, and if possible to suppress, the operations of bookmakers and betting commission agents. It is singular to see the extent to which the law protects the betting commission agent and gives him a distinctly legal status. The Bishop of London stated recently that he once saw the name of one of these persons on a Church Building Committee, and when he remonstrated he was told that he was discrediting the members of a recognised and useful profession. Whether it is useful or not can scarcely be a matter of question; but it is certainly recognised by the existing law. I cannot understand why gentlemen interested in racing, and even in wagering,—should have any tender feelings towards bookmakers, the majority of whom are, not to mince matters, simply swindling the public. Speaking of them Mr. William Day said:—"It is impossible to obtain a fair price about any horse you may wish to back." The recent move-anent in France against the pari-mutuel has attracted much public attention, but the pari-mutuel itself was a protest against the unfair odds which the bookmakers exact. This machine of the pari-mutuel, by which the public are able to make their own odds, and to dispense with the bookmakers altogether, is not unknown in England. It was tried upwards of 20 years ago on the Wolverhampton racecourse. A prosecution followed, and after an elaborate judgment by Mr. Justice Cockburn, the machine was decided to be an instrument of gaming 1268 within the Vagrant Act of George IV. I should like briefly, in the next place, to review the legislation of the present reign with regard to betting-houses and places. The Betting Houses Act of 1853 made it criminal to advertise a betting house; and Anderson's Act in 1874 was, I believe, designed by the Legislature to suppress all advertisements which offered information for the purpose of making bets. The Courts have, however, put upon the latter Act a much narrower construction. In 1883 a sporting prophet, under the name of "Centaur," advertised in the Licensed Victuallers' Gazette his "wire finals" to be sent direct from the race-course for 2s. 6d. each. He was convicted by a Metropolitan Police Magistrate under Anderson's Act, but the Court of Queen's Bench decided that the Act did not apply to offering information as to bets that were not made in a house or place kept for the purpose of betting. In "another place" a Bill has been bought in by Lord Herschell, the object of which I understand to be to make criminal the sending to minors of such advertisements as those referred to in the case of "Centaur." I cordially approve of that Bill so far as it goes, and think that its scope might be widened, so as to include all advertising tipsters, without in any way prejudicing the legitimate interests of racing in this country. I mean those tipsters who pretend for a consideration varying in degree from a shilling to a sovereign to send, in anticipation, the names of winners and who do a great deal of mischief in promoting betting and affording facilities for it. And now let me say a few words upon the question, what illegal betting is. Betting carried on at an office or place under certain circumstances is illegal, and the question is, what place, and under what circumstances? Now, first with regard to illegal betting, the word "place" has received very wide construction, and includes a stool, stand, or umbrella, and Mr. Justice Hawkins, in "The Queen v. Cooke," laid it down that the ordinary operation of bookmakers in an enclosure is illegal, irrespective of their doing business under an umbrella or a stool; in spite of this, at Epsom, Ascot, Goodwood, and elsewhere, 1269 these things go on not only under the eyes of the police, but under their protection. I submit that the stewards, as proprietors or occupiers of the enclosure, are responsible, and until these gentlemen are placed in a criminal dock, I contend that to put down the humbler votaries of pitch-and-toss is a scandal on the administration of the law. It may be said that the law only applies to ready-money betting. That is not so; but, even if it were, in every enclosure ready-money betting goes on. But, further, I submit that the prior deposit of a stake is not essential to the illegality of a bet; though the Preamble of the Betting Act refers to ready-money betting, the enacting part of it prohibits also "betting with persons resorting thereto." According to the suggestion of Mr. Justice Blackburn, and as laid down by the author of a little book on the subject, Mr. Stutfield—a work which has received the commendation of the Queen's Bench, it is illegal to bet indiscriminately against all comers. As regards the policy of the law, it may well be doubted whether ready-money betting is not less mischievous than betting on credit, by which persons may be led into liabilities they never will be able to meet. I now proceed to establish my point that the law throws its ægis at present around the betting commission agent. In the first place, the ordinary betting commission agent, who does his business at an ordinary betting club, may advertise in the public papers or by circular for clients; secondly—and what is probably of more importance—if I authorise a commission agent to make a bet for me, that authority becomes irrevocable on the making of that bet by the agent, and the agent can recover from me the amount of that bet in a Court of Law. That is the decision in the case "Read v. Anderson," a decision upon which lawyers of standing have raised doubts whether it is good law; but, unfortunately, it has never been appealed