HC Deb 12 February 1947 vol 433 cc485-98

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Michael Stewart.]

9.48 p.m.

Mr. Osborne (Louth)

I beg to draw the attention of the House to the football pools industry. I believe that this so-called industry constitutes one of the greatest menaces of the present time and it represents an evil that is social, financial, economic and moral. The greatest trouble in dealing with the problem is that we have so little real information about it, and I should like to see one of the famous Cripps working parties established to investigate all the details. As far as I can make out there are eight large pools, the largest of which employs some 11,000 persons. I believe that these large pools are reasonably honestly and efficiently run, but, the House may know, and the country should know, that something like 20 per cent. of the gross takings are deducted for expenses and profit. I think that if those of us who are engaged in ordinary commercial enterprise were allowed that percentage without any risk we should consider ourselves extremely fortunate under a Socialist Administration.

There are also 15 medium-sized pools which are, I think, less efficiently run and perhaps a little less honest. Then, behind those, there are something like 750 smaller pools, some of which last for only a few weeks. It is on these smaller pools that I think the searchlight should be most carefully trained. Some of them have been employing house-to-house canvassers, who have been paid £10 a week in the case of men and £9 a week for women, plus commission, which, I am told, has amounted in some cases to as much as 10s. in the £on takings in the first few weeks. This is a scandal which should be exposed and of which we should have all the particulars.

I think the gravest charge against football pools is made with the background of White Paper No. 7018, on the publication of which the Government should be congratulated from all sides of the House. This White Paper, which was published about a fortnight ago, showed clearly that the economic position of the country was extremely serious and that the bottleneck was manpower. The Government indicated clearly that we had more jobs than we had hands to do them, and they appealed to all sides of industry and to both sides of this House to make apparent to the country our serious economic position. Against that sombre document we had the statement of Mr. Seebohm Rowntree, who is an acknowledged authority, in a letter to "The Times" dated 13th January, in which he stated that in his considered opinion there are between 300,000 and 400,000 persons fully and gainfully employed in the gambling industry, and my contention is that we cannot afford this even on the lowest terms.

Out of those 300,000 to 400,000 I believe there are something like 75,000 engaged today in the football pools industry as full-time workers. In addition, there are about.50,000 who are part-time workers. All of them, I claim, are economic parasites, and they are not producers. Older Socialists sitting opposite will remember making use of those words in the days when they really meant what they said. The White Paper said of three industries in which I am interested that the hosiery trade is 46,000 workers short, the footwear trade 24,000 short, and the clothing industry 125,000 short—mainly women. I know of one textile firm in Liverpool which lost 250 girls from its production three weeks ago to the biggest of the pools in Liverpool. The women of this country especially ought to face this question—and the Government should face it on their behalf—" Do we want clothes or pools? "We cannot have both, because if we use the labour for pools we cannot have it in the clothing industry. I contend that if the 50,000 or 70,000 women now engaged in football pools were put into the clothing industry, the clothes rationing scheme could be ended in 12 months. If they are not, I believe we shall have clothes rationing for another 10 years. Recently, on many occasions, there have been Questions about the supply of nurses, and on every occasion the answer that has been given by the Minister has been that the supply of labour is not available. Surely, it is more important to have nurses in the hospitals and to have our hospitals properly run than to waste our woman-power in the pools industry.

Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Is the hon. Member suggesting to the Government that women should be directed into these industries? If the girls do not want to go, does he want to force them to go?

Mr. Osborne

I am not answering for the Government, and if I were to make suggestions involving legislation, I should be out of Order. The hon. Member, with his long Parliamentary record, ought to know better than to tempt me into doing so. All of us feel now the terrible catastrophe of the coal crisis upon us. I want to put the following point to Ministers. In "The Times" this morning there was a letter signed by leading Members of all parties about the five important weekly journals that may have to be closed down. In Liverpool, the largest pool runs its own printing press. Will that printing press be closed down this weekend? Will power and light be supplied for the pools when the Economist "and the "Spectator" are not allowed to come out? If so, I think it is a gross scandal. One good thing that has come out of the crisis already is the closing down temporarily of dog-racing and dog-tracks.' I wish they could be closed down for ever.

