HC Deb 06 November 1934 vol 293 cc907-27

Mr. Dixey.

6.29 p.m.


Am I to understand that the two Amendments standing in my name—in page 10, line 17, after "for," to insert "any person authorised by," and in line 18, to leave out "or any person authorised by him," —are not to be called?


I understand that those two Amendments are intended to pave the way for the hon. Member's later Amendment—in page 10, line 30, at the end, to insert: (2) It shall not be lawful for the occupier of any track, or for any servant or agent of his, to have any financial interest in or to own any totalisator in operation on any track, or to make any dharge for the right to operate a totalisator on any track. I intend to call that Amendment, and accordingly I think it will be better if the discussion takes place on what is the substantial Amendment rather than on the smaller details.

6.30 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 10, line 19, after "totalisator," to insert "in a fixed position."

I move this Amendment formally in order to ask exactly what is meant by the mechanical electrical totalisator.


When I saw this Amendment on the Paper at first I was at a loss to know what it was really designed to achieve. I think the hon. Member can be reassured that the type of totalisator is undoubtedly a mechanical totalisator and, therefore, must in the nature of things be more or less of a fixture. Certain portions of it might be removable from one course to another, but that would probably not be in many cases.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 10, line 30, at the end, to insert: (2) It shall not be lawful for the occupier of any track, or for any servant or agent of his, to have any financial interest in or to own any totalisator in operation on any track, or to make any charge for the right to operate a totalisator on any track. The Royal Commission recommended, first, that the owner or owners of any track ought to have no share or lot in betting transactions that occur. They also recommended that the totalisator should not be restored to greyhound tracks. Clause 1 has already determined that the totalisator shall be restored. The right hon. Gentleman will probably tell the Committee that, in view of the fact that the number of days has been reduced from an unlimited number to 104, we ought not further to trespass upon the rights and privileges of the occupiers or owners of greyhound tracks. My view is very clear and definite that the owner of any track ought not to be permitted to have anything to do with, and cer- tainly not to be able to make money out of, the betting transactions that occur on the track.

The object of the Amendment is simply this: The totalisator may be on the greyhound track but is only to be operated by some person or body, apart from the owner, who will run it at their own[...]sk. One part of the Bill definitely debars the owners from being interested in bookmaking or betting of any kind. If it is unfair for the owner or occupier of a track to participate in gambling through the agency of bookmaking, they ought not to be permitted to participate in gambling through the agency of the totalisator. If the Committee desire to provide the backer with alternative means of investment, the totalisator will be there but the owner will be divorced from, it, and to that extent a good deal of the evil will be disposed of. The position is as follows: The totalisator now will be restored to every greyhound track that desires to use one—there is no compulsion to have it—but it shall not be owned run and controlled by the people who own and occupy the track. It should be transferred to some body which will undertake to comply with the Bill and take the chance whether they make money out of it or not. We know that free rides, fr6e entry, free competition and free nurseries have been established by owners of tracks who owned and ran the totalisator.


Since the totalisator is a mechanical contrivance, which is operated usually by accountants, what fear has the hon. Member in his mind?


Would it not be possible for a company to be formed under another name by the same people even if the Amendment were carried? Further, what does it matter to the investor to whom the totalisator belongs as long as there is one there?


In reply to the first question, I do not doubt the honesty of the owner or occupier any more than that of anyone else. The only point that I have in attempting to transfer the totalisator to some other person or body is to remove the betting interest away from the owner of the track. Under the terms of the Bill the licensing authority will have the power to appoint an accountant who will examine the funds of the totalisator, so that there is no doubt at all in my mind that the transactions will be strictly honest and fair. I return to the point that, if we prohibit the owner or occupier from directly or indirectly having an interest in betting through the agency of bookmakers, we ought to be logical and declare that he shall not have an interest in betting through the agency of the totalisator. If they owned the totalisator they could encourage women and children to the tracks so that they might ultimately benefit as the result of betting.


