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Parliament—The Derby Day

Volume 229: debated on Tuesday 30 May 1876

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I believe I am acting in accordance with the general wish of the House when I move that the House, at its rising, do adjourn to Thursday next.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Thursday next."—( Mr. Disraeli.)

said, the right hon. Gentleman had informed them that he believed his Motion was in accordance with the general wish of the House. He (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) would not dispute his words, but he was quite sure that, as there was a minority who would not approve of that Motion, they would be patiently heard. He had heard, a good many debates that Session, and he had observed that the proper thing was for every Gentleman to declare that the subject on which he spoke was not a Party question. Perhaps the House would be surprised when he said that he considered this Motion to be a Party question. It was supported by the party of sentiment and it was opposed by the party of sense. Now, he said unfeignedly that he had a great respect for the party of sentiment, and he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen), who, in a recent speech, said that without sentiment life would be a poor thing indeed. On this occasion the question for the House to decide was whether the sentiment was sufficiently strong and worthy of support to overcome the reasons which could be brought against the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman. That he ventured to say was just one of those Motions which ought not to be carried, or even proposed, against the feelings of a considerable and a respectable minority. In their Parliamentary and social life they always bowed to the decision of the majority; but there were occasions when it was foolish for the majority to push their opinions to such a length as to carry them out against the wishes of the minority. This was not a constitutional question, which some people believed it to be. This adjournment over the Derby was not quite 30 years old, and there had always been a considerable minority to express disapproval of the practice. He was happy to say that minority was increasing slowly, but steadily. In 1872 the minority amounted to 58; in 1874 to 69; in 1875 to 81; and if they went on at that rate they would some day have satisfaction, and upset the Motion. It was a bad precedent that this House should be called upon to adjourn in honour of any particular sport. Just now horse-racing was the popular sport; but some day they might be called on to adjourn in honour of pigeon shooting. Not long ago a letter appeared in The Times from Admiral Rous, in which he said that, but for a strong sense of obedience to the law, he would go 200 miles any day to see a good cock-fight. And if cock-fighting were to be in popular estimation, who knew but that some day the House of Commons would be called upon to adjourn for a cock-fight? He was encouraged to ask some hon. Gentlemen opposite to vote on that Motion even against the Government; because he had seen how nine of them, headed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid-Kent (Sir William Dyke), voted on a question of adjournment against their Leader the other night, and he hoped they would do so again. He regretted they could not get the Movers of Motions like this to make speeches. The right hon. Gentleman made the Motion without comment, though he was quite sure he could have given the House an interesting speech if he were so minded. They watched the proceedings of the right hon. Gentleman even during the Recess with great interest, and they were glad to be told in all the papers that he had gone to refresh himself by attending the St. Leger Race, in Yorkshire, so that he was well qualified, even better than before, to speak on the subject of this racing question. He remembered that while going to attend that demonstration the right hon. Gentleman, while in a train, came into collision, unfortunately, at the station with another railway train. The papers told them how there was great excitement and alarm at the time, and how the right hon. Gentleman never raised his eyes from the newspaper he was reading. A very fine picture it must have been to see him there, amid the crash of carriages, the smashing of engines, and the shrieks of passengers, never even raising his eyes from The Standard newspaper he was reading. He heard the right hon. Gentleman say last year, in the debate on horses, that horse-racing was a very noble and inspiriting pastime, and he had heard other distinguished men describe it as a noble, manly, and historical amusement. Now, he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) denied that there was anything noble or exceptionally national about it. It was not connected in any way with the well-being, credit, or position of the country. It was not, for instance, connected with the maintenance of Church and State. He, however, read that once when a Derby winner returned to its native village in the West of England, the church bells rang a "merry peal."That, however, was not enough to make it a national question, because, he could remember that, in Lancashire, after a contested election, when the Conservative candidate was returned, the church bells rang and flags waved from all the breweries. Racing was not a noble sport. It was entirely a money-making affair. It was the same as stock-jobbing—not a bit more respectable and no worse. The Sultan of Zanzibar, on the occasion of his visit to Ascot races, remarked that in his country their horses ran in a straight course, not for money, but for the sake of emulation and the glory of winning. From all he (the Sultan) observed and heard, however, he was under the decided conviction that many lacs of rupees must have passed from pocket to pocket at Ascot. If horse-racing was not a money-making piece of business to those engaged in it, how was it that not very long since there was a memorial presented from the owners and trainers of horses to the Jockey Club requesting them to take such steps as would prevent "touts" attending training grounds and giving information to the public? If they did not want to keep the whole thing dark for the purpose of putting money in their own pockets, why did not those who promoted horse-racing put forward full information to the public as to what horses stood the best chance of winning? Let there be meetings where there should be no stakes, and where horses would run with no other object and for no other purpose than to see which might win. He read last year in a paper not at all squeamish—The Daily Telegraph—on the morning of the Derby, that "It may also be true that Epsom Downs will contain this afternoon the grandest assemblage of blackguardism on the face of the earth." Then, in a few sentences lower down, it went on to say—there was no accounting for taste—"the sight is one of the prettiest in the world." He (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had seen blackguardism enough on a small scale without going to see it on a large scale. What would be thought of a Home Rule Parliament, if they could suppose such a thing, deciding to adjourn their sitting at the busiest period of the year because there was to be some horse-racing? What would be thought of a corporation or a school board if it acted in a like manner? Why, then, should they, the Imperial Parliament, give their sanction to such a proceeding? Last year somebody sent him a French newspaper after he had opposed the adjournment of the House over the Derby Day. It was stated that a revolutionary Member, "Sir Lawson, "had so acted; and the journal in question then went on to say that if such a thing were proposed in the French Assembly as to adjourn for a race on a week day there would be a charivari terrible—whatever that might mean. The astonishment seemed to be that we should adjourn on a week day. In this country they adjourned for gambling on week days, and they kept their Sundays strictly for drinking. Do not let him be misunderstood. He was not objecting, and had no business to object, to anybody in his individual capacity going to the Derby and enjoying himself to his heart's content. Let those who wished go and welcome. But what he did object to was that this House should, in its national capacity, give its sanction to racing. He made a Motion last year, and a paragraph went the round of the newspapers, saying that "Sir Wilfrid Lawson was seen going to the Derby with a green veil on and a sporting coat." He would give £100 to any man who proved it; but there was no reason why he should, not go. He could conceive it a duty to go, as it was, for instance, on the part of some members of the Press. The Pall Mall Gazette said the presence on the course of an assemblage of the first gentlemen in Europe would tend, if not to elevate the Derby from the sad condition into which it had fallen, at least to lend it some respectability, of which it stood so much in need. Charity, however, began at home, and he thought they had better make themselves respectable at home before they went to try and regenerate the Derby. The House of Commons was no missionary body, but a legislative Assembly. If any one took The Pall Mall Gazette view, and thought he could convert the blacklegs of Epsom from the error of their ways let him go, and he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) wished him success in his mission. The advocates of the measure could not plead that they wanted a holiday; that would not do. They were going to break up for a week on Thursday; they were only just come back from Easter, and he was sure nobody was worked to death in that House. Besides, they must do some work to-morrow. There was the Bill of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Smyth), the principle of which had been sanctioned by the House, and which excited more interest in the country than any measure brought before it that Session. The Government, if they had the interests of the people at heart, might give facilities for that Bill to advance a stage of it to-morrow. The Home Rulers would come down and support it, for he was sure no Home Ruler would allow his face to be seen on the Epsom racecourse. There was another Bill down for to-morrow—the Colonial Marriages Bill. The hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. B. Hope) had a Notice down to oppose that Bill. They had often heard him with great pleasure on British marriages; would it not be a pleasure to come down to-morrow and hear him make a speech on colonial marriages? But, if that was not enough to keep hon. Members from voting for this measure, he hoped they would seriously consider whether it tended to the honour, the dignity, and credit of that House and to the estimation in which they were held out-of-doors. If they would but give the thing a moment's thought, they would see they were not so foolish in this opposition to the Motion of the Prime Minister; and he did hope on this occasion he should have a good following of Members from both sides of the House, who would protest by their votes against a proceeding which was somewhat inconvenient and slightly mischievous, which was altogether childish, and thoroughly contemptible.

