HC Deb 21 October 1952 vol 505 cc968-78

8.54 p.m.

Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

I welcome this opportunity of the House finishing its business early to raise a matter for which I have been balloting for the Adjournment Motion since last February. The matter concerns one of my constituents, who is a worker in a dockyard and who happened to get a correct solution in a jockey pool.

In these jockey pools, one has to forecast five correct solutions in order to win money. My constituent was successful in getting a completely correct result, but although this happened over a year ago, to date he has not received his money. I should like to point out at this stage that the majority of football and jockey pools are completely honestly run and that I am not suggesting that this particular firm is dishonest, but at the same time I feel that these football and racing pool firms who make quite a considerable sum of money are not run as well as they might be and there should be more control over their activities. I am not at this stage asking for legislation, but trying to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that a lot more could be done to see that the interests of the individual are looked after.

I have heard from this pool, which is Empire Pools, Blackpool, that although they admit my constituent got a completely correct result they are not satisfied that he got it honestly. I must say that to begin with I was not satisfied myself, so I took every possible step I could to find out whether his solution was come to by fair and proper means or whether he had cheated. After hearing his explanation, I am more than satisfied that he is honest and absolutely right and that he has got a correct solution which ought not to be queried by any football, jockey or other pool.

It is a difficult thing to get five correct jockeys in a pool. I am a racing man and interested in the sport, but I have never succeeded in getting five correct myself. I have given up trying, and a lot of other people in the country are going to give up trying unless we get the public to understand that these things are honestly run. It may be said that it would be a good thing if they did stop trying, and I do not mind if that is the solution, but I am here trying to look after the interests of a poor man who has not got the money to fight in the courts. He has been to a solicitor and has been advised that he has a case which he can bring before the court. A barrister in London has given a ruling that he has a case, but at the same time it would cost him £1,000 or more to fight it. I have written to this Blackpool firm of pools and have told them that it is their duty either to pay or to prosecute. They could not just let it go by default because the man could not afford to go to law——

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

If this constituent had a claim, has the hon. and gallant Member referred him to the legal aid section which undertakes litigation on behalf of needy litigants.

Brigadier Clarke

I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his intervention, but I did not personally introduce him to legal aid. However, the solicitor acting for him has informed him that legal aid is not available in such circumstances, and I must agree that it should not be possible to get free legal aid to try and fight the pools, because everyone in the country might be at it.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

There has been a previous case of that kind.

Brigadier Clarke

I understand that it is not possible to obtain legal aid.

I should like to continue with my story, which concerns a constituent of mine, T. Carter, a labourer in Portsmouth Dockyard, who got a solution which was in every way correct. The pool wrote to me to say it was correct and that it was posted at the right time. However, the first jockey of his five was not a jockey who was shown to be riding at any meeting in the country that day. His name was not printed in any of the national newspapers as riding a horse, but the promoters of this pool discovered that this jockey was picked up by the owner on their way to the racecourse, and half an hour before he rode the horse he did not know he was going to ride.

I can sympathise with the pools in believing that this man, living down in Portsmouth, would not know that the jockey was going to ride a winner when his name did not even appear in any newspaper. I still maintain, however, that a winner can be picked for these pools by writing down a series of numbers, 1, 3, 9, 27, by divine inspiration, by star gazing or by crystal gazing, and that by these or any other methods a correct solution may be arrived at. I do not believe that the Blackpool Pools, or any other pools, have a right to say "You have not stargazed correctly." We have seen a lot of stargazing in the last six years from Members now on the Opposition side of the House, but things are better now. However, this man got a correct solution.

I will tell the House how he got it. He was an ingenious bird. He took in the weekly "Sporting Life," and he studied the matter during the week. He decided what five horses were going to win on Friday and, having decided that, he decided what five jockeys would ride those five horses. When he got to horse No. 1 in the first race of the day he discovered that the jockey who would normally have ridden that horse had another mount at another place. He had the ingenuity to look up the question of who might ride that horse instead of the jockey who was riding at another meeting. He picked out a jockey called T. Mahon who was second string. This jockey T. Mahon was picked up on the way to the racecourse. He did not himself know half an hour before that he was going to ride that horse, but he won. That name appeared in the jockey pool that my client sent in.