I understand the hon. Member's object. I am only suggesting that, as the totalisator is a mechanical contrivance which the owner cannot manipulate, his fears are groundless.


The hon. and learned Gentleman has missed my point. There is a vast difference between the totalisator being run by the owner of the track and by some other body. As long as you leave the power in the hands of the owners to take an interest in gambling transactions, clearly they will devise all sorts of ways and means of encouraging people to attend their track. The Home Secretary has already rejected an Amendment to impose a minimum charge of 6d. If the owner has a financial interest in betting by means of the totalisator, he will allow free entry to the track, knowing that what he loses in that way he will gain on betting transactions. He will organise a charabanc service, collecting and transporting people free of charge, knowing that the betting will ultimately repay him. If, on the other hand, some outside body has charge of a totalisator, you must first of all assume that they have satisfied themselves that it will pay them to run it before they undertake the job. The words in the Bill with regard to the owner of the track and the bookmakers are "interested directly or indirectly." Therefore the owner of the track could not establish a subsidiary company to run the totalisator, as that would be breaking law.


It has struck me that, if the totalisator were taken over by a separate company, none of the owners of the track being shareholders, they themselves could take steps to give free entrance by some kind of distribution of tickets and the point would not be met. Provided that they did not take above a certain amount, which is to be allowed to them in this Bill, there would be nothing in the law to prevent them from taking steps to accord to these people entrance by the distribution of tickets. I cannot see that the evil would be remedied.


The hon. Member seems to have missed the point. If the owners of the track have only one source of income, that is payment through the turnstile, they will, of course, insist on a charge for admission. That, therefore, limits the attendance.




I think we shall get on better if the hon. Member is allowed to develop his own argument.


I should like the Committee to be quite clear on the point, because I regard it as one of the most interesting and important on the Order Paper. To see the track as it probably will be, you must imagine the totalisator owned by the occupier of the track. He is, therefore, permitted by law to have an interest in betting transactions, and he will make it his business to encourage by every means the maximum number of people to attend, even to the extent of allowing free admission, knowing that what he losses on admission he will gain on betting transactions. If, however, the owner or occupier of the track has no interest in the totalisator, if he is to make the track pay at all he must charge for admission, and that will be the only source of revenue apart from charges made on the bookmaker and any rent that may be charged on those running the totalisator. It is because I want to remove from the owner or occupier any interest in betting transactions that I think it will be far better for the right hon. Gentleman to see to it that the owners of the track shall have no part or lot directly or indirectly in the betting transactions that take place.


Clause 15 gives power to revoke a licence if a track has been conducted in a disorderly manner. Is there anything more likely to cause disorderly conduct than someone playing about with the mechanisation? If mechanisation is played about with and people are disorderly on the track, is revocation to take place? Would you make the management pay a penalty in regard to the operation of the totalisator?


Obviously the owner or occupier would not delegate the power to use the totalisator to people other than those in whom he had the fullest confidence. If the owners of the track could delegate powers to a person or persons to run the totalisator, they must satisfy themselves as to the capabilities of the person to whom they delegated such power. I cannot see the possibility of any confusion or disorder or of the owners of tracks rendering themselves liable to revocation or cancellation of their licences at all. The point is simply whether we shall leave the owner or occupier with an interest in betting on the track or not. The Amendment is really moved in the interests of the proprietor of the track.

6.47 p.m.


