HC Deb 13 May 1938 vol 335 cc1941-58

Order for Second Reading read.

1.49 p.m.

Mr. Alan Herbert

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

It is possible, indeed I think that it is likely, that there will be no Division on this Bill to-day. It is still more likely that the Bill will not be carried through all its stages during the present Session. But I hope that my hon. Friends wilt not, therefore, think that it is a waste of Parliamentary time for me, first to present this Bill, and now to endeavour to explain what it is about. In this department of the national life—and, however much we may regret it, betting and gambling have become almost a department of the national life—there is such a conflict of interest and opinion that any new proposal in this department must start its life with a great deal of prejudice, suspicion and hostility against it. It was my modest idea that it might be possible, by introducing this Bill now, perhaps to make the intention plain and to clear away some of that cloud of suspicion before the next Session. I hope that the House will accept that explanation.

But then, I shall not be surprised to be told that this is a subject far too big to be undertaken by the private Members. Well, I have heard that before; but I agree with it. If I could see in the Government any signs of an eager desire to introduce comprehensive pro posals concerning the complicated subject of off-the-course betting, I need hardly say that I, or any other private Member, would gladly withdraw his head from this formidable and ferocious hornets' nest. But meanwhile I think we ought to do our best as private Members.

First, let me try to sketch the background—I would rather say the untamed swamp of illogicality, from which this Bill proposes to reclaim at least a few acres for common sense, fair play and moderation.

I do not think that anyone will quarrel with the modest assertion in the preamble of the Bill that "there is much betting in the Realm." In order to indicate and to illustrate the meaning of the word "much," I added the estimate of £400,000,000 "expended," that is, staked, in a year. I will not waste time by arguing about that figure. It is not my estimate, but it is founded on an article in the "Economist," which is not a reckless paper, and I have done my best to check it with the best resources that were available. No estimate can be entirely correct, because this figure is intended to cover all forms of betting, including illegal betting, of which there can be no certain knowledge. Whatever the figure is, it is enormous. Take away, if you like, a certain amount because some of this money returns to those who paid it out on the first occasion—take, say £100,000,000 on that account, and we still have the vast sum of £300,000,000. I would like to compare that figure with what is called the Drink Bill, which is estimated at only £260,000,000 a year—that is the estimate for last year—and of that sum 41 per cent. represents consumers' taxation. We have this vast, and, as many think, vicious, activity, the nature and dimensions of which are such that no civilised State, whether it is regarded with the ethical, social or fiscal eye, can entirely ignore it. Of course, this virtuous country does not turn an entirely blind eye to this question. Only one eye is closed. It recalls the old story of the tactful plumber who entered by accident a bathroom where a lady was taking her bath, and retreated with the polite murmur "I beg your pardon, Sir."

It is no use refusing to face the facts. I do not know when Britain began to bet; legislation began in the year 1388, and we are still endeavouring to legislate about gambling. After the lapse of 550 years our laws are in a greater muddle than ever before, though "on the course," owing to recent Government legislation, things have been brought to a state of comparative order. I refer to the Acts of 1928 and 1934.

We all know what occurs "off the course." The rich man, or the man who can afford to bet on credit, can bet whenever he likes through His Majesty's telephones, posts and telegrams: but the poor man who cannot command credit, cannot put 6d. on a horse lawfully, unless he personally attends a race meeting. What he does is well known to all of us, although we refuse to face the fact. He "passes slips" to a street bookmaker like a thief in the night: for that bookmaker is not by law permitted to accept cash bets or to bet in the street or any public place. So far from being lavishly assisted by His Majesty's Postmaster-General, he is harried from alley to alley by His Majesty's policemen. The fact that the poor man's betting has to be conducted in this manner leads to many and grave evils. It has led to the employment of child messengers, to the payment of commission to persons who collect bets in offices or factories and also to bribery or the suspicion of bribery among the police. It has led to bad feeling between the police and the public, because the people feel—and I agree—that this system is founded on an injustice. All these things proceed from a purely arbitrary and historically, an almost accidental distinction between cash and credit betting.