What makes the matter more difficult for the pool promoters to understand is that the horse which my client—I mean my constituent—thought was going to win was the favourite. T. Mahon would have normally ridden it, but it was scratched. This jockey was picked up as a chance rider who had not got a ride that day because his horse was scratched. In point of fact, the horse he rode did win. There was a very good reason why my client put that jockey down, and no reason at all why the pool should not pay.

I should like to point out that these pools have the most elastic rules. They can so arrange the thing that if you win and they do not want to pay there is no reason in the world why they should.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I have listened to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for some time and I am now wondering what Ministerial responsibility there is for the case that he is putting.

Brigadier Clarke

I should be the last one to try to place any responsibility on the Home Secretary or on the Attorney-General for this matter, but at the same time I think this is an interesting point. I understand that I can raise a matter on the Adjournment provided I do not ask for legislation.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If there is no Ministerial responsibility it cannot be in order to raise it.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

Is it not the right of any hon. Member to ask the Attorney-General to see that the law is being properly administered?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not know what the Ministerial responsibility is. It is for the Attorney-General to say, but I am just wondering what it is.

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

Is it not the responsibility of the Law Officers of the Crown to explain why the Legal Aid and Advice Act is not being properly used? So far as I understand the position, legal aid can be refused only on the grounds either of excessive means—my hon. and gallant Friend says that this is the case of a dockyard labourer—or that the man has not a reasonable case. I venture to submit that while we are inquiring into whether or not the Legal Aid Act is being properly administered, my hon. and gallant Friend is in order in discussing the question of whether or not legal aid is available to this plaintiff.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman is raising a much narrower point, which normally would be in order, but we have been listening to a much wider discussion.

Brigadier Clarke

I will try to keep within the narrow point put forward by my hon. and learned Friend. On the legal aid point, I would like to hear the views of the Attorney-General. The information I have had up to now is that this kind of litigation cannot be undertaken by legal aid. However, may I point out to the Attorney-General the elasticity with which these pools are conducted? There is every opportunity for dishonesty should the will to be dishonest arise. There should be some ruling body in this country to govern these pools, and although legislation may not be possible to make such a ruling body, the Racecourse Betting Control Board and Tattersall's are such a ruling body which is recognised throughout the country, as far as racing is concerned, and the sooner the football pools have a ruling body, the better.

If, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will bear with me for another couple of minutes, I will show you that by the rules which many of these pool promoters publish they can get out of paying on practically any pretext they like. That is not generally understood, and people would not go in for these pools if they thought they were not to be paid. Luckily most pools are honest and do pay, but there are occasions when they can struggle and get out of their liabilities, and this is one of the cases where they should either have prosecuted this man for being dishonest, if they thought so, or they should have paid him. What they say in so many words is that they can refuse to accept any coupon, whether it is correct or wrong, without assigning a reason——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is now straying very wide of the point raised by his hon. and learned Friend.

Brigadier Clarke

I will try to get back to the narrow margin left me by my hon. and learned Friend. I have little more to say except to ask the Attorney-General or the Home Secretary to look into these pools to see if he can do something to bung up these loopholes.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

I think the House has been interested in the racy speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) and we all congratulate him because, in spite of the handicaps which he has had to carry during the course of his speech—and that is no reflection upon you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—he at least managed to complete the course.

I want to draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend to the position which appears to have arisen in the case of Mr. Carter, under the Legal Aid and Advice Act, 1949. My hon. and gallant Friend told the House that his constituent had made application for legal aid through his solicitor, but that it had been refused. Can my hon. and gallant Friend tell the House on what basis the refusal came? The first Schedule to the Act makes it quite clear what proceedings can be the subject of legal aid and what cannot.