I have not intervened in the Debates before, because I have not taken a strong line either way. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), but I am not sure whether the Amendment would succeed in carrying out its objective. When he gave us the case of the track where admission might be free in order to attract people, surely it was founded on a misconception as to the limit of profit the totalisator can make. As the Government intend to allow more profit, I think from 3 to 6 per cent., it shows that the margin must be very small in running the totalisator, and if that be so, it is very unlikely that the proprietor of a track who owned a totalisator could afford to let the public in free. He took the point of the bookmaker. The bookmaker's profits are not limited, while the profits from the totalisator are limited. I should have thought that, as we have cut down the days to 104, and as the limits of the totalisator are being very strictly enforced in the Bill, we ought also to remember the public. Surely, the public go to a greyhound track and desire to bet, and they ought to be entitled to bet under the fairest conditions. If you do not allow tracks to own the totalisator, then, as the profit will be so limited, it is doubtful whether a separate company would put up the totalisator. If you do not put up a totalisator you will make the public bet with the bookmaker, who is unlimited as to profits. Therefore, I suggest that with the best intention in the world, the hon. Member will not succeed in carrying out his ideas if the Amendment be carried.

6.50 p.m.


I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) to find out exactly his purpose, which was the frank one of reducing the attractions for betting. I do not think that he discriminated sufficiently between the bookmaker and the totalisator. The bookmaker is interested in the result of the race, and the totalisator is not. It does not matter to the proprietor of the totalisator which dog or horse wins a race. He receives a percentage deduction, and all the rest is paid out to the people who have put their two shillings or whatever is the sum into the machine. Therefore, there is no self-interest.


While I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) that the machine, as a machine, has no interest in the race, yet the owner of the machine has an interest in the volume of the transactions.


The whole point was that the hon. Member said that because the bookmakers must not be run by the track owners, therefore, the totalisator must not be so run. I am pointing out that there is no connection between the two. If the owner of the frack runs a bookmaking business, and he is a corrupt person, he will do his best to arrange for a certain dog to win. Therefore, you do not get honest racing. Whatever our views on this subject may be, we all desire, if people are foolish enough to bet, that the race should be run honestly, and that their judgment, whatever it is worth, shall have due reward if they are successful. We want honest racing. One of the reasons for prohibiting bookmaking being controlled by the management is that the bookmaker has an interest in every race. It is quite different with the totalisator, where there is no interest in the result of a race.

The hon. Member says that the track owners, in addition to obtaining admission fees from the public, also make a profit out of the totalisator. I do not know whether they would make a great deal. I do not know the significance of the proposed Amendment of the Home Secretary concerning the percentage of deductions, but we are given to understand that that eminent body, the Racecourse Betting Control Board, which is allowed 10 per cent., has succeeded up to now in losing about £2,000,000. We have been told that they are making it up, but they have not made it up yet. They have not done very well up to now, and, therefore, I do not see that these people, on a 6 per cent. basis, will be able to ladle out a great deal of money. The hon. Member said that because the owners make money out of the totalisator, the number of people attracted is likely to be increased. If track owners have to depend solely upon entrance fees they will have to indulge in every device of publicity and advertisement in order to get people to patronise the track. The whole tendency will be for them to do everything in their power to increase the attendances at dog tracks.

6.55 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander AGNEW

As the Bill reads now, the owner or occupier is allowed have a 5 per cent. rake off, and that may mean to him either a few pounds or many thousands of pounds, and he will be entirely dependent upon the number of people who attend the track and pay for admission. Therefore, it is true to say that it will be for the owner to advertise as much as possible for people to come in and bet on his track, and make the entry through the turnstiles as free and easy as possible. That, frankly, is the position I want to stop. I support the view of the Royal Commission on that matter. Therefore, I have every sympathy with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams). I should like to ask him a question upon it. Although it says in the last line that it would be illegal "to make any charge for the right to operate a totalisator on any track," would it, on the other hand, under his Amendment, be illegal for an independent holding company which would presumably be set up under the scheme, to give some attractive monetary allowance to the owner to allow the particular company to have the right to set up a totalisator on the track. If it would not prevent that, we should still be faced with the problem of a financial interest on the part of the owner in totalisator betting, which I am out to stop.

6.57 p.m.


