HL Deb 02 March 1905 vol 142 cc159-61

House in Committee (according to Order).

[The Earl of OSSLOW in the Chair.]


My Lords, I am sure the great majority of your Lordships, if not all, will approve of this Bill and of my noble and learned friend (Lord Davey's) efforts to frame a measure which will stay a great evil. My object in rising is to appeal to my noble and learned friend whether he cannot do something to strengthen the measure. My impression is that the Bill was stronger last year than it is now, and that it has been cut down and modified. I know last year the Bill met with the approval of my right rev. friend the Bishop of Hereford. As the Bill appears before us, after the ordeal of last year it brings a feeling of disappointment to those who have this reform at heart. The object of the Bill is to prevent betting in public places under circumstances that give great facility to the professional better, and, therefore, a great opportunity of leading astray persons who desire to bet. These people do not go into thoroughfares where traffic is great, but mostly frequent vacant pieces of ground that are unused until buildings can be put upon them, and also railway arches which afford them shelter, and where they can make appointments. They also frequent common ground in the neighbourhood of London, Bristol, and elsewhere. It is strange that in this Bill, as was pointed out last session, not one of these places is touched, and we are committing the great evil of telling persons whom we wish to suppress that it is legal for them to go to these places and bet. Therefore I am afraid that the balance from this Bill will be of evil results rather than good. Places which are forbidden are to be found in Clause 1— Any person frequenting any street, public park, or garden," etc.


The meaning of "street" is very large.


The definition of "street" is given in the Bill as follows— For the purpose of this section the word 'street' shall include any highway, public bridge, road, lane, footway, square, court, alley, or passage, whether a thoroughfare or not. I ask your Lordships whether this definition would include vacant ground or railway arches. It would not. So the result is—we are telling these gentlemen whose trade we wish to put an end to, "You can go to these convenient places and you will be saved from any kind of penalty." Let me appeal to my noble friend. This limitation was not in his original Bill. This is not a measure to prevent persons betting, but they must "frequent" certain places. It means that they must be there frequently, and, therefore, if the officers concerned see a man there betting it will be necessary for them to prove that he had been in the habit of going there frequently. What does all this come to? We have no definition of what "frequenting" means, and therefore I can only translate the word itself to mean that a person before conviction must have been frequently in one particular place. I know my noble and learned friend (Lord Davey) has got this good work at heart, and I am hoping that he will give us his aid and encouragement in making the Bill effective. If the Bill goes in its present shape to the other House it will not have any chance of passing, It is not good enough to make anybody anxious to pass it, but its defects will make many persons oppose it. I would therefore ask my noble and learned friend if he cannot do something to encourage us in attempting to improve this Bill.


My Lords, I am glad to notice the great interest which my noble and learned friend opposite takes in the success of this Bill, and I am in entire sympathy with him in desiring to make the Bill as complete as it can be made for the purpose for which it is intended. And if my noble friend will either suggest to me, or will himself put down any Amendments in the Standing Committee with that object, I can assure him they will meet with no opposition from myself, and I shall be obliged to him for doing so. With regard to the criticisms which he has made I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Belper is not present in the House, because I believe the portions of the Bill to which my noble and learned friend (Lord James) directed his criticisms were Amendments which I accepted from the Government; and my noble and learned friend, I am sure, knows that any private Member in this House, particularly one on the benches on which I usually sit, has very little chance of passing such a Bill through the House unless he is willing to accept what the Government offer him. Therefore, the authorship of the words which my noble, friend criticised lies, I think, with the Government draughtsman. I agree that "frequenting" is not the best word that could be used. I object myself to turning adjectives into verbs, and I do not think "frequenting" is a very elegant expression in the English language. I think the word "using" would be just as useful and would not be open to the criticism which the noble and learned Lord makes. But I will consider the matter and in the Standing Committee perhaps I shall be able to suggest some other word which will more aptly meet my noble and learned friend's criticisms.

Bill reported without Amendment; and re-committed to the Standing Committee