HC Deb 26 May 1891 vol 353 cc1082-96
SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

Upon a point of order, I wish to ask you, Sir, whether it will be regular for me to object to precedence being given at the commencement of Public Business to a private Member's Motion which is not given to other Motions by private Members?


The hon. Member would not be in order in so objecting. This is a Motion to which, although made by a private Member, precedence is always given in the same way as it is given to Motions by Ministers at the commencement of Public Business.

LORD ELCHO (Ipswich)

I beg to move—"That this House, at its rising, do adjourn to Thursday, the 28th of May." Although we have lately returned from the holidays, instead of the holiday which the season of the year and our devotion to our duties might have entitled us to expect, we have been given but a miserable apology for a holiday. We have already sat for an abnormally long time. I am told that we are to adjourn late in July, but during the eight years I have been in Parliament not a single Session has passed without that promise being made, although I have never known one in which it has been fulfilled. I may appeal to the House on the ground that we have lately passed through Committee the great Bill of the Session, and that we are all entitled to a holiday in consideration of our exertions. I may further appeal to the House on the ground that our families would see us return to Parliament with greater confidence if the First Commissioner of Works had one day more in which to massacre the microbes of influenza, and to gratuitously advertise some strange-sounding disinfectant. But I make no appeal on these grounds. I appeal to the House solely on the ground that to-morrow is Derby Day, and on the ground that it has always been a time-honoured custom of the House to adjourn over that day. I saw it stated in the papers last year that I was a frequenter of race-courses, that I had backed many winners, and had won large fortunes on the Turf. I only beg to say now that none of these "facts" are true. I regret to say that I have not realised large fortunes on the Turf, and that, although I moved the Derby Adjournment last year, I am one of the few Members of the House who has never seen the Derby run, nor have I the remotest intention of going to the Derby to-morrow. My motives are, therefore, disinterested, and may compare favourably with those of some hon. Members, who, although they were conspicuous by their opposition to the Motion for Adjournment last year, were, I heard with surprise not unmingled with pain, equally conspicuous by their presence on the race course. I do not propose to recapitulate any of the old arguments that are annually brought out, because I take it that they are familiar to the House; but I do wish to say a few words to one class of hon. Members opposite, who think that racing is an evil that ought to be checked, and I wish to show that if they are sincere in their belief it is their bounden duty to support the Motion. No one can have failed to observe that the supply of grievances at the present moment is lamentably deficient when compared with the number of gentlemen who are anxious to redress them. I wish to point out to hon. Members a method by which they may at the same time cultivate a grievance, satisfy their conscience, and vote for this Motion. There are upon the London County Council members who look with great horror on music halls—almost with as much horror as the hon. Baronet (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) and his friends look upon the Derby. What did those members of the County Council do? Did they avoid the objects of their horror? Did they keep themselves aloof from them? No; they did exactly the opposite. Armed with gratuitous passes from unsuspecting managers, fired with single - minded zeal, they went night after night to these music halls. Where the audience was least select they went most frequently; where the performance was most doubtful in character they stayed the longest; and then, when they had piled up mass upon mass of evidence, and when the dreadful day of licensing had come they showed how they could temper justice with mercy, and announced their intention of continuing to tread the straight path of self-sacrifice they had marked out for themselves. I do not ask any hon. Members opposite to make the same self-sacrifice in the cause they have at heart. I do not ask any hon. Members to go to every race meeting in the Racing Calendar; but I do ask hon. Members opposite to go to one Derby in order that they may see for themselves how things really are. If they go to the Derby to-morrow, and are agreeably surprised, if, perchance, they find that the Derby is not a mere carnival of vice, if they spend their time profitably, they will return to town none the worse for having had one prejudice removed. But if they find their worst fears realised, if the picture painted by the hon. Baronet pales before the horrible reality, what a position will be theirs! They can then speak from the vantage ground of personal knowledge, and from the platform, perhaps, of bitter personal experience. And if they do not become rich