HC Deb 12 November 1934 vol 293 cc1577-608

No pari mutuel or pool betting business concerned with football/shall be carried on except under the following conditions:—

  1. (a) The promoters shall obtain a permit from the Secretary of State for Home Affairs;
  2. (b) The permit shall be granted only if the promoters agree to deduct not more than 20 per cent. of the total receipts of the pool each week, out of which all expenses of the business shall be defrayed, and which shall also include the profits of the promoters;
  3. (c) The promoters shall furnish each month a statement certified by a qualified accountant, showing—
    1. (i) The gross sums received or receivable in respect of the business for each week during the previous month;
    2. (ii) The amount returned to customers;
    3. (iii) The amount retained by the promoters to include expenses and profit as aforesaid;
  4. (d) The Secretary of State shall have power to revoke the grant of any permit if any of the foregoing conditions are at any time not complied with.—[Mr. Isaac Foot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.25 p.m.


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

The names of hon. Members who are supporting this Clause will prove that it has the support of Members representing every section in the House and, indeed, since it was put on the Order Paper I have been approached by many hon. Members who have expressed their support of the principle contained in the proposal. I do not intend to cover the ground already discussed when the question was raised in Committee upstairs, but I think the proposal I have put forward will, if it is adopted, go far to meet the criticisms which were then put forward. May I remind hon. Members of the history of this question? In 1920 Parliament was concerned about the growth of pool betting, particularly in relation to football, and an Act was passed to suppress it altogether. The Act met with the approval of the great football associations of England and Scotland. It was felt that unless steps were taken, a new form of gambling activity would grow up which might soon develop into a gambling evil holding out special temptations to the young people of the country. Whatever may be said about gambling generally, this House will recognise that it has a responsibility for the protection of the youth from the evil. A grown man can bet, and he is none the worse for it, he can determine his own life, but it is wrong that the youth of the country should be exposed particularly to those temptations which are organised by people who have financial aims at the back of their activities.

Unfortunately, the Act passed in 1920 was stultified. It was intended to deal only with cash betting, but it was found possible to evade that Act by allowing the payment of the premium, whether 2d. or 6d., or more, to be paid the following week, and as a result of finding a way around the purpose of that Act, there has grown up a system of betting which would have startled those who considered the Act of 1020. The extent to which that betting is carried on I do not know. I doubt whether anyone can speak with authority on the subject. The body that stands for the interests of the Pool-Makers' Association—I think that is its title—alleged some time ago that as much as £8,000,000 was invested in the course of the year. "Invested" is their word. During the Committee stage we discussed some of the Post Office figures. Even if those figures are disputed to the extent of £100,000 or £1,000,000, it still means that a very wide area is concerned. But if £8,000,000 of money is being spent in this new form of gambling, whether it is right or wrong, it is of sufficient importance to concern this House.

The matter was discussed by the Royal Commission, and the commission's recommendations are stated in paragraph 318 and later paragraphs. They considered the subject so important that some pages of their report are devoted to the question. What was pointed out was that we had here all the evil of the tote club. The only difference between this form of activity and the tote club, which was denounced by public opinion everywhere, was that there is no actual resorting to the place where the betting is carried on. If in the case of the football pool there was the actual resorting of the man who puts his money upon the coming Saturday's events and the results, if he resorted to the offices of the bookmaker, that at once brought the place within the definition of a tote club, which is condemned as a mushroom growth and an evil.

It would not be fair to the House for me to dwell longer upon the clauses in the report of the Royal Commission. But they attach so much importance to the matter that they made strong recommendations. Upon this subject the commissioners were not unanimous. Upon most of their recommendations the commissioners were unanimous, but there was a division among them as to how this evil should be dealt with. That it was a social evil they had no doubt, hut there were three members of the commission who thought there should be total suppression and there were others who thought that it should be dealt with by some restriction upon the odds, and so forth. The details of that I need not dwell upon now. Then there came the introduction of the Bill. When the Bill was introduced quite clearly it was intended to suppress this thing altogether. There was a good deal of discussion throughout the country, and many Members of this House found their postbags swollen by the appeals that were then beginning to come in from those who were undoubtedly in most cases provoked to make their opposition by men whose financial interests were threatened.

When the Bill came before the other House, the Noble Lord who was in charge of it withdrew this part of the Bill before any discussion arose. I shall not weary the House with the words that he used, but he made it clear that although the Government were withdrawing this part of the Bill, they still reserved their right to deal with it. Those who were concerned in the matter financially must not think that they have escaped altogether. The Noble Lord gave a clear hint that if the evil grew and if public opinion became more developed upon this matter, action might he taken later. He went no further than that. This part of the Bill was not withdrawn as a result of discussion, nor as a result of the Second Reading Debate, but as a result of some action of which this House has not been informed. Whether the pressure was strong or in what direction it was exercised we do not know now, and it is likely that we shall never know, but it was something for which an explanation should be given—that a Bill not wantonly brought in but after careful consultation should contain a very important Clause of this kind dealing with a very wide area of gambling activity, and that then the House should not have even an opportunity of voting upon it.

Last week, when the matter was under discussion, the Government secured a majority which meant that we could not carry out the wishes of the Commission, and could not suppress this thing that has been condemned, and still is being condemned by those responsible for the sport of the country. Let us remember that those who gave the most insistent evidence before the Commission were those who were at the head of the great football Leagues of England and Scotland and who were naturally intensely concerned that that great sport should not be poisoned by these activities. They alleged, as they have done all along, that there should be a total suppression of this thing, and suggested that the football matches as arranged by the great Leagues would be glad to be free from this menace. I think the House should have regard to those who have interested themselves so much in providing for hundreds of thousands of our people every week a form of wholesome and healthy sport.

