HC Deb 30 March 1928 vol 215 cc1555-70

Order for Second Reading read.

Brigadier-General Sir WILLIAM ALEXANDER

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

This is a short Bill to remedy a state of things which exists in Scotland, and which all those who care for youth recognise to be an evil. I am certain that the Motion will be confirmed by all sides of the House, and, as the time is short, I propose to be very brief. It would be very ungracious on my part if I did not at the outset intimate that the Bill originated with the hon. Member for Peebles-shire (Mr. Westwood), and although he failed, for want of opportunity last year, to get a Second Reading, the credit is really due to my hon. Friend, and I am glad to think that, in seconding the Motion this afternoon, he will have an active and a close interest in the passage of the Bill. Street bookmakers, through various channels, employ many agents, and the most useful and alert of those agents seem to be messenger boys, whose less romantic duties are concerned with the distribution of meat, groceries, newspapers, etc. It is a fact that these boys are organised to collect betting-slips from the inhabitants of the various houses on their round of call, from the proprietors and from the members of the domestic staffs. The proposal is that the wings of these youthful Mercuries should be clipped.

It has long been recognised in connection with other things good in themselves, that there should be a limit put upon the indiscretions of youth. It is so with reference to smoking and drinking. We have made it difficult for boys and girls to buy cigarettes, and although ingenious youth can get round these restrictions by means of the automatic machines, the intention is clear, and it but remains to make the execution more perfect. All reasonable people recognise that smoking is bad for young people. Similarly, in regard to drink, all reasonable people, and not least those who most keenly enjoy a glass of wine, know that it must be made difficult if not impossible for too early indulgence in a practice which is harmful to youth. The whole point, as I see it, is that opportunity should not be allowed to outrun control and judgment, and that certain things should be made difficult for youth until such time as youth has reached years of discretion and is in a position to judge for itself, when it is to be hoped experience will control decision and habits. It is precisely the same with regard to betting. That the practice of betting is widespread among all classes, is common knowledge, and the practice has received fresh impetus of late through the development of greyhound racing.

I am not approaching this subject in any kill-joy spirit, nor indeed is my argument tinged with any puritanical flavour. In fact, I feel that my position is stronger in that I have spent, and hope to spend again, many happy hours on the racecourse. I have loved horses all my life, and not least when they are engaged in contest. I have not only enjoyed hours on the racecourse, but at times I have enjoyed trying to pit my own wits against the wits of the bookmaker, and not seldom have I found his keener than mine. In token of the strength of my feelings about the Bill, I may say that, had there been no such Bill to-day, I should this afternoon have been at a point which is nearer to Liverpool than it is to this House.

This should not be looked upon as a punitive measure, but as a discouragement of the practice among the youth of Scotland. The young persons to be protected are confined to those under 16. When an errand boy or messenger boy has reached the age of 16, he has already passed out, or is thinking of passing out, of the category of work which offers the greatest opportunity for the kind of traffic we wish to restrict, and if possible to abolish. Judgment and character will have the chance of making and acquiring such strength that the thoughtless acceptance of bookmakers' errands will be largely checked. Youth will be entering on more definite work, leaving the blind alley occupations of earlier years. Whether it be in the workshop, or in the office, or on board ship, employment will be continuous, and sufficiently exacting to render very difficult the street or house-to-house work on behalf of professional bookmakers and others interested in the business of betting. Sixteen is not the age of manhood, but I should be satisfied, for the reasons already given, if even this measure of protection can be secured. The Bill provides penalties to be imposed on those who are the cause or the occasion of the violation of the provisions of the Bill. These are very brief, and are already in the hands of Members, and I do not propose to go into them in detail. My hon. Friend who is seconding this Motion, has made vast investigations, and when the House has heard details of the experience which he has gained, they will, I venture to say, give this Bill a unanimous passage.


I beg to second the Motion.

This is one of the exceptional occasions when a Friday Bill is moved from one side of the House and seconded from the other side, and I think it proves conclusively that the Bill will be acceptable to all who are interested in youth and desire to see some of the pitfalls which stand in the path of our children removed, at least so far as legislation can remove them. Unlike the hon. and gallant Member, I have never been on a racecourse, nor have I taken part in betting. My training—and I have no apology to make to the House in this respect—was received in the Salvation Army and in the Independent Order of Rechabites, both of which got me as a child to sign a pledge neither to gamble nor to drink. I do not profess that, I have kept all the pledges I have made in my life. One of the weaknesses of those who go in for politics is that they break the pledges they have made, but I have religiously kept all my life the two pledges neither to drink nor gamble.

