HL Deb 27 March 1905 vol 143 cc1142-8


Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(Lord Davey.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.


then moved an Amendment to that part of Clause 1 which provides that for the purposes of the clause the word "street" shall include any highway or any public bridge, road, lane, footway, square, court, alley, or passage, whether a thoroughfare or not, or any vacant ground open to the public, common ground not used for the purpose of a racecourse or adjacent thereto, or any space under a railway arch. The Amendment proposed the omission of the latter part of the definition, beginning with the words, "or any vacant ground." The Lord Chancellor said he was very sorry to differ from Lord James, who had moved at the last stage the insertion of the words he (the Lord Chancellor) now proposed to omit, on the question of the proper drafting of the Bill. He rather thought the question between them was not one of principle, but rather of drafting. The object of the Bill was to suppress betting in streets and public places. One of the difficulties with which Judges and magistrates had to deal was that language was sometimes made by statute to bear a meaning which did not properly belong to it. In this Bill the words "vacant ground open to the public" were used. What would their legal meaning be? There were pieces of gound which were vacant in the sense that no building was actually being erected upon them, but to which the public had no legal right of access. He would himself construe the words as meaning a place to which the public had a right of access, but, if they were construed to mean private property, that was an extension of the word street which seemed to him both ludicrous and very undesirable. The phrase "space under a railway arch" was also, he thought, open to a similar objection. If it meant merely the public highway beneath a railway arch, that was already a street according to the definition of the law. If it did not mean that, he asked their Lordships to consider the task which would fall upon the Judges and magistrates in construing the Act. The phrase "space under a railway arch" would apparently apply to every railway arch. With regard to common ground not used for the purpose of a racecourse, he had no doubt that what was in his noble friend's mind was horse-racing. But was it confined to that? Was the ground on which races took place between human creatures a racecourse? The title and policy of the Bill had reference to public places and the suppression of a public nuisance, and the language to which he had called attention was, he thought, calculated to puzzle those who were called upon to administer the Act.

Amendment moved— In Clause 1, page 2, line 12 to leave out from the word 'not' to the end of the clause."—(The Earl of Halsbury.


said he was grateful to the Lord Chancellor for the changed position he had assumed. When his (Lord James's) Amendment was inserted on the previous occasion, the Lord Chancellor gave notice that he would move the rejection of the Bill on the Third Reading. He was glad that the noble and learned Lord was not taking this extreme course. The Lord Chancellor had said that this was entirely a question of drafting, but he thought the Amendment was moved in a different spirit. He had never yet known a Government whip to be issued in support of a question of drafting. This was more a question of substance. He suggested that the debate should be adjourned, so that they could try to carry out what was agreed to in substance. He did not think the House ought to be troubled with the question if it was merely one of drafting.


said that if his noble friend would agree with him that the sole object of the clause was to deal with places to which the public had a right of access, he was prepared to agree with him.


said that both in the Metropolis and other large towns there were vacant places which did not come within this description, which were made places of rendezvous for betting purposes. Frequently betting men did not make their bets in the street, but used those de facto vacant spaces. There they erected their pitches and gave notice to clerks in countinghouses and other business places that they could find them there. But his noble and learned friend said that because they were only de jacto vacant, he would not include them. The Lord Chancellor asked the House to say they would sanction betting taking place on these places. He did not wish to come into conflict with the Lord Chancellor. If a poor person played pitch and toss on such a vacant space he would be arrested and put in prison; but they were asked to sanction the betting trade being carried on there by these fraudulent betting men, who did no good to anyone, but a great deal of harm. With regard to what the Lord Chancellor had said about the words ''common ground not used for the purpose of a racecourse," Lord James of Hereford explained that he inserted those words to meet the views of Lord Newton, who said Epsom and Ascot racecourses were common ground, and it would not be right in a Bill of this kind to interfere with betting on such racecourses.


