HC Deb 12 November 1934 vol 293 cc1729-32

4.22 a.m.


I beg to move, in page 13, line 18, to leave out from "writing" to the end of the Clause, and to insert: at the option of the said occupier of the track, his servant, or agent, to set up and keep any totalisator or any other form of mechanical betting, whether in a building or not, and/or to provide facilities for bookmakers either in conjunction with the aforesaid totalisator or mechanical form of betting, or separately as and when the said occupier of the track, his servant, or agent shall determine. Perhaps it may be well that I should explain what this really means. Under the Bill you can now set up a totalisator, but it is essential that you should have the bookmaker. I have been a little bit puzzled to know whether the track belongs to the bookmaker, whether it belongs to the person who sets up the totalisator on the track, or whether it belongs to the man who built the track. I find that, so far as this Bill is concerned, I need have no fear of the "bookie". He is established as a man of repute. I find that there is a totalisator that can be operated. I find that some people on dog tracks wish to be where there is a totalisator operated. This Bill makes provision for the totalisator, legalising it and giving it a status which it never had before. I am told by some people that they prefer the bookmaker, and the management are in a quandary when that occurs as to how to suit their clients. In any form of business you cater for your public, and if they do not like it you are ruined. It would appear by this Bill that you build a track and you find a totalisator, and you must allow people to operate it if your clients want optional betting. If your clients want one or the other, you can adopt one or the other. Anyone who is operating a track in any part of this country has the right of operating a totalisator exclusive of bookmakers. If they feel that it is essential that the bookmakers should be on the ground, then, inclusive of the bookmakers, they should he able to operate it. If both are operated, then you are giving them every opportunity of having this piece of legislation enacted.

In my humble opinion this Bill should operate so that no injury is done to the bookmaker or to the management if the clients that frequent that track do not want the "bookie." If the management want them, they will have to bring them in. If they have a totalisator, and if the public like the "bookie," he goes in and operates also. You may be able to get the public in agreement with the bookmaker. I am beginning to feel that somebody has the right to say, "This is mine. The Government have no right to interfere with me if I conduct my business in a right and proper manner." If the public make a demand for these things, then the management should supply them. If I had to run a business, I should not like the State to interfere. It may not be good Socialism, but it is good sound commonsense. This Bill does not concern the Labour party, and it is not a party question. I have the right to state plainly and honestly my views on this matter. There is not an hon. Member on these benches who has not the right to speak according to his conscienece, and I am saying what I feel according to my conscience. It is only fair and right that the Minister should take cognizance of what is being moved. I have heard many Amendments moved, but in response I have heard nothing but "Hear, hear" and "No, no." That is not a proper way in which to treat Amendments which are seriously brought before this House and are calculated to give facilities for proper business arrangements, not only to the British public, but to track owners and bookmakers also. Here we go, on and on, and on and up, and up and up.

4.32 a.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I do so although I am not wholeheartedly in agreement with some of the things said by the mover. My reason for seconding it is that I can see the very grave danger arising from the Clause as it stands. I mentioned the other day, in the course of the proceedings on this Bill, that so many weaknesses existed in the Bill that there would be openings for certain track managements or occupier-ships to attempt to use the totalisator as a weapon for getting bookmakers out or clearing them from the dog tracks. The more I look into the subject, the more I am convinced that that is true. The totalisator will operate under these six per cent. rake-off conditions, and unquestionably bookmakers will be in a position which prevents them entirely—with the attractiveness of the totalisator and the imagination of the people who are likely to bet on it—from enjoying the conditions of fair competition with the machine. The result will be that there will be concerted action on the part of the bookmakers to say that if this is something to which the Government have given their consent, then the only way to overcome the power of the totalisator in fair competition with them will be for a party of bookmakers to be organized for the specific purpose of standing up on racing nights and laying odds of 2½, 3 or 4 per cent. over whatever odds are returned by the totalisator on every race on the track during the evening.


They will never do it.


I do not believe in any such word as "never." All things are possible. I never should have thought that the Government were capable of introducing a Bill of this description, but I was wrong. My opinion is that this Clause, as it stands, will give rise to antagonisms as between the bookmaking fraternity and those who own the totes, with the result that the occupier of the track, being very interested financially and otherwise in the operation of tote machines, will organize some specific opposition to the bookmakers as such, and in consequence applications will be made for their permission to deny the right to bookmakers entering the course. If this Bill is intended to create a basis of equilibrium as between the bookmaker and the tote, the words of the Amendment should be inserted. After all, no one wants to see the tote tried at the expense of the exclusion of the bookmakers, because if that is the intention of the Government, the Bill will fail even more rapidly than under any other circumstances. The Amendment does at least give power to the occupiers of the tracks to determine for themselves and to state whether they want bookmakers, hand-operated machines, or other tote machines.

I am not inclined to agree that all these things are actually working in the general interests of sport. The Amendment does give power to the occupier who will be responsible for the good conduct of the track to choose, on the advice of the patrons of the track, what medium of betting is most likely to be popular. I do not believe there is any other authority in a better position to decide that issue, and that is why I join in supporting this very reasonable Amendment. I admit that it is not a Labour question or a party question. Anything that could possibly create an equilibrium as between one form of labour and another or between one form of private profit and another should never be decided as a Labour party issue. If the Home Secretary could see his way to accept the Amendment, it would considerably improve the working the Clause.


May I ask exactly what the hon. Member means when he states that he would be opposed to excluding bookmakers from the tracks? Then he states that the occupiers of a track should have the power to prevent them from entering.


I said that I should be opposed to any occupier being placed in a position which, by virtue of financial interests of his own, would empower him to exclude another body against these interests. This Amendment does not do anything of the kind suggested by the hon. Member.

4.40 a.m.


I confess I have some difficulty in understanding some of the objects of the hon. Gentleman in moving this Amendment. It is quite clear that the Amendment, if it were accepted, would permit an owner or occupier to put up a totalisator, but it gives him no power to operate it, which is perhaps a slightly necessary condition. It also makes mention of some other form of mechanical betting for which neither the Mover nor the Seconder has vouchsafed any information. This is an effort to do what I understand has been done in some cases, in which the interested parties have deliberately excluded certain bookmakers from the course. In fact, this gives complete powers to exclude bookmakers altogether, and since our scheme has been most carefully drawn in order to hold an absolutely fair balance between both forms of betting, of course we cannot accept this Amendment.

Amendment negatived.