in supporting the Motion for adjournment, said, he had been in the habit of going to the Derby for the last 20 years, and he intended to go to-morrow, in spite of the annual performance of the hon. Member for Carlisle. He wished the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Locke) had got up on this occasion, and administered to the opponents of adjourn- ment the rebuke which he administered to them before, when Mr. Thomas Hughes brought forward a similar Amendment, and when he said that they treated the subject in a sanctimonious manner. He could not say that the hon. Member for Carlisle had done that; but he could not help thinking that public business might readily dispense with the hon. Member's annual remonstrance. People might say what they liked; the Derby was regarded as a general holiday, at least in the metropolis, and he did not see why an attempt should be made to prevent Members of the House from enjoying it. The hon. Member for Carlisle had a line of his own—a very useful line, no doubt—and he ought to remember the old proverb, "Ne sutor ultra crepidam." Let him stick to temperance questions and not meddle with other matters. The hon. Member for Carlisle was supposed to have been at the Derby last year. He (Mr. Bromley-Davenport) did not say that he was; but it was a curious coincidence that while he was at Hyde Park Corner, late on the afternoon of "the Derby Day," he saw a carriage going past, in which was a gentleman in a very dusty condition, and very cheerful, who had a doll on his hat, and who bore a most marked resemblance to the hon. Member for Carlisle.