by backing the winner, they can at least become famous by backing a Bill for the reformation of the Derby. Parliament may be asked to take over the authority of the Jockey Club, and to abolish that institution as ruthlessly as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board abolished the Metropolitan Board of Works. Parliament may pass laws regulating the Derby. Inspectors may be appointed to inquire into the economy of racing stables, to report as to trials, and to disseminate information of general utility to the racing public. There is no limit to the possibilities that would be open to hon. Members if they would only support my Motion and go to the Derby once. And now I may say one word to the hon. Baronet himself. I am quite sure everybody must admire the sincerity with which he urges his convictions; but does the hon. Baronet think he has done all he might do to check the evil which he believes to be undermining the morals of the country? Year by year he objects to the adjournment, but he does nothing more. I need only remind the House of what Lord Charles Beresford did when he was a Member of this House. He tried to show that we had no Navy, and every year he invited Members of the House to Portsmouth and entertained them there to a champagne luncheon. And the hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe (Sir E. Watkin), when he has a scheme in view, when he has had a commercial scheme dear to his own heart, of possible advantage to his shareholders, but of improbable benefit to the community, entertains the whole House of Commons in a railway cutting or a submarine tunnel. Why, then, if the hon. Baronet is anxious to bring home to the House the horrors of the Derby, does he not invite the whole House of Commons down to the Derby? Why does not the hon. Baronet take the House of Commons down by road, and entertain them to a gingerbeer luncheon on the course? The vans which are such a conspicuous ornament in Hyde Park demonstrations would be available for the purpose, and the spectacle of 600 hon. Members, headed by the hon. Baronet, going in procession to denounce the Derby, would have a far-reaching effect. If some of the 600 who went to curse remained to bless, the responsibility for their backsliding would not rest on the hon. Baronet. Then, will not the hon. Baronet recognise that he would best consult his own interests, not by voting against the Motion, but by acting as a teller in favour of the Motion? There is a Bill on the paper for to-morrow in which the hon. Baronet is interested; and I am sorry that my Motion should interfere with the discussion of that Bill. But I would remind the hon. Baronet that every Wednesday throughout the year there has been a Liquor Bill down for discussion, and probably there will be a liquor Bill on the Order Book of the House of Commons on every Wednesday to come; so that there will be numerous opportunities for the hon. Baronet to speak and vote. But the Derby Adjournment only comes once a year. It is too much to hope that the Motion will pass without discussion. I am quite sure that the House will have a few words from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Morton). The hon. Member is ever ready to catch the eye of the Speaker, and the House will wait with bated breath to hear his speech on the question of the Derby. Unfortunately the Derby Adjournment is probably the only question before Parliament on which the hon. Member for Peterborough is still in a position to deliver a maiden oration. Since last year I have received gratifying assurances that hon. Members who have opposed the Motion before will now support it. Earlier in the Session I noticed with surprise and joy that no less eminent a person than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan) had apparently changed his intentions on the matter, because the right hon. Gentleman strongly advised the promoters of some Bill in which he was interested not to put it down for the Derby Day. The right hon. Gentleman, with his usual readiness to recognise the changed spirit of the times, has come to the conclusion that the game of opposition to the Derby is up; and, therefore, I hope that to-morrow I shall see the right hon. Gentleman finding health and salvation on the question of winners at the Epsom course. It has been the custom, in moving the Motion for the Derby Adjournment, to give the House a "tip." In the improbable event of giving the House the right horse, I should, however, earn less of gratitude than I would earn of ill-will were I to give the wrong horse. Therefore, I will simply recommend the Motion to the House, and express the sincere hope that it will be passed in accordance with time-honoured precedent. I hope that the House of Commons, which is now in its old age, will show that it has not outlived all sympathy with and understanding of the wishes and popular pursuits of its constituents; and that a large majority will declare that the present House is not more degenerate than others in times gone by, who have always been ready to pay a tribute to the great national holiday at Epsom.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising, do adjourn till Thursday, 28th May."—(Lord Elcho.)