to a higher Court, and so we are governed by that decision. What is the effect of that? A commission agent makes a bet with a bookmaker—he may and, I believe often does make it with himself—but suppose a commission agent receives a commission to make a bet, and makes 1270 it with a bookmaker: it is true that the commission agent is not under any legal obligation to pay the bookmaker; but if he does not he is turned out of his profession, and loses his livelihood. Then the commission agent, having paid the bookmaker, can come into a Court of Law and claim to recover the money from his principal who authorised him to make the bet, which is therefore enforceable, though it is said to be void. I may give an illustration of the mischief of the law as declared in "Read v. Anderson," which was quoted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. A young clerk committed suicide after having been found to be fraudulent in regard to cheques to the amount of £2,000. After his death accounts were found which had been furnished to him by a commission agent and made out in the most systematic manner, and letters from the agent were also found showing "that occasionally small sums were remitted to him as winnings, but more frequently he was asked for cheques for large amounts to make good losses. My point is this, the demand for cheques to make good losses was a perfectly legal demand, enforcible by law according to the decision to which I have referred. The commission agent may not receive the money in advance, but having made the bet and paid it, the law permits him to recover it from his unfortunate victim. I contend that the state of the law is scandalous, and ought to receive the immediate attention of the Legislature, so that not only should the bet be non-enforcible, but that every transaction arising out of the original bet should be tainted by it, and no contract under it should be en-forcible. That appears to me one important respect in which the law ought to be amended. Before I sit down let me say a few words upon betting clubs and their position in the eyes of the law. The ideal Tattersall's is, I suppose, a select club where gentlemen of wealth and position meet and make wagers on horse races for" mere recreation," as the old law writers say, and the stakes are lost or won with complete indifference. That is the ideal Tattersall's, but what is the real Tattersall's? It is composed mainly of professional commission agents and bookmakers, who entrap the foolish 1271 and inexperienced, many of their clients being dishonest and embezzling clerks, and servants. An enormous number of betting clubs have grown up in imitation of Tattersalls, which, I presume, must stand or fall with it. Whether these institutions fall within the Betting Act or not has never been decided; but Sir A. Cockburn, when Attorney General, suggested that the test was" holding a bag against all comers." Is not that the position of all bookmakers at Tattersall's? There is much in the Statute Law on betting and gambling which requires amendment from a technical point of view, in order to facilitate prosecutions, but I have confined my remarks to the more public aspects of the question. I submit that I have shown the present state of the law to be unsatisfactory, and that there is a primâ facie case for the inquiry I ask. The Resolution is almost identical in terms with one which was carried in this House 57 years ago. Since then the forms of gambling have undergone considerable modification, and I hope the House will grant the Committee for which I ask, in order that a practice which admittedly has given rise to an enormous brood of evils throughout the country may be adequately investigated, and that, if necessary, suitable modifications may be made in the law. I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the growing prevalence of Betting and Gambling; to ascertain to what extent the Statutes dealing therewith are evaded; to consider whether any, and what, Amendments should be made in those Statutes; and to Report their opinion thereupon to the House."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)
§ *(9.50.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
In seconding the Motion, I need not go into the technical and legal aspect of the question, because my hon. Friend has dealt with that thoroughly, and as I am not qualified to do. Only this I say, in relation to the legal doubts and judicial decisions, that if the law is not strong enough it is the duty of "Parliament and the Government to make it effectual for carrying out the object 1272 desired. Within the last few months the country has been shocked by scandal in relation to gambling in the higher grades of society, and I have ventured to put several questions to the Home Secretary in regard to baccarat playing. I cannot say that I got much satisfaction from the answers of the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot say that I gained much information, but this I did learn that baccarat is an unlawful game; but it appears that the unlawful game may be played in your own house. In clubs it has practically been held to be unlawful; and the authorities have taken proceedings against the Adelphi and other clubs. I am told that in regard to the Adelphi Club the players, under some old Act of Parliament, might have been prosecuted had the case gone on; but it was not thought necessary to go on with that part of the case. But so far as I can understand if the game is unlawful in clubs it should be unlawful anywhere. Of course I am quite aware