in opposing the Motion for adjournment, protested against the question being treated in a jocular manner. He thought it was a matter for serious consideration whether the House was justified in wasting a day for the sake of the Derby. Lord Palmerston was unable to give any better reason for such an adjournment as was now proposed than that the Derby might be said to be our Isthmian Games. It was said the officials of the House required a holiday; but as the House was about toadjourn for a week that argument did not apply. Another argument was that it was a good old custom to adjourn over Derby Day. Well, he denied that it was either good or old. When these adjournments over the Derby Day first took place the circumstances were different, as there was then not nearly so much business to transact, and a day could better be spared. Besides, those who owned the racehorses then consisted mainly of Peers and Members of the House of Commons, and he questioned whether the same could be said generally of the owners of the horses which ran in the race now-a-days. No sound reason had been given for the adjournment over the Derby Day. Members who wished to do so could attend the Derby as well without the House adjourning as they could attend the shooting at Wimbledon or a regatta without the House adjourning. If the hon. Member divided the House he should certainly vote with him, although he was quite certain that he would not lead his supporters to victory.

I am only going to add one sentence to the discussion which has taken place. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle has a special right to ask the House to consider this question in the light in which he views it. He asks us annually to consider a Bill on another subject, and he is met constantly—I do not meet him with that argument at all; I have met him with another argument—but he is constantly met with the argument that it is an absurd idea to think of making people temperate by Act of Parliament. It is the common answer to his proposition. We have found out that we cannot prevent betting or gambling, which are attended with enormous evils, by any amount of legislation which this House in past years has agreed to; but this, at least, we may do—we may avoid offering an example. We may avoid giving the sanction of this Assembly—whose character is as high as that of any Assembly in the world—we may avoid giving its sanction to an employment and an amusement which, though it may be said to be innocent in itself, yet is the cause of enormous evil in almost every town in this country. Let any Member of the House just go in his mind to any considerable town; let him go to Birmingham, or Manchester, or Leeds, or Newcastle, and he will know at once that in those towns, and in almost all towns, there is a practice of speculating and gambling in connection with horse-racing—and especially with the race of to-morrow—which is productive of incalculable mischiefs throughout the country. I have no objection to a holiday—I am rather one of the idle Members of the House, and I have no objection to an idle day; but we are about to separate for a week, and the pretence of a holiday to-morrow cannot therefore be offered in this case. What I object to is, that we should give our sanction as a legislative Assembly to these races. I agree with the hon. Member for Carlisle, and the hon. Member who has made observations most judicious and most creditable to himself from the other side of the House, that the character of the House would stand higher with the country, and wherever our debates and proceedings are read and heard of, if we were to abandon the custom which the right hon. Gentleman opposite proposes that we should follow; and I should be glad if the House would reject the Motion to-night; but if that should not be the result, I trust this may be the last time that it will be brought forward.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) alluded several times to the Home Rulers. If we had an Irish Parliament, I will tell him what we would do; we would adjourn for every Derby, and if it was run twice a year we would adjourn twice a year. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Goulding) had arrived to-day in order to see the Derby to-morrow. The hon. Baronet objects to it because it is only 30 years old. Well, that is old enough for anything or anybody. The Amendment has become the perennial weed of a morbid imagination, inaccessible to reason and common sense. There has never been a Derby without a Derby dog, and some Members of this House seem to think there ought never to be a Derby without a Derby debate. I cannot understand the over-zeal for work which suddenly characterizes some of my hon. Friends. Hon. Members who oppose the adjournment always give different reasons. Some do not like to be suspected of sporting proclivities, others consider that, as legislators, they are fathers of the nation and should show no bad example to their sons, others have prejudice or ill-feeling towards the national sport, but I venture to say out of the 30 or 40 poor misguided men who will canter over the Lobby presently, there are not 10 who will not, by some accident, see the Derby to-morrow. I have been to every Derby for the last five years of my life that I have had the honour of a seat in this House; the first man I met on the course—aye, and in the betting ring—was an hon. and gal- lant Friend of mine who the previous night was most energetic in opposing the adjournment of the House. When I said, "You are a consistent man!" "Oh," he said, "I voted on principle last night." Well, I suppose he came to the Derby on principle also, but then sporting men are not expected or required to act on principle. But whatever their faults may be, they have not the convenient principle which some hon. Members seem to appreciate. Scotch Members might be excused for not going to the Derby. They are naturally a cool-blood, anti-sporting, anti-amusing people, and some of them would not know a horse from a mule, but that any Irishman should join the anti-Derby party is "one of those things which no fellow can understand." As an Irish Member and Home Ruler, I would be ashamed of any countryman of mine, and would certainly cut his acquaintance, who aids in any way against the adjournment of the House. In conclusion, I have three reasons against the Amendment—first, I am fond of sport, and like to see a good horse with a good man on it; secondly, I think it is the duty of every good citizen to encourage a great, ancient, and national pastime; and, thirdly, I believe I shall meet more of my constituents at the Derby than anywhere else.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 207; Noes 118: Majority 89.