I have not agreed with my colleague the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) during the whole of these discussions, and I am not able to agree with him now. The Amendment says: it shall not be lawful for the occupier of any track, or for any servant or agent of his, to have any financial interest in or to own any totalisator in operation on any track, or to make any charge for the right to operate a totalisator on any track. I have been trying to realise during the Debate on those words whose track it is. Who finds the money for the track? Who is taking the risk, and who is to guide the destiny of the track? Do not let us get on to the puritanical side of the question, but let us deal with a business proposition as plain, simple men. I would ask hon. Members whether as business men they would care to have as much interference in the conduct of their business as is introduced in this Bill? If hon. Members were to say that no such tracks should be in existence they would be talking sense, but I cannot understand the position when they say that there should be this and that regulation in carrying on this sport. If people are not fitted to run the business, the question of character will be considered when they make application for a licence. Is there any Member of this House who would like to be treated in the same fashion as we are dealing with these people? If hon. Members do not want dog racing, then they should get rid of it. I should then say that they were logical. But the moment we start to legislate we have to make provision for these people to carry on.

It is no use goody-goody hon. Members in this House thinking that they are going to make the best of two worlds by this method of dealing with dog tracks. They will not be able to do it. I am surprised at our simple Front Bencher, who does not know the least thing about dog racing, coming forward with an Amendment of this kind. He absolutely knows nothing at all about dog racing, and in his simplicity of mind has come forward with an Amendment like this. This is not personal, and he knows it. He can trounce me as much as he likes, and I am prepared to take it. In Doncaster they have a wonderful racecourse belonging to the people. I wonder how the hon. Member would like it if it were a dog track and somebody else manipulated a machine while he was held responsible as licensee if there were any disorderly conduct. I have been only once on a track with mechanism, and, to my mind, if the machinery went out of order there would be more chance of disorder than if the dogs went wrong. It is nonsense that a man who has a track must not have the management of it. If you think people are going to manipulate tracks and as owners are not going to have anything out of it, you are living in the wrong world entirely. If one owns a track and carries it on under proper conditions, everything fair and square, then there ought to be a fair return for the expenditure. That being so, the best thing is to relegate this Amendment to the archives of the House.

7.2 p.m.


Might I come back to the Amendment? I think one can see the object behind it, and, quite naturally, there must be a good deal of sympathy with it. The question is, will it work? The object is to prevent people who have equipped and are occupiers of the tracks having any financial interest in the totalisator. One can see the point of that. But I am very suspicious of the general principle of making things illegal when one cannot see how their legality is going to work. I cannot see any penalty here, and it does not say what is to be done if the Amendment is not complied with. It seems to me that whatever you may say, you will be able to get behind a thing of this kind. You cannot prevent people who are going to own and run these tracks obtaining an interest in the main thing that will produce money, the totalisator. I think that it would be really quite easy for people running tracks to be largely interested in the totalisator although this Amendment has been passed. The Amendment, in the absence of penalty, would be infringed, for nobody could be brought to book. Actually the person who will get something out of the profits of the total isator will be the landlord. He could make an arrangement, a friendly one, for a contribution in the form of rent which could be perfectly legal, or make a charge for allowing the totalisator to be on the track. You could not prevent that. Surely one is certain that those who offer most for running the totalisator at a place will get that right. In fact, there will be an overlapping of interest, very often an identity of interest, whatever legislation this House chooses to pass. I sympathise with the object. If I could see it being carried out, I should be more willing to support it.


I should like to ask the right hon. Member whether he has noticed Clause 13, which deals with the occupier of a licensed track, the servants, agents, etc.? There is no material or subtle move behind the Motion. Although these words may not be the last word in legal or political virtue, if the general principle could have been accepted by the Committee, both the offence and punishment could have been designed.


Clause 13 is largely eye-wash, and this is, too.

7.5 p.m.


