HC Deb 06 July 1933 vol 280 cc630-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]

11.5 p.m.


On Tuesday of this week the House will remember that I asked the Home Secretary whether, in view of the fact that certain proceedings had been taken against the newspapers the "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" and the "Sheffield Daily Independent" in respect of advertisements appearing in those publications offering a prize of £2,500 to the person or persons who were successful in stating the first four horses in this year's Derby Stakes, he would consider instituting proceedings against the "Daily Mail," the "Daily Express," the "Daily Herald" and the "News Chronicle," conducting practically identically the same competition. The Parliamentary Secretary replied that steps were being taken by the responsible authorities to obtain counsel's opinion on the legality of these competitions, and that the question of the action to be taken would be considered in the light of that opinion. Yesterday I asked the Home Secretary by Private Notice whether, in view of the fines that were inflicted upon Messrs. Sir W. C. Leng and Company, of the "Sheffield Daily Telegraph," in respect of the publications referred to in the previous question, whether he had issued instructions that no action should be taken against the London papers concerned circulating in Sheffield until Counsel's opinion on the legality of the competition concerned had been obtained. The right hon. Gentleman replied that if there were any question of detail, the Chief Constable of Sheffield must consult those advisers whom he has the power to consult.

My object in raising this matter on the Adjournment is as far as possible to bring to the notice of the Home Secretary the existence of these acts of illegality according to the Betting Acts by papers operating in the area of Sheffield but published by a company whose headquarters are in London. If the chief constable of Sheffield is, as the Home Secretary stated yesterday, entirely responsible for putting into effect the Betting Act, 1853, in respect of the publication of advertisement of lottery, it appears from that Act that that authority is actually the town clerk of Sheffield, who, I understand, is a lawyer. If the chief constable of Sheffield has any difficulty in instituting proceedings against other papers he must seek the advice of the town clerk, who is the legal adviser of the corporation. So far as I can gather, the authority of the town clerk of Sheffield on the question of any jurisdiction that the chief constable may have in instituting proceedings against those papers will be the Betting Act, 1853. The object of my rising to-night is to seek from the Home Secretary information on how it is possible to bring within the law those papers which are guilty, in the eyes of the law, of precisely the same offence against the law for which the "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" and the "Sheffield Daily Independent" have been fined. They have been fined for using premises situated in Sheffield for purposes of betting and receiving moneys as the consideration of an undertaking to pay money on certain continuencies relating to a horse race.

We do not object to having been fined for that purpose, nor do the newspapers object to having been taken, not as a test case, but as an example of what the law can do. What we do object to is being selected for prosecution—because this is not the first occasion on which the "Sheffield Daily Telegraph" and the "Sheffield Daily Independent" have been selected—when other papers are guilty of the same offence within precisely the same area. If one paper is to be continually apprehended for an offence, it seems to me to be a very grave injustice that other papers can circulate within that area and defy the law with absolute impunity. We object to the legal anomaly which on the one hand enables the Chief Constable of Sheffield to prosecute the Sheffield newspapers, but on the other hand apparently denies him the right to prosecute the London newspapers which are operating in the same area.