I need not elaborate in detail the various points of procedure, but it is clear that the proceedings in the Supreme Court of Judicature—which would include the case of Mr. Carter—are valid subjects for the receipt of legal aid. The only exempted proceedings are those wholly or partly in respect of defamation, breach of promise of marriage, seduction and various types of more technical matters with which I need not trouble the House.

Has my hon. and gallant Friend any idea why the Legal Aid committee refused Mr. Carter legal aid, because it is a most serious matter? There is an even more serious matter. That is, that in spite of the difficulties in the way of my hon. and gallant Friend putting over the more intimate details of Mr. Carter's case, it discloses a matter which requires some investigation by one of the Law Officers of the Crown as to whether or not people who accept money from prospective investors upon these coupons are, in fact, conducting their business honestly.

Although it is not a question really for my right hon. and learned Friend to say here and now that this particular pool is conducted honestly or not, it seems a matter which falls within the responsibility of his Department, or that of the Home Secretary, to see that these things are done properly. If my hon. and gallant Friend has done nothing else, he has certainly concentrated the attention of the House on this rather important issue as it effects one individual. I think the whole House will congratulate him on seizing his opportunity and eventually bringing his horse home.

9.11 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

The House is in some difficulty here, I feel, because when I made what I thought was a judicious intervention to help the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) when he was outlining his case, and when I suggested that this seemed to be a matter which came within the jurisdiction of the Legal Aid Scheme, the response of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not too warm.

He took the line that this was certainly not the kind of case in which from his point of view the legal aid machinery should operate. I am fortified in what I propose to say by the subsequent remarks of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), because I can quite clearly recollect one case and it is probably within the recollection of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in which there was a dispute about how the proceeds of a successful pool coupon should be distributed among members of a family. That case went to law and was decided in the High Court on a legal aid certificate.

It is true that the learned judge seemed to take rather the same view as the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Portsmouth, West, that it was an abuse of the process of the Legal Aid Scheme that such cases should come before the court financed at the expense of the taxpayer. For that reason he made some obiter dicta which had no relevance at all to the case. It is not, in my view, for a High Court judge to throw doubt on the manner in which these very worthy Legal Aid committees are conducting their functions.

I am quite prepared to accept without any question a decision by a Legal Aid committee that an applicant is a worthy applicant and that, therefore, his case ought to go before the court. It strikes me as rather unfair that in the case to which I have referred, and which is, in principle, on all fours with the case brought to our notice by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, the right exercised by the applicant to take advantage of the benefit offered by the Legal Aid Scheme should be the subject of adverse strictures by the learned judge trying the case——

Mr. Hylton-Foster

On a point of order. Is the hon. and gallant Member in order in criticising a judicial officer in the performance of his judicial duties? The difficulty in my mind, and for which I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, is that, should he continue to do so, it may be necessary to make some answer on the circumstances which give rise to the comment.

Mr. Speaker

I did not hear the start of this discussion, but it is an old practice of this House that the actions of Her Majesty's judges should not be challenged in this House except upon a substantive Motion. No such Motion is before the House and the hon. and gallant Member should not pursue that line of speech.

The hon. and gallant Member has not referred to the particular judge in question, but no doubt from the particulars he has already given the learned judge might be identified, so I think that the hon. and gallant Member is open to objection on that score.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

I had decided to abandon that particular point, and I shall not pursue that aspect of the matter any further.

The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West did not give us the details as fully as he might have done, and I find myself in this difficulty. It was not possible to gather from what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said whether, on the coupons which the particular individual had filled up, both the names of the horses and jockeys had to be specified.