This discussion has its points. May I say at the outset that, of course, the attitude of the Royal Corn-mission was an attitude quite frankly when discussing this problem that they would not grant the totalisator to dog tracks. Therefore, when dealing with this problem they went on to say that it was undesirable that the owner of a track should have an interest in betting. They had in mind the question of bookmakers. I think it is quite clear there is a fairly practical line of demarcation between these two problems. In the one case you are dealing with the bookmaker who can make such profits as he can. It is in this Bill very clearly laid down that he shall be allowed to practice, but that there shall be no direct profit by the management in what they may get out of their betting except the charge for an entrance fee, on which there is a limit. The Government have departed from the recommendation of the Commission and decided they would be prepared to grant totalisators to greyhound tracks, not that they desired to give particular gifts to the industry running tracks, but that the public should have a reasonable alternative.

It is clear that if the public are to have a reasonable alternative, and if you set up machinery of a mechanical nature, there should be strict regulations. It is obvious that there will be a cost incurred, and it is, therefore, reasonable that those who operate this machinery shall at any rate be permitted to have a limited rake-off in order to meet capital charges. We have looked at this problem very carefully, and, as the Committee will see in Schedule 1, we have very carefully said that the manager who may employ somebody else to run it shall have his character and respectability taken into account fully by the licensing authority when granting a licence. We have tried when requiring tracks to obtain a licence to prohibit the track management from bookmaking by limiting the amount of profit obtained by the track management from the totalisator. I am well aware that by giving the totalisator to the tracks we are conferring an immense benefit on the management who are going to run these tracks. The only question is whether you can find any machine—and I do not think you can—which you can operate there with the limits we are imposing, in which the objects can be achieved as stated in the Amendment. It is clear that the track can make no charge on Mr. X or Mr. Y for putting up a totalisator or for operating it. It is unthinkable and impracticable that anyone will be able to carry on this work without making some material contribution to the management. I think it much better and much more above board to have the thing in the form in which it is in the Bill, because we are safeguarding it as far as it is right and proper.

7.13 p.m.


We are, naturally, very sorry to hear the decision of the Secretary of State on this Amendment. I sincerely trust that he will be able to look at this problem more closely than he has done. I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) is not in his place. He compared the totalisators on dog tracks with those on horse tracks. The comparison does not hold good, because under the Bill there will be 104 days legalised for dog tracks and the total number of days for horse racing on any one track never exceeds eight per annum. That argument, at any rate, falls to the ground. Then he made the strange proposition that the owner of the track would be satisfied with the 6 per cent, that he obtained from the totalisator, and he could not see any necessity left for him to induce persons to go to the track by advertising. Having been in Committee upstairs for several months, I can say I have never seen any section of the people in this country so avaricious as the people behind this dog business. I do not know of anything that would satisfy them so far as money matters are concerned. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) must not mind my saying what I think about this business. It is not a business but a commercial abortion. To compare it to any other retail or wholesale business commodity is wrong.


What I did say was that thousands of people had ventured their money into it and expected to get a return. I maintain that.


It would be a little infra dig for two Members of the same party to quarrel. Therefore, I will leave the matter there, except to say what I have said on many occasions that I protest against men who, knowing the inherent weaknesses of their fellows, group themselves together with the deliberate design of making profit out of that weakness. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not accepted the principle laid down in the Amendment, because some of us feel that if there is any blemish on this Bill—I think the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) will agree with me, the gift of the totalisator to the dog tracks is the greatest blemish of all.

It is understood by all that dog racing in this country could not continue for a day were it not for betting operations on the tracks. The Government have made a gift to these people by allowing every dog track to put up a totalisator. The Government have declined to all-ow the occupier or owner of a dog track to have any vested interest in the human bookmaking, and that is a very good restriction. Once you have prohibited a vested interest in the human bookmaker on the part of the dog track owner, there is no argument why he should have a vested interest in machine bookmaking. I think the point raised by the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) is covered by our Amendment. We provide that no person owning a dog track shall have any financial interest in any subsidiary company that may be formed to establish a totalisator. However, the right hon. Gentleman has given his decision. It is not for me to suggest what the hon. Member for the Don Valley should do with regard to his Amendment, but if he decides to go to a Division I shall go into the Lobby not merely in favour of his Amendment but to make a protest, as I shall do at a later stage of the Bill, against the granting to these people of the right to establish totalisators on dog tracks.