One more piece of illogicality, and then this strange patchwork picture will be complete. In 1934 Parliament passed legislation to prevent the citizen from participating in large lotteries wherever conducted, including lotteries conducted under Government auspices across the Irish Channel; but, by the same Act, Parliament permitted the institution or the continuation of large office pool betting businesses which come very near to the nature of a lottery, and poor people, denied of the opportunity of betting lawfully off the racecourse, naturally seized that opportunity.

Well, here is this vast, and, as some think, vicious activity. We are not called upon to make any final or severe pronouncement on the ethical point, for even those who take the strongest ethical objection to betting see no way of stopping it and do not propose to try. But though the State may not feel called upon to take a severe line against the individual who bets, it may well desire to regulate the business of betting; and I would ask the critics of the Bill to keep that distinction clearly in mind, especially those who are tempted to raise the cry of "individual liberty." If they examine the Bill closely and try to understand it they will find that it increases very largely the sum of individual liberty, that is, the liberty of the individual citizen who wishes to bet, but it does curtail business liberty, that is to say, the liberty of the promoter or what is sometimes called the exploiter.

On the other hand the State, although it will not utterly condemn betting, has for more than 100 years, rightly or wrongly, refused to take a direct part in the betting business, even for the purpose of control; and I accept that. You have here, then, an activity or indulgence which the State does not wish to encourage, to prohibit or directly to control. It stands impartial, and slightly pompous, midway between the bishop and the bookmaker. And so, I think, must we.

I have always thought—and this is no new idea, for I mentioned it in my election address—that the right thing for us to do is to treat betting more or less as we treat drinking, that is, to legalise it, to provide reasonable facilities for it, to regulate it in order to prevent abuses and then, if the State thinks fit, to tax it. I realise that to propose taxation is not within the province of a private Member, and I should still think the Bill desirable if the possibility of taxation were ruled out for ever, because order and justice are in themselves desirable. But I should not be candid if I did not say that I strongly believe in the desirability and the possibility of a large and remunerative revenue being obtained from a tax upon betting, provided always that the law is altered in the way proposed in the Bill. I agree that that cannot be done until we have altered the law.

Let me now deal with the Bill. As the Memorandum states, it is based on the recommendations of a very sound and strong Royal Commission of 1932–33, and not, except in some minor parts, on strange ideas of my own. Some parts of the recommendations of the Royal Commission were carried into law in 1934. The Preamble is a little longer than has been the practice in recent years, but I would point out that one or two judges have expressed regret that the practice of having a Preamble has fallen out, because the Preamble does afford some assistance to the Courts in understanding what was the intention of Parliament. There is no department of the law which lends itself to obscurity so much as the betting law.

The Bill has four main principles, two of which are contained in Part 1. Clause 1 begins in a manner unusual in social legislation by seeking to make something lawful which was not lawful before. The general effect of Clause 1 (1) is to abolish the distinction between cash and credit betting and to make cash betting lawful, if conducted by a registered bookmaker. Thereafter, the poor man's bookmaker, like the rich man's commission agent, can have an office of his own and there conduct his business by post, by telegram or by telephone. We do not want to touch the Street Betting Act nor the law against betting and gaming houses; we do not want those betting shops, which have been such a mischief in Australia and Ireland, to which the citizen can resort, and where one can see so many mothers with prams. But we do want to provide the humbler citizen, if he is to bet, with some reasonable means of communication with his bookmaker, so that he will not be compelled to descend to the degrading subterfuges by which the Street Betting Act is evaded.

When I come to Sub-section (2) I deal with a point on which, I must frankly say, the Royal Commission were divided. Three distinguished members thought that, cash betting by post being allowed, that would be sufficient, but the majority thought—and I agree with them— that if you did that you would not in fact be establishing between the classes the equality which is desired, and you would not really be placing yourself in the position to enforce effectively the Street Betting Act. The rich man, the credit bettor, can decide on the morning of the Derby what horse will carry his fortune. By referring to the "Times" and the tips and by a study of the weather, a study of the going, and of this and that, he can decide on his line of action. At the last moment, when he has all this scientific information available, he can make his bet; but if you confine the poor man to betting by post he will have to send his investment off the night before. This, of course, is a matter of detail which can be considered in Committee. But in Sub-section (2) it is suggested that a limited number of bookmakers whose offices have been registered as cash bet deposit offices shall be permitted to set up letter-boxes on an exterior wall of their offices or buildings, in which cash bets can be deposited. There is to be no personal contact between the backer and the bookmaker or his staff. There are difficult Committee points which obviously arise out of that—and I do not propose to go into them now, although I have not heard of any that seem to present any insuperable difficulty.