that, do what we like, we cannot put down gambling or any other vice by Act of Parliament; but we may do something, and other vices have been restricted by legislation. I noticed in reading the other day that this House has put down gambling within the precincts of the House. In the journals of the House I find it recorded that on November 8th, 1768, the House passed the Resolution—Ordered," That the Messengers in waiting do take care there is no gaming or other disorders in Westminster Hall or other passages during the sitting of Parliament.Whether it was against Members or against the outside public this order was at that time directed I do not know, but we do know there is no gambling in Westminster Hall or other approaches to the House now, and, therefore, the Resolution has been successful so far as it was directed. So we may well suppose the action of the House might be effectual in other cases. Duelling and cock-fighting have disappeared. With an earnest application of the law against all offenders, no matter whom, we probably should not have much difficulty. There is no doubt with regard to my question the other day had this baccarat playing 1273 taken place at a club, and if persons of not such a high social standing been concerned, we should have had some action taken by the authorities. As I understand it, the game of baccarat is unlawful, the spirit of the law is broken by it, the clear intention of the law being to put an end to gambling by games of chance. If there is any doubt about baccarat being unlawful within the meaning of the Act, let a case be tried. I do not expect a Tory Government to be quite so strict in these matters as a Radical Government might be, but still a Tory Government should try and prevent the spirit of the law being systematically broken. It appears to me that the higher the social standing of the people engaged in playing this unlawful game the more is it the duty of the Government to take every means to put it down. That the vice of gambling is spreading and causing ruin among the younger part of our population there is too much reason to believe. I am told that a recent prosecution of a club was undertaken at the instigation of a lady who wished to save her son from the temptation of gambling. I am told, on good authority, that an immense amount of gambling goes on in clubs at the West End of London on Sunday evenings, that this is well known, and that the police might, if they chose, easily find it out. I really think the Government might allow this Resolution to pass, and a Committee to be appointed, that an inqpiry would do no harm, and possibly it might be very useful in collecting facts upon which an Amendment of the law might be based.
§ *(10.0.) MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
I think the House is much indebted to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green for the very clear and luminous manner in which he has set forth the state of the law on this subject. I think the inconsistency and futility of the laws we have hitherto passed in this House on the subject of gambling must have come home to the mind of every Member of the House. No one will deny that the evil against which the Motion is directed is one which has enormously increased of late years. It must be 1274 within the experience of every Member that some one or other within the range of his acquaintance has been utterly ruined through gambling habits. Homes at one time happy have been reduced to misery by this vice. Many such cases are known to me. This vice has spread through every class of society. Gambling Used at one time to be regarded as the vice of a section of the upper classes. I am sorry to say that it still continues to be a vice of that section, but it has filtrated through all classes of society down to the lowest, and it is indulged in by old and young, down to mere errand boys. It is difficult to say who are the greatest sufferers from this vice, so widespread are its consequences. It is notorious that in the industrial districts of the Midlands and North of England the cases are common in which clerks and artisans have lost their situations, and have been reduced from competence to poverty. Many of them are unable to pay their debts, and frequent embezzlements arise in consequence of losses through betting, the result being in numerous cases the loss of situation and character. Nearly as many are ruined by this vice as by intemperance. It seems to me that the evil has become so serious that it demands the attention of Parliament—and in this connection I must say how sorry I am to-night to see such a small gathering of Members to deal with one of the greatest evils which affect our country at the present moment. If the House will allow me, I will, as a specimen, read an extract from a letter received from a working man in Scotland on this subject—for the vice has spread to Scotland, and is nearly as great an evil there as it is in the North of England. This writer puts the matter so forcibly that I think the House will bear with me whilst I read a short extract. He writes—You will allow me to call your attention to the case of poor hard working men who try to bring up their sons to he useful citizens, and after all to become the victims of the bookmaker, which leads to a dissipated life. In Scotland betting is increasing to an alarming extent. The bookmaker takes from Is. upwards, and very often collects in shops privately, such as publicans, barbers, tobacconists, &c, and then the gentleman bookmaker makes his call in due time before the