We have got, therefore, against this proposal the recommendation of the Commissioners, the very urgent plea of those who are immediately concerned with the maintenance of sport, and we have the facts themselves. The facts are that here is something which Parliament intended to stop, that the work of Parliament as expressed in the Act of 1920 has been stultified by recent events, and we have a system now which, if it is to continue, should be brought under some measure of control. I am not going to make any railing accusations against those who run these concerns. Some of the concerns may be quite honestly conducted. Some of them claim that they submit their figures from time to time, I think every week, to chartered accountants or qualified accountants, and that the thing is carried on under proper conditions. That I am not going to dispute. All I know is that the Commissioners realise that there was a great danger of fraud. You have a condition under which there is no security that the contributions subscribed in such vast numbers and representing a great sum of money will be dispersed with any sense of fairness to the people, mainly from working class and poor homes. We have established some form of control over dog tracks and over horse racing. How long are we to go on without any form of control where the opportunities for fraud are as extensive as they are here?

I understand that it is possible for anyone to set up a concern of this kind, to send touts throughout the country with very alluring appeals to those who are least able to judge, to get their money, and at the end of the week or month to put whatever proportion they like into their own pockets and let the unfortunate people share the remainder. That that is possible is a public scandal which ought to cease. We had some very effective comment upon the matter made by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), who has gone into this question very closely. He spoke of those who had gone into this business and in a short time had been lifted from indigence to affluence. I have no objection to that if the person has made an ordinary and fair contribution to the society of which he is a member, but I do object to people being turned into men of wealth when they are simply exploiting the weakness of others, and particularly the youth of this country. I am not objecting to the youth investing into these funds, if "investing" is the word. I am not objecting to the betting as between one person and another, and I have not done so since the beginning of this Bill. My whole concern is to try to limit the activities of those who are out to exploit the weaknesses of our human nature, to get financial advantage from the frailties of our people, and who are organising these gambling resources and in that way contributing a great deal to the trouble with which Parliament has to deal.

No one can leave the position as it is. If we had an assurance from the Home Secretary that during the lifetime of this Parliament this acknowledged evil would be dealt with, I would not press my new Clause. I do not think the House ought to leave it as it was left by the Noble Lord in the other House, who gave simply a hint that something might be done upon some distant date. I do not think we can leave it as it was left in Committee by the Home Secretary, who did not purport to make a speech upon it, but in just a word or two said that it was impossible either for the Government to adopt our Amendment or to ex- plain why the Bill was in its present form instead of as it was when introduced. One advantage of carrying this Clause will be, at any rate, that we shall be able to ascertain the extent of the evil. Under the proposals of the Clause returns will have to be made. No one knows the extent of the business at present. If we can get the facts so as to see what the area of this mischief is, that in itself will be a considerable advance. Is it not fair that this House, being an inquisitive and discerning Parliament, should have that information at its disposal? If the business is as large as many people have suggested, that is the more reason why some reform should be carried out and carried out as soon as possible.

I move this Clause very reluctantly, because I do not want to acknowledge this form of evil. I do not want to give these people the prestige that would come from the granting of a permit by the Home Secretary. But I think it is the lesser of two evils. We must know what is the area of the evil. The Clause forbids people to operate without a permit. Having obtained a permit their receipts must be limited. At present it is possible for these people to use the money of the poorer classes and all subscribing for the purpose of advertising so as to extend the evil. That is the mischief; some part of the money that is being contributed from tens of thousands of homes is being used to widen an evil which Parliament rightly condemned in 1920. I have suggested that the pool should be allowed 20 per cent. for all profits and expenses. There is some difficulty in deciding what the percentage should be, but I regard this proposal as an experiment—


It is a very generous percentage.


It may be, and I should certainly be prepared to consider an Amendment in that respect from those who, knowing something of the conditions, may be able to show that that figure is too large. I do not know how it compares with the allowances made in the case of the greyhound tracks and the ordinary racecourses, but I certainly do not want to make the percentage too high. My suggestion is that if we get the facts as the result of the operation of this Clause, and if it is shown that the per- centage is too high, it should be within the power of the House to make whatever reduction is found necessary after the experiment has been tried over a reasonable period. It is because I think that it would be a grave dereliction of public duty for this House to allow this Bill to pass with that evil left unremedied, without even an attempt to remedy it, that I submit the proposal which stands in my name.

6.47 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

The Home Secretary, in the Second Reading Debate, and subsequently in Committee, pointed out that this Bill cannot properly be looked upon as a party Measure. That is one of the many reasons why I have gladly associated myself with the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) in this new Clause. Perhaps the hon. Member and I do not look at gambling and gambling propensities in exactly the same way, but having read the Royal Commission's Report carefully I came to the conclusion that there were at least two things which, if allowed to continue unlimited and uncontrolled, would be great social evils in this country. One was the totalisator on greyhound tracks and the other football pool betting. In each instance it was proposed, I believe for the first time, to legalise gambling in this country without any control. The Bill deals with the totalisator but not with football pools, and I think the Home Secretary stated that one of the reasons why the legislation originally proposed in regard to football pools had been taken out in another place was that the Government at the moment could not legislate to deal with off-the-course betting. I do not think that that is a sufficient answer. In Clause 18 of the Bill the Home Secretary is legislating to increase betting off the course. My great objection to football pools is that they appeal to the people who can least afford to lose their money. It may be said that people are entitled, if they so wish, to go in for football pools, and if they lose to suffer the consequences, but what I strongly object to is the fact that they do not at the present moment get a fair run for their money. Representations are made to them about the very large prizes which they will receive if successful, and they are led to believe that they are getting a proper and adequate proportion of the receipts. But it rests entirely with the promoters of the pools what proportion of the receipts is distributed by way of prize money.

I am aware that there are a few promoters who carry on the business in an honest way and give a reasonable and fair proportion of the receipts as prizes, but when there is no control by the State of any kind, it is only human nature that a promoter who finds his receipts decreasing should use an undue proportion of those receipts in order to stimulate business. In consequence, the person who is lucky enough to win, instead of receiving 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. of the pool, often gets only 15 per cent. or less. I do not think there can be any excuse for the House professing to legislate to regularise gambling and protect those who are unable to protectthemselves, if we ignore this great social evil. I hope that if the Home Secretary cannot see his way to Accept the new Clause in the form in which it appears on the. Paper, he will At least assure the House that he will deal with this matter in the lifetime of this Parliament.

6.52 p.m.