I must observe here that any proposal to legalise cash betting has in the past provoked considerable opposition from certain sections of the community. It may still do so: but I hope that to-day there may perhaps be less violent opposition to these proposals. Indeed, the main hope for this Bill is that every section of the community will be ready to give up some little interest or opinion for the sake of a decent civilised settlement of the problem.

The second point of principle is contained in Clause 2. This Clause is extremely unintelligible to the layman. I drafted it originally in what I thought was at least a clear form, but a distinguished lawyer who has done admirable service on the whole of the Bill has converted the Clause into legal language, with the result that it is now unintelligible and, I am told, may be wrong. However, it is not intended to interfere with the totalisator on (a) racecourses or (b) on licensed dog racecourses. It may be that by an error in drafting the Sub-section looks as if we were interfering with the totalisator on dog racecourses. That is not the intention, and if that is the effect it can be corrected in Committee.

The second Sub-section of the Clause deals with totalisator, pool and pari mutuel betting off the course. The minds of hon. Members will leap to the subject of football pools. May I remark at once that football pools are not the only business affected? There is a large and growing business in office pool betting on horse races, and that is one reason why it is idle to suggest the taxation or the prohibition of football pools alone. If you taxed football pool betting you would have to tax office pool betting on horse races. And you would find it very difficult then to explain why you did not also tax horse race betting at fixed odds or starting prices. You must take the whole business and treat it as one.

The Royal Commission recommended that office pool betting should be prohibited. So does this Bill: and so did the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. R. J. Russell). That Bill was thrown out with much violence by this House and I took a certain part in that operation myself. If that Bill came up in the same form tomorrow I should endeavour to do again what I did on that occasion, although I might not use the same impetuous language as I used in my first Session. That Bill was wrong then, and it would be wrong now, because it was not accompanied by the other main recommendation of the Royal Commission the legalising of cash betting, which is proposed in this Bill. It was like trying to put out a furnace by sitting on the safety valve. The football pools have grown up largely because the poor man has had no other legitimate opportunity of betting off the course. I agree that now a new public is being drawn in, but if we were now to prohibit pool betting and did nothing else we should only be driving many more people to street betting.

It may be said, why interfere with football betting? Are not the dogs more demoralising and dangerous? One answer is that I am not interfering with football betting as such. Indeed, I am repealing the Ready Money Football Betting Act, which is almost the only Measure in which Parliament has attacked betting on a particular subject. In general Parliament has taken the line that the citizen is free to impoverish himself or demoralise himself by going in for any particular form of betting which is available to him, but that the State will not permit others to profit by certain methods of betting business. It distinguishes, for example, between the genuine bookmaker and the conduct of a lottery. The objection to pool betting is not that it is a bad kind of betting, for the backer, but that it is not strictly betting at all; it is more like a lottery. I think it is obvious that in betting proper there are certain automatic safeguards for the backer, certain understandings though they do not amount to contracts. The backer at fixed odds or starting prices stands to win a fixed sum, or a sum which has some reasonable relation to his stake and judgment. On the other hand, the bookmaker stands to win a fixed sum, or he may lose a sum the amount of which he roughly knows. If he says to six people, "I will give you sixty to one," it may cost him six sixtys. So far as the backer is concerned, apart from the occasional welsher, he has a reasonable security that he will receive the reward for which he stipulated and which he deserves for his skill and judgment. The State does not commend such transactions; but since they seem to be equitable the State stands aside.

In pool betting the promoter risks nothing at all except his overhead charges. He does not say he will give you sixty to one if you win, but he says "I may give you 6d., £6,000, or £6,000,000; it depends on how many other mugs ' come in and how much I keep out of the pool for my trouble and expense." He never stands to lose and there is no check whatever upon his proceedings. The backer can never be quite sure that he is getting what he bargained for. I do not say that there is any hanky-panky, but there is a great opportunity for it. Pool betting is not a sporting event as betting with a bookmaker is. It offers exceptional opportunities for profit to the promoters, and there are exceptional lures for the backer. In fact it has most of the features which induced Parliament to prohibit lotteries.