The pledge not to gamble was reinforced by my reading of the life of Mr. Justice Grantham, who ultimately became, I think, Lord Justice Grantham. He also was a great anti-gambler, but on one occasion he was prevailed upon by a friend to put a "fiver" on a horse which was said to be a sure winner. Unfortunately for him the horse did not win, and he lost the first and only £5 he ever bet in his life. [Interruption.] I am only telling you what is reported there. Lord Justice Grantham further pointed out in those reminiscences that the reason he did not go in for gambling was because as a Judge he had come to the definite conclusion that those who gambled with the knowledge that they were going to win were rogues, and those who gambled without a knowledge that they were going to win were fools. As I have never had a desire to be in either of those categories I have never gone in for gambling, and consequently have never had the exhilarating experience of many Members of this House, as well as of many people outside, of spotting the winner on the Tuesday and backing the loser on the Wednesday. I want to refer briefly to one Act which deals with betting and gambling, the Street Betting Act of 1906. That Act was introduced into this House as the result of the work of a Committee which was set up by the other House, the Chairman of that Committee being the Bishop of Hereford. They collected evidence about street betting at that time, in 1902, and I would like to give two quotations from their report: Evidence has also been brought before the Committee to show that street bookmakers bet not only with men but with women and children. The purpose of this Bill is to try to remove the temptation so far as children are concerned. Then the report went on to say: The Committee therefore recommend that in view of the acknowledged evils of this form of betting there should be further legislation enabling magistrates to send bookmakers to prison without the option of a fine for the first offence who have been convicted of betting in the streets with boys or girls. There was a definite recommendation that everything possible should be done to check betting amongst children. The education authorities in Scotland have been very much interested in this particular question, and really this is the Bill of the Executive of the Education Authorities for Scotland which has been accepted word for word by the Secretary of State for Scotland as the result of negotiations. The betting evil is particularly rampant in our big city. The City of Glasgow Corporation has carried out many investigations in connection with this evil. I have here a list of cases where parents have been fined in Glasgow for sending their children to places connected with betting transactions. I have also similar complaints from headmasters in the City of Glasgow. I will give three quotations. Here is one from a headmaster who reported to the Education Authority of Glasgow as follows: The need seems to me much greater in adolescent classes, as for example in the juvenile unemployment classes. When lads and girls get into workshops and factories the temptations are much greater, and both evils—bad language, betting and gambling—are more rampant. In another case, one of the head teachers under the same education authority reports that: Betting is very prevalent in the streets in this locality, but the, pupils have been warned against the evil. Another report states that: This district seems to be a veritable hot-bed of gambling and betting. Bookies are daily in evidence and the children get involved in their transactions. The betting atmosphere is all round this school. At every corner bookmakers or their employés are to be seen busily engaged, especially at mid-day. I have here a record of no less than 37 cases where children between the ages of six and nine years have actually been engaged in betting transactions and the parents were haled before the Court. I contend that the facts I have submitted and the evidence I have produced prove that the evil is really a terrible one so far as our large cities are concerned. The education authorities of the executive of which I have the honour to be a member—I believe I shall continue to be a member for another three years as the result of the recent election—are very interested in looking after the welfare of the children. We believe that whilst it may be possible for an adult to gamble and not lose his self-respect, he is not in the same position as the younger children who are more liable to be tempted. I am not going to enter into the merits or demerits of gambling so far as adults are concerned. We have passed legislation to safeguard the children so far as their health is concerned and so far as smoking is concerned before they reach a certain age. Having applied legislation for the purpose of safeguarding children from smoking and drinking evils we are now seeking to extend that so far as gambling evils are concerned.

It is our duty to see that the children do not grow up in the spirit of Micawber looking for something to turn up, but to teach them that it is their duty to make things turn up for themselves if they want to get on. We shall not be able to make the Scottish nation successful if our children are allowed to be undermined by an acquaintance with betting transactions. It is because I want to see the children safeguarded that I am seconding this Bill. On behalf of the executive of the education authorities I wish to thank the hon. Member for the Central Division of Glasgow (Sir W. Alexander) for choosing this particular Bill. I have much pleasure in seconding the Motion, and I hope that it will receive the unanimous support of the House.