I support the proposed new Clause, although I do not regard it as a very strong one or one which meets the case. In the first place, I agree with the interjection which was made a few minutes ago to the effect that the proposed 20 per cent. allowance for expenses and profits is too high to be given to those who are simply organising gambling facilities for private gain. Another weakness of the Clause is that the qualified accountant may be appointed by the company who are running the pool. They would be his employers, and he might give the figures which were given to him by the company. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] In any case, I would point out that in Schedule 1 of the Bill the qualified accountant in the case of the operation of the totalisator on dog race courses is to be appointed by the licensing authority. If the new Clause proposed that the licensing authority should select the accountant in regard to this matter also, I would be more satisfied. Then there are no penalties in the Clause. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) said that he moved the Clause so that the House might be put in possession of the facts. I would have preferred an Amendment which comes later on the Paper but which may not be called, proposing the total abolition of this kind of pool betting.

Since speaking during the Committee stage, I have received more scurrilous letters as a result of my observations on that occasion than I have received in regard to any other dozen speeches which I have made in this House in the last 12 years. It is clear, therefore, that the innocent dupes of these pool swindlers still feel that those of us who are opposed to football pools are attempting to rob them of something which they conceive to be legitimate sport. That is not the case. I believe that the Royal Commission were quite right when they said: We do not regard it as a duty of the State to take steps to ensure that the backer is afforded a safe and trustworthy betting facility but it appears to us to be undesirable and contrary to public policy to allow bookmakers to employ a facility which admits of fraud on a large scale, especially where this fraud may easily go undetected, no matter how long it is practised. I think the Royal Commission were on safe ground there. They recognised that gambling is a habit, and they went on to say that society would not stand for the total abolition of all forms of gambling and also that in any legislation dealing with gambling there must be a large element of compromise. Football pools are of recent origin. I think they had their origin in newspapers. Now that newspaper competitions have been declared illegal we are in this curious position, that we forbid newspapers to run football competitions but we allow newspapers to advertise the pools of all the pool merchants in Great Britain. There is the elementary explanation that football pool betting is credit betting and, as the Bill does not set out to deal with credit betting, football pools are beyond the scope of the Measure.

There have been prosecutions of football pool promoters. There was one in January of this year. When the premises were raided 135 persons were found there employed in going through the coupons and presumably checking those that had arrived that day. In that case the promoter of the pool was fined £75, but that was simply because the money arrived with the coupons. The kind of pool which the new Clause seeks to deal with is not very far removed from the ready money pool. All one requires to do is to send in one's forecasts on the Thursday of the forthcoming Saturday's games, and on Monday morning remit one's 6d. or 1s. or whatever it may be. That is perfectly legal and can be advertised in newspapers all over the country.


And would the person send in the 6d. or 1s. on the Monday if he found that he had lost on the Saturday?


Perhaps 10 per cent. of them would not. The wise people would not.


Does the pool promoter run his business on bad debts?


I do not think the hon. Member knows a great deal about these football pools. It is obvious that these pools are run not on bad debts but on the willingness of the great majority of those who participate to pay what they regard as their honest debts. Perhaps 5 per cent, or 10 per cent, of those who send in and lose may withhold the money and then transfer their affections to some other pool promoter, but sooner or later those persons will be "caught out" and their coupons will no longer be accepted. The great bulk of the money is regularly paid, and the promoters of the pool can take anywhere from 10 per cent, to 90 per cent, of the whole. They are subject to no inquiry and no control. They give the bettor what they like.

Extraordinary things happen in connection with these pools. A very respected person in Doncaster told me this week that he saw in the paper one of those advertisements which attract the imagination not only of juveniles but of the mature. It offered 100 to 1 against finding 12 winning teams. My informant sent along his Is. week after week in the hope of securing the 100 to 1. But ultimately he did actually find 12 football teams that won. He was successful in getting what he called a "line up," all winners. He expected to receive his 100 to 1, and when no winnings came to him he made an inquiry. This company, with an office in London, informed him that it was quite clear that he had not observed some rule which, in fact, he had never seen. This rule said that he had not only to find 12 winners, but that he had to find 12 teams that won by an odd goal. As one of the teams in his list won by two to nothing, obviously he had not complied with the rule. I am sure Members will agree that there are thousands of persons searching for that 100 to 1 chance while never knowing of the existence of that rule. They will go on for years perhaps, investing their shillings or five shillings until they may be fortunate enough to get a "line up," when they will discover that they have been paying money to a swindle.

This sort of thing ought not to be tolerated by this or any other Government. If the Government want to exercise control over gambling in any form, and particularly in view of what the Royal Commission said as to the grave danger to juveniles as well as to our sports, it is the bounden duty of the Government to pay attention to this particular form of gambling. The Government have restricted greyhound racing to a certain number of days, and T agree with them in that. They have also restricted the amount of money which may be deducted from investments with the Tote on greyhound tracks, and there, again, I agree with what the Government have done. I only hope that they have not allowed too big a deduction. But in this worst of all forms of swindling it seems to me that the promoters are getting away with it. After the Act referred to by the hon. Member for Bodmin had been passed and following the statement of the noble Lord in another place withdrawing the provision prohibiting football pools, the "Leader," a weekly newspaper largely advertising pools and competitions of all kinds, said in a special article on 4th May, 1934:— Since the close of the football season and the football pools attractive and popular racing pools have been devised by a leading firm. We are also informed that cricket pools are on the way. If these pari-mutuel pools, where the promoters need only wangle the figures as they like, are to be permitted by law on the specious argument that this is credit betting which does not come within the terms of this Bill, or that it is a phase of betting which the Government do not wish to deal with at the moment, the Home Secretary might very well tell us this: If the Government do not intend in this Measure to deal with this form of gambling, will he undertake to do something about football, cricket, racing and other pari-mutuel betting in the next Session? If he would do that I am convinced that he would satisfy a large number of his own friends. He would also fulfil what the Royal Commission themselves said ought to be fulfilled. It is not that I want to limit people's opportunities for pleasant pastimes, but I do wish to limit the opportunities for people organising for their own gain schemes to exploit the uninitiated—preying, as the hon. Member for Bodmin said, on the weaknesses and frailties of human nature. It is the duty of this House at least to see to it that this exploitation is minimised to its lowest possible denominator. Because of that, though I regard this as a weak and tubercular Clause, I would support this in preference to allowing these things to continue as they are.