Mr. McGovern


Mr. Osborne

If any hon. Member who knows the position of industry today can stand up for dog-racing, then I do not know where his senses are.

Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

What about horse-racing?

Mr. Osborne

I will come to that later. Apart from the question of manpower, I would like to call the attention of the House to the use of paper and printing in connection with the pools. Here we have some definite information. Last Friday, the Assistant Postmaster-General told the House, in answer to a Question, that the pools' posting today amounts to 7,750,000 a week as compared with 2,250,000 a week last year. That is a growth of more than three times within 12 months. The Assistant Postmaster-General also informed the House that the clients' replies to the pool firms at present amount to 6,000,000 per week compared with 1,800,000 a year ago. If growth like that continues another year, the whole of this country will be turned into a gambling casino, and I doubt whether even a Scottish Member would want to see that. We cannot afford this waste of paper and of printing. I remind hon. Members that, from time to time, Questions have been asked in the House about the shortage of scientific books and textbooks for universities and schools. Is it to the benefit of the country that we should have pools and not have scientific books? We have also been told many times that newspapers like the "New Statesman," which hon. Members opposite like to read, or the "Spectator," which I much prefer, or the "Economist," which we all like to quote, would like to publish larger newspapers, and more of them. They are not able to do so because of lack of printing and paper, yet we can waste 13 million circulars every week upon pools.

New books also suffer. Trevelyan's "Social History of England," which must have been read by most hon. Members to their great benefit, was limited in its circulation. The publisher said that that was because there was neither printing nor paper available; yet we can find paper for pools to maintain an industry that, at the best, maintains parasites. I understand that the pools are under a gentleman's agreement not to use more than 2½ per cent. of their prewar amount, but if 2½per cent. of the prewar amount allows them, as the Minister told us, to send out 7¾ million circulars per week, what on earth did they send out in prewar days?

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Osborne

As I was saying, I doubt Whether they are playing fair with the Board of Trade, and I would like to have that point looked into.

Now I turn to the question of finance. I believe that the best authorities say that horse-racing at the present time costs the country £325 million, and greyhound racing £275 million, per annum, and the best estimate for pools puts the figure at about £75 million. There is great scope still for pools, as against those other figures. The total betting bill for the country is estimated conservatively at £700 million per annum. It is a scandal that we can find so much money for wasteful forms of entertainment, and it is a melancholy thought that the whole of this vast sum does not make one farthing's contribution to the National Exchequer. We are spending about £1thousand million a year upon drink and tobacco, more than I think we can really afford, but both those forms of expense pay handsome dividends to the Exchequer. It is not for me to suggest what they should do, but I should like the pools and the other industries that I have mentioned to make their contribution —

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

The hon. Member cannot continue with that line of argument. Taxation is a matter which requires legislation, and it is, therefore, out of Order upon the Adjournment.

Mr, Osborne

I am sorry that I transgressed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I shall not continue with that line of argument, but will turn to another aspect of this problem.

In our countryside and in our streets are great hoardings, put up at immense expense by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking the workers of this country to put their savings into National Savings Certificates. The poster says: 2½ per cent. and Safety. Side by side there is an advertisement of equal size which says: £21.000 for a penny pool Can we wonder that the working man is failing to put into National Savings the amount of money that the Chancellor hoped? I should like to see, underneath the poster which refers to the £25,000, another poster, pointing out the risk that the pools contributor takes and the little chance that he has of winning a £25,000 prize. The very fact that such big prizes are offered takes away from the ordinary working man the desire to do a steady week's work. He is looking for his excitement in something better—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I believe that any form of organised gambling is a mug's game, whether on the Stock Exchange, the dogs or the pools, and it seems to me that in the pools especially it is the crooks who are looking for suckers. Unfortunately there are far too many suckers at the present time. There is no guarantee how much of the gross income is sent back in prizes. We have no details as to how much is deducted—

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the fault is not with the pool firms but in the fact that no Government has yet undertaken to regulate them and provide safeguards to investors in the pools?

