§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
While I think that many of us wish that we could have more time for this discussion, it would be remiss of me if I did not thank those hon. Members who made it possible for it to come on at this late hour by some sacrifice in the length of their speeches on the important Measure which the House has just considered. After that important Measure, I can only say that this Bill is modest and non-controversial.
I ask the House to follow the very agreeable precedent that was set on the last occasion on which we had Private Members' Bills before us, when each hon. Member was given the opportunity of taking his Bill to Committee. I hope that the House will not only give this Bill a Second Reading, but will also give an opportunity to the hon. Member whose Bill appears next on the Order Paper to move the Second Reading of his Bill.
This Bill, as I say, is a modest Bill because it only attempts to implement the non-controversial recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, which sat from 1949 to 1951. Although my time is very limited, I cannot proceed without first paying a tribute to the work of that distinguished Commission which sat under the chairmanship of a former Member of this House and a former Minister of the Crown, the right hon. H. U. Willink, and also to express a regret that its Report has never previously been considered by this House.
I think I can claim that this Bill is non-controversial when, in principle, it has the enthusiastic support of the churches and of the great majority of the 17 million who bet on the football pools, and when it has the support of most of the newspapers ranging from the "Tribune," on the one hand, to the "Evening Standard" and Cross-Bencher, of the "Sunday Express," on the other.
I wish to make it clear that I am not against football pools. Indeed, from time to time, I do them myself, and I 2110 readily give the assurance that in Committee I will personally sponsor any Amendments necessary to remove any difficulties to the operation of the pools that there may be in the Bill as drafted. I have already given undertakings to all the interested parties in the Bill to meet them before the Committee stage—if we succeed today—to try to make the Bill as practical and as workable as possible.
Nor do I make any charges against pool promoters, though I venture to suggest that in opposing this Bill and in suggesting, as has been done, that because of the limits of jurisdiction of this Parliament its purpose could be defeated by removing the registered offices of the pools companies to Northern Ireland, the pools promoters are in danger of accusing themselves. The only controversial issue is the inclusion of ready money betting by post on football pools only. I say quite emphatically that if it can be shown that that is not essential to secure the main purposes of the Bill, I shall be happy to see it deleted in Committee.
The principle before the House, and on which we want a decision today, is the very simple one that there should be some regulation of pools betting and some publication of accounts. That is what I ask the House to approve today. To this there have been raised two main objections, first, that this Bill is piecemeal legislation, because it only deals with one aspect of betting, and, secondly, because it threatens the states of companies under the existing companies legislation.
It is true that this Bill really only affects football pools, but I would remind the House that the other forms of pools betting which are expressly excluded from it are already the subject of close statutory regulation and supervision, namely, pools betting on horse and dog racing. The Royal Commission had no recommendations to make on those two aspects of betting. In a sense, therefore, this Bill is designed to complete the regulation and supervision of pools betting, and the registration and other provisions follow very closely, though perhaps not so severely, the provisions of the 1934 Act as concerns the licensing and control of greyhound racing and greyhound pools betting.
I think there is a special reason why it is justifiable to treat pools betting as 2111 a different type of betting from the ordinary fixed odds and bookmaking betting. That reason is the very simple one that a man who bets on fixed odds is only concerned to see that, if his bet is successful, he receives the price at which the bet was fixed. But in pools betting, the man who makes the bet has a wider interest, because his winnings depend not on predetermined odds, but on the residue that remains in the pool after the expenses and the commission of the pool promoters have been met as a prior charge. Therefore, I think there is a special reason for distinguishing pools betting from the ordinary type of betting.
There is another reason, of course, which is well known here, but which, perhaps, is not appreciated outside, which is that a Private Member coming forward with a Bill of this character is very limited because of the provisions relating to charges on public funds. Also, of course, it is difficult enough to get an uncontroversial Private Member's Bill passed, so that to try to implement the whole of the Royal Commission's Report is, I think, beyond the scope of a Private Member's Bill.
So far, neither the present Government nor its predecessor have thought fit. for good reasons, to tackle the matter. Although it is certainly a suitable subject for a Private Member's Bill, the fact that no Government has thought fit to tackle it is perhaps a good reason for not attempting to cover the whole field.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend. East)
Will the hon. Gentleman please amplify what he is saying? Will he tell us what these good reasons were? He said that the previous Government and this Government had good reasons for not doing anything about it. Will he tell us what they were?
§ Mr. Mulley
I should like to satisfy the hon. Member's curiosity, but I find it enough to speak for myself. I would not claim to speak even for my own Front Bench and certainly not for the Front Bench opposite, especially as I understand that we are to have an official statement from a Government spokesman at a later stage.
The second aspect of the objection to the Bill is that, in some way, I am trying 2112 to destroy the status of private companies under the Companies Act. I think that those who have read the Bill will appreciate that I have been very careful not to require from the pool companies anything in the form of published accounts except in the form already prescribed by the Companies Act. What, of course, I am asking is that the accounts which are prepared for shareholders of these particular companies shall be available to the general public on application at the office of a local authority.