7.5 p.m.


This is not the first occasion on which this problem has been discussed since this Bill was introduced. It is, of course, true that the Government came to a decision and withdrew from the original Bill the part which set out to deal in some measure with this problem. One thing, I think, stands out very clearly, and that is that there is a feeling of anxiety—to employ a modest term—as to the effect which these pools may have upon the well-being of our people and particularly upon those who are youthful. But, one has only had to listen to this discussion to realise very fully that in fact this new Clause will not, of itself, really deal with this problem. The history of this matter, about which there has been some question, is that when the proposal was originally put in the Bill immediately from all over the country and from all kinds of quarters the kind of letters to which the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has referred, were showered upon Members of every point of view in this House, and also on people outside.

It was clear that there was great feeling about the matter. It became clear to those of us who had the responsibility for dealing with this problem that we were attempting to deal with a section of off-the-course betting which was in a different situation from the great mass of material with which the Government had originally set out to deal. It is, I think, quite certain that the Government had taken into consideration whether they could carry that which the original Bill set out to carry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I am a little interested and amused to hear that question being put to me in view of the severe criticisms of the Government that they should have touched a great many of these problems at all. And after all, it is for the House to make up its mind whether in fact this method of dealing with the subject is going to be the most efficacious.

It is evident, I think, from what the hon. Member has just told the House that if this system of pools is to be extended to deal with the football side of it alone that will not be sufficient. It may be, and it probably would be, adapted to other aspects of sport. The Government felt at the time, and I feel with rather added force at the present time, that what we had originally set out to do was not going to be fully effective. In view of the representations which came to us from many quarters, the Government had to make up their mind, and a, statement was made on behalf of the Government in another place. But the Government fully recognised that the course they then adopted might indeed leave an opening for very undesirable practices being continued, and perhaps even made worse than they are at the present time. It was, therefore, stated on behalf of the Government that this kind of thing would not be lightly entertained and that the Government must reserve the right, if they thought fit, to propose legislation to deal with the problem.

The truth is that this Bill for the most part deals with on-the-course betting. If this problem is to be dealt with you are dealing with off-the-course betting and with all the problems which are so interlocked with off-the-course betting—and we came to th6 conclusion that we ought not to deal with it now. I do not in the least doubt that the hon. Members who pu down this new Clause have done their best to try to deal with this problem but I myself do not think that what they—and, as I believe, a large number of Members of this House—would desire to do would in fact be achieved. In the first place, the permit would have to be got from the Home Secretary, and I con- fess that I should have some hesitation in accepting a responsibility on behalf of the Home Office for anything of this kind. Nor do I think that this new Clause would achieve its object when you come to the question of getting access to these accounts, which are really essential if there is to be adequate and proper control.

The Royal Commission were not of one mind upon this problem. I do not mention that with the view of deterring the House from dealing with this matter as and when it thinks right, but I do suggest that this new Clause, however earnest those responsible for it may be, would not in itself be effective to carry out their intentions. This is a wider question, and, in my judgment, proposals for dealing with it must cover a wider area. I regret, therefore, that I cannot, in the present circumstances, accept the Clause. If I am asked by hon. Members whether I can give a definite assurance that the Government will introduce a Bill to deal with this problem in the next Session, I can only reply that I am not in a position to give an undertaking of that kind. All I can say is that the Government have quite definitely reserved to themselves the full right to deal with this problem as and when they find it possible to do so if circumstances demand it. Beyond that I am afraid I cannot go.


If this proposal were brought in as a private Bill, does the right hon. Gentleman think that there would be any chance that the Government would do what it could to give facilities for the Bill's passage into law?


If the Government are unable to deal with this matter now, could not we take the opportunity of warning all these people who are running pools that they must not consider that they have a vested interest—so that they will not subsequently come to this House and say that we must legalise pools because they have put a lot of capital into them?


I hope the tone and temper of this Debate will be a warning to everyone in the country that this is a pursuit which is looked upon by this House, by all parties, on both sides, with feelings of great disturbance, to say the very least of it. All that I can say, in answer to the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) about a private Bill, is that if and when that private Bill is produced, then I shall be prepared to consider it and consult with my colleagues upon this matte. Beyond that I do not think I can go. I hope that in the circumstances this Clause will not be pressed.

7.16 p.m.


I was much perplexed and even intrigued to know what was the real explanation of this football pool story. When we were discussing this matter in Committee it seemed to be wrapped in clouds of mist, and nothing was forthcoming from the Treasury Bench in any way to throw a light upon it, but now we are indebted to the Home Secretary for a very frank and, if I may say so, a very naive explanation of the principles and reasons which have guided His Majesty's Government in taking the decision which they have to ignore football pools on this occasion. What is the explanation of my right hon. Friend? It is that it would have been unpopular. Here is an admission with regard to what is on the whole perhaps the worst form of gambling which is now current in the country, which is not only confined to football pools, but apparently, as the Home Secretary indicates, is shortly going to spread to racing, cricket, and other spheres. From the revelations which have been made by hon. Members, and by the hon. Gentleman opposite, undeterred apparently by the scurrilous letters that he has received—and I do not think a Member of Parliament ought to be disturbed by scurrilous letters; we should have stopped long ago if we had been disturbed by that sort of thing—the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, with very considerable knowledge of this matter, the kind of way in which the ordinary unsuspecting man in the street is fleeced, is swindled, in many cases—I do not say by any means in all cases—and how, even when he wins a prize, there is some catch in it.

I do not attempt to sit in judgment upon this particular form of gambling, but it seems to be admitted in all parts of the House—the Home Secretary drew the attention of those concerned in the Press to the fact—that this is an extremely unsatisfactory and deleterious form of gambling. Unfortunately for us, the public, but fortunately for the people engaged in this, they have already got a sufficient amount of backing and bristles for it not to be the kind of topic that the Home Secretary, acting on behalf of His Majesty's Government, cares to touch. This is a hedgehog, a porcupine, prickly, and so the right hon. Gentleman recoils. He has indeed unwittingly been drawn very near to this dangerous animal. The unsuspecting Marquess of Londonderry, in another place, had actually put out his hand to touch or even to strike the creature, but he very soon, warned by the Administration, drew it back. "No, we are reformers, we are going to deal with the evils of betting, we are not going to allow the demoralisation which follows on a Derby sweep. No, in order to stop that, we will not hesitate to enter dwellings, to black out the newspapers, to issue every kind of warrant, o enforce the most severe penalties." All that can be done, but this is another matter. "There is something in this which really would make it inadvisable to go any further. We should have to be very careful in a matter of this kind. We thought it all over very carefully, and we decided that this was an ugly customer that we did not want to tackle."

