HC Deb 31 May 1892 vol 5 cc382-91

I beg to move "That this House, at its rising, do adjourn till Thursday." I am perfectly aware that it is not for a humble agricultural Member like myself to occupy the time of the House on this or any other question, but I merely wish to dispel the delusion that possesses the minds of hon. Members, that by voting for the adjournment they will plunge the House into a vortex of dissipation, and set a bad example to their constituents, or that on its being stated that the Ayes have it—as I hope will be the case—hon. Members will array themselves in white hats and green veils, and take the first train to Epsom. Motions for Adjournment are not absolutely unknown to the House. For the last six years I have heard no less a person than the First Lord of the Treasury move the Adjournment on Ash Wednesday, but I have failed to observe that on the day following the Church of St. Margaret's was crammed with hon. Members and officials of the House repeating the Commination Service. And I do not believe that the top of the grand stand at Epsom will be any the more crowded with hon. Members if the Motion is agreed to than if it is lost. Some people have one idea of enjoyment and some another. I have many hon. Friends in this House who would utilise the adjournment to spend a happy day with their constituents, and to receive their congratulation on the number of Divisions in which they have taken part and the successful legislation they have forwarded. Some time ago I had the pleasure of hearing a speech of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere)—one of those addresses which all hon. Members admire and some hon. Members study—and in that speech the hon. Member, with a candour and truth which always characterise him, said that he, for one, would vote for the adjournment, and go down to the Derby; but he said he would qualify his speech, for it was primarily to gratify a wish, which he had always cherished, to enjoy the summer solstice from the top of Banstead Downs. I will venture to point out to the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Sidney Gedge) that it does not at all follow because a man goes to the Derby he sees the race. I myself have been to twenty-three consecutive Derbys, and I might say that with the exception of Silvio's year, and perhaps half-a-dozen others, I have never seen the race run at all. I should like to have appealed to an hon. Member who is a great advocate for shorter hours and lighter work, but who is not in his place, whether, after having done six years of hard labour in this House, where the work is hard and the pay is bad—and eight hours are not in it—hon. Members are not entitled to one holiday between Easter and Whitsuntide? I should like to suggest to hon. Members that if by voting for my Motion they were to postpone the dissolution for twenty-four hours they would gain the gratitude of their constituents, and would probably get a few more votes by postponing, if for only one day, the flood of oratory that threatens to overwhelm them. I have said that I will not detain the House long, and I will therefore now conclude by proposing the Motion which stands in my name.


Sir, I think the only fault I have to find with the speech of the hon. and gallant Member is that he has anticipated everything I had to say. No doubt the hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) will rise in a moment and fulminate against this Motion, and the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Morton) is probably anxious to deliver one of those philippics with which he is wont to charm and electrify the House. I will therefore in a few words meet what I consider will be the chief objections raised by hon. Members against this Motion. Now, Sir, in the first place, we may be told that it is a wicked waste of the time of the House to adjourn for the Derby. Let me remind the House that a similar Motion to that of my hon. Friend has been carried for the last forty-five years, and I think it was Lord Palmerston who described the adjournment over Derby Day as one of the privileges and unwritten laws of the House. I will ask hon. Members to say whether Public Business has in any way suffered, or the hands of the political clock been put back by it? As far as I can ascertain, that has not been the case. For my part, it is a positive relief to be able on one extra day to take up my newspaper without having to wade through the columns of talk and the oceans of debate which the sitting of the House involves. Then we shall be told that we are encouraging all the vices said to follow in the train of horse-racing. But hon. Members who made that objection last year confessed that they had never been to the Derby at all. I will ask the hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth if he will not, for once, break through his stern resolution and go down to the Derby himself; if so, it will be one of the strongest inducements for me to go too. I shall be most happy to act as the hon. Baronet's cicerone. I will not detain the House by saying more than that I cordially second the Motion.