race, and when the bettor 1275 is successful the money pained is drunk until they make themselves actually no better than beasts for several days, or as long as the money lasts.This describes the case of tens of thousands of people in our country. It is a deplorable state of things. The bookmakers are ubiquitous. They are to be found in every grade of society, and in every part of the country—even in our villages. I am told that in a great number of cases they are the local publicans and tobacconists; and I understand that the gains they make are enormous. I am informed that as much as £500,000 passes through the hands of some bookmakers in a year, and the average daily bets placed by one are said to amount to £5,000, Some bookmakers have accumulated large fortunes, and live in the suburbs of London in magnificence. I say this is an utterly rotten state of things, and that these men are following an illegal calling. If the law were properly administered, these men would not be allowed to exist. They are simply pests and ulcers on our social system, and ought to be stamped out. Of late years there has been a great increase of betting clubs, some of which have been successfully prosecuted in Liverpool and London; but it is inconsistent to prosecute humble clubs while leaving Tattersall's untouched. I would desire to emphasise the moral degradation that is brought upon all who are connected or identified with the betting practices of the turf. There is nothing which more thoroughly degrades men, which so robs them of all higher and nobler sentiments, and which makes them more dead to the higher calls of life. I believe it is a rare thing for a confirmed gambler ever to get cured, and that the vice often ends in suicide. And here I would make a quotation from Mr. Greville's Memoirs.In the 'Papers' of the late Mr. Greville you will find him making the following humbling confession in his journal, with reference to his attendance at the Races on Epsom Downs:—'This demoralising drudgery reduces me to the level of all that is most disreputable and despicable, for my thoughts are eternally absorbed by it. Jockeys, trainers, and blacklegs are my companions, and I cannot leave it off, though I am disgusted with the occupation all the time.'1276 A London newspaper thus describes a scene at Epsom—Looking round upon the gathering on the ground, one could not help speculating on what might not be the moral effect on England if Epsom Eowns had yawned open and swallowed up that betting, swearing, brutal looking, brazen-throated throng. There they came, streaming up through the clover fields, gay with buttercups and clumps of yellow furze, in hideous din and uproar, as though there were no larks carolling overhead, nor musical tremor of breeze in the woodlands, and nothing delightful in the hazy sunny landscape around. There was a general atmosphere of blackguardism and vulgarity; and a positive relief it was to get out of the thick of it into the quiet green lanes again.The question before us is how to deal with this pestilence which is sweeping over our country like a plague. It is all very well to make raids upon betting clubs, but that is only tinkering with the evil. Something more radical is required—something more in the "root and branch" style. The cause of the spread of betting is the portentous increase and circulation of the sporting papers, of which in London there are 15 registered and several not registered, some of them claiming a circulation of 90,000 a day. These papers contain columns of impudent lies under the name of sporting tips. An equally potent cause of the spread of this vice is the space devoted to betting by the ordinary Press, which carries this information and the temptation to bet into all our homes, and spreads it before the eyes of our children. I certainly do not envy the mental calibre of the people who feed on the rubbish served up to them in the sporting papers. Such foolish and vapid nonsense as the prophecies and articles contained in these newspapers it is difficult to conceive that any intelligent human being can read with pleasure. But even the ordinary press is not much better. I glanced at some of the daily papers this morning, and found that they contained on an average from two to three columns, of this stuff. All these papers contain the impudent lies of tipsters. Surely the editors of the newspapers must feel degraded at putting into their journals statements from tipsters which are nearly always discredited by the facts, 1277 but which lure thousands of dupes to their ruin. I have obtained the opinion of a chief constable of one of the largest cities of England as to the cause of the great increase of gambling which has taken place during the past few years, and this is what he says—and I commend it to the attention of the House, for no one is more fitted to express an opinion—The principal cause of the increase of betting is the facilities and means afforded by the daily Press. Every day contains the Sporting Intelligence, and under that head is all the information as to the odds where they may be obtained, the various 'tips,' &c, which inflame the imagination and prove a terrible temptation to youths to speculate, and then, having lost, to obtain somehow the money which has to be paid.This is the cause of the increase of gambling, and I say it is needless for us to do anything unless we go to the root of the mischief. It is useless for us to declare lotteries illegal, and it is grossly inconsistent to prosecute old women as fortune-tellers if we tolerate these impudent