7.20 p.m.


The Amendment would defeat one of the ends which its Mover has in view. He said that he wanted the people who went to the tracks to have a choice between the machine and the human bookmaker. As I read the Amendment the occupier or owner of a track is to have no financial interest in the machine nor is he to be allowed to make any charge for the right to operate the totalisator on any track. In short, he is to have no financial interest in the machine. These machines cost a lot of money to erect, and that. would mean the outlay of a lot of capital upon which he would get no return. According to Clause 12 the occupier of a track is permitted to charge the human bookmaker five times the ordinary amount of admission. It seems to me to follow that the occupier or owner of the track rather than lay out a large amount of capital for the erection of a machine from which he would get no return would be more likely not to put up a machine at all, but to charge the human bookmaker five times the amount of the admission fee. Therefore, the people who visited the track would not have the choice of betting with the mechanical or the human bookmaker, but would be limited to betting with the human bookmaker, and that would defeat the object which the hon. Member said he had in view in giving a choice.


In view of the statement of the Home Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, and I hope that he will look further into the question between now and the Report stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.22 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 10, line 31, to leave out Sub-section (2).

I recognise that brevity is the soul of wit, and therefore I will formally move the Amendment.


If the Amendment were carried, the effect would be to leave the bookmaker entirely in the hands of the track owners. The Sub-section provides that the occupier of the track may not exclude the bookmaker as such. If we take out those words, it would mean that the occupier of the track would be able to do exactly as he liked. I do not think that that is what anyone would wish.


I thought it better not to say what I knew, and to move the Amendment formally.

7.23 p.m.


The previous Amendment having been withdrawn, I should like to know what is the effect upon the present Amendment and whether the Home Secretary will answer the case that I am about to put. A track in my own Division is not owned by a dog racing company but by a cricket club and a body of shareholders, who allow the use of the track by the proprietors of the dog racing company at a rental. If any individual shareholder who is part owner of that track attempts to set up a business on that track either as a bookmaker or as part owner of a totalisator, apart altogether from the totalisator controlled or owned by the people who run the track, will there be any contravention of the Act, and, if so, for what guilty action will he be held responsible?


It does not appear to me that the hon. Member's question arises on this Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

7.24 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 11, line 12, at the end, to add: Provided that no person shall be guilty of an offence under this or the immediately preceding Sub-section—