Where is your principle? Where is your policy? What right have you, when you run away like this, to come up and play the heavy father to this country and tell us what a shameful thing it is to ask that a Derby sweep should be legalised? Rather than do that, you are prepared to set up a vast gimcrack apparatus of oppression and restriction. I am amazed at the mess the Government have got into over this matter, and all their majority will not wipe this out. The people of this country are very much interested in this matter. If there were a, principle in the matter, I think the Government would have some chance, but obviously there is no principle. It is simply a case of push as far as you can and as far as you dare. Where the thing can be kicked, it is kicked, but where it cannot be kicked, the Government bolt. They have bolted away from the football pool, and they imagine they can win back a reputation for consistency by enacting all kinds of severe restrictions and penalties upon a far less injurious form of a national practice which they will never be able to stop. I think it is a most lamentable matter, and I am very, very sorry for the right hon. Gentleman, whose personal character is so high and whose good nature, courage, and good will have been shown in many fields and in many ways for many years. I am very sorry for him, that he has so shortsightedly and unwittingly allowed himself to be let into a position where, neither from the point of view of popularity nor from the point of view of principle, has he a leg to stand upon.

7.22 p.m.


I desire to approach this proposed new Clause from an entirely different angle. I was amazed at the speech of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot), not because of what is contained in the Clause, but because of his known attitude towards the evils arising from this form of gambling. It was only on the 27th June last that the hon. Member for Bodmin referred to football pool betting in this language: This evil is ruinous to home life, and the worst part of its effects is the deterioration of character. I have read all I can of what has been said by those who have spoken of the effect of the gambling evil, and they all agree that this thing more than any other effects a deterioration of character by a sort of atrophy of mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1934; col. 1168, Vol. 291.]


I said that in relation to the whole gambling evil. In my Second Reading speech I certainly was speaking about the whole gambling evil, and relying upon the general evidence that had been given.


If the hon. Member will look at column 1168 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the 27th June last, he will find that this reference is definitely associated with the reference which he was making in the course of that speech to football pool betting, and so I am entitled to assume that that was, and is even to-day, the hon. Member's attitude towards this specific form of gambling. I am therefore entitled to ask, if that be the hon. Gentleman's attitude and the attitude of all those in this House who are associated with him in this Clause, why it is that they have moved the Clause at all. If it were accepted—and I am delighted to hear that the Government do not propose to accept it—it would mean State recognition and legalisation of this terrible vice, neither more nor less. It may be suggested that it would be under conditions of limitation, that those responsible for its conduct would only be allowed to reap this, that, or the other given measure of profit from their industry or enterprise, but is it right, is it fair, on a subject of this description, to ask any Government to be responsible for the legalisation of a vice which definitely, even if this Clause were accepted, would place into the hands of a large number of people the power to receive a guaranteed income out of all proportion to the industry that they are following?

I submit that the Clause does not in any way present itself, more especially when I see the names on the Paper associated with it, as an honest attempt to overcome the vice of football pool betting of which we have heard so much. Football pool betting is not a vice which attacks or affects every section of the community; it is a vice which is possibly the possession of only the industrial communities of this country. The men and women—because the wives join in with their husbands when they send in a bob's worth on a coupon—who have a bob on a coupon at the end of the week are people who have only 3s., 4s., 5s., or 6s. to spare for pocket money from the wages that the breadwinner of the household receives. I submit that the arguments against the possibilities of juvenile betting arising are very weak, and I say that 85 per cent. of the people who bet on football pool betting each week know perfectly well what they are entering into. They know very well, by the weekly declarations that have gone before from every pool existing in the country, what the average pool per line of separate pools actually works out at, should they be successful; and in addition they know very well that the very success of the pool itself as a business proposition, or as a mere money-making proposition, depends entirely on those responsible for it honourably meeting their obligations should any contributor be successful in forecasting so many correct results at the end of any given week.

I suggest to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), whose absence at the moment I regret, that when he declared that a certain company had definitely refused to pay a winning competitor, on the ground that he had not read the conditions, which were an additional competition to the competition that he had entered, in fairness to that company its name should have been stated, that the matter should have been inquired into under the ordinary existing law, and that if the facts alleged were found to be true, action should have been taken against the company. I am not quite satisfied with these continual aspersions on persons who are catering for a huge community, because the business in which they are engaged—


Who could take action, and what would be the legal ground for action?


Unless the recent Bill of the hon. and learned Member for the Moss Side Division of Manchester (Sir G. Hurst) were adopted by this House, I should suggest that the common informer should do so. [Laughter.] We have often laughed at the common informer, but when the common informer has chosen to take his stand in the courts of the country, on very rare occasions has he failed to meet with success. I really make my point in order to show the weakness of those who are promoting the new Clause. If it were accepted and betting by football pools were permitted by law, and the promoters were allowed only a certain percentage of their net weekly takings, it is obvious that we should give an added impetus to this form of betting. Those who are dubious about the existence of these pools and suspicious of the people working them and of the amount of money they pay out on winning bets would be impressed by the fact that the Government had given it statutory dignity, and would feel, therefore, that they would at least have a right to appeal to the Government for payment should any of the promoters default of his responsibility. It would increase the volume of betting, because, in spite of the pleas of the hon. Member for Bodmin and the hon. Member for Don Valley, the vast majority of people like a little flutter. Most of them like it in the open air, but a lot of them do it under a cloak, and that is the type of bettor whom the bookmaker does not like, because he is the type referred to by an hon. Member who usually defaults when there is something to pay on his account.