Mr. Osborne

I should be ruled out of Order if I went into that subject. Mr. Deputy-Speaker has been indulgent to me and I do not wish to try his patience too much. My object is to show the evil and its proportions, and then ask the Government to do something about it. On the question of the "£25,000 for a penny" this morning I rang up one of the greatest London insurance companies and asked the actuary to give me the chance of winning a prize in a pool of 20 matches. The odds against getting an all correct return were staggering. I hardly believed it, but it comes from the actuary of one of the leading insurance companies of this country. The odds are 3,468,784,401 to one against, so that underneath these lurid advertisements of "£25,000 for a penny." I would like to see, in all honesty, "but your chance of winning is 3,468,784,401 against you." Yet hon. Members opposite challenge me when I say it is a mug's game. Before I leave the financial side, may I say I think it is admitted by reasonable men in industry and sociologists of all shades of opinion that if a man is looking hopefully week by week to winning an unexpected large prize he is much less likely to be satisfied with the humdrum day to day and week to week job.

I have been accused of being a killjoy —[HON. MEMBERS: "A pussyfoot."]—by a Scottish hon. Member who probably does not know at all what real joy means. No one in this House would accuse the junior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) of being a killjoy. He is one of the bright ornaments of this House, and in the Debate on the Budget on i6th May last year, he said: I am not taking any high moral line"— That may even satisfy Scottish hon. Members— but I do say that we have to realise that here we have a national cancer"— "cancer" is the word he used— which is eating into the national character in every walk and branch of life."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 16th May, 1946; Vol. 422, C. 2155.] The junior Burgess for Oxford University also said: I am sure that before this Parliament ends the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his friends will have to face this national cancer, whether from a moral or financial point of view…"— "OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 2156.] That is the sober and declared opinion of one of the most cheerful Members of this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bleak House."] If it is a bleak house it is in a bleak country to which the hon. Member's party has brought us. This is no new problem. When Sir Austen Chamberlain was Chancellor of the Ex-chequer in 1919, he said —

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he has referred to the Chancellor and to questions clearly involving taxation. I hope he will keep off that aspect of it.

Mr. Osborne

I am very sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Will you kindly ask the hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding his very strong detestation of pools, to leave the aliens from across the Border alone?

Mr. Osborne

The Scots have always been the most troublesome of our subject races. Sir Austen Chamberlain said this in 1919: At a time when the one lesson you have to teach everybody that there is no salvation except in work, you teach them to expect salvation by luck. If ever a person from the grave pointed a finger at the pools, surely there is an example of it. And if it was true in 1919, it is ten times more true today. My final quotation is from the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. In his first Budget speech he said this: It is essential that all expenditure which has no national or social justification should be stubbornly forced down. I ask hon. Members opposite, What national or social justification is there for the expenditure on pools? And, if there is none, what steps have the Government taken to carry out the Chancellor's promise and threat that they should be stubbornly forced down? We are entitled to know. The brave new world which we on this side will say to certain hon. Members that they honestly promised the deluded electorate in 1945, is very slow to come. May I remind hon. Members of this? [Laughter.] I do not see what there is to laugh about in a serious matter like this. I say this to Ministers, that a brave new world will not be built up on dog racing and pools. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nor the Stock Exchange."] Nor the Stock Exchange, I admit that readily.

May I remind hon. Members of two other facts before I sit down, and ask if the brave new world that they want can be built on these facts? At a time when we are short of coal and food and clothes, we are today consuming in tobacco, according to the latest statistics, 23.53 million lb. per month—that was in October, 1945—as against 13.52 million average for 1935 We are consuming today 2.54 million barrels of beer as against 1.90 million. No brave new world will be built up on such false foundations, and it is high time somebody from the Front Bench, of whom the country will take note, said so.

I am grateful to the House for listening to me, for I feel deeply that the cause of our economic collapse is as much moral as economic. The Government would redeem their election promises if they would tackle these evils now. I plead that an investigation into the pools should be made, so that we could get to know the whole of the facts, and then the House would be in a position to demand action.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Nally (Bilston)

The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) has rendered something of a public service in raising this matter tonight. I want to remind him of two things. Having an acquaintanceship with the bigger pools, I have found that the overwhelming majority of pool promoters are of the Conservative persuasion. I understand that one of the greatest of the pool giants was once ambitious to stand as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate. The pools are an expression of pure, undiluted, private enterprise, without Government restriction of any kind. The hon. Member, in pleading for action to be taken, should not have looked so much to this side, as upon his own side of the House.