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

(4.35.) SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

I rise with considerably more satisfaction than usual to oppose this Motion, because I believe it is the last time I shall have occasion to do so. We are on the eve of a Dissolution, and I may not be here in the next Parliament; but if I am not here there will be in the next Parliament men who will gladly discharge the duty of opposing this Motion if it be made. The hon. Member who has just sat down (Captain Grice-Hutchinson) looks upon this Motion as a time-honoured precedent. It appears to me that when people talk about precedents being time-honoured, as a rule there is very little else in the way of honour about them. But it is not a very time-honoured institution after all. We only have to go back to about 1847, when the Motion was first made, and for thirteen years it was moved by a private Member. Then for nineteen years, under the initiative of Lord Palmerston, it was moved by the Government of the day. Since that time—and I must say I think it was very creditable to Sir Stafford Northcote that he broke down that custom—for thirteen years it has been moved by a private Member. Now I hope we shall return to the custom before 1847, and that the Motion will not be moved at all. It would, of course, be idle on my part to set up a contention that all this racing is not very popular. It is very popular and very profitable, especially to the newspapers. I remember some time ago I bought an evening newspaper at Hyde Park Corner, and I asked the man which was the most popular—which he sold most of. He mentioned the name of an evening paper and added, "The paper that gives the most racing is the most popular. If it was not for the racing we should sell very few newspapers." I quite admit that racing is a very popular proceeding, and that a large number of people are interested in it, but that is no reason why the House of Commons should adjourn. This very Session the House has passed two Acts of Parliament to put down betting, and I am happy to say they both, came from the House of Lords. I am always ready to give credit to the House of Lords when it does anything good. One of those Acts provides penalties for betting with an infant, and the other is called a Gaming Act. I am not sufficient of a lawyer to understand it exactly, but as far as I can read it, it deals a heavy blow at the gambling that goes on. Having passed these two Acts of Parliament, is it not rather hypocritical for us to come down here and adjourn for the greatest gambling day of the year? The President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. Chaplin) objected to our opposing the Adjournment last year, and said that the House was not going to be governed by Puritanical and water-drinking considerations. What I want to point out is, that it is not only the water-drinkers who object to this, but many other people of all sections. Here is one sentence from a London daily newspaper a few years ago— There are few places on the face of the globe where more sin and wickedness are perpetrated in the course of a week than at Epsom. These are not my words. I admit these are the words of a Liberal newspaper; but to go to the other side, what was said by the greatest Leader the Tory Party ever had, I mean Lord Beaconsfield? He said that the turf was a vast system of national demoralisation. Why should the House of Commons adjourn for the principal event in that vast system? We all remember how about a month ago there was great anxiety when we heard of the indisposition of Orme, and I believe if he had died there would have been national mourning. Everybody knew about it. I do not see the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) here, but I read somewhere of a meeting about selling drink to black men and the hon. Member could not go because the meeting was to be presided over by a person who had some connection with Orme. The other day I was in Hyde Park at the Labour Demonstration; and I mention this in order to show that there is a large class who do not support this pastime. A speech was made by John Burns, who, I suppose, represents a considerable portion of the working people of this country. Tie said this:— Why do you working men waste your money in putting your shillings on Orme? I wish Orme had been poisoned to death. That is a very dreadful statement. I am not justifying it; I am only pointing to it as an indication of a very strong feeling against the gambling that goes on. I quite admit, as I have said, that it is a very dreadful speech, and I do not know of any speech that has so shocked right-minded persons since the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) spoke of "ransom" in one of his speeches. Now, we are going to the country, and this is one of the last occasions on which we shall have an opportunity of giving our votes. Some hon. Members do not intend to come back and others will not be able to return, and I would ask those who are about to retire from Parliament to let one of their last votes be in favour of the dignity of Parliament and of a House they have all been proud to sit in. Some of us expect to return, and we do not think we can take any better recommendation to the electors whom we shall soon have to face than that we have done what in us lay to put a stop to this mischievous vulgarity and this discreditable recognition of it.

Several hon. Members having risen,

MR. SPEAKER (addressing Lord ELCHO)

Does the noble Lord rise to support the hon. Baronet who has just spoken?

(4.41.) LORD ELCHO (Ipswich)