The Royal Commission recommended that such transactions, although quite proper to be conducted by statutory bodies under proper control on licensed and approved racecourses, were not proper to be left in the hands of private persons operating for private gain. That recom mendation is accepted by the Bill. I think we can found such a prohibition on the simple ground that it is not socially desirable that private persons for private gain should be permitted to exercise such powers without control. And I am assuming that the State does not desire to exercise control itself.

If these two proposals become law you will have at last a simple compendious formula for off-the-course betting. I had better read it, if I may. All men, rich and poor, could bet with a registered bookmaker, on cash or credit terms, on any subject under the sun, but on fixed odds or starting prices only.

Further, by Clause 2 (1) the ordinary citizen could send cash bets to the totalisator on approved racecourses.

One more word about pool betting. Mary people seem very anxious to "deal with" the pools. Few people ever explain what they mean by "dealing with the pools," but some, I know, have a vague idea of setting some statutory limit to the deductions which the pool pro-motor may make for expenses and profits. That would be worthy of consideration if the State had not taken the very high and mighty line about betting which it always has taken; but if you did anything like that I think you would find the State plunging far more deeply and intimately into the conduct of betting than this House would like. It would mean a Government auditor in every office—and in the end a sort of partnership between the State and the pool promoter. And again the same question would arise. If you are to inspect the accounts or regulate the profits of one kind of betting business why do you not do the same thing for another?

These two fundamental alterations that the Bill proposes will not be popular with everyone. I did not expect that they would be. Indeed, in this matter I think there has been a great deal too much subservience to the great god popularity. But let me say this. So far as I am. concerned, these two proposals stand or fall together. I would not touch pool betting unless I could get cash betting off the course legalised. On the other hand, I could not ask the Churches to accept the legalisation of cash betting unless there were some limitation of betting at the other end.

The language of the sporting world is naturally tinged with exaggeration. It would be unnatural to expect those who habitually indulge in confident "naps" and "doubles" to show pedantic accuracy of thought or language when they conceive that their own interests are threatened. When the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) proposed a very mild betting tax I heard someone say, "The Derby will never be run again." And I was surprised the other day by a newspaper man who said to me "If you touch the pools there will be no more football in this country ever again." I was surprised, because I always understood that those most hostile to football pool betting were those who were responsible for the noble game. If football indeed depended on betting for its existence I, for one, should weep no tears at its departure. But I don't believe it: and I think I know more about football than the gentleman I have quoted.

Now I come to Part II of the Bill which deals with the registration of bookmakers. I think that after the first shock my friends the bookmakers—and I have many friends among them—will find that on the whole all this part of the Bill is favourable to their profession. We want to be sure that the law is enforced. That is not always easy, as our experience of street betting has shown us. Surely, the best method of enforcing the law is to utilise the services of those who conduct the business, and the best way to enlist their services is to place them in a position in which they can maintain their self-respect. I do not believe that any bookmakers enjoy having to stand in rainy streets or in alley-ways and employing children in their business. Therefore it is proposed that the bookmaker should be registered annually, and that the registration should be forfeited for any serious lapse. The Bill here follows very closely the recommendation of the Royal Commission as regards machinery. Before obtaining registration the bookmaker has to obtain a certificate of eligibility from a petty sessional court showing some simple evidence of character. With that certificate he is entitled to be registered by the police. I saw in the "Sporting Life" the other day that a correspondent said that, if he were a bookmaker, he would much resent having to go to the magis trates every year to be registered. One short answer to that is, that what is good enough for the manager of the Savoy Hotel is surely good enough for any bookmaker, however sensitive. Publicans, moneylenders, pawnbrokers, pedlars, and, I believe, ecclesiastical lecturers, have to be registered or licensed every year on the ground that, though their occupations are not disapproved by the State, it is desirable that the State should be able to lay its hands easily upon individual members who break the law, and, if necessary, debar them from continuing in practice.