(3.0.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)

I beg to second the Motion. Hon. Members have various reasons for voting with the noble Lord. Some hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), wish to go down to Epsom to inspect the summer solstice, and the moment the Motion is agreed to, they put on white hats and sling field glasses around them. Others wish to spend a happy day among their constituents in opening museums and laying foundation-stones; and others, again, would be glad to escape the thrilling excitement of the Land Bill Committee and Scotch Estimates. I am perfectly certain that nine out of ten of the hon. Members who vote for the Motion will do so, as in the case of the London County Council, referred to by the noble Lord, from perfectly virtuous motives.

SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

I remember that once before when I made a speech in opposition to the Motion for the Derby Adjournment, when I took up the papers next morning the first one I opened commenced thus:—"Sir Wilfrid Lawson made the mistake of dealing with the Adjournment for the Derby too seriously," while the next I opened commenced, "Sir Wilfrid Lawson made the mistake of dealing with the question too lightly." That shows that the question is a very difficult one to deal with; but I think every hon. Member will agree with me when I say that I have never heard anything said on behalf of the Motion except pleasant airy nothings and good-humoured personalities. We have just had a clever speech from the noble Lord, which we have all heard with very great pleasure; but, still, I think the question is rather more important than the noble Lord would have us believe, and I can only regard it in one way. The House of Commons is a National Assembly, and ought not to neglect the business of the nation except for something of national importance. If there are a considerable minority opposed to the Derby Adjournment, the occasion is not one on which the House should adjourn. I do not think that racing is a national affair, although it is sometimes called so; the House does not legislate for races, it has no control over them, and it does not subsidise them. The fact is, the House is asked to adjourn in honour of a great gambling festival. If there were no horse-racing, there would be no gambling, and I do not think it is wise for this House to extend its wholesale patronage to a gambling institution. To do so is inconsistent, because the House has spent much time for generations past in legislating to prevent betting, and from the time of William III. it has been declared to be unlawful, deceiving, and contributing very much to the encouragement of idleness and to the impoverishment of the people. Do hon. Members ever read the reports of the Diocesan Conferences which are held up and down the country? At these meetings the evils of betting are dwelt on more than anywhere else. In a recent letter to the Town Council of Chester, the Bishop of Chester speaks of the races there as an institution which has an evil effect on the moral and social life of the town, and that he could not contemplate them without dismay. Even under the most favourable circumstances, their demoralising influence was direct and deep. What is the use of having Bishops and Deans if their teachings are ignored? There has been a Motion for a Commission to inquire into the prevalence of betting and gambling, and the Home Secretary described the betting agent as following "a dirty and shabby trade," adding that he had a Bill in a box ready to deal with the matter. I presume that he will bring it out some day. For whose advantage are we to adjourn? Only two classes of people will be benefited by the adjournment— those who go to the Derby to make money and those who go for pleasure. The House surely ought not to patronise the profit-seeking and betting class, who in a recent Review article on betting were described as "the most unprincipled and abandoned set of thieves and harpies that ever disgraced civilised society." Will anyone who understands racing say that this class of people has improved since that article was written? I see the Minister of Agriculture on the front Treasury Bench. The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished sportsman, and I would like to see him get up and tell the House his real, honest opinion of these racing men. If we are to adjourn for the benefit of people who make a profit out of racing it would be discreditable, and if we are to adjourn for the sake of pleasure-seekers it would be rather senseless. Any day would do for pleasure-seekers. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, who supported the Motion for Adjournment last year, has become wiser, and will not do so this time. But what did the hon. Member say? "The last thing people trouble about at Epsom is the Derby. I have been there frequently, and I really believe I have never seen the Derby run in my life." Therefore, I do not see why we should adjourn in the interests of pleasure-seekers on the Derby day more than on any other day. The noble Lord appears to think that I have used too strong language respecting the Derby. As a matter of fact, I never use strong language myself; I always quote it. In 1888 the Daily News—almost as good an authority as Truth—said, speaking of Epsom and the Derby— There are few places on the face of the globe where more sin and wickedness are perpetrated in the course of a week, and this infamous scene is not to be witnessed on the same scale anywhere else. Yet this House, this Christian assembly, is called upon to adjourn in honour of an event that can be described in language like that. It is monstrous. As to the holiday argument, it is simply cant. Why, we have only just returned from our holiday. I do not object to holidays, and if the House wants a holiday by all means let it take it, but let it do so at a proper time and in a proper way. I object to a holiday on this particular day, because by choosing this occasion we would seem to give our sanction to gambling. We shall have plenty of opportunities for taking holidays. The Emperor William is soon coming over; we can adjourn then, go into the streets, and wave our hats. There is the Eton and Harrow match; let us adjourn then; or we may take advantage of the great temperance festival at the Crystal Palace Then there is the Queen's birthday, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer's birthday. If the Members of this House are really as devoted to sport as one hon. Member has suggested, let them organise athletic sport amongst themselves on the terrace. I trust that my remarks will be received on this occasion as the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. R. Power) wished his to be received when he moved the adjournment some years ago, and concluded his speech in the words of a celebrated divine. "Remember, my brethren, this is not a sermon I have been preaching to you; it is only the truth I have been telling you." The decision of this matter is said to be in the hands of the House. The First Lord of the Treasury said the other day that it is always left to the. House; but everybody knows that the Government can carry the adjournment or prevent it. The decision is undoubtedly in their hands, and I hold them responsible for it. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to hold up his little finger the adjournment would be negatived. [Cries of"No!"] Yes, it would; and therefore I hold the Government responsible. Last year the Government talked about treating the Motion as an open question, but what happened? Why, 22 members of the Government voted for the Motion. That was their "open question." The Government constantly talk about obstruction. Nothing could be more pathetic than the appeal which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the other night in regard to obstruction. Well, if they support this Motion on this occasion they will show that their diatribes against obstruction are a sham. The Welsh Liquor Veto Bill stands first on Wednesday's Paper, and I believe that the Representatives of Wales unanimously desire that the measure should pass. The principle of the Bill has been agreed to, and we have only now to settle some of its details The Bill, it is believed, will remove much misery and wretchedness, and it seems to me that it would be very wrong to shelve it in order that some amongst our number may selfishly gratify our tastes for amusement.