Why is all this talk about football betting? We have had football betting ever since I was a child at school. It was in relationship to the sport so ably and honourably represented by one of the hon. Members who supported this new Clause. I have had bets from a halfpenny to a penny and from a penny to pounds on winning jockey mounts during the week. You got a card on which was given a list of jockeys. All you did was to pay for the card. For a win so many points were recorded, and so many more were recorded for a second or a third place. When you had a given number of points at the end of the week, all you did was to send the card in to the fellow who sold you the card, and that man, acting as agent for the promoters, betted you the comparable odds to the comparable number of points gained by any given jockey during the week. There were also certain pools which referred not only to the jockeys but to the horses themselves. I am not so sure that if it had been possible to make a pool on the amount of money that had been won or lost by the owners on their own horses that had not run quite straight, there would have been pools on that as well. Declarations that horses do not run straight are not exaggerated, because many trainers and some owners have even been refused the right of entrance to respectable courses by reason of it.

I only mention these things because I realise the futility of the Government attempting to embody this new Clause in the Bill. The Bill is bad enough as it is, and I am positively convinced that, if the right hon. Gentleman is deciding to take any action in respect of football pool betting in the near future, he will be well advised to bear one great thing in mind. He is now legalising dog-race betting for two days in every week or 108 times a. year—that is, 104 days and four matinees. Betting is legalised on racecourses and totalisator betting is legalised on both courses. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to attempt to deal with football pools, he should be fair to all forms of betting and gambling and remember that football matches take place only once a week and an average of only 38 weeks in a year. If equity is to be the basis of any new legislation, in all fairness to those who enjoy this form of outlet for their vice, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear it in mind. I hope the Government will not only resist this new Clause whole-heartedly, but will not in any circumstances attempt to reintroduce it in the Bill under another guise.

7.36 p.m.


The proposed new Clause has a very strong point in that it would enable the Government to get some information about the amount and the conduct of these pools. It is on that point alone that I ask the hearing of the House for a few minutes. When we were discussing this question the other day, some figures which were given were challenged and I freely admit that they were given without enough consideration. Consequent upon that challenge, I have spent some considerable time in trying to find the minimum figures which can be given in regard to football pool betting at the present time. The manner in which this betting has been developed can be understood when I give the figures for two firms only—T. Strang and W. S. Murphy—during the last two years. Strang's largest pool in 1933, according to his own advertisement, amounted to £5,653; his largest pool in 1934 amounted to £10,051. Murphy's largest pool in 1934 up-to-date has amounted to £10,026. The average for both firms on the 3rd November, 1934, was £9,821 10s. and, in addition, a free competition is offered by Strang of £500 and by Murphy of £1,000 a week.

The average size of the pool of the only five firms which announce the size of pools on advertisements worked out at £6,183. Of 63 firms who advertised on the 3rd November, 25 announced a free weekly competition, in addition to pools, totaling £11,450, or an average of £458. On the 10th November investigation of the current issues of four papers showed 35 firms advertising and an additional 22 firms were mentioned in the body of the papers. This and another investigation on 18th August showed 63 firms advertising and 23 additional firms were mentioned in the body of the papers. Of the 63 advertisements, 13 included coupons for the use of readers. On the 27th October the average pools for five firms announcing them in their advertisements was £6,183, not including free competition prizes. Taking the pools of the remaining 58 firms which did riot adver- tise at the low estimate of £2,000, this would give, as prize money paid out of the pools of 63 firms, excluding free competition prizes, a figure of £146,915 per week. It was estimated in evidence given before the Royal Commission that the average bets, the majority of which come from working-class homes, are 6d., 1s. and 2s. Taking an average bet per person per week of 1s., it would require 2,938,300 persons to contribute the total week's pools for the 63 firms.

One firm states in its circulars that it only takes a rake-off from the receipts, before declaring the size of the week's pools, of 15 per cent. It does not advertise in the Press, has no agents, no free gift scheme, and no free postage. Four firms are known to advertise their rake-off as 5 per cent. plus expenses. Firms frequently employ agents at 3s. and 4s. in the pound commission, sometimes with a bonus. One firm is known to advertise for agents at 25 per cent. commission, and another at 30 per cent. and bonus. In the investigations which I have already mentioned, 12 firms advertised free gift schemes. The expenses are known to be heavy, for they include agents' commissions, and printing coupons. One firm is known to distribute weekly nearly 1,000,000 circulars. There are also postage and large staffs. One firm is known to employ 2,000 girls. Many pools are run in conjunction with other credit betting facilities. An average total rake-off per week of 30 per cent. would be a reasonably low estimate for the 63 firms advertising. This would bring the total receipts to £209,878 weekly. At an average stake of is. per week per person it would take 4,197,560 persons to make up this amount. Of the £209,878 total receipts per week, £62,000 would be retained by the promoters of the 63 firms on the basis of 30 per cent rake-off.


Will the hon. Member give the source of this information?


I have had accountants working on it. I wanted to get some accurate figures, because of the discussion last week. There are at least another 100 firms, with large and small clientele, engaged in this kind of betting. In Liverpool, which I know as well as anybody, there are 28 firms known to be operating, and only 10 to be advertising. It would be no exaggeration to put the minimum number of persons contributing each week to football pools at 5,000,000, and the total contribution of the football betting public at £250,000 per week. This would amount for the whole season of 37 weeks to £9,000,000 as a minimum. Last week the figure given was £5,500,000. Of this £9,000,000, the promoters would take £2,700,000 as expenses and profit, and profits alone would probably amount to £1,000;000. Having regard to facts like that, I am not surprised that the "Liverpool Echo," which I consider an authority on these subjects, should say that the bookmaker is on a certainty all the time and that the profits from his rake off are handsome enough to land the chief sponsors of "football totes" in the House of Lords if they have social ambitions. Facing figures and facts like those, I think it is time the Government gave an undertaking that we should have an inquiry into this amazing ramp, and that something should be done to control those who are living in such luxury out of the earnings of the very poor of this country.

7.46 p.m.