tipsters. We allow fortune-telling to go on in these sporting papers to a gigantic extent and I say that we should either cease to meddle with these matters at all, or proceed on logical grounds that approve themselves to common sense and are likely to attain the result aimed at. Some people will say, "If you interfere with sporting intelligence you will be striking a blow at the liberty of the Press," but I deny that. Such liberty was never contemplated. The liberty to do wrong, even if done within the letter of the law, is more honoured in the breach than the observance. The conductors of many reputable papers would gladly rid their columns of betting news, but they are forced by competition to give them. One paper, the Leeds Mercury, ought to be mentioned with honour, because for years it has maintained its powerful position while excluding betting news from its columns. I say, therefore, that if we are to accomplish anything let us go to the root of the matter and declare not only betting illegal, but the publication of betting intelligence. It is said, however, that there is gambling on the Stock Exchange 1278 and in the commercial markets. Well, every one must admit that there is a great deal of illegitimate and reckless speculation in this country, and if you can invent a law to put a stop to that, by all means do so. But I see great difficulties in the way of legislation of this kind, the difficulty of drawing the line between what is legitimate and what is illegitimate business being almost unsurmountable. But the fact that we are powerless to repress all forms of speculation is no argument for leaving untouched this most fruitful of all forms of demoralisation. No possible defence can be put forward in favour of betting on horse racing or other sports. In conclusion, I would turn for a moment to the moral aspect of the question as contra-distinguished from the legal, and would urge that what is wanted is a change in public opinion on the subject of betting, and a higher standard adopted among those whose duty it is, from the great positions they hold, to set a good example to their less favoured fellow-countrymen. I think very serious consequences may result in the future if those in high places do not realise that their duty is to set a good example to others. I am sure it is in the minds of many people throughout this country that some of the oldest institutions of our land—institutions which are deeply rooted in the affections of the people—may be severely shaken in the future if more deference is not paid to the moral sense of the community. There are many persons who are naturally conservative in character, and who would not like to see any violent change in the historical institutions of this country; but who, nevertheless, are gradually being brought to feel that under possible circumstances great changes may be forced on the public by the character and behaviour of those who are highly placed in the country. In this matter of setting a bad example by staking immense sums of money on games of hazard and horse racing, it is most important that this House should send forth a clear and decided expression of opinion; and I believe that much good would result to the future of this country if the House would speak out with no uncertain voice in favour of putting an end to that unbridled spirit 1279 of betting and gambling which of late I has raged like a pestilence in this country.
§ (10.22.) MR. M. J. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
I am satisfied that the speech to which we have just listened reflects in great measure a large body of opinion outside this House, and though that opinion may not seem to be shared by the great majority of Members of this House, judging from the small attendance to-night, there are many present who are determined to use their utmost efforts to check, and, if possible, to exterminate this evil. Gaming and betting are matters with regard to which the House of Commons should speak with no uncertain voice, as the country will look to our views on such subjects for guidance. We should, at all events, satisfy our constituents that this matter is not wholly disregarded. Though it is not easy to keep a House on such a night as this, I am glad to see there are a certain number of men who are ready to stand up and speak their minds on the subject. I suppose most hon. Members have been on a racecourse. I am bound to say that of recent years I have not been near one, and the reason is that some of my great friends—men I was at college with, and men with whom I have since been associated—have not only lost their all, but have ruined their families through their gambling propensities, as displayed on the racecourse. The destruction and woe and misery which have been entailed on different noble families through this cause are so appalling that I should shrink from stating individual cases. We know that the racecourse does not necessarily entail gambling and betting. Horse-racing is one of the noblest pastimes if properly conducted, and it encourages the breeding of good horses. When, however, that sport is demoralised and lowered, as it so frequently is in these days, it is time to resist the pressure placed upon us to induce us to attend race-meetings, and to warn others, especially the young, 1280 from going near them. If gambling and betting were put down on the racecourse it would be better for our sons and our friends, and for all who attend race-meetings. This is a very important matter, and I have no doubt it is one upon which