(3.10.) MR. W. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)

Apart from the general arguments against this monstrous proposition, in which I fully concur, there is a special reason why I think I am entitled to claim the indulgence of the House in opposing the Motion, namely, that the Bill which stands first for Committee to-morrow is the Welsh Liquor Bill, which I had the honour of introducing in this House. I have no desire to say anything now as to the details of that measure, but it is a Bill of very great importance. We have been told that Liquor Bills are frequently put down for Wednesday; but as far as I know it has never occurred before that a Liquor Bill which has passed a Second Reading has been first on the Paper for Committee on a Wednesday. If the noble Lord objects to Bills of this nature being put down for Wednesdays let him unite with us in passing them, so that the Order Book may be no longer encumbered with them. If the Motion is agreed to, the chance of passing the Welsh Liquor Bill this Session will be lost, and next Session the supporters of the measure can scarcely hope to be as fortunate in obtaining opportunities of advancing it as they have been now, at any rate it is a great risk. The great majority of my fellow-countrymen believe that upon the success of this measure depends largely the happiness of the people of Wales. I therefore appeal to the Government to support those who are opposed to the Motion. They are specially bound to do so, I think; when pressed to make the Whitsuntide holiday longer, they told us that the condition of Public Business was Such that it was impossible to accede to the demand, and yet we are asked to sacrifice a day in order that hon. Members may attend a horse race. However elevating and refining the surroundings of a race course may be, it will hardly be contended that they have anything like an equal claim for consideration with an attempt to deal with one of the gravest evils which can possibly affect the well-being of the world.

