HC Deb 04 June 1878 vol 240 cc1171-82

Sir, I beg to ask the hon. Member for MidLincolnshire, Whether, seeing that this day has been specially arranged for the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Bill, he could not postpone his Motion with reference to the Derby Day to the Evening Sitting?


If I thought it were the general wish of the House that no portion of the morning Sitting should be sacrificed in the discussion of this Motion, I would at once act upon the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman; but I do not think such is the case. Besides, I feel sure that it will occupy very little time indeed. I think the House will be of opinion that an ample apology for my bringing forward this matter will be found in the fact that my Motion is in support of a time-honoured custom, which has been practised with the general approval of hon. Members for a period which extends over an entire generation of Members. Since 1847, if not for a longer time, this House has invariably adjourned over the Derby Day, except when the Derby Day fell within the Whitsuntide Recess, as was the case last year. In the previous year; and the year before that, the Prime Minister, then Mr. Disraeli, himself moved the adjournment over the Derby Day as a matter of course. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Green- wich, when he was Prime Minister, more than once made a similar Motion. Beginning in 1852—and not in 1860, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us last night—Lord Palmerston made the same Motion, and continued to do so during the whole time he presided over the Government of the country. Under these circumstances, I rather regret—and that for more reasons than one—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not thought it incumbent upon him to follow the precedents which have been set him by the former Leaders of this House. Of this, however, I am quite certain—had he thought fit to do so it would have been an absolute "certainty" for him—what is called in racing parlance a real "good thing"—on its being carried; and I confess I am sorry that what I am afraid will appear as a slight on this time-honoured race should have come in this House from its Leader, and who also happens to be the Leader of the Conservative Party. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows his own business best, and hence it is that it has fallen to a private Member to make this Motion to-day. Lord Palmerston once said there were Motions made in the House which the longest speeches could not make intelligible to hon. Members, while there were others which might be comprehended without any speech at all; and this Motion is, I am inclined to think, one of those which immediately recommend themselves to the good sense of the House of Commons. I really do not know what Business is to occupy the attention of the House upon Wednesday; but I think it cannot be of sufficient importance to induce us to break through a time-honoured custom; and I also think that when hon. Gentlemen are opposed to a practice for which we have had precedents during the last 30 years, we are entitled to ask them how it happens that that which was considered right and fit in 1876 should become improper and unfit in 1878? The onus is, I think, thrown upon them to show why we should now depart from a custom which has for so long a time met with the assent and approval of the House. So far as I am concerned, I do not see that this Motion can be opposed on the ground of a great pressure of Business, nor, indeed, do I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer to raise any such objection. It is, therefore, clear that it is not on the ground of any pressure of Business that my Motion is to be opposed. That being so, I may state that there are one or two reasons which strike me why we should adjourn over to-morrow. In the first place, we shall be acting upon a precedent of many years' observance; and, in the next place, the day has come to be regarded as a holiday not only by Members but also by the admirable staff of officials connected with this House, all of whom perform their duties in a most admirable manner. Indeed, I think it must be admitted that there is no body of public men more indebted to its staff of officers than the Members of the House of Commons are to their officers for the courtesy and attention with which they perform their duties. I must say, therefore, that I consider it would be somewhat harsh on our part were we to abrogate the holiday to which they have been looking forward for some time past, and for which they have no doubt made all their arrangements already. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Assheton), who has notified his intention to oppose the Motion, stated on a former occasion that the character of the race at Epsom had changed almost entirely; that formerly the majority of the horses were owned by noblemen and Members of Parliament, but that such was not now the case. [Mr. ASSHETON: Hear, hear!] My hon. Friend cries "Hear, hear!" but I think he has made a great mistake, for on looking over the list of what is called "probable starters," as published in one of the sporting papers, I find that a great many of the horses belong to distinguished persons. I believe there is one belonging to my noble Friend the Leader of the Opposition; but the first favourite—and, as far as I am informed, the horse likely to win—belongs to another Member of this House; and, surely, under these circumstances, we should fail in our duty to our brother Member if we do not all go down to Epsom to witness his triumph. It will be a proud thing for all of us if the Derby of 1878 should come back to the House of Commons; and in support of the hon. Member and his horse I express an earnest hope, for the hon. Member's own sake, as well as for our own, that "Sir Joseph" may be the winner. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Thursday.