  1. (a) in respect of any failure to comply with any of the provisions of that Schedule which is due to a bona fide mistake or is accidental or is due to any breakdown or stoppage of the totalisator not attributable to the wilful fault or 922 negligence of the person by whom the totalisator is operated; or
  2. (b) in respect of any failure due to any unauthorised or illegal act of any servant or employé of the operator clone without his knowledge or sanction."
This Amendment is one of some importance, and I think it is comparatively non-controversial. It deals entirely and completely with the question of errors of calculation on the totalisator. As the Bill stands to-day, supposing any mistake of a trifling character is made on the totalisator it is not only a breach of the provisions of the Act, but it is possible that because of that small mistake the licensing authority may withdraw the licence from the track. Anyone who is connected with the totalisator realises that mistakes are made and made fairly often. A clerk may pay out 2s. 3d, instead of 2s. 6d., or 2s. 9d. instead of 2s. 6d. Moreover, a wrong dividend may be declared. I believe there have been a number of cases where it has not been discovered until afterwards that the wrong dividend has been declared. I think that has happened at Ascot. In case hon. Members may consider that calculations are easy in regard to dividends on the tote, I would call attention to one matter which shows how difficult the calculation is. Suppose you have a dead heat for a place on the totalisator, how is that decided? It is decided under the Racecourse Betting Control Board's rules in the following way: In the event of a dead heat for a place not causing payment of a dividend on an additional horse or horses the dividend will be calculated as laid down in Rule 13. In the event of a dead heat for a place, as defined in Rule 1 (r) causing payment to be made on additional horse or horses, the dividends will be calculated as follows: After deducting the determined percentage from the Place Pool and the sum represented by the total of the winning bets on the horses occupying a full place and half the total of the bets on the horses, if two in number, running the dead heat (or proportionately if there are more horses) the balance will be divided into as many parts as there are places, as defined in Rule 12. I quote that provision to show how extraordinarily easy it is to get confusion in the calculation of a dividend. I should hate to be called upon to deal with such a matter under Rule 13. It is most complicated. All we say is that in regard to a bonâ fide machine it would be a great advantage to put in the addi- tional safeguard which we suggest as a guide to the licensing authority. It would certainly be a help. In regard to paragraph (b), that is a slightly different matter. We ask that there should be protection against the dishonesty of any servant or employé. Under the Bill as it stands if an operator tries to swindle the manager and the case comes out it may operate against the track, and the management may be tempted to conceal things in order to avoid the possibility of their track being barred by the licensing authority. Under the Companies Act companies are protected against the acts of their own servants and against the mismanagement or tricks of certain persons, and we suggest that the same protection should be given in regard to a totalisator on greyhound tracks. It is a small matter, but, as it is in the interests of the fair operation of the totalisator, I hope the Government will give consideration to it.

7.30 p.m.


The Amendment does not weaken the Bill in any way; it is a very fair proposal. It allows the proprietor of a track an opportunity to show that it was a bona fide mistake, that it was an accident, due to the breakdown or stoppage of the totalisator, which was not attributable to his negligence. That is a fair proposition, and the Committee ought to accept it readily. In paragraph (b) the proposal is that a man shall not incur vicarious liability. In ordinary civil life a master is responsible for the misdeeds of his servant as they might affect other people, but when it comes to offences or acts of misdemeanour against the regulations the master is protected. It would be entirely contrary to common law to make an owner responsible for any unauthorised or illegal act of an employé, which might be done maliciously in the teeth of his instructions. I have known of such cases. I remember the case of a disgruntled employé who deliberately endeavoured to lose a licence by breaking the regulations of the Licensing Acts, but an enlightened magistrate in that particular place tumbled to the fact that it was being done maliciously, and the employer managed to get free of the charge. If you do not have some provision of this kind in the Bill there is always the chance that the person will be victimised. This proposal does no harm, no guilty person will escape, and it will give an opportunity to an innocent man of proving his innocence, an opportunity which we should give to anyone under any regulations.

7.33 p.m.

Captain A. EVANS

I only intervene in order to correct a wrong impression which may have been conveyed by the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes). He referred to mistakes in the totalisator and mentioned Ascot in particular. It may interest the Committee to consider how misunderstanding might arise on that particular point. The practice is that immediately any race is concluded a piece of paper is handed by the totalisator manager to the representative of the Press showing the odds which are to be paid on the winner, and immediately the representative of the Press telephones that information to London. It often happens that a mistake occurs in the transmission of the message by telephone, and subsequently when a wrong dividend is published in the newspaper and the attention of the Racecourse Betting Control Board is drawn to the error, they immediately write to the newspaper concerned pointing it out. Without going into details, I think what the hon. Member had in mind, as far as Ascot is concerned, was an error of that nature. In regard to the calculation of the dividend, the practice of totalisators operated under the auspices of the Racecourse Betting Control Board will be the practice adopted on greyhound tracks. As soon as a race is over and the number of units on each course is certified by the manager of the totalisator—


I do not think that we can go into a long discussion as to how the totalisator operates. The only object of the Amendment is that, should a mistake be made by the totalisator, the onus should not be on the proprietors.