I do not wish to use this Clause, to which my name is appended, as a stick with which to beat the Government. I suppose there must have been good reasons for their original desire to deal with this question in the Bill, and for the fact that they modified that desire later, but in view of the facts which have been put before the House by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell), and in view of what many of us know of the extraordinary ramifications, the almost universality, of this type of betting among a certain class, I am rather disappointed with the if not wholly negative at least very nearly negative attitude taken up by the Home Secretary. He used one phrase which sounded promising until one began to consider what it really meant. He said, as though it meant something rather considerable, that the Government reserved the right to deal with this matter. Of course the Government reserve the right to deal with any matter which is of public importance and which is doing harm in the community. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Eddisbury that the Government should hold an investigation with a view to passing legislation if the facts justify it is a good one—I quite understand that the Home Secretary cannot promise legislation before he knows the facts; and I hope that before the subject is disposed of the Government will go a little further than saying they reserve the right to deal with it some how, some day.

I also have been working out figures, although of a different character from those given by the hon. Member, and I submit them just to show why it is that people, very largely young people, are attracted to this practice but how very great is the contrast between the apparent odds and the real odds that they will actually win anything. The sort of pool which is most popular in my district is one in which those participating are invited to say with regard to seven named football matches, selected, I think, because they are the "evenest" matches, those in which the result is most open, whether the home team or the away team will win or whether there will be a draw. It looks to the ordinary person as though, if he had 20 or 30 shots, he would be able to say whether seven teams, all of which he thinks he knows something about, though really he knows very little indeed about them, will win or lose or draw. I do not suppose one of my constituents in Cornwall interested in these pools—as many of them have written to tell me they are—have ever seen one of these teams play, although they are so confident of predicting the results—except Plymouth Albion.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Argyle!"]—Plymouth Argyle. It is easy to think a man can do a fairly simple thing like saying whether a team will win or lose or draw.


Does not the same criticism apply to a horse which a man has never seen run?


I am not defending horse racing. I am dealing with the subject of this Clause. I perfectly agree with the observation as to horse racing, only in that case a man generally knows the odds at which he is betting, whether he is getting 10 to 1 or 20 to 1; but here, assuming that it is an open thing which teams will win or lose or draw, the chances of anybody getting the answer right in respect of seven matches, are 1 against 2,187. That means that if a man or boy sends in 6d. four times a month for eight months—that is, 32 times in the year out of a possible 37 or 38—he will stand to win something once in 68 years. Those are the odds against him. And if he does win on a 6d. stake he ought, with the 20 per cent. rake-off to get £50 which is not what the people who win in these pools actually do get for their 6d. The point I want to make is that with the odds so big, with no security that only a reasonable amount is deducted for expenses and profits, and the business being so extensive as the figures quoted to us have shown, I think the Government ought to have gone a little farther than saying that they reserve the right to take further action, and I hope before we pass from this Bill the Government will say that at any rate they are considering an inquiry as to how, and with what degree of fairness or unfairness, this extraordinarily ramified and extensive trade is conducted.

7.52 p.m.


I do not profess to be an expert on betting, but I think the figures we have heard to-night will be regarded as staggering not only by hon. Members but by the people of the country. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) attacked the Home Secretary to-night, first in a delightful spirit of raillery, which we always enjoy, but later the attack developed a somewhat venomous character. I may not have the gift of understanding the meaning of words, but I did not realise from the Home Secretary's speech that the Government had retired before a severe blast of unpopularity. If the Home Secretary had made the same speech in Committee last week as he made to-night there would not have been the same amount of feeling aroused as was shown in Committee, when he rather gave the impression—possibly it was quite a wrong impression—that he was more or less indifferent to this question of pool betting. As a protest against his attitude I voted against the exclusion of the pool betting Clause from the Bill; not because I want to deprive anyone of what they regard as a legitimate form of enjoyment. From some points of view we have no right—indeed, from no point of view have we any right—to say to the poor man that he shall not engage in pool betting while we leave untouched the rich man who goes in for credit betting, because that would undoubtedly be making one law for the rich and another for the poor, a policy which I could not support.

I think my hon. Friend opposite has made out a case for control of this type of betting. We all know how heavily burdened the Home Secretary is with his official duties, and he has certainly undertaken a formidable task in even attempting to deal with betting under this Bill, but surely he will not for one moment regard as important the intervention of the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike), who suggested that this system of betting should be allowed to go absolutely uncontrolled when we know that those who take part in it are, according to the figures given to-day, being robbed right and left. To me the alleged fraud on the part of the promoters is gravamen of the whole situation. I am not at the moment arguing against betting, but I suggest that fraud of this particular character—according to facts which have been given to us and have not been contradicted—should not go uncontrolled in this country. The hon. Member for Attercliffe made considerable play with the suggestion that my hon. Friend opposite had so far suppressed his Nonconformist principles as to make betting legal, but what the hon. Member opposite did say was that with a choice of two evils he was choosing the lesser, a perfectly understandable position. I do not suppose the Home Secretary will accept the Clause, but he ought to realise from the speeches we have had from all parts of the House that there is a genuine feeling that this system of betting, which is so unfair to those who are taking part in it, should not go uncontrolled by the Government.

7.57 p.m.


I do not suppose that the Home Secretary will regard me as an enthusiastic supporter of this Bill, but I honestly believe that if the Clause which has been submitted by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) were inserted it would make the Bill even more difficult than it is at the present time. I entirely agree that some form of control of pool betting is necessary. It is important to avoid the contamination of the youth of the country and important to avoid swindling and theft in pool bet- ting, but I suggest that the full facts about pool betting have not been put before the House to-night, and that the idea that there is complete chaos in regard to football pools and that people have no idea of the odds applies only to a very small part of pool betting. The greater part of the pool betting in this country is run by the Football Pool Promoters Association, which claims to represent something approaching 90 per cent. of the volume of pool betting done in England as a whole. It is a big association. It has laid down in its rules that no more than 5 per cent. shall be deducted as commission by the promoters, under any circumstances whatsoever. As to expenses, expenses are examined by a chartered accountant. That is beyond a doubt; it is a fact and not mere supposition.


Are they allowed to include advertising in those expenses?


They are not allowed to include in expenses capital expenditure for new machinery—new typewriters and so on—but I imagine, though I am speaking without the book, that they are permitted a certain degree of advertising.


When the chartered accountants certify the amount of the expenses, do they observe any rule which limits the amount?