, in seconding the Motion, said: The Marquess of Granby, when moving in 1849 the adjournment of the House over the Derby Day, stated that it was a custom which had been observed from time immemorial. If, then, in 1849, the adjournment in question was regarded as a custom dating from time immemorial, I should like to know what it is now? Here I must say that all of us regret the absence of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), who, if he had to bring forward the Amendment to this Motion, would have introduced it with something like originality and humour. In these days, when we have to listen to so much repetition and seriousness, it is absolutely refreshing to hear something we have not heard before, and, although we may not agree with it, to have an opportunity to laugh instead of yawn. I have, in listening to debates in this House, often wondered in how many forms it is possible to present the same idea; for, generally speaking, after the first hour of debate we hear nothing new, but have to listen to the same ideas brought forward and clothed in different words. The simple question, however, with which we have now to deal, is whether we shall have a holiday to-morrow or not? We have had, I think, a most laborious Session. We met at an earlier period than usual, but why I have not yet been able to find out—and our perambulations night and day through the adjoining Lobbies have been both numerous and fatiguing, and, judging by the faces I see before me, I think we want, as Mrs. Brown says, "a little outing in the country." No one can ever accuse the supporters of this Amendment with being too genial or jovial. Because a few are dishonest gamblers, and a few drink more than they can walk away with, they would punish the many who desire to enjoy an innocent and a pleasant day. I do not deny that there may be some who make the Derby a business matter—men who bet largely and eat and drink little; but there are far more who look upon the Derby as a pleasure, who bet little, but who eat and drink a great deal. The Derby is, in fact, a great national fête, and, as a great national fête, it is most fitting that the grand Assembly of the nation should take part in it. Hon. Members ought to remember that "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Look around the House, and you will see that the faces of the overworked Members are pale with the intensity of political thought and with the cares of State. The Members of the Government seem overworked, and to have duly earned their salaries. Overworked, too, appear the occupants of the front Opposition Bench, whose only salary is hope. They also require a holiday, and especially so as we all know that "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," and nothing is so good for a sick heart as a little amusement. Heaven only knows the sorrows and disappointments of the Opposition. It is not merely by study, or by the consumption of the midnight oil, that we can hope to qualify ourselves as legislators. We must study men, and men's follies and vices, as well as their virtues, if we are to legislate for them in a proper manner, and, therefore, it is our duty to observe them under all forms and under all circumstances. Therefore I say, that wherever the people are, there, too, should their Representatives be, and to-morrow they will certainly be on the Epsom racecourse. Therefore we should say, not "Away with the Derby," but "Away to the Derby." The whole world looks up to England for the preservation and perfection of horse-racing; and, therefore, it is not unnatural that we should observe among our most eminent statesmen decided proclivities to support it. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland is a living example of this, for I am happy to find that last year the right hon. Gentleman won at York the celebrated Gimcrack Stakes. I would ask the opposers of this Motion if they are aware of the inconveniences which they create for their fellow Members? If they succeed in defeating this Motion, what is to become of the well-appointed drags with those mysterious hampers on the top labelled "Fortnum and Mason?" Have they no sympathy for the occupants of a well-packed 'bus, or those of a non-pretentious hansom? As I have before said, this House is a great National Assembly; horse-racing is a great national pastime; and the Derby is the race, above all races, to which the people of this country look forward with the greatest pride and the greatest gratification. Under these circumstances, this great National Assembly should give a national support to the Derby. This I should expect to hear from the Radicals, who pride themselves upon their proclivities; but, on the contrary, while the Conservatives proclaim—"Let everything alone," the Radicals, on the other hand, proclaim—"Do not let anything alone." My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), however, suggests that those who wish to go to the Derby might do so, and leave the Business of the House to him and the supporters of his Bill with respect to Sunday Closing in Ireland. I am afraid that would be a dangerous proceeding, and an unconstitutional one, as I am afraid the hon. and learned Gentleman would not find a quorum left to make a House to enable him to proceed with his measure; but if hon. Gentlemen will undertake not to divide, I think they might be made a present of the House, and they can have a grand day of unlimited talk. Tomorrow the minds of hon. Members will be unequal to the task of legislation. Their thoughts will run in a far different channel—and the first favourite, the second favourite, the third favourite, the outsider, the dark horse, and the one that "could have won, only something happened to him," will be in their minds; and if they are called upon to legislate, I really think they may do a great injury to the Empire. Some of my hon. Friends have such an antipathy to the Derby, that I really think they must have lost a fortune at Epsom in their younger days. They are not genial spirits, who can enjoy the many various amusements which characterize the classic grounds of Epsom. My hon. Friends love to call themselves the Party of sense. They love to look upon horse-racing as a silly amusement. Would they like to know what a wise man once did—a wiser man than even the hon. Member who has given Notice of opposition to this Motion—I mean King Solomon? King Solomon kept 40,000 horses; he had 12,000 horsemen or jockeys; and, better than all, he had races every day in the week after dinner. But, seriously speaking, the House has already made penal nearly all the sports and pastimes of our ancestors—cock-fighting, dog-fighting, bull-baiting, man-fighting, and nearly all kinds of fighting except that of Armies, when one-half the world is prepared to slaughter the other half in the name of civilization. The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire has told us that this Motion has been sanctioned since 1847 by Lord Palmerston, Lord Beaconsfield, the right hon. Member for Greenwich, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and good, indeed, must be the cause to unite so many elements of warfare. But hon. Members around me are super-excellent; they are anxious for a little more talk—a little more debate. We have already had too much talk. We can have talk any day of the year; we can have the Derby only once. In conclusion, I would remind the House that horse-racing was sanctioned—in fact, to some degree established—by James I.; and so far back as the reign of Charles II. races were held in Hyde Park, and I think they created more amusement and caused less annoyance than the "peace" meetings and the "war" meetings which have been lately held there. In the midst of great social changes, let us be left at least something manly. This is an effeminate age; we are becoming too ladylike. There are men of the present day—strait-laced, tight-buttoned, eye-glassed, gingerbread sort of creatures—who would frighten our ancestors, if they could only see them. The origin of horse-racing is ancient, and by no means inglorious; it has grown up among us and become a great institution; we have carried it to a state of perfection hitherto unknown; and I hope the day is far distant when the House will refuse to sanction a pastime so manly and so noble.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will, at the rising of the House this day, adjourn till Thursday next."—(Mr. Chaplin.)