(3.18.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)

I wish in a very few words to explain the reasons why I shall vote against the Motion, the best recommendation of which is the extremely clever and amusing speech made by the noble Lord on this as on a former occasion. I do not altogether agree with the noble Lord that persons who vote against the Motion are precluded from going to the Derby. But the point of view from which I regard the question is that the Business of the House is not in such a state that it is desirable that we should take a holiday. I have seen former leaders of the House, on an occasion like this, take up the Order Book and say, "I do not see any important Orders on the Order Book for to-morrow." That cannot be said now. Is there any justification for making this Motion? What is to prevent a great number of Members from going to the Derby? There is one Member who certainly often goes to it, the Minister of Agriculture, and special leave might be given to him now, as it is part of his duty to do what he can to improve the breed of horses. But why should not other Members who are disposed to attend to the Business of the House be allowed to come and deal with the business which is fixed for to-morrow? It cannot be said that the adjournment of the House for the Derby is like the laws of the Medes and Persians, which could not be altered. I agree with the hon. Baronet the Member for the Cockermouth Division (Sir W. Lawson) that this is a matter which is altogether in the hands of the Government. It is a sort of traditional rule that this Motion about the Derby should, contrary to the usual practice, be moved by a private Member. That is a remarkable circumstance connected with the Motion. I look at the Treasury Bench, and I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not there. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer was on the Treasury Bench, though not in his usual place.] Oh, I see that the right hon. Gentleman has resigned his seat to the Minister of Agriculture. I thought the right hon. Gentleman had gone away, perhaps, to meet the Leader of the House, in order to discuss the state of business. It is said that the Government leaves this an open question; but every one knows that it rests entirely with the Government whether the House of Commons will sit tomorrow or not; the responsibility lies on them, and they cannot escape it. It concerns the Government a good deal, because, if they are going to take away one of the few Wednesdays which belong to private Members, what will be their position when they come to ask for all the private Members' days, especially now that they are going to take away the opportunity of discussing one of the most important Bills before the House? The special circumstances of the Session, and the condition in which the House finds itself, ought to weigh with the Government. I am not saying anything against the Derby or against anybody who goes to it; but I do not think it expedient, in the present circumstances, that this Motion should be carried. I was almost going to say that it would be an outrageous thing in the present state of Public Business, and it reduces all the declamation, of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is so fond, about obstruction to a farce and an hyprocrisy. If the Government are going to let the House adjourn over to-morrow they will be responsible.


The right hon. Gentleman has been so kind in according to me permission to attend the Derby to-morrow that I can hardly refrain from expressing my gratitude to him. But there is this difficulty in the matter. Although to-morrow is not a Government day, and although I am not now speaking on behalf of the Government, but as an individual Member, it might be held by some people, if the House were to meet to-morrow, that it was the duty of the Minister of Agriculture to attend, and a conflict of duties might arise which would be painful to me, and which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would desire to spare me. I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that he intends, under any circumstances, himself to go to the Derby to-morrow. [Sir W. HARCOURT: After the dissolution.] "After the dissolution"; but there is no question of a dissolution before to-morrow; and, unless rumour belies him, it is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman himself to be present at Epsom to-morrow, in company with other distinguished Members of the Front Opposition Bench. If that is so, I can assure him that I shall be delighted to use all the influence which I may possess to obtain for him a seat on the stand of the Jockey Club—a seat of vantage from which he could watch the course of the animal which he may fancy most in the race. But, Mr Speaker, I hope, upon wider and on more general grounds, the House will have no hesitation in supporting the Resolution of my noble Friend. This is a Motion which has been acceded to over and over again for years by the House of Commons, and I believe it is thoroughly in accordance with the views of Englishmen in all parts of the country. Sir, I do not wish to detain the House, or to interfere with other business. But if this were a fitting occasion to do so, I could make out an unanswerable case in five minutes to show to the House that in supporting this Motion we are supporting a national object, which is attended by great national advantages, in which the improvement of the breed of horses in Great Britain is directly concerned. And I sincerely trust that the House will not be guided upon this occasion, if he will forgive me for saying so, by the somewhat Puritanical and water-drinking instincts of the Member for Cockermouth, but that it will support by a considerable majority the Motion of my noble Friend.