Those of us who have been interested in this subject for some time, have not had from the Ministry of Labour the frank dealing which we were entitled to expect. I have repeatedly asked at Question time, and otherwise, for some information about the number employed part-time and full-time in the industry, and I have not been able to get the information. The figures given by the hon. Member for Louth are quite accurate, but there is subsidiary and ancillary labour to the pools, about which we are entitled to ask for an explanation. In the last four or five months there have appeared in all the great cities of the North, I am informed—and I know it was so in the case of Manchester—huge cycle racks made of metal, each with accommodation for three cycles. The cycle racks were given free of charge to newsagents and hairdressers acting as agents for Little-woods. Where their premises stood back from the pavement, the racks were erected free of charge by agents of Littlewoods. Hundreds have been erected in various sites in the country. I have been unable to ascertain from the Government under what conditions that metal was obtained. I have constituents engaged on vital undertakings in connection with the export and home trade who have been unable to get precisely the metal that Littlewoods publicity agents find no difficulty in getting. I put a Question to the President of the Board of Trade asking whether it was true or not that the Board of Trade have approved a manufacturers' licence for the construction of 10,000 desks intended for one individual football pool firm. The Parliamentary Secretary told me that I was misinformed, despite the fact that I had taken the story directly from a local newspaper, which gave a long and involved account of the manufacturing firm concerned. No licences for 10,000 desks had been issued; a licence had been issued for only 2,800.

Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)

Is that not further proof that it is time the Board of Trade was reorganised, and there was another party to regulate it?

Mr. Nally

I am satisfied that the Board of Trade will continue to fight its battles with some skill in dealing with the bigger racketeers. I am asking now that they should concentrate on the smaller ones. We shall come to it in good time, and I hope the hon. Member will support us when we come to it. Will the Minister who is to reply stand up and justify that during the last few months time and material have been involved in building 2,800 desks for a football pool organisation? Can it be justified? If not what is the Ministry of Labour doing about it?

I want to make this perfectly clear, because I am certain the hon. Member will not think I am discourteous. We have an hon. Member on this side of the House who espouses the teetotal cause. Every time he speaks on that subject I am convinced that he drives more people into the bar downstairs than does any other man in the House. It is equally true that in certain sections of the hon. Gentleman's speech I felt like filling in a football coupon. Those of us on this side who feel keenly on this matter are not opposed to pool gambling as such. We believe that the Ministry of Labour are neglecting the matter and are not pursuing this problem as vigorously as they ought to do. This matter will be raised again, but we have asked questions of the Minister of Labour, and we are entitled to an answer.

10.21 p.m.

Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

I have listened to the discussion, and I am amazed that it should have started from such a source. The question of what the working man who earns his money should do with his money is entirely one for himself. As long as pools are allowed, and as long as the British mentality remains, every one of them will like to take a chance. I cannot see any reason why it should be necessary to object, or to try to put restrictions on what a man who earns his living should do with what spare cash he has.

Mr. Osborne

Because it is legal is the hon. Lady arguing that it must therefore always remain? If so, what is she doing in the progressive party?

Mrs. Braddock

I am not arguing that it should always remain. I am saying that while it is legal, there is no reason why it should not go on. The peculiar thing about this matter is that the attempt is always to get at something which the working man does. It is an objection to his spending a couple of shillings a week taking a chance. Whatever we do, and whatever sort of legislation we pass, the British working man will take a chance in the form of a bet, in some way or other. It is better that it should be done openly and above board rather than that he should be driven round the corner to the small people who deal in this sort of thing, and where he has no chance at all if some fellow whom he does not know desires to get away with the amount of money that man wants to put on a horse.