opposed the Motion. The hon. Member who had moved the adjournment, and the hon. Member who had spoken in support of the Motion, had put the cart before the horse. The hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had done so, when he advanced the preposterous proposition that the onus probandi rested, not on the Mover of the Resolution, but of the Amendment. He had always understood that the onus probandi rested on the person who made a Motion, not on the man who opposed it. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. R. Power) also put his cart before his horse, because he regretted the absence of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) on the ground that the opposition to the Motion would not be introduced with originality or humour. How could the hon. Member possibly tell how he (Mr. Assheton) was going to introduce his opposition? He would leave the hon. Member's humour to the hon. Member himself, because the matter was far too serious to be made a mere matter of jest; and he would, also, leave his originality to the hon. Member, because he had told the House that "All work and no play made Jack a dull boy." He thought he had heard that before. Members who believed it beneath the dignity of the House to adjourn for so trifling a cause might congratulate themselves that this Motion was no longer brought before them by the Prime Minister as an Imperial concern and essential to the welfare of the country; but that it was left to a private Member because it was a private Member's day. If hon. Members wanted a holiday, there were many more appropriate days on which they could adjourn. He had never heard a weaker case than that which was made for the Motion; and he thought they should at least have some better reason before giving up a working day. He could not admit that a thing which had been going on for 100 years was a timehonoured custom. The race itself was not of that age, and the custom of adjournment not half so long. It might be true, as the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) had said, that many of the horses were now owned by Members of that and the other House of Parliament; but the general run of racing was not what it was 40 years ago, nor was the Business of the House, for there was more to be done now; and a question of a day more or less was a matter of far more serious import now than it was at that time. When the other House of Parliament, some time ago, found that important Business was coming on upon the Derby Day, it agreed to postpone the Derby, in fact to postpone its pleasure to its Business, and so ought the House of Commons to do now. No one grudged a holiday less than he did; but they were going to take their holidays very soon. Those who kept the officials of that House, not from 12 to 6 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, but up all night, to discuss at what time Irishmen should drink whisky, were the persons who might fairly incur the charge of infringing on the holidays of those gentlemen. And as for the Members themselves, did anyone imagine that one the less would go to the Derby whether they adjourned or not? The Derby Day was one of the most disgusting days in the year, unless you went to the Derby, for you could do no business on it; and if you went to any place of amusement, it was so crowded as to be disagreeable. He would sooner see a holiday given on the day of the Oxford and Cambridge cricket match or the Queen's ball than on that of the Derby. He should protest, if no one else did, when the Question was put, and divide the House.