(3.30.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

As the noble Lord who brought forward the Motion has pointed out a defect in my Parliamentary career, I hasten to put myself right in the matter referred to. I shall oppose the Motion for Adjournment as strongly as I can. The noble Lord has stated that he himself does not go to the Derby. [Cries of "Darby," not "Derby!"] You may call it the "Darby" if you like, but I call it a sink of iniquity. If the noble Lord does not want to go to the Derby, why does he move the adjournment of the House? It appears to me that the noble Lord is asking us to make fools of ourselves, and to adjourn the House not to go to the Derby, but to go I know not where. It occurred to me that what might have given rise to this Motion of his was the saying of the celebrated Dr. Paley: "The man that is not a fool sometimes is one always." Now, Sir, I am anxious to know what the Government have to say to this Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) who has just spoken says he has spoken only as a private Member of the House and not as a Member of the Government; but I want to know what the Government intend to do in reply to this Resolution, because it is their duty to give us some guidance in this matter. The House refused to give a day for the consideration of the Women's Suffrage Bill, and yet we are told we are to have a day for what is admitted to be the worst of all evils—a great race. The Government do not propose to take to-morrow for their own business, which is admitted to be very much behind, and it has occurred to me that the real reason why the Government support this Resolution is that they want to defeat the measure set down for to-morrow—a Bill dealing with the drink question, which has already passed a Second Reading in this House. I now charge the Government that they are supporting this Motion not because they want to go to the Derby, but because they are anxious to defeat the Temperance Bill. The question has been put to-day whether some of us have attended the Derby or not. I admit that I have never been there, but 26 years ago I went to the Oaks. I went there because I was told that it was not so bad as the Derby, but I found it so bad that I have never ventured to go to the Derby or any other race since, and I do not want to go. Now, Sir, it is admitted by almost everybody that horse racing, and everything connected with horse racing, is so disgraceful that there is practically nothing worse in this world—I mean more particularly the betting, gambling, and almost every other vice I could mention. We have been told that racing is of use in maintaining and improving the breed of horses, but that has been denied on good authority over and over again. ["No, no!"] I do not mean authorities connected with betting and gambling, but authorities on agricultural affairs, and they say that racing is of no use for such a purpose. Why, Sir, is racing upheld in this country? I say it is simply for the sake of the betting, the gambling, and the other vices attached to it. If we were asked to adjourn the House for the purpose of hearing Mr. Spurgeon preach at the Tabernacle we should, I suppose, refuse to do so. We might even refuse to go and hear General Booth, but we are asked seriously to day to adjourn the House for the purpose of attending backing up and promoting what is admitted to be one of the worst evils of this country. [Laughter.] This is not a matter for laughter. It is more serious than that, because it relates to a great social evil which I ask the House to assist in putting a stop to. The Speaker has told us to-day that this is a Motion which, on the ground of an old custom, he has allowed a precedence to a private Member which is not allowed to private Members in other matters. But I say that it is high time to put an end to this precedent of making Motions with reference to betting and gambling matters. The Bill set down for tomorrow relates to one of the most important questions the country has to consider, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Tory Government admitted this last year by offering to pledge the finances of the country to the extent of something like £200,000,000 in order to get rid of the evils of intemperance. By all means let the two or three hon. Members who desire to go to the Derby attend that race meeting, but do not prevent us who are willing to stay here in the endeavour to transact the business of the country from considering a measure of so much importance as the Welsh Liquor Bill.

(3.37.) The House divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 109.—(Div. List, No. 251.)

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