said he entirely sympathised with the object Lord James of Hereford had in view when he secured the insertion in the Bill of the words which the Lord Chancellor now proposed to delete. He thought the provision a wise one, and likely to prove a beneficial extension of the Bill, and have a useful operation. If the matter went to a division he would vote with Lord James, though at the same time he thought the language his noble and learned friend had introduced was open to criticism such as had been passed upon it by the Lord Chancellor. He regretted very much that the subject was not discussed as it ought to have been in the Standing Committee, but owing to some misunderstanding he was asked to adjourn the discussion until the Bill came up in their Lordships' House. If this question had been threshed out in the Standing Committee they would have had an opportunity of seeing whether, as a matter of drafting, some words might not be introduced which would equally well carry out the object which his noble and learned friend had in view, and at the same time not be open to the objections which had been made to them. It was too late now, he supposed, for that to be done, and therefore he must accept the words as they stood in the Bill. He had been subjected to some criticism outside the House for accepting what was now Clause 2 of the Bill on the Motion of his noble friend Lord Crewe. Clause 2 provided that— Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to any ground used for the purpose of a racecourse or adjacent thereto on the days on which races take place. His reason for accepting the Amendment was this, that the intention of the Bill was not to apply to racecourses. Whatever might be thought of the policy, their Lordships' House, having by its judicial decisions secured the use of the rings on racecourses for people of the wealthy class, would be legislating against the poor, as distinguished from the rich, if they prohibited betting on racecourses generally. That was what he had in his mind, and not any particular sympathy for the gentlemen who carried on this business on racecourses.


was sure many of their Lordships who were laymen like himself would sympathise with him in the difficulty in which he found himself in understanding the legal bearing of the arguments on either side which had been adduced by such high authorities. He saw the difficulty that Lord James might find himself in in pressing for the adjournment of the debate after the words which had fallen from the Lord Chancellor as to the meaning he attached to the proposal as the words now stood. But he thought the right course would be for some one in an independent position to move the adjournment in order that it might be seen whether a form of words could be devised to meet the objections of the Lord Chancellor. It was obviously the case that there was a difference of opinion in some small degree in substance and in a much larger degree in drafting. Would it not be well, after what Lord Davey had said as to the inadvertence by which these points were not dealt with in the Standing Committee, that they should now go back a little rather than go over the whole ground again? He hoped the three noble Lords would take compassion upon those of their Lordships who were not learned in the law, and who found themselves, therefore, in considerable perplexity on this question, and allow the debate to be adjourned.

Moved, "That this debate be now adjourned."—(The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.)


remarked that pressure of public duties elsewhere had prevented him being present at the discussions during the earlier stages of this Bill. But he was bound to say that he sympathised very strongly indeed with some of the objections Lord James took to the Bill as it originally stood. It was true that in the Bill "street" was defined as including any highway or any public bridge, road, lane, footway, square, court, alley, or passage, whether a thoroughfare or not, and he believed that the great majority of cases would be hit by those words. But he had a good many of these cases before him from time to time in different shapes, and it was certainly true that a very large proportion of the evils Lord James had referred to did take place on certain pieces of land which could not be said to be either streets or thoroughfares, but a sort of "no man's land." It seemed to him that in some way or other words ought to be found to meet those cases. But he agreed that "any vacant ground open to the public," might be too wide. It seemed to him, reading this draft, that to cut the words out altogether would be not altogether satisfactory, and yet he could sea that some difficulty must arise if they stood in exactly the form in which they were now.


was reluctant to step in in a legal dispute, but the example of the most rev. Primate had encouraged him to say a few words. He thought those Members of their Lordships' House who were not lawyers would be put in an exceedingly difficult position if the Question was now pat, and the Amendment of the Lord Chancellor carried. If it was a mere question of drafting and the Lord Chancellor would agree to the adjournment so that the point could be dealt with, he would certainly advise the House to agree to an adjournment, in order that some satisfactory form of words might be found. The Bill proposed to do away with what was considered to be a very great evil. The definition, as put by Lord James, seemed to include more than a street or a public place, but the places so included were places where the evil of betting prevailed to an enormous extent. So far as he understood it, if the Amendment of the Lord Chancellor was agreed to, the House of Lords would be practically defending the use of such places for betting. Therefore they were in an exceedingly difficult position. But there would be no use in adjourning the matter if the Lord Chancellor would not agree that it was a mere question of drafting. If he did so agree, he hoped the matter would be adjourned. If the Lord Chancellor did not agree, then he (Earl Spencer) would divide against the Lord Chancellor's Amendment.


If we are agreed that, in pursuance of the title of the Bill, the prohibition is only to apply to every public place to which the public have a right of access, I shall be happy to adjourn the matter to devise some clause for the purpose. But if it is proposed to include places to which the public have no right of access, but which are accidentally open, I object, because you would be going a great deal further than the object of the Bill, which is the suppression of betting in streets and other public places.


thought that if the adjournment took place and they had an opportunity of meeting the Lord Chancellor there would be some chance of an agreement. At any rate, they would be in no worse position, and he hoped the adjournment would be agreed to.


Are we agreed that you only wish to deal with places to which the public have a right of access?


No; I cannot say that we are. I stand by the Lord Chief Justice of England.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned to Tuesday the 4th of April next.