A London paper, it appears, can set up offices in Sheffield, collect its news in Sheffield, control its distribution in that area, and advertise in that area details relative to lotteries. It sells those papers to those who enter for competitions and to those who do not enter these competitions, and yet the Sheffield's Chief Constable cannot take action apparently because it cannot be proved by him that the offices in question are receiving the moneys in respect of the sale of those newspapers which, according to the Betting Act, interpreted, means in respect of lotteries; and it appears to me that some greater definition should be placed upon the meaning of the Betting Acts so that the Sheffield or other chief constables who are administering this law can know exactly to which authority they can appeal in order that action can be taken. I venture to suggest that the whole of the newspapers concerned in the publication of advertisements respecting these lotteries would be very glad to-morrow if the whole of them were stopped by law. They do not want them. To them they are only a source of nuisance and a source of outgoing capital which greatly increases the expenditure of running their publications. Simply because the law as it exists at the moment allows these anomalies 'and injustices to be practised, one newspaper naturally takes advantage of getting the greatest possible measure of unfair competitive power over the others. It is on these grounds mainly that Sheffield papers object to the present position, and I ask, on behalf of those papers, as one of Sheffield's representatives, why it is that the Chief Constable in Sheffield is prevented from prosecuting any person under the Betting Acts for keeping a betting house for the purpose of paying out moneys to a person or persons on the contingency of the result of a horse race, and why it is that he cannot sue in one case and yet can sue successfully in the other? If it is because the law does not provide him with powers to sue a newspaper owned in London although circulated in Sheffield, I ask the Home Secretary to say if the Act itself does not, even without alteration, give him the power. I would quote from Stone's Justices' Manual the case of 1902, which appears to me to be identical with the present: In Mackenzie v. Hawke 11902], 2 K.B. 216, 66 J.P. 696, the Divisional Court held that the proprietors of a newspaper publishing therein advertisements of a football competition with coupons which might be detached and sent to an office abroad kept by the manager who paid for the advertisements might be convicted of an offence under Sections 1 and 3. It was also approved by the Court of Appeal, who held that it is sufficient that a house or office has been used by the occupier for an essential part of the operation, though the receipt of the money did not take place thereat. To me that covers the whole position. If it could be proved—as it can undoubtedly be proved every day—that such premises are receiving moneys in respect of the sale of these newspapers that contain advertisements of a lottery, every purchase of which is, in effect, a bet, I cannot see why the Chief Constable can take action against those newspapers published on the spot and not against those which, by virtue of their London office, cannot be regarded as being published on the spot.

Perhaps the Home Secretary is not conversant with the extent to which those papers circulate in Sheffield. Here is one quotation from the "Daily Express" of 26th April. It states: Beer Tax abolished. Whisky Tax abolished. Entertainment Tax abolished. Income Tax abolished. Chancellor of the Exchequer chaired in the House. There's news for you. There's headlines for you. Can't you see what the 'Daily Express' would do with them? But they won't be written to-day. The news didn't break that way. But console yourselves with something else. Here's news that will cheer you all. The third free entry form of the wonderful 'Daily Express' £2,500 Derby Competition on page 17. If London newspapers can come into Sheffield with impunity and sell their papers on the ground of such advertisements it is the most unfair competitive weapon any Parliament ever allowed any person to possess. Is the Home Secretary satisfied that these London papers are guilty of offences under the Lottery Act, 1853? If not, will he state the reasons which render their lotteries legal? If he is satisfied that they are illegal, why cannot information be laid by an officer within the Metropolis or within the provincial area in order that the superintendent within the area of publication may take immediate action? The Sheffield chief constable in the case of Sheffield took immediate action.

I believe that I am expressing the whole-hearted opinion of the whole country when I say that Parliament must not allow such a condition of unfair competition to prevail. It is meaning unemployment for Sheffield. Sheffield is losing its circulating power. It will not be able to keep its permanent staff in existence if you allow the London papers such unfair competitive advantages. The result will be more unemployment and more depression in the second hardest-hit area in this country.

11.17 p.m.


I should like to associate myself with everything that the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) has said. Certain newspaper interests in Manchester find themselves in precisely the same position. The Allied newspapers have been singled out for peculiar and invidious distinction, just as have some of the Sheffield newspapers. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to clarify the position so that these newspapers shall not find themselves in any different position from the four great national newspapers to which the hon. Member has referred.

11.18 p.m.