The reason for that relates to the point which I have previously tried to make about the residual nature of the dividends paid by promoters of pools betting. In the ordinary company it is the shareholder or the promoter who is entitled to what is left after the expense of the business have been deducted from the gross receipts but, in the case of pools betting—the only case I know—it is the people who make the bets who are in the position of the shareholders of the normal company, because it is those people who are entitled to what is left after expenses and other charges have been met. For this special reason, therefore, I am asking for the investors in, or betters on, pools to be put in the same position as the shareholder of an ordinary private company.
This point has been very well put by the "Evening Standard" of 21st November, 1953. In its editorial it said:This secrecy has, until now, been guaranteed by law designed to exempt the small family business from the requirement to publish accounts. But…a £65 million a year industry, drawing revenue from the majority of all the families in the country cannot be bracketed with a home-made bun shop, however flourishing.The editorial went on to say:This Bill deserves Parliamentary time and all-party support. The country eagerly desires its passage into law, impatient as people are for the gratifying moment when the discovery is made that all one's worst suspicions were unfounded.I would again stress that we are only asking the House to come to a decision about the principle of the regulation of pools betting and the publication of accounts. I would also say that, for my part, I will do all that I can to see that the Bill meets all objections from those concerned, so long as we safeguard the main general purpose.
2113 I would ask those hon. Members who have misgivings about the Bill as drafted, or who have opposition to it, not to hide today behind the devices of Parliamentary obstruction, but to put their points in the full and free debate which we can have if we get to the Committee stage. We will do what is humanly possible to make the Bill as fair as we can to all parties.
Even so, if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading there are two further occasions—on Report and on Third Reading—when it can be rejected, so I do appeal to those who may, for various reasons, be against some of the proposals, at least to give a Second Reading today, so that the many millions who are interested in the Bill will feel, when they listen in tonight to learn of its fate, that this House of Commons recognises its responsibilities as the forum of the nation.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) not only for being successful in introducing this Bill but for the way in which he has moved its Second Reading. I am quite sure that his invitation to those who may disagree with certain parts of it will be accepted. I hope that if those hon. Members have any real opposition to any particular Clauses they will say so today and let us have a unanimous Second Reading, after which we shall be able to meet the interested parties.
I believe that this Bill does something which is long overdue, and while it can be argued that we should have major legislation on gambling and betting at least we should, in this interim period, see where we can improve matters, by means of Private Members' Bills and the devices that my hon. Friend has set down. There is a lot of hypocrisy about the betting laws and the time for a major reform is overdue. We must bear in mind that, although the Report of the Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming was issued a very long time ago, we have never had a major debate on this matter. I hope that at some time in this Session the Government may find time to discuss the wider aspects of the betting laws.
Today, we are merely asking the House to support this modest Measure. We feel that it is a very proper interim 2114 Measure which will bring tremendous safeguards to a large part of the community. After all, pool betting is a major industry, and I would recommend hon. Members to look very carefully at the Commission's Report, so as to appreciate the size of the problem with which we are dealing. On page 15 it says that 7¾ million people sent in coupons each week of the football season—and the figure may be even more now.
But if we examine how much has been spent on pool betting we will appreciate even more the size of the problem. Page 18 of the Report shows that, in 1947, the estimated amount of money staked on football pools was in the region of £53 million; in 1948, it rose to £64 million; in 1949, it was down to £58 million, and in 1950 it was £52 million. The amounts deducted before payment of winnings in 1947 was £20 million; 1948, £39 million, 1949, £42.3 million; and 1950, £39.8 million. Those are colossal figures. We have a Parliamentary responsibility in this matter. It is right and proper that we should initiate legislation to see that the ordinary punter is safeguarded and, above all, to see that accounts are properly published. That is all we seek to do in this Bill.
I am not going to argue the merits of each Clause. It would be wrong to go into details in a Second Reading debate. That can be done in Committee. We feel that an important principle is involved, in view of the size of this industry and the effect which it has on large sections of the population. It is an industry which employs a great deal of manpower in many parts of the country and also in the Post Office services. It is a major industry, whether or not we like it. For that reason, Parliament has a responsibility, and we have a duty to see that the industry is conducted properly.
It may be argued that large pool promoters are above suspicion. I am sure that the larger organisations conduct their businesses efficiently and properly, but I should like to see them willingly accept this modest Measure so that the country may know, in no uncertain way, that justice is being done. I am quite certain that the reputable firms connected with this industry will accept the main principle of the Bill when they consider its wider implications. We must see that the whole industry, which is a large-scale 2115 affair, is properly conducted and that there are proper legal safeguards.
There is an argument whether Clause 7 should extend to ready-money betting through the post. That is a very contentious question, and in presenting his Bill my hon. Friend has expressed his willingness to withdraw that Clause if we can get unanimity with regard to the rest of the Bill. I am sure that his view will be reciprocated, and that hon. Members who have misgivings will allow the Bill to pass its Second Reading.