Captain EVANS

I was endeavouring to submit how in certain circumstances it is unlikely that error will take place. The Amendment is directed to the calculation of the dividend.


Whether the error be due to a human or mechanical breakdown, I do not think we can pursue the argument as to how the error has occurred. We must assume that error is possible, and discuss the question as to whether these words shall be inserted or not.

Captain EVANS

I will not pursue the matter further, but I wanted to emphasise the point that the dividend was a human not a mechanical calculation, and the mistake would be checked by the accountant employed by the local authority.

7.37 p.m.

Commander MARSDEN

I desire to support the Amendment as being reasonable and fair. A short time ago we discussed the position of a proprietor and a bookmaker. If a bookmaker continues his business against the regulations, the proprietor is absolved because we have already provided in Clause 1, that where the occupier of a track is charged with an offence by reason of a contravention of this section on the part of another person, it shall be a defence for him to prove that the contravention occurred without his knowledge. I think it is reasonable that the same protection should be given to the proprietor of a track where a totalisator operates. The same principle is involved. We have heard how mistakes may occur, but the proprietor does not seem to be protected in the same way that he is against illegal acts on the part of a bookmaker. The mistake may be a malicious mistake on the part of a disgruntled servant. It may be the case of a man deliberately wrecking the working of the totalisator, yet the unfortunate proprietor of the track would have to suffer. If the offence was of sufficient importance the licensing authority could shut down the track and in any case it would have to be taken into consideration when the renewal of the licence came up for decision. It is a reasonable Amendment and I hope it will be accepted.

7.39 p.m.


Before the Under-Secretary indicates the attitude of the Government to the Amendment, I want to put one argument which I hope will appeal to him. Yesterday we were discussing the conditions under which greyhound tracks should be licensed, the various conditions which should be fulfilled before a licence is granted; the amenities of the district, health, the situation of the schools and traffic problems. On that occasion the Under-Secretary said that it was useful that local authorities, in granting these licences, should have some guidance in the Bill as to the kind of conditions which should be fulfilled. These powers arc, of course, discretionary, and it is very unlikely that any licensing authority would go to the length of shutting down a track completely on account of some error in the totalisator. It is difficult to imagine that taking place, but, at the same time, I suggest that the insertion of these words would serve the useful purpose of indicating to the licensing authorities the attitude of this House on this matter, and for that reason I hope he will accept it

7.41 p.m.


A very interesting little point has been raised by this Amendment. In regard to paragraph (b) I am advised that as a general principle of law, a principal must be held responsible for his agents. Nothing new is introduced by the Bill—


That is not the general principle in semi-criminal offences.


I do not know what may be the general principle in regard to criminal offences, but I am advised that if we inserted these words it would be an incentive to fraudulent operators, because any man in that case would disown responsibility and would shelter himself behind his employé. With regard to the first paragraph of the Amendment, the fact that totalisators are to be worked by electrical apparatus will mean that there is less room for human error than is the case in some of the totalisators now in use. But there may be a mechanical breakdown, or even an error in calculation. We must, always assume that licensing authorities are sensible people and will administer the law reasonably, that is a fundamental assumption. There appears to be an impression that an error in the calculation of the dividend will involve the automatic revocation of the licence. That is not the case. The licensing authorities may revoke a licence in certain cases, and one of the reasons for which they may revoke a licence is a report made by the accountant. It is the duty of the accountant to examine and certify the accounts. With the qualifications which are required of an accountant under this Bill, if it was just a mechanical breakdown, I think, he would say it was a bona fide error and would let the licensing authority know, then the licensing authority would be able to report accordingly. He is fortified in dealing with the matter in that way because there is a mechanician whose duty it is to advise the qualified accountant on the condition of the totalisator and all matters connected with its operation. He too would be able to tell his colleague that there was an error. With all these safeguards it is not really necessary to insert a provision of this kind in the Bill.

Amendment negatived.