I have great pleasure in following the hon. Members who have stated the case so well for this Bill, and in giving it my support. I am glad to note that there is in the Bill a definite age limit, if I may so put it, because I was wondering whether, if this Bill had become law without that, I should have been in order if I had suggested to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Sir W. Alexander) that he might go out and bring in from the tape machine the result of the Grand National this afternoon. I think it is most desirable that the age limit put into the Bill should be not lower than 16, but that is really a Committee point, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend made a good case for that figure. I might, perhaps, point out to the hon. Member for Peebles (Mr. Westwood) that there is a good deal of difference between gambling and betting. Betting is having a, little flutter with what one can afford, while gambling is staking what, if you lose, is going to bring disaster, or, at least, great distress, to yourselves and your dependants. That, however, is more a debating point than a practical one at the present moment; but there is no doubt that to bring up children in an atmosphere of professional bookmaking is one of the worst trainings that can be given to them, and it is much worse when it is done in the surreptitious sort of way that now accompanies ready-money betting.

I may surprise some of the other supporters of the Bill when I say that I support it merely as a palliative; I think that the real cure would be to legalise ready-money betting, taking sufficient licence fees from the ready-money bookmakers to give them an incentive to be honest and conduct their business properly. With regard to this ready-money betting, I think that everyone with a knowledge of human nature must agree that, whatever we do in the way of legislation, it is better not to drive it underground, and thus give rise to this surreptitious method of using children for the purpose of going about and carrying messages, money and so on. It would be much better to face the facts and legalise betting as a whole, for rich and poor alike, ready-money and credit betting equally, with proper guarantees. But it takes a long time to move the conscience of the nation—and many regard this as a matter of conscience, without really considering where the evil exists—and it would hardly be possible in the present Parliament to pass any legislation of that, kind; and I feel that the evil of this practice among children is so great that we must not loses any time. We should have to wait till the millennium otherwise, so we must accept what amelioration we can get just now. Accordingly, as a palliative Measure which I hope will prove very valuable, I desire to give this Bill the strongest support that I can.


I do not desire to be led away by the remarks of the last speaker into discussing the question of the millennium of legalised betting; I think we had better confine ourselves more particularly to the Bill that is before the House. I have risen merely to say that this Bill has the wholehearted support of the party to which I have the honour to belong, and I wanted to take the opportunity of saying that, because it so happens that the name of no Member of our party appears on the Bill. It must not, however, be thought from that that we do not thoroughly support the object which it sets out to effect. As is known to all Scottish Members, this little Bill has excited great interest throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. Right from the far North down to the Tweed everyone is interested in seeing it passed, and, therefore, I will sit down at once, hoping that it may get through speedily.


As one of the iconoclasts of my own party in some respects, I wish also to give my benediction to this Bill from the standpoint that we represent. I would like to see the time arrive when betting would be abolished altogether, if it were possible to do so by Act of Parliament. Gambling in Throgmorton Street is just as bad as in Canning Town, but the unfortunate thing about this kind of legislation is that it is always aimed at the poor gambler. The rich gambler can escape scot free. He can be a member of a great club in the West End. He can even be a Member of the House of Commons and use a free telephone. I have heard some of them doing it. I am not a gambler myself. I have a shilling occasionally on a sweepstake. I had one on the Derby. I missed a chance of having one on the Grand National, because I forgot all about it. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are in time for the Boat Race!"] I have seen the Boat Race once, and it does not interest me much. I had rather see the fight for Doggett's Coat and Badge. because it represents more of the spirit of the river than the mere perambulation up and down from Mortlake to Putney. There is a lot of cant talked in the House about drinking and gambling. All these Bills represent to me a kind of psychology which I cannot possibly understand. I have seen gentlemen drive up in motor cars to hotels in Brighton and other places I have visited with their children and take them into the saloon lounge and, on ordering lunch, I have seen the children partake of wine. If my boy or my girl goes into a public-house with me, it is supposed to be a criminal offence. A working man's child is not allowed the same privileges as other children, and we are not allowed to take ours where they take theirs. We cannot afford to take ours where theirs go.

I am supporting the Bill, because I want to see gambling by children prevented. One of the biggest bookmakers in the East End began by taking 1d. bets from boys. He was only a boy himself. He started by selling newspapers, and he died worth £60,000 at about 48 years of age. That is going on all the time. Everyone knows it. Every factory and workshop has its bookmakers' representative in it. It is all very well to stop the children, but you want to stop the women if you can. I agree to some extent with an hon. Member opposite. By legislating against some of these evils, you simply drive them underground. You license drinking because you cannot stop people from drinking; therefore you take the next best step. You say to certain people: "You have to get a licence for drinking purposes," and you place restrictions upon them. You say the hours they shall be allowed to sell drink and you give the police authority to control them.