my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet (Mr. J. Lowther) could bring his great influence to bear. I do not think the appointment of a Select Committee would do any good. Its sittings would occupy a long time, and I do not think we should get any legislation in the present Parliament. I do not think Parliament could be expected to put down sporting papers, as proposed by the hon. Member opposite. We know that such papers, especially in the North, are sold in large numbers, on account of the information they contain. We could not go to the proprietors of newspapers and say they must no longer publish them. We must endeavour to improve the tone of those about us, and to deter the young from entering upon the paths of folly. If we can do that we shall be very much better without Acts of Parliament. My assertion is that the law is strong enough at present, and that it is already far beyond public opinion, so that there is neally no use in bringing in Bills and passing new Acts of Parliament. I hope the present legislation will be put in force, and that we shall have much better supervision exercised by the authorities over places where betting and gambling are carried on. The poor man's club and the rich man's club should all be under an equal law, and that law should be impartially administered. I hope this Debate will do some good in showing that this House is interested in the question, and is desirous of seeing the law strictly enforced.
§ *(10.30.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS,) Birmingham, E.
The House must be indebted to the hon. Member for the clear statement he has made in introducing this subject. There is nothing to be said for the vice of gambling, but as it grows up under many different aspects, the opportunities of reaching it by means of the law are extremely limited. Do 1281 hon. Members who have referred only to peculiar forms of gambling associated with cards, dice, and betting, not hear from time to time of "corners" in iron salt, and copper, and of transactions on the Stock Exchange, which are as dangerous, as pernicious, and as nefarious as any that take place in the paddocks or the clubs? I think that in expressing their indignation against gambling as a vice which has no redeeming feature, hon. Members ought not to omit forms of gambling which work equal misery, ruin, and disaster on those who engage in them with those which have been made the special subject of attack to-night. A Select Committee has been asked for, but if a Select Committee were to be appointed its range would be infinite, and hon. Members would not readily see the end of its labours. In all transactions in life we desire that no man should take advantage of another, or avail himself of superior judgment or knowledge in order to make a profit out of his neighbour. The basis of the Civil Law is that no man should make any bargain with another in which he has any improper advantage, and when he contracts he should disclose all that he knows. But this is the very opposite of our law, and the doctrine of caveat emptor requires a man to look after himself. Take the case of bargains for cargoes to arrive at a certain time. What are these transactions but another form of betting, because the possibility of arrival or non-arrival of a certain number of cargoes is made a reason for the arbitrary fluctuations of price, in the course of which great fortunes are made or widespread ruin caused. The Debate, however, has been confined to the forms of gambling known as cards and betting on horse races. I do not wish to defend those forms of gambling; indeed, I readily recognise their evils. I think that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green found fault, as far as card-playing was concerned, both with the law and the manner in which it was administered and put in force. I confess that I love the sweet simplicity of the Common Law. I like 1282 the rule which says that no game was unlawful, and that a wager was a perfectly legitimate form of human ingenuity, but which says also that if a man gathered people together in what was called a gaming-house for purposes of profit, this is a common nuisance, which the law should strike down. Time after time the Legislature has made enactments against forms of gaming. In Henry VIII., c. 9, 1541–2, it was provided that—No manner of artificer or craftsman of any handicraft or occupation, husbandman, apprentice, labourer, servant at husbandry, journeyman or servant of artificer, mariner, fisherman, waterman, or any serving man shall from the said Feast of St. John Baptist play at the table, tennis, dice, cards, bowls, clashe, coytinge, logatinge, or any other unlawful game out of Christmas under pain of 20s., to be forfeit for every time, and in Christmas to play at any of the said games in their masters' houses or in their masters' presence; and also that no manner of person shall at any time play at any bowle or bowles in open place out of his garden or orchard under the pain for every time so offending to forfeit 6s. 8d.In the time of George II. faro, ace of hearts, basset, and hazard were picked out as being unlawful; and I think that these statutory attempts at suppression have been failures. They were an unwise extension of the broad plain principles of the Common Law, which does not attempt to deal with any form of game as being unlawful in itself, but which deals only with the social evil of gathering persons together for the purpose of profit. If, for example, a Select Committee were to recommend that baccarat should be put down, I believe