Yes, Sir. It is with considerable pain that I rise to dissociate myself from the friends with whom I have hitherto voted upon this matter, and to argue in a sense opposite to the arguments I have on previous occasions brought before the House. I am bound to say that, if I could have followed my own inclination, I should have liked to follow the example of those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who, lacking either the convictions or the courage to express them, walk out of the House when the Division bell rings. But I am confronted by so many splendid examples set by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have the courage—I might almost say the audacity—of their changed convictions, that having found salvation on this point, I feel bound publicly to proclaim my conversion which is not more sudden nor less sincere than many which have elicited the admiration of a not easily-astonished House of Commons. In order to justify my own position and to strengthen it before the House, I may, with the indulgence of the House, mention one or two of the arguments which have weighed with me in adopting this line. I do net wish to make any invidious distinctions, but I cannot help thinking that those who sit above and on each side of him will acknowledge that I am not making an invidious distinction when I take as an instance a statesman from the Front Bench opposite, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt). Is there a simple point, from the great Derby question downwards, on which the right hon. Gentleman has not changed his views? Is there any Gentleman in this House who can answer the speeches of the Member for Oxford of ten years ago, but the right hon. Member for Derby at the present moment? So much is this so that the practice of bringing out the ghosts of the right hon. Gentleman's former opinions against him is absolutely obsolete. He is not afraid of them, he recognises them as his old familiar friends; and an inconsistency from the right hon. Gentleman surprises the House no more than a speech from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Morton). I should be a degenerate Member if I admitted that the other side had a monopoly of the political virtue of inconsistence. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture in his place, and I hope he will speak on this question. We all hope and believe on this side of the House that the right hon. Gentleman has won the love of the agricultural labourer. We hope for and believe in the benefits of the alliance, but I and others who are the right hon. Gentleman's friends cannot be blind to the fact that his political youth is strewn with the wild oats he has sown, and that small holdings were not the blandishments with which he won the love of the farmers of the country. I must pay a tribute to the ingenuity which has been shown by my hon. and gallant Friend behind me in submitting this Motion to the House. Nobody knows better than I how difficult it is to find any arguments of any sort in favour of this question. I admit that perhaps in the early years of a Parliament, as in the early youth of an individual, eccentricities are pardonable which in their old age are absolutely inexcusable. I can understand a Parliament, worn out perhaps by the feverish energy of its own youth, taking a holiday at Epsom; but for a Parliament in our unfortunate stage, with at least one foot in the grave, with the marks of approaching Dissolution written on every line of our faces, to go masquerading to Epsom in an official capacity is more or less an act of indecency. It seems to me that the most hardened reveller on Epsom Downs would not fail to be appalled by the skeleton at the feast on that occasion. I am bound to say that I do deplore the growth of the gambling spirit, not only in the country, but also in the House. I read with pain the other day that, with the reckless exuberance of the Jubilee Plunger, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for New castle (Mr. John Morley) was laying odds of one hundred to one on so uncertain an event as the date of the Dissolution. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman laid himself open to great danger. Possibly if he offers such tremendous odds the First Lord of the Treasury might take them through a commissioner, and we should have the date of the General Election fixed, not according to the interests of public business or the demands of the country, but according to the state of the First Lord of the Treasury's betting book. There is one other argument in regard to this question. We propose to adjourn for the Derby. I do not in the least agree with the remarks which the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Lawson) made, for I approve of the Derby in every sense of the word, and I should be very glad to be there myself to-morrow; but I ask the House whether we do adjourn out of deference to the wishes of hon. Members who care for racing? I ask, where are they? I look for them in vain in this House, as I have looked for them in vain in the Division List on previous occasions. Is it that they are not here under a hypersensitive wish not to vote on a question in which they are interested? Or is it because the Epsom race week, of which the Derby is an event, begins on Tuesday, and they are already at Epsom anticipating that holiday which we are now wasting the time of the House asking for? It seems to me that their absence to-day shows how little they care for this holiday, and is a convincing argument that the time for giving the holiday has gone past. I shall therefore support the hon. Baronet. We are approaching a time when we do everything we can to set our sails to catch every puff of popular favour, and I cannot help expressing the hope that perhaps my course to-day may have some success in that way. Perhaps those who disapproved of my previous attitude will receive me into their bosoms with that welcome that attends the proverbial sinner who repents, while those who approved of my previous attitude will forget and forgive my present shortcomings in memory of my services in the past. I sincerely trust, in seconding the Amendment, that this will be the last time I shall have to speak either for or against this Motion.

(4.53.) MR. BYRON REED (Bradford, E.)

Sympathising with the sentiments of the noble Lord, I move, "That the Question be now put."


withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Debate resumed.

(4.54.) MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Stockport)

I think this is a very serious subject. All Members will admit the great evils of gambling, and I do not think the House of Commons ought to set an example by adjourning on this day. It is a most unfortunate example to set, and it is likely to produce effects that the House would very much deprecate. The author of Tom Brown's Schooldays, in that very amusing work, says:— The boys have their lotteries for the Derby, and how can we blame them so long as the House of Commons adjourns on that day? The House commenced its life in a very excellent way by putting an end to the Queen's Plates, and refusing to have anything to do with them. I hope it will finish as well by putting an end to that other course of adjourning specifically for the Derby.

Question put.

(4,55.) The House divided:—Ayes 144; Noes 158.—(Div. List, No. 156.)

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