§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ THE EARL OF FEVERSHAM,
in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, explained that its object was in a measure to amend the Vagrant Act of the 5 Geo. IV., c. 83, and the subsequent amending Act of the Queen passed in 1868, against betting and gaming, under which boys of tender age—and he knew such cases in the North of England were not uncommon—had been committed to the degradation of a prison for the comparatively trifling offence of playing at "pitch and toss." He thought it could hardly be denied that some relaxation of such a law was called for, and the relaxation he proposed was to give the magistrate in such cases the option of punishing by fine instead of imprisonment. The Bill had met with little or no opposition in the other House, and he hoped their Lordships would now read it a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Feversham.)
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
opposed the Bill. The Bill went much further than the speech of the noble Earl described, for it relaxed the existing law on a very material point—namely, as it affected rogues and vagrants. No doubt where boys broke the law they were liable to be punished in the same way as grown persons; but while the latter might be properly sentenced to severe imprisonment, the punishment for juvenile offenders would be limited to a few days. The object of the punishment was to deter, and this would be better effected by a sentence they would have to bear themselves than by a fine which probably their parents would have to pay. He did not see, however, why the Act of 1868 should be relaxed in the case of card-sharpers and thimble-riggers by giving the magistrate the alternative of inflicting a fine, which, in nine cases out of ten, he would be disposed to do. He regretted the Government did not oppose this Bill, which he thought a very bad one.
§ THE DUKE OF CLEVELAND
would remind their Lordships that the Act of 1868 was carried through by himself. At the time it was stated that the game of pitch and toss led to great demoralization in the colliery districts, and it had been found by a judicial decision that the Act 5 Geo. IV. was not applicable to these cases. To render it applicable, therefore, he had been requested to take charge of the Bill in 1868. He had not heard that much complaint had been caused by its operation. At the same time he admitted it was objectionable to send boys of tender age to prison for what after all was not a very heinous offence, and some relaxation of the law in that respect could hardly be unreasonable. No doubt an alternative was given to the magistrates under the Bill, but they would hardly exercise it in the manner his noble Friend apprehended.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, that where magistrates had the alternative of fine or imprisonment, in 19 cases out of 20 they fined instead of sending to prison.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
said, that the Act of 1868, which this Bill was intended to amend, had, on the whole, worked beneficially. At the same time, 2013 complaints had constantly come from the magistrates that they could inflict no punishment other than imprisonment. The consequence was, that cases were dismissed which ought to be punished simply because, in the judgment of the magistrates, the punishment was too severe. It was not a proper punishment to send boys to prison merely for playing pitch and toss, instead of imposing a tine of a few shillings on them. The Bill would allow the infliction of fines in such cases, and he hoped their Lordships would read it a second time.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
took exception to the mode in which the proposed alteration of the law was to be made, and pointed out that the Bill, in its present form, might go much further than was intended. It provided that—Every person playing or betting by way of wagering or gaming in any street, road, highway, or other open or public place, to which the public have, or are permitted to have, access,with any card, coin, and so on, should be liable to be convicted as a rogue and vagabond. He feared that this might be considered applicable to some of their Lordships on Epsom Downs and the Derby Day.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
thought that the Bill did not draw the line in a proper manner between acts which were very different in their moral nature and their social effects. He strongly condemned that kind of legislation which made no distinction between little children who amused themselves by playing pitch and toss and rogues and vagabonds. Such legislation was mischievous, because it did not recommend itself to the moral sense of those with whom it dealt. He objected utterly to any legislation which was so clumsy and inconsistent with truth as to treat poor children who might offend in this way as rogues or vagabonds. If they could not do better in the way of discrimination, he would rather leave such offences outside the law. He did not say that the Bill ought to be rejected; but he should be glad if it could be amended in Committee—if some attempt could be made to discriminate between the cases with which it was really intended to deal and other more trivial cases.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
expressed his concurrence with the view taken by the noble and learned Lord, 2014 and thought the better plan would be to substitute for the fine of 40s. a box on the ear. From the wording of the Bill, he was under the impression that it would apply to Tattersall's, as that was a place to which the public had, or were permitted to have access, and where betting and gambling with coins was carried on.
§ Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a acordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.