Brigadier Clarke

One only has to put down numbers. They give you about 50 jockeys, which are numbered from 1 to 50, and one has to write in numbers 7, 9, 10 and 15, or whatever one chooses.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

That makes the case put forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman stronger. In fact, it is stronger now than I thought it was when he introduced the subject to the House, and I am more inclined to support him in the gallant plea which he is making on behalf of one of his constituents. The hon. and gallant Gentleman did not say how much——

Mr. Speaker

I find this discussion rather puzzling. It is usual, and in accordance with the practice of the House, that questions raised on the Motion for the Adjournment should have some relevance to the responsibilities of the Government or to some Ministers thereof, and I cannot see how all this comes into the responsibilities of Ministers at all.

Mr. Hylton-Foster

On a point of order. I ventured to intervene on a point of order when you, Mr. Speaker, were not in the Chair. The matter had been discussed on the basis that, as I understand it the Law Officers of the Crown are responsible for the proper administration of the Legal Aid and Advice Act. One of the grounds on which a certificate for legal aid might properly be refused would be that the applicant had no reasonable basis for his claim. It was in these circumstances that it was submitted that we might properly discuss whether or not he had a reasonable basis for his claim.

Mr. Speaker

That may be true, but it does not lay the whole matter open to a discussion of football pools.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

If I might clarify the situation, the discussion arose on the case of a constituent of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, who had a claim against a football pool promoter which, in my view, could have been dealt with, or, perhaps, should have been dealt with under the Legal Aid Scheme, for the administration of which the right hon. and learned Attorney-General is responsible to this House. In my submission, that completes the chain of causality and relevance which brings the matter within the rules of order of this debate.

In conclusion, I want to say that the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, in mentioning this case of a constituent to the House tonight, has properly drawn attention to the adequacy or inadequacy of the Legal Aid Scheme, which secured the approval of this House in 1949, and in the administration of which all of us, as hon. Members of this House, are, I am sure, keenly interested.

9.19 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

If I may respectfully say so, Mr. Speaker, I share your puzzlement about this difficult matter. I am here this evening only because I was asked to sit here and listen to the discussion and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had already left for an important engagement before my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) gave notice that he was going to raise anything at all on the Motion for the Adjournment. When he did give that notice, he gave notice that it was a matter for the Home Secretary's Department, and I was a little surprised to find that we have arrived at the point at which the matter is directed at the Law Officers of the Crown. I am therefore wondering whether this is the same Adjournment debate or another one.

However, in view of the matters raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) I feel that the less I say this evening the better, because it might be that something he has said may give rise to a question which will have to be investigated by me. On the other hand, it may be that it is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I am not quite sure that any of us quite knows what it is all about, and, therefore, I feel the best thing I can do, and the way in which I can assist best, is by confining myself to a matter about which I know something, and that is in relation to legal aid.

As I understand it, it is suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend that someone who has a deserving case has been refused legal aid. Quite apart from any humorous side of the matter, and quite apart from the interesting information and the good advice which my hon. and gallant Friend has given us in matters from which all of us might profit in one way or another, it is rather a serious matter if it is suggested that the Legal Aid Scheme is in some way being mal-administered. I am quite sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton), who I know has been closely concerned with these matters, had that in mind, and it would be a pity if the conclusion were drawn that the scheme was not being properly administered.

I would be only too pleased myself to inquire into this particular case, or to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to do so, to see what the explanation is. I feel that is really the most I can be asked to do. On the face of it, it certainly seems that it is a case which did not come within the Section of the Act dealing with seduction, or any of the other matters referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend. Therefore, if he will allow me to report this interesting discussion and his remarks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary I shall be pleased to do so.

Brigadier Clarke

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend if I may send him the name and address of my constituent? I did not raise the point about seduction or abduction; they are things about which I know nothing.

The Attorney-General

I should have to ask for a little more information than that, because if my hon. and gallant Friend wants me to investigate the matter I should want him to be specific about the charges made, if any are made, as I would not like anyone to think because a matter of this kind has been raised in a casual way in this House this evening, that anything has been proved against anyone.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-three Minutes past Nine o'Clock.