In addition to the personal registration of the bookmaker, there is a proposal that he may apply to have his office registered as a cash bet deposit office. There is here an important distinction. The personal registration is a matter of right as long as the bookmaker is eligible for it according to the magistrates. That is, they are not required to say how many bookmakers there should be, and so on: but when we come to cash bet deposit offices it is desirable that the justices should have some discretion. We do not want an excess of such offices, for example; we do not want them to be concentrated in one street; we do not want them next to a school or a church.

Clause 8 is important, as it deals with the registration of the bookmakers' staff. The Royal Commission were very eager to suppress not only illegal street-betting, but the practice by which illegal street bookmakers employ on commission amateur agents in factories, offices and so on, for the purpose of collecting bets. Clause 9 brings the off-course law concerning betting with juveniles into line with the law of on-course betting laid down in the 1934 Act. The general effect of this part of the Bill, although at the first prick of novelty the instinct may be to talk about restrictions and so forth, is favourable to the bookmakers' profession. It gives to the bookmaker new powers, but also new duties; it gives to the bookmaker who has hitherto been breaking the law a new incentive to obey it, and strong penalties are provided if he does not do so. The more we can make the bookmaker the chief policeman of the whole business, the more we shall relieve the real police from duties which at present are distasteful and even dangerous.

So far, we have extended the reasonable facilities for betting in one direction, and limited the unreasonable facilities in another; and we have provided machinery to ensure that the law shall be obeyed. I come now to Part III of the Bill, which deals with betting inducements. As I have said, the State does not forbid the citizen to bet. But it is one thing to allow the citizen to put his head to the pool and drink; and it is another thing to allow another gentleman to push him into the river. Parliament does not prohibit the occupation of the moneylender, but it severely restricts his liberty to advertise. He may not, for example, send out circulars, except on application, or send circulars to infants. Nor, by the way, may a bookmaker now, under the Betting (Infants) Act, 1892. Going back even further, to the year 1874, we find that Parliament made the most stringent laws limiting the advertising of and inducements to betting, but like so many of the old laws they have fallen into desuetude chiefly because the telephone was invented later and the Betting Houses Act did not imagine credit betting. I mention that only to point out that the principle of Part III of the Bill is by no means a novel one, and that its terms are far less severe than the terms of the Acts of the Victorian age of individuality and laissez-faire. There has, however, been a great deal of misunderstanding about this part of the Bill. Some of it has no doubt been due to ambiguous drafting, and if so, such ambiguities should be revealed this Session and corrected in good time for the next. But the general intention ought to be clear.

The Royal Commission were anxious, first, to limit the power of the betting business to advertise itself, that is to say, to thrust betting down the throats of people not already accustomed to betting and so (if the metaphor is sound) to create an artificial appetite; and secondly, they wanted to suppress, except on the racecourse and in the newspapers, the professional tipster, whose only occupation, purpose and justification in life is the selling of tips for profit, with no authority behind him but his own—the sort of gentleman, for example, who circulates tip-sheets in the poor quarters of industrial towns. One justification for such a restriction is that there is known to be much sharp practice in these quarters. The same tipster will send out with a confident assurance that it is "a good thing ", the name of every horse in a given race; but he will send the name of only one horse to one district. Therefore, when "Love Lies Bleeding" is successful, his name will be high in Hoxton, but mud in Manchester. At any rate he will be popular in one place. But next time "Dogsbody" may be the successful horse and Manchester the lucky district, and then the cry will be, "Who gave you Dogsbody '?". I do not think it was desired—I certainly do not desire —in any way to take anything away from the life and colour of the race course; and there is nothing in the Bill that would prevent a tipster from operating on the course and making the most fantastic prophecies and getting people to buy them. Nor is there any desire to interfere with or limit the learned, scientific, and authoritative pronouncements of the very numerous military gentlemen who minister to the newspapers, having behind them all the authority of the newspapers, and all the reputation of those newspapers to lose. The Royal Commission made that very clear. They said: A few witnesses proposed that the publication of all tips should be prohibited. Most witnesses, however, held that tips published in the racing columns of newspapers should not be prohibited. We concur in the latter view. The information given in newspapers is told to the public generally without any special charge, and is often a matter of genuine news. I concur, as the Bill does, with that opinion. I wish to make that clear because there has been not only misunderstanding, but a good deal of misrepresentation on that point. The Bill does not interfere with the learned prophets of the newspapers. I will frankly face one difficult point. There is one obvious difficulty on the dividing line, and that is the mid-day racing editions published by such papers as the "Evening Standard" and the "Star." My present feeling is that such sheets, printed by reputable and genuine newspapers, should not be classed with the mean little tip-sheets to which I have already referred. These editions contain, in fact, much genuine news and information in addition to advice on how to bet. For example, they give the past history and records of the animals engaged, on which the citizen can make up his own mind, without accepting the advice of Colonel This and Major That. If that view be taken, I would say that Clause 14 is ambiguously and indifferently drafted, and must be amended.