said, he had no intention of detaining the House for more than a moment before going to a division, if they were to go to one. He only wished to explain that in abstaining from making the Motion which, as usual for a good many years past, had been made by the Leader of the House for the adjournment over the Derby Day, he was not actuated by any desire or intention to oppose the adjournment. On the contrary, he had every intention of voting for it. But it seemed to him that the old practice of the Motion being made by some one unconnected with the Government—a practice which was superseded for a certain number of years from 1860, or, at all events, at a time when the House was unanimous on the subject—was, upon the whole, a better practice to revert to than that which had been adopted of late years. His hon. Friend (Mr. Chaplin) was not quite correct in referring to the case when Lord Palmerston moved the adjournment for the Derby Day in 1852. It was perfectly true that Lord Palmerston moved the adjournment in 1852, but he was not then in Office—Lord Derby's Government were in Office at the time—and Lord Palmerston moved it as a private Member. But in 1860, when there was a general feeling on the subject, he believed it was the best course that the Leader of the House should make the Motion. Anyone, however, who referred to what had occurred of late years must have seen that there was more opposition; and as the day was not one usually devoted to Government Business, he thought it was better that the Motion should be made by some independent Member, and then all could vote for it on grounds of perfect equality. For himself, he would vote for the adjournment as a custom which, whatever might be said against it in the abstract, had prevailed very long, and which there was no good reason for setting aside. As far as the unfortunate Members of the Government were concerned, as it was a day always selected for a Cabinet Council, an adjournment was of no advantage to them.


said, he should very much enjoy a Derby Day or a holiday; but he should be sorry that a vote of the House should compel the Business of the country to wait upon the horse-racing Members of the Assembly. Tomorrow was the day for his Bill, and he was quite aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, before the end of the Session, would make this excuse for the fact that a number of measures had to be abandoned—that there was no time to pass them. A good deal of time had been taken up by this discussion, and thus the consideration of the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Bill would be interfered with. He was ready, however, to withdraw his Bill in favour of the Bill of his Scotch Friends and in order to facilitate Public Business. If the House adjourned for the sake of seeing horse-racing to-morrow, he wanted to know whether his hon. Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) would not have some answer to the accusations that would be hurled against him? Within the last 24 hours he had heard a Minister of the Crown say that he could not go on with a most important measure because he had not time. Those who wanted to go to the Derby might go there; but let those who wished to transact the Business of the country be allowed to do so. He knew he was speaking against the proclivities of many in the House; but he also knew he was speaking what was right in the face of the country and of Europe. He would not say that they were going to fiddle while Rome was burning; but he would say they were going to trifle while Europe was on the verge of the most critical events. Would the Government make this Motion if it were a Government day? He protested against the adjournment as a waste of time. He could not endorse what the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Richard Power) had said, that the Representatives of the people ought to go where the people went—that they ought to go to horse-races, man-fights, and dog-fights.


explained that he had never said any such thing.


said, that no one could be more startled than the hon. Member at the extension of his own logic.


Mr. Speaker, I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on having resolved to discontinue the practice of themselves moving the adjournment of the House over the Derby Day. This is a hoyeful sign. If the Motion is a good Motion, the Government should still move it. If it is not a good Motion, the House should reject it. The Government evidently regard it as a doubtful matter. Some of us regard it as positively mischievous. It is a sad waste of time. It sacrifices a private Member's day, one of the Wednesdays, of which only about eight remain. This is in itself no small objection. The chief objection to it is that it gives the sanction of this Assembly, whose high character we are all so jealous to maintain, to an amusement which, though it may be innocent in itself, is the cause of enormous evil in almost every town throughout the country. It is impossible to estimate the distress and misery caused by the speculation and gambling which attend all horse races, especially those on the Derby Day. A series of celebrated pictures in the Royal Academy, entitled "The Road to Ruin," are now attracting much notice. I fear, Sir, it is a fact beyond all dispute, that the road which has led thousands of our countrymen to ruin has run to a very great extent, if not mainly, along the race courses of the country. This, with us, is a matter of conscience. I hope the House will abandon a custom which is grievous to many of its Members, and to a very large number of the people of this country. Those hon. Members who wish to attend the race can readily obtain the leave of the House to absent themselves. Or they can do, what they not unfrequently do, absent themselves and go without leave. But do not let them stop the legislative Business of the House. To this we very strongly object. It does not tend to the honour, and dignity, and credit of the House, that this should be done. In 1872, the minority against adjournment over the Derby Day amounted to 58. In 1874, it was 69. In 1875, it was 81. In 1876, it increased to 118. I trust, Sir, that the House will to-day still further increase this minority, or, better still, convert it into a majority.


considered it his duty to vote for the adjournment. If it had been simply a question of horse-racing he would not have voted for it; but gambling had decreased to a very great extent, and the Derby was now a mere picnic.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 225; Noes 95: Majority 130.—(Div. List, No. 163.)