that such advice would be bad, and that this form of gaming would revive in some other form subsequently. The hon. Member says it is wrong to allow the clubs of the rich to escape, while those of the poor are punished. I agree with the hon. Member. But was not the Park Club a club of rich and influential men in the West End of London, and was it not successfully prosecuted? I and the Metropolitan Police have spent many months in endeavouring to get at another club, whose name I will not mention, but which, I believe, has been carrying on gambling to an extent that is ruinous to all concerned. But our efforts have been baffled, because we cannot get persons to come forward and swear to 1283 facts which are necessary before the police can take steps to enter the club. I ask hon. Members not to believe that there is any remissness to put the law in force. When the authorities do not always seem to be as active as some hon. Members wish them to be, it is because there are difficulties in their path owing to the sympathy of the general public with the offenders. There are, perhaps, other causes why it is sometimes extremely difficult to enforce the law. We all know many charitable and good people. I do not suppose that the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) has ever ventured to touch such a thing as a charitable lottery with the tip of his finger. But there are such things; and no one could live on the other side of St. George's Channel, or have any remote connection with that country, without being the recipient of bundles of tickets for lotteries and raffles designed to relieve some charity. The law strikes at these things; but those who have to enforce the law shrink from doing so against lotteries. I have always written in the terms of the severest remonstrance I can command: but I have not gone further. The hon. Member for Flintshire says that the increase of gambling is due to the sporting newspaper. I believe that the hon. Member is right. I believe it is because there has sprung up of late years a mass of penny and halfpenny newspapers filled with nothing but trumpery predictions and inflated descriptions of horse racing that young men, who might be better employed attending to their ledgers, are induced to read and sometimes to follow the advice given. Has the hon. Member for Flintshire the courage to start on a crusade against these newspapers?
§ *MR. MATTHEWS
Then I ask this House whether it is prepared to embark on such a crusade as will strike at the root and cause of this racecourse gambling. For my own part, I am not prepared to assent to the statement that gambling has, on the whole, increased. I am afraid, however, that it has descended to a somewhat lower sphere of society, and has assumed a different form. In my younger days pitch and toss was 1284 very common, but I believe it has now ceased to have charms. There was also a great deal of public-house gambling which I can remember in my younger days. [Loud laughter.] I speak of what I saw as a philanthropic observer. I agree, however, that gambling has assumed another form. In no form has the spirit of gambling been more mischievous than on the Stock Exchange and in the mart, and I hope the House will not be led away by such shadowy distinctions as satisfy the minds of some hon. Members opposite. It is impossible to define bookmakers in a Statute in such a way as to enforce against them penalties of which the public judgment would approve, and that is an essential of legislation. How are you to distinguish between the legitimate and illegitimate bookmaker? If any one of us makes one, two, or three bets against a horse, is he a bookmaker? When does the intolerable and unpardonable sin of betting begin; and when does legitimate business end, and illegitimate begin? If you do not carry the public mind with you, if you do not carry the common sense of the House with you, I defy you to pass legislation against gambling and horse-racing which would hold water for a moment. We would have the hon. Members for Flintshire and for Bethnal Green crying out for something more severe, and for more action on the part of the police. I think the charge against the police is one which comes with very ill grace, especially from the Legislature. There is no duty on the police to enforce penalties. We have no Public Prosecutor—I am speaking broadly—except in capital offences. And I protest it being made a matter of reproach against the police that they do not prosecute, whenever a primâ facie case against the betting laws can be made out. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green is just as much a custodian of the public morals as is a policeman. If the hon. Member chooses to consider Tattersail's an illegal establishment let him prosecute. For my part, I should be sorry dogmatise on that subject. I should be sorry to assert that Tattersall's is within the meaning of the Act with any positiveness of affirmation. I am inclined to be of opinion that it is not, and I would not on my own responsi- 1285 bility direct a prosecution against Tattersail's. If the Member for Bethnal Green thinks otherwise, it is his duty to bring forward that matter himself in the Criminal Courts. I emphatically disclaim, for my own part, anything like the duty of doing so.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL
I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that it is not the duty of the police to prosecute a club. May I point out that scarcely a week passes without the police prosecuting some club in the East End of London?