Is there any difference with gambling? You can salve your conscience by giving the Chancellor of the Exchequer £100,000,000 a year out of drink. You control the drink traffic. Why not control the other, which has grown nearly as great? I do not know that gambling is not now a bigger trade than drinking from the standpoint of the amount paid out every year to bookmakers. You may send a bookmaker to prison, but he does not go. You never get hold of the bookmaker. You get hold of the runner. He goes to prison, and the bookmaker goes home and puts the receiver on to hear the result of the race. They have a mutual association amongst themselves to pay the fines and to pay the wages of the runners while they are in prison, and they can get men who are willing to go to prison if their wives and families are kept. You will have to control gambling far better than you are doing now. You will have to make it illegal to bet or gamble in the streets. If you do, a lot of the evils at which the Bill is aiming at will be eliminated, because it will no longer be possible for people to carry on illicit betting and gambling as they are now doing. I am supporting the Bill because it goes some part of the way. I only wish it would go a little further and deal with the situation in reality.


I rise to support this Bill which has been introduced by my colleague the Member for Central Glasgow (Sir W. Alexander), and I do so because I feel that there is an atmosphere of good will in the House which augurs well for the passing of the Measure. I would like to say how creditable it is to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Mr. Westwood) that he originally brought forward this Measure last Session, because, in my view, it affects the large industrial centres of this country much more than it does agricultural or country districts such as are represented by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles. In the City of Glasgow, part of which I have the honour to represent, we have a very large growing population of these young people who are affected by this Bill and for whose future life and employment we have very anxious thought. By passing this Bill, we shall have an opportunity of preventing these young persons from entering employment which we desire to discourage in every possible way.

The Scottish education system is considered to be of a very high standard, and the Scottish education authority endeavour, so far as possible, not only to give education facilities for the children under their care, but to raise the moral standard of the children in such a way that it is reflected upon their parents. The education authorities of Scotland are doing something more than merely giving the children book learing. They have introduced schemes for providing fresh air and attention for children in order to take them away from their environment and their indifferent living places in many cases. To have them drift back to be made the tools of those who wish to use them for their own personal gain is a thing that we ought to try and prevent, and such an object ought to be supported very strongly by this House. It might be asked why such a desirable Bill should not be made applicable to the whole of this country as well as to Scotland. My answer is, that I believe that we in Scotland have been the pioneers of the great moral advancement of this country, if not of the world, and I think we are justified in bringing forward this particular proposal. We can claim to lead the way in a matter of this kind, and I hope that other countries will follow. I have very much pleasure in supporting the Bill.


There seems to be a desire on the part of hon. Members on both sides of the House to pass this Bill. I want to take exception to What we find prevalent in the country among those who are representative of the churches as well as those who represent the racecourses. The proposals that are made from time to time with a view to limiting the evil of betting call for a certain amount of criticism from workaday people, who desire to know whether there is any principle involved in the way that efforts are being made to intervene in connection with this great national evil. I am in agreement with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones). There are so many anomalies and outstanding features in connection with the evils of betting which strike one, and there is a particular feature which has been brought to our notice in regard to greyhound racing. We have been asked, for instance, to deal exclusively with the evil of betting which arises out of greyhound racing. Those who ask us to do that, have made the very unfortunate admission that it is not a practicable thing to interfere, with the ordinary racecourse betting.

I submit that the way the whole question of betting has been handled is futile. It is either a great national evil which requires to be dealt with, or it is not. The very forces which are now making efforts in a restricted fashion to deal with this evil are giving evidence of what is, unfortunately, too true, namely, that the efforts which have been made so far to deal with the evil are on the basis of class legislation. Many workaday people feel, and quite rightly, that if the evil is to be dealt with in that way, it will only help to undermine the influence of the Church and of Parliament. If a stand has to be taken, especially by those who do not want to have anything to do with betting, then let them take a thorough stand. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading has been frank. He simply says to the young people: "Do not do as I do, but do as I tell you." That is a line of policy which is sometimes adopted by others in this House and which causes a good deal of criticism in regard to this House.

The attitude of the House of Commons on these matters has too often been most unfortunate. Surely, we ought to give a straight lead on this question. It is not a matter only of the children. The hon. Member for Silvertown pointed out that it is absolutely ridiculous to keep children out of the public-house. If their fathers and mothers can go in, he asks, why not the children? If there is no case for the children going in there is no support for any system, licensing or otherwise, which enables the fathers and mothers to go in. If we admit that it is a dangerous thing to allow children in a public-house below the age of 16 years—the hon. Member for Edinburgh North (Sir P. Ford) likes the idea, of selecting an age—then it is dangerous to admit them at a higher age. My idea would be to put no limit of age. It ought to be an all-in movement, otherwise you are going to adopt the principle merely of compromise and expediency, with the result that you cannot give any lead to the country. I regret that the Church is no better than the House of Commons in that respect on this and other national evils.