So far as I know, there is no exact rule in regard to expenses, but pools are not permitted under their rules to allow a profit of more than 5 per cent. I am not arguing in an attempt to score off the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) or his supporters. So far as I can, I wish to give the facts. If the figure of 20 per cent. were accepted, I am informed that that would probably wipe out many associations who are included in the Football Pool Promoters' Association, because expenses are extremely high in a business of this character. If we intend to wipe out football pools, well and good, but, if not, it would be a very improper way of dealing with them to say that we shall allow football pools but place them upon such a basis that they will be financially unprofitable. I am sure that such a result would not be the desire of any hon. Member.

Beyond the control which is secured by the examination of accountants in regard to expenses, I understand that the accountants examine every week the money that is received in order to ensure that the proper odds are paid out to backers. The position is a little different from the isolated examples which have been quoted in earlier stages of the discussion, and which assumed that there was no check. There is a very large amount of football pool betting done in this country on business-like lines to which exception could not be taken. I will go a step further. The Football Pool Promoters' Association have always shown willingness to have some form of Government supervision. If there were Government supervision over large-scale pools which are trying to work honestly, it would be easier to wipe out whatever companies are operating on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) and others.

The Football Pool Promoters' Association, which represents by far the greatest amount of business done in this country, will not have any client under the age of 21. Every client who desires to bet with that association has to sign a form to say that he or she is of age. That fact has not been realised by hon. Members, and it very largely meets the suggestion in regard to the corruption of the young by football pools. The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell) has suggested that football pools might have the effect of causing bribery and corruption in regard to football. I think I am quoting him correctly.


That was a quotation from the report of the Royal Commission.


I am sorry that the hon. Member did not go further and say that the Football Association in England had denied that there was any danger of bribery in regard to football. When one realises the number of matches that take place, it is clear that it would be impossible to have bribery or the squaring of any match. A point was made by the hon. Member for Bodmin in regard to football ready money. The Ready Money Football Betting Act cannot possibly be evaded, because football pools do not deal with ready money at all. The Home Secretary has shown considerable wisdom in holding this matter up and examining it further in order that the question of pool betting may be satisfactorily dealt with, as it must be at some time, and in a way which will not have the effect, which would follow the adoption of the new Clause, of simply crushing out of business a large number of reputable firms owing to their percentage of expenses and profits exceeding 20 per cent. That result would not only cause unemployment, but very genuine discontent among persons who are accustomed to betting in this way.

A great deal has been made of the point that football pools are an abominable form of betting, because they appeal to the poorest of the poor and help to take money which otherwise would go into the housewife's purse. To some extent that may be true, but this betting compares very favourably with a good deal of other betting in regard to horse racing or greyhound racing. For one thing the amount is limited, as there is only one chance of having a bet in the week, that is, upon the Saturday matches. Another point is that the coupon costs on an average only 2s., and very often a considerable number of persons contribute to one coupon. Under proper control there is nothing very wrong in that, and it gives many people an opportunity, in return for a small weekly sum, to have an interest in football and in their Sunday papers. There is not the temptation which exists in regard to credit betting, or in going to the races, of putting on a bit more after losing, and of going on until the whole of the wages are spent. It is a limited form of betting which is very popular, and under proper control does comparatively little harm to the population.

8.9 p.m.


I was very interested in the opinions of the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) in regard to the firms who are running football pools. I assume that he was speaking with authority when he said that a maximum of 5 per cent. is deducted as profit. Is that 5 per cent. of the gross income from football betting, and is it exclusive of expenses? What is the nature of the expenses which are deducted before calculation of the odds begins? Perhaps the hon. Member would answer those questions now.


I have no financial knowledge as a matter of fact in regard to the matter, except that I have had a certain amount of information.


Obviously the hon. Gentleman has little knowledge of football pool betting as it exists to-day. I say, frankly, that I do not accept his figures, and I do not think he can produce any evidence in support of them. Football pool betting as carried on today is nothing more nor less than exploitation. The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) who, I regret, is not in his place, said that 85 per cent. of the people who indulge in this weekly flutter know what odds to expect if they win in the football pool. That statement is not true. The ordinary participant in a football pool has not the slightest knowledge of the amount of money that comes into the pool. If an inquiry were conducted into the matter by the Home Secretary, it would be found that this is nothing more nor less than a deliberate ramp. The hon. Member for South-East Essex mentioned accountants. Certainly some football pool syndicates or companies state in their advertisements that an accountant certifies the odds as advertised. That is all right, but what happens is this: Bill Smith may be satisfied when he is informed that his odds this week are 124 to one for his 2d. He may think that he is getting jolly good odds, but if he were paid out as he ought to be, he would possibly be entitled to odds at 600 to one. The accountants usually certify the odds as having been paid to individuals, but they say nothing about the odds that are taken off by way of profit or expenses.

The figures which have been given from below the Gangway will take some refuting. There are football pool companies in existence who started in a small room with a few employés, perhaps two or three girls. To-day they are employing hundreds of people and the promoters are living in affluence. I am not satisfied with the explanation of the Home Secretary as to why this matter has been left out of the Bill. When the Bill was before the Committee, I asked a question as to whether anybody financially interested in football pool betting had brought pressure to bear upon the Government to delete the subject from the Bill. I think there has been a good deal of pressure upon the Government in order that the matter shall be left out of the Bill, and I am not satisfied. The Home Secretary states that he cannot accept the Amendment because of certain things. The hon. Member for South-East Essex who has just left the Chamber said that football betting would be uneconomic if the Amendment were carried. That may be true.


I assure the hon. Member that I have not left the Chamber.


I am sorry; I made a mistake. If a limit of 20 per cent. be established, it may be that certain football pool companies, which now deduct more than 20 per cent., may be resricted in their business, but the practice would be better than the practice to-day. If the Home Secretary cannot accept the new Clause, I hope that he will lose no time in causing an inquiry into what is taking place. I am not concerned whether football pool betting be good or bad. I think I have seen as much football betting as any Member in this House, in regard to fixed odds and otherwise, but I am not concerned with the merits of the case. If football pool betting is to remain legal, the people who indulge in it ought at least to be guaranteed that they are having a square deal. Under existing conditions they are not, and, if the Home Secretary will not accept the present Clause, I sincerely hope that he will conduct an inquiry as to what is taking place.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.