HC Deb 05 March 1920 vol 126 cc865-9

Order for Second Heading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I feel that very few words are necessary in order to commend this Bill to the judgment and approval of the House. I am presenting this Bill on behalf of the Football Association, which is the governing body of that great democratic sport. It has 15,000 amateur clubs' in membership, and 400 professional clubs; 8,000 professional players, and 250,000 amateur players, and there are no less than 8,000 matches every week played under its jurisdiction. When I tell the House that the amount which at present is being paid to the Government by way of Entertainment Tax is about half a million pounds per annum, hon. Members will sec at once what a very large amount of money must be paid by people who attend the various matches every week. The Bill, as brought in, does not in any way stop anyone from having a bet on the result of a particular match, nor does it attempt to stop the competitions which one sees advertised by various periodicals for a prize for which there is no entrance fee. But it is intended to stop the wholesale issue of coupons which are circulated by more or less reputable bookmakers and others among workmen to induce them to part with their money which they may never see again. In one raid which was made in a particular district 51,000 coupons were found, and it appeared that one firm was making about £20,000 a year out of these coupons. That will show what a widespread evil this is. Another evil is that when some of these bookmakers find that the results of matches do not fit their book they endeavour to arrange that matches may be won or lost to suit them. In one or two cases there have been prosecutions in connection with these proceedings. There is no law at present to stop the printing and circulation of these coupons. Many of them are printed without addresses and are circulated by agents in the workshops and factories. That is a great evil to these workpeople, and a menace to a great democratic sport which affords amusement to so many thousands of people every Saturday afternoon. I do not think that anyone in this House is going to speak against the Bill. I bad a representation last week from some of those who are against the Bill who suggested that it would be a good thing if I had a bad cold or a sore throat this afternoon when the Bill came on, otherwise I might be opposed at the next election. A suggestion of this kind only convinced me all the more that I should press this Bill forward.


I beg to second the motion.

I support this Bill, not only in the interests of the Football Association, but because I am an upholder of healthy and vigorous sport. I do not believe there is anyone in this House who would not admit the advantage of sport and the desirability of the supremacy of British sport over all others. No one can deny that there is real healthy enjoyment got out of these football matters by millions of our working classes every Saturday afternoon. I think it is the duty of this House to encourage this sport and sport of all kinds, and also to see that sport is clean. Not only is there a demoralising effect from these coupon bets in which frauds are promoted, but there is the effect upon some of the men who take part in the football matches. It may not be popular for some Members to support this Bill, but there is a time when popularity must be secondary to our obvious duty. We find that some of the footballers, men who have made great reputations and were the idols of the crowds, men who have provided enjoyment for so many thousands of people, and who ought to be always respectable citizens, are sometimes bribed and tempted and their whole career ruined as a result of these coupon competitions, not so much because of their own action as of the evil influence which is brought to bear upon the sport. I feel that there cannot be much opposition to the Bill. I hope that the Second Beading will be unanimous, that the Bill will go upstairs, and will become law. If so, it will be some consolation for our disappointment to-day in endeavouring to secure some healthy legislation.


I rise to support the Bill because I represent a constituency which has Aston Villa in its midst. I have been asked to support it by the Aston Villa Football Club, and I want to say how necessary it is that we should try to secure clean and proper sport. I was one of those who backed a Bill in this House in 1913, which had a similar purpose. This kind of betting is excessively pernicious and it damages the reputation of good football. It does an immense amount of harm in the factories and workshops where the firms who promote this coupon betting employ special commissioned agents and give them a commission of 10 per cent. They pick out the most popular people among the workmen for this purpose and succeed in inducing young men and women to resort, to a very large extent, to the very objectionable form of gambling, with great loss to themselves. Though there may be people who desire that this form of gambling shall be continued, I am speaking in the interests of the health and reputation of football, and of the young men and women in the factories. This legislation is necessary, and I hope the Bill will be read a Second time unanimously.


I support this Bill because I have knowledge of the evils which have been laid before us to-day, and I speak as the leaseholder of the ground of one of the big amateur clubs. It affects not only grown-ups, and men and women, but boys and girls as well, and the evil that is carried to families on Saturday afternoons by them not taking their money home is very great.


While I associate myself as an ordinary working-class representative with the desire of this House to present gambling, I desire to say that so far as the working people are concerned, they object very much to this kind of cant and humbug about one kind of gambling as against another. If we are going to prevent gambling, why not begin at the beginning? Where does the workman get his ideas of getting something for nothing from? From those who are supposed to be his betters. Some of those who are most enthusiastic about the moral probity of the people of Great Britain are those who are gambling in house property in London, gambling in stocks and shares, gambling in everything whereby they can take advantage of public necessity to increase their own profits. If we are going to oppose gambling, let us be honest and say we are opposed to all forms of speculation by people who are taking advantage of public necessities. I am one of those people who follow football matches, and I am a member of a sweepstake club, and I make no apology for it. We do our business openly, and everybody knows we are in it, but the gentleman who can get on to the telephone and put £50 on a football match is not known. If I get a circular from a firm that is running a football sweep, I am a criminal, for according to this Bill the running of a football sweep in the form I am expressing is a criminal offence. But if I get a circular from a speculator in property, I may know as much about property as a Connemara pig does about astronomy, but because I have the money to invest I stand a chance of winning something; therefore I am a respectable citizen, entitled to become a member of the London Stock Exchange, but if I put a shilling on a football match through a circular issued to me by a firm of bookmakers, of course I am a totally different person, I am not respectable, and therefore sport has got to be kept clean. We have seen something about sport in the Courts this week, where two of the biggest sportsmen in the country are washing each other's dirty linen in public. The ordinary workman is a saint compared with these great sportsmen, one of whom was a candidate at the last General Election, under the auspices of the party of the mover of this Bill. I am expected, because I speculate a shilling, to be a paragon of virtue, whilst they can exhaust the possibilities of vice.

Let us be honest if we are going to do anything. If we are going to legislate, let us begin at the beginning of gambling, and everybody who takes advantage of other people in order to increase his own profits in a speculative sense is a gambler just the same and ought to be punished, if this is going to be a punishment on the ordinary workman. How many of the gentlemen who are talking this afternoon about the morality of sport are not themselves responsible for offering prices to get one footballer to join a team because they want the team to win the English Cup? Will they tell me that? Is it not a well known fact that in order to maintain their positions in the various football leagues teams are offering fancy prices to footballers? £2,000, £3,000, and up to £5,000 have been offered to get certain players away from one team to another, and the Gentleman who has moved this Bill has played that game as much as anybody. Is not that gambling? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Wait a moment. The object is to keep the team in the League, and to win the 5 per cent. for the shareholders; and are they not gambling in human flesh when they offer prices for players to come along to leave the team they have been associated with for years in order to join another team? Is not that gambling? Because the intention is that if you can get hold of certain players you can maintain your position in the League and possibly win the Cup. Therefore, I think this to me appears to be the very science of humbug. If you want to stop gambling I am with you, but I want to stop all kinds of gambling, and therefore I support the proposition so far as it is concerned in limiting the power of those who want to engage in gambling; but I object to the humbug displayed in some of the speeches we have heard this afternoon.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.