If that were the view taken by Parliament, the two ways in which the newspapers would be affected by Part III of the Bill would be, first, that the bookmaker would be able to advertise only to the limited extent laid down in Clause 13. Against that, of course, the newspapers would have the advantage that a great many more persons would be able to advertise, within the limits laid down, than before, since many bookmakers hitherto outside the pale would be registered as lawful practitioners. Let me add that no one is more severe about the great spread of betting, and particularly pool betting, than members of the London Publicity Club, and the big advertisers generally, who say that genuine trade is being seriously damaged by the betting craze. Anything which damages ordinary trade damages advertising, and ultimately the newspapers. Therefore, if the only point involved were the material interests of the newspapers (which I do not admit), I would suggest that, on balance, the Bill would be to their advantage. The only other point affecting the newspapers would be Clause 14 (3), which reads: When any newspaper contains tips or forecasts of sporting events this fact shall not be advertised. That is not a point to which I attach great importance, but it means that the boastful placards, appearing on days of great national crisis, and telling us that the Colonel gave us two naps or the Major gave "Love lies Bleeding," would be stopped. I do not know that it amounts to very much, but it was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission and evidently falls within the principles laid down by them. Newspapers, they said, should be permitted to give tips because that is not the only service they provide. The moment they hold them up as a principal inducement, they are approaching the status of a professional tipster. At all events I hope no one will think it fit or desirable to make these two proposals the text of a diatribe on the "freedom of the Press." I do not think that cock will fight very long here. The freedom of the Press to publish news or views is one thing; freedom to publish advertisements of commodities or services which the State in its wisdom regards as dubious or dangerous is another. I need only mention the moneylender.

A point of some importance may arise on Clause 19. As the custom is, the Bill contains the words: This Act shall not extend to Northern Ireland. Of course if the recommendations concerning football pools in England were accepted, the question would arise of businesses being moved across the Channel to Northern Ireland and conducting from there the same business with the same clients. It is not for a private Member, however, to say how we should get over a difficulty of that sort, and I merely indicate it.

I wish to thank the House for their indulgence in listening to me so long on a Friday afternoon on a Bill which, as they well know, has no hope of going any further this Session. I hope, however, that this will not be without some practical advantage in the end. It is with no illusions and with no high hopes that I have thrust my head into this nest of fierce and formidable hornets. Bishops, bookmakers, backers, and newspapers all buzz most terribly, and sometimes disconcertingly in unison, when the words "betting legislation" are mentioned. Many of my august and learned constituents, whose studies have never led them into these low paths of life, will doubtless wish that their representative had chosen other and loftier themes for legislation than betting and divorce. So, even in that direction, I look for no reward. But for my own part I think it is not an unworthy task indeed I think it is a peculiarly fitting task—for a University Member who has some slight acquaintance with the relevant law and, I am sorry to say, with the relevant life—to take up a question which—how shall I put it?—is embarrassing to every party and to every Government, and indeed to almost every territorial Member.