I have heard no question of racing being stopped. The biggest percentage of people who bet on racing are people who support hon. Members on the other side of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] to a very great degree that is so. The average working man has not enough spare cash to spend a lot on betting and racing. If we are to stop one section I would advocate stopping the lot—yes, even gambling on the Stock Exchange. If we are to deal with the situation, let us deal with it that way, and let us make the country into something which has no imagination of any sort. I would say that I have never participated in a pool in my life, I am not interested enough, and I have too much to do in other directions. But I object to anyone saying that the working man has not the right to spend 2s. in the way in which he wants to.

So far as employment is concerned, the hon. Member opposite made some reference to the fact that people were going from a firm into one of the pools. Has he made any inquiry into the wages that are paid weekly by those people, to see why? The reason why people go from one industry to another is to get more money than they have been able to obtain in their previous employment. The best thing that can be done is for those employers of labour who are affected to look at those wages which are paid. It is a competitive system, and hon. Members opposite believe in competition. If they do they cannot put forward the point of view that this or any other Government can restrict the movement of people from one industry to another in the way which is apparently desired. We could only do that during wartime. It was done as a national emergency measure. At the moment, people can move from one industry to another. The position in Liverpool is that the rate paid in wages for juniors, whom they train, is well above the rate paid by many other firms who employ juvenile labour. If necessary, I could give the rates of pay. I object to anybody protesting against the working man using his money in the way in which he wants to use it, so long as he is entitled to do so by law.

10.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)

No one would say that this Debate has not been entertaining. We have gone very deeply into the domain of morals, we have touched a little on the question of material controls and manpower, Scotland has had its complimentary reference, and so have the pools. But what amazes me is that the application for restrictive practices and for controls over morals, manpower and materials comes from the opposite side of the House.

Mr. Osborne

I was asking for information.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I will try to give information. After all, my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade has been maligned for his views about austerity. Apparently he is not being sufficiently austere. From a personal and moral point of view I have a great deal of sympathy with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), but I am not entitled to impose my moral views upon other citizens. It is a matter for them to decide. When we in this House interfere with the moral conduct of the people of the country, where are we to draw the line? This applies to all classes of the community. Shall we stop dog racing, pools, horse racing, tobacco, beer, or shall we stop the use of private motor cars for pleasure purposes? When we come to consider what is essential and what is not, and attach to it moral considerations, there will be widespread interference with the private lives of the citizens of the country, and on that we must exercise due care.

The question of morals is a matter entirely in the charge of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I do not propose to follow that line any further. Morals are very safe with him. I think that normally he takes a very sane and broadminded view of these matters. With regard to advertising, it will be appreciated that that is a matter for the Board of Trade, but I would again point out that the advocacy for the abolition of controls on materials supplied comes from hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Osborne


Mr. Ness Edwards

Oh, yes. One remembers the Beaverbrook headlines, "Get rid of the Controls," and "Strike off the Shackles". The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in fine, purple, speeches during the Election spoke of this "striking off the shackles from the citizens of Britain". By that he meant that they should have complete freedom to do what they liked. It is true that the Board of Trade have allowed to this industry 2frac14; per cent. of their prewar consumption of paper. I am prepared to accept the warning, or the hint, that was given. It may well he that some pool proprietors are not sticking to the agreement.

Mr. Nally

Some of them are not parties to it.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I am told that all of them have entered into a gentleman's agreement. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not the right word."] I use that word in a Tory sense and not in a moral sense. I am told that there is that agreement to which all of them, individuals and the organised body, are parties.

Mr. Osborne


Mr. Ness Edwards

There are other points to which I ought to reply. I cannot give way. I was interested in the moral attack upon commercial advertising by the hon. Member for Louth. I was rather surprised that the pools were copying some of the tactics of the Stock Exchange in advertising their wares. I have been told that the Minister of Labour has always refused to give figures. The figures for the sports and entertainments industry are contained in the Monthly Digest. The figure is 197,000 for December, 1946, and that compares with a mid—1939 figure of 172,000—

Mr. Osborne


Mr. Ness Edwards

Let me give some of the other hon. Members some satisfaction. These figures ought to be made known. In the North Western region, in Merseyside, the figures are as follow: Little-woods employ 10,000, Vernons employ 5,000 to 6,000, and of the total of 15,000. not more than 1,500 are men.

It being Half-past Ten o'Clock. Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.