I happen to be President of the Newspaper Society, representing the whole of the provincial Press, and, therefore, I should like to say a few words on this matter. Personally, the newspaper owners would be glad to see these competitions declared illegal, but we are gravely alarmed at the way in which the police are handling the matter. When the matter was first raised in Manchester, the Chief Constable gave a definite assurance that any action taken against provincial newspapers would be taken against all other newspapers which published, these competitions, but that has not been the case. Sheffield has been singled out, and I protest at the way in which the newspapers have been treated in Sheffield. They did not proceed, as in the case of Manchester, by issuing summonses against the newspapers, but they proceeded by search warrant and by arrest of important officials of the paper. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Considering the standing of the papers and the people employed in the managing of those papers, it was a very high-handed and unwarrantable action to proceed by search warrant and arrest. If this is a test case and action is to follow against other papers, no great harm has been done, but seeing that similar summonses are pending against provincial papers in Manchester, and that no action has been taken against London papers, we feel that it is not being treated as a test case. The Home Secretary tells us that they are taking legal opinion, but while summonses have been pending there has been time to take legal opinion about the London newspapers. I strongly protest against the way the police have acted in the matter. I wish to say to the Home Secretary that the newspaper owners look to him to see that the provincial papers get fair play and that the London papers get no privileges.

11.20 p.m.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Gilmour)

Perhaps it is right that at the outset I should make it clear to the House that the Home Office is in no sense the prosecuting authority in a case of this kind. The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) feels that there has been some unfairness on the part of some authority. All I can say to him is that, as far as I have been able to ascertain the facts since he raised the matter, it is clear that the duty of prosecuting in regard to these problems rests with the police and the authority for them to act is given by the magistrates, subject to the information which is supplied to them. The responsibility for that is not mine and it is not that of the Home Office. It is that of the magistrates. The assertion is made that there is discrimination against this group of newspapers in Sheffield. I think the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) has made it clear that similar proceedings have taken place in Manchester.


Similar proceedings in Manchester are against papers belonging to the same firm and not against London papers.


That may be so. The authorities in each district have to take action. Let us put ourselves in the position of the police authority. If they are certain that they have sufficient evidence upon which they can put their case before a magistrate, if they are going to get the necessary authority to take proceedings, it is clear then that it is within the scope of the chief constable to take such steps as he deems necessary, as in this case against those papers that he is proceeding against by warning and by subsequent action. As I understand it, a warning was given and it was only after that warning was disregarded that further action was taken. The police authority had to make up their mind upon what grounds they were going to act, and if in their judgement they thought that, having the offices of these particular papers in their jurisdiction, they were therefore by that very circumstance in a position to produce to the magistrates sufficient evidence to deal with the matter, but decided that they could not take proceedings against London newspapers, it has nothing to do with me. That is their affair, but there is nothing, so far as I know, to prevent them, if they so decide, from taking further action against any paper operating within their area, provided that they can produce the evidence.

What has eventuated, quite clearly, is that it is the duty of the police authority in whatever district they act to investigate and deal with these problems. The police authority here in the City of London—and I want to emphasise that the proper authority is not the Home Office, but the police authority—has taken advice from Counsel and as a result the City of London Police have warned the "Daily Express," the "Daily Mail," and the "News-Chronicle," while the Metropolitan Police, with which I am associated, have warned the "Daily Herald," the "Mirror," the "Sketch," the "Sunday Graphic," the "Sportsman" and the "People." These warnings have gone out, and as far as I can see there has been no unnecessary delay. While it is true that owing to circumstances there is no centralised control, and that there may be overlapping—it may occur in one part of the country and not in another—yet at the present moment all these police authorities are moving in the same direction, and I hope that the result will be satisfactory to Members of the House as a whole.


In view of the Minister's reply, especially the latter part, may I on behalf of the Sheffield newspapers, who only want justice, thank him for his statement.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one question ? He has not dealt with the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey). It may not be within the scope of the Home Office to issue instructions to the police, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider the desirability, as far as he can, of discouraging the high handed methods which were employed by the police at Sheffield in this case?


I cannot express any opinion as to what was thought proper by the magistrates on the evidence, of which I have no knowledge.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-seven Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.