To my constituents if they were here—and after all there are 131 of them in this House—I would add this: While I do not ride the high ethical horse on the question of betting, I do believe, and I think in our heart of hearts we must all believe, that we do too much of it at the present time. Although the Bill largely extends the area of individual liberty in this respect, its ultimate effect, I believe, would be to diminish the total volume of betting, and to terminate certain abuses. Be that as it may, I suggest that this Bill is a moral challenge to the country to face, I will not say the ethical question of betting, but the question of the squalor and disorder of our betting arrangements, and I think it is time that we tried to bring some kind of order and justice into those arrangements. The Bill offers something to everybody—to the churches, to the bookmakers, to the backers, and even to the newspapers: but it takes something away from everybody. It is impossible in such a cockpit, of conflicting consciences and interests and opinions and prejudices to produce a formula which will satisfy everybody. I do not suppose this Bill will satisfy everybody, but I have hopes that it may come nearer to doing so than any previous proposal of the kind.

I suggest that all concerned should now cease to concentrate on their own particular interests or even beliefs, and should consider the question with patriotic eyes. If everyone is going to insist on the last dollar of his own interest and the last syllable of his own dogma, this attempt will have to be abandoned and the country will have to wait until His Majesty's Govenment have to tackle the question, probably, as is the custom, in a panic and piecemeal fashion, and ultimately it may be necessary to take steps much more drastic than those proposed in this Bill. I believe in liberty, as I think hon. Members know. I think they also know that I do not believe in excess. I believe in freedom to drink, but not in drunkenness. I do not think what I am saying now is inconsistent with anything I have said before, though there may be opportunities for humourous quotation; but I believe that this craze for betting has now almost reached the degree of a national intoxication. If we are, as other nations say, so soft, so silly, and selfish that we cannot make even the smallest sacrifices in order to set due bound to this enormous, this entertaining but, frankly, this idiotic indulgence, then it may be that we no longer deserve our boasted liberty and the dictators had better come across and do what they will with us.

Mr. Thurtle

I beg to second the Motion.

2.42 p.m.

Mr. Liddall

I beg to move, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."

I do so because I believe, and I am sure the House will agree, that any proposal affecting the rights and privileges of millions of Britishers—who on the estimate of the sponsor of the Bill—expend the huge annual sum of £400,000,000—should be considered by a much larger House than we have here this afternoon. Certainly a much longer period than an hour and a half should be allowed for the discussion on the Second Reading of such a Bill. Few of us would find pleasure in attempting to obstruct the winsome and witty Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) but when he wobbles, as even the best exponent of skittles has been known to do, it is up to his real friends to endeavour to save him from himself. In presenting a Measure of this character to the House I submit that the hon. Member is guilty of the worst type of wobbling. Opposing the Betting (No. 1) Bill in this House on 3rd April, 1936, the hon. Member described that proposal as mean and pettifogging, and said it would not reduce the total volume of betting or produce equality among the classes. Does he seriously suggest that this Bill will produce equality among the classes? He proposes the practical abolition of the racing tipster. He proposes to restrict advertisements of racing tipsters, whether they be individuals or newspapers, but he makes no reference whatever to the financial tipsters connected with Stock Exchange speculations, presumably because the working men are not interested in that kind of thing. This week I received a letter from a Lancashire working man which I would like to read to the House. It is as follows:

Dear Sir. On the average I spend £8 per year on newspapers and sporting papers. Like me, there must be thousands of others who do the same. If Mr. A. P. Herbert's Betting Bill regarding racing tips in newspapers carries, my paper bill for the future will be 2d. every Sunday. Although I have not had a bet for over two years, the racing leaflets from the ' Daily Express ' afford me many hundreds of hours of pleasure all throughout the year. I would not be without them for all the tea in China. Racing tipsters and football pools I have no time for. I hope, Sir, your Motion for the Bill's rejection will be successful.

In the words of the hon. Member for Oxford University himself two years ago, I ask, Who are we, after all, to say how the poor man shall spend his money? Are we gods? Are we supermen? Are we dictators? We have no more right to rob the poor man of his occupation than he has to rob us of ours. He minds his own business, and I ask hon. Members to mind theirs. On the occasion of that memorable speech of the hon. Member's, he pleaded, with great feeling and with his accustomed eloquence, for a little folly to be left in the world. Whatever may be the fancies and foibles of individuals or the strange new ideas that the hon. Member claimed in his speech, the House of Commons has surely something more important to do than to attempt to apply starting-price betting to, football matches.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present—

The House was adjourned at Eleven Minutes before Three of the Clock till Monday next, 16th May.