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. William Watson)

May I say, on behalf of the Government, that we welcome this Bill and approve of its principles? The House will remember that in the Street Betting Act of 1906 it was made illegal for bookmakers to have betting transactions with young persons under 16. There has been some doubt expressed from time to time as to whether accepting from a messenger under 16 years would come within the province of that enactment, or not. Whether it does or not, the present Bill is a very logical extension of the principle embodied in Section 1 of the Act of 1906. Some people may ask what justification, what evidence, is there. Not only have we had representations and proof from various deputations and juvenile organisations and others in Scotland, but definite evidence was laid before the English Committee and before the Scottish Committee as to the prevalence of the practice of using young persons for conveying messages. I am able to say, from the point of view of those who are engaged in public prosecutions and the police, that the police frequently find it happening, although it is not an offence now, and no one can doubt but that it is a good thing to extend the protection initiated as regards betting transactions in the 1906 Act to the conveying of messages.


Can the Lord Advocate tells us why this Act only refers to Scotland and not to England as well? Are not the two cases the same?


Yes, and I hope England, as usual, will follow the excellent example of Scotland. The present Bill is an improvement in one or two respects on the Bill of last year. In the first place, the sending of money is made an offence. That was not in last year's Bill. Those who have any familiarity with the working of the Act of 1906 know that the most damaging evidence in these cases is the betting slip of the bookmaker who is anxious to evade the law and he tries to do without betting slips as much as possible. One of the most useful elements in detecting and proving an offence is the existence of money passing and, therefore, I like the provision that it shall include the conveyance or delivery of money which makes the offence much easier to prove. I am glad to see that the Bill also brings in the bookmaker who accepts the message. It is right that this end of the story should be covered by the provisions of the Bill. The third point, which is somewhat interesting to myself is that by a variation in phraseology there is an extension of the Courts having jurisdiction under this Bill. As originally worded it meant that the Sheriff Court alone would have jurisdiction but as worded now it covers also other Courts as well, and as these offences are mostly tried in Police Courts it is right and proper that that should be done.

The evidence which has been given to the various committees on this point is certainly very striking as compared with that which came from England. One of the Public Prosecutors in one of the big cities in Scotland informs me that the offence of having betting transactions with any young person under 16 years of age, which was provided by the Act of 1906, is unknown as far as he is concerned. In other words, the operation of that provision has been extremely effective. Therefore, I have little doubt that equally effective will be the provision in the present case. One is rather apt to think—that is why we consulted the Public Prosecutors—that perhaps this was the kind of legislative provision that would be very difficult to enforce, very difficult to get evidence upon, and easily evaded. I thought it would be helpful if I could consult the Public Prosecutors in the two big cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh as to their view of the efficacy and benefit to be derived from this proposal.

From both these public officials we received an answer that they thought the proposed legislation would be of great benefit and that there would be no difficulty in enforcing it, if indeed that were necessary. In that connection they told me that the provision about not having transactions with young persons under the 1906 Act had proved effective so far. They also were able to add their knowledge, through the police, of the existence of the evil which this Measure is proposed to stop. We do not need to consider anything beyond this, ready-money betting or anything else. This really is a natural and obvious corollary to what may possibly have been intended to have been covered by the Street Betting Act of 1906. I hope the House will agree that this Bill will be valuable in making more effective that section of the Act of 1906, and in protecting the young of our country from learning, while they are young, things which many of them, and perhaps all of them, would not so readily imbibe in their less impressionable and maturer years. We ought to give them a chance of arriving at full years of discretion, when they can make up their minds as to how far, if at all, they like those things.


Public opinion will welcome the statement which has been made on behalf of the Government and will congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Major-General Sir W. Alexander) on bringing in this Bill. I do not think we ought to conclude without a reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour). I fully expect when going home in the dark one night, to find a tub in New Palace Yard, and to see the hon. Member for Dundee coming out of it with a lantern in his hand, like a modern Diogenes, looking for an honest man. The hon. Member is an honest man himself, but I wish he would give credit to the Churches and to others for being equally honest. I think in the manner in which he spoke on this Bill he has not been at all fair to the representatives of the Churches or to the deputation which was heard upstairs, and it is due to the representatives of the Churches in Scotland that his statement should not pass unchallenged. I support the Bill.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at One Minute before Four o'Clock until Monday next, 2nd April.