§ *MR. MATTHEWS
I have asserted that everybody has a right to prosecute, and therefore the police do so when the necessary evidence is procurable. But when the hon. Member chooses to assume that betting at Tattersall's is unlawful, and that the police deserve censure because they do not prosecute that establishment, I assert that such a charge cannot be justly sustained. The police do not possess evidence to show that the transactions there are illegal, and they would be exceeding their proper functions if they prosecuted. With regard to the betting commission agents, I confess that I have no sympathy with them. Theirs is rather a dirty and a shabby trade. But I cannot help pointing out to the hon. Member that it would be extremely difficult to frame a law which would strike at them, and which would not also strike at other agents who take commissions. It is to be observed that a commission agent derives no profit himself whether a bet is won or lost. He carries out the instructions he receives, and he must back or lay according to the wish of his employer. I am bound to say that much as I dislike betting, and the commission agent's relation to it, yet I do not see how you are to frame an Act to strike at them which would not also strike equally at the Stock Exchange jobber or the commission agent in the Cotton Market. Therefore, Sir, while I sympathise in the 1286 main with the feelings expressed by the Mover and Seconder of this Motion, I ask the House to consider what practical good could be expected to follow from the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate to what extent the Statutes are evaded. I do not think the Statutes are evaded. Many cases of gambling do not fall within them. For instance, if baccarat, roulette, or any other game is played in a private house that certainly is not an offence against the Gaming Laws, and it would be most absurd if the House were to pass a law enabling the agents of the law and the police to enter private houses to see whether a man is playing at baccarat for a penny or a farthing with his children or his grandchildren. Such an investigation of the amusements of every private family would be a most intolerable tyranny, and the country would not bear it for a moment. Any attempt at an enactment of that sort would be the height of legislative folly.
§ *MR. MORTON
I do not wish to interfere with such play as that referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, but with such play as we have heard of as taking place at Tran by Croft.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I must humbly and respectfully ask the hon. Member where is the scheme by which it can be ascertained what kind of baccarat is played, and how is he to ascertain that baccarat of any sort, or of either sort, is played in any house unless the house is to be entered and searched? Will he say that every house, from 10 in the evening, is to be liable to be searched? Will he picture to himself the consequence if every house is to be liable to be entered and searched by the police to see whether baccarat is played or not?
§ MR. MORTON
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is sworn evidence that baccarat was played at Tranby Croft?
§ *MR. MATTHEWS
I am always willing to submit to interruptions, but not to a running fire of them. I would again ask how possibly, if a thing of that sort is to be turned into an offence against the law, how can it be suppressed or put down by the police except by domiciliary visits? The information is not to be got. If the hon. Member were himself taking part in the game, I am quite sure he would not voluntarily go and tell the police. We do not have domestic spies and traitors in our social life, and the only possible means by which the thing can be ascertained will be that the police should have the power of entry and search. That would be simply intolerable. There are some defects which are due to the state of the law, and some due obviously to the defects of its machinery. The House does not want a Select Committee to advise it on the subject. I have here in my box a Bill which I prepared three years ago to consolidate and amend the law relating to gaming; but I have been prevented from bringing it in, partly because I had not the time, partly because I did not think it was pressing. I want no Select Committee to point out what are the requisite amendments in the law. I do not see that the law fails to reach very serious abuses of gambling, either in card playing or betting. It seems to me to reach all the real evil of that class of misdemeanour, and the reason why the law is not more efficient to prevent those practices is because of the great difficulty, the absolute impossibility, of proof. No legislation could overcome that difficulty. And so, although I repeat that this discussion may have done good by showing what the opinion of this House is about such pursuits, I strongly deprecate the appointment of a Select Committee, as the inquiry would end in no commensurate benefit.
§ (11.7.) The House divided:—Ayes 47; Noes 70.—(Div. List, No. 90.)