Over 100 firms are engaged in this industry and many people derive enjoyment from it. We are not arguing the issue of gambling. The churches unite in supporting the Bill, as do the punters, who want safeguards. My hon. Friend is to be complimented for the unity which exists in regard to this Measure, which is something rather remarkable.
It is because of that unity, which cuts right across the religious field and across all parties, and because the Press, in all its shades of opinion, supports this Measure, that I hope this Bill will be allowed to. go to Standing Committee. It is a step in the right direction. No reasonable person can possibly oppose it; and even those who may be doubtful should give it a Second Reading.
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I am grateful for this opportunity of saying a few words on the Bill, and I shall be as short as possible. I suppose that pool betting is the most stupid form of betting in which we indulge, because it has the longest odds, and that it is the least harmless, in that the least amount of money is spent by each person on this form of betting.
I have looked at the Bill very carefully. I was worried about one implication. I thought that we might be setting a precedent for local authorities to look into private companies, but, on consideration, I feel that the very nature of this service makes it necessary for something to be done. Normally, when a service is provided, one knows what one is paying for it. When we buy a packet of cigarettes we know what we are paying for, albeit that we pay a lot to the Government. A service of this nature is really that of a company which sets up 2116 to be the trustees of a lot of money which many people want to put into a pool, and none of those people know what price they are paying in regard to the cost of the service which is provided. They know only that a certain percentage is deducted from the pool for running that service.
I feel, therefore, that it is right and proper that the people who take part in pools should feel that the amount that is stated to be deducted is the amount that is deducted by these companies. Whereas in the normal case of a service one knows what one is paying, in this case one does not know what one is paying. One is only told what one is paying by the pool company. So I think that the main premise of this Bill is justifiable, and I hope that we shall manage to give it a Second Reading, and those parts of it with which we may disagree can be discussed and, I hope, altered in Committee.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Nally (Bilston)
I am grateful for the support of the Bill and the cogent and quite accurate summing up of the objectives of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) given by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). It is important to remember that the pool promoters themselves have never expressed open opposition to what is embodied in this Bill. We have in the House now as a visitor a distinguished representative of the pools. In a broadcast debate with me immediately after the publication of the Royal Commission's Report, when I put to him the straight question, whether or not the pool firms themselves would be in favour of voluntarily implementing the Report and publishing their accounts weekly, he said, as is recorded for anybody who wants to hear it, "Yes, they were considering it and an announcement will be made and they are inclined to be sympathetic." That was nearly three years ago, and we have not heard a single word from the pool companies since.
The harsh realities of the situation are these. This is a great industry involving £68 million a year. It is unique in that it is the only industry in the country in which in no circumstances whatsoever can the proprietors make a loss. It is the only form of business enterprise in this country in which, no matter what 2117 happens to it, the boys drawing the profits cannot possibly do anything else but draw profits. Whether the business goes up or goes down, they cannot lose. That makes football pool betting a quite distinctive thing.
Let us see what happens to it. Today, as they are perfectly entitled to do, drawing upon their revenues, the football pool promoters control a large and efficient departmental store with branches in many parts of the country; they control the second largest mail order business in the United Kingdom; they run small engineering plants that cover everything from office furniture to a whole variety of engineering parts; they have made tentative approaches in certain sections of the textile industry in the last few years to gain control of that; they have even—and I congratulate the pool promoter concerned—taken prizes at leading agricultural shows with produce from large farms they have bought, where they are not living but where they have put in very efficient staff. They are perfectly entitled to do all that, but every penny they are spending in these ventures, through the mobility of finance that the pool promoters have that enables them to go into other people's businesses and buy them out, comes from Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the average decent family, who send them half-a-crown a week for pool betting.
I do not want to exaggerate the case because I think the House would resent it if I did. but I feel bound to say this. A sinister feature of the activities of the leading pool promoters is the extent to which they have persuaded the Press, and the extent to which they have spent lavishly over many years, in a design to secure a circumstance in which the word "investor" becomes all-operative—that is to say, every advertisement published by the pools, the money which they spend in the cinemas for running their publicity "shorts." all this is based upon the fact that the punter is an investor.
Let us suppose we accept the football pool promoters' own definition that these people are investors. Clearly, then, the promoters should be the first to accept and welcome the Bill, because what the Bill does is to regard these people as investors—these people whom the pool promoters insist are investors and not punters. What the pool promoters themselves should do to fulfil the logic of 2118 their own advertising is to agree broadly with the principle embodied in the Bill.
A total of £68 million in this football season is an awful lot of money. The State is drawing 30 per cent. of it—that is to say, the State is receiving part of the pools' revenue. If the football pool promoters will not agree to do that which is honest and reasonable—namely, publish their accounts—the State, which takes 30 per cent, in tax, which is drawing the postal profit and which is a substantial beneficiary of pool betting, ought to insist on its being done.
This Bill can be subject to many Amendments in Committee. All that my hon. Friend and those who support the Bill are saying is that the State is receiving money from the football pools and we should, therefore, take this small and reasonable step in order to ensure that the vast majority of our fellow citizens who indulge in pool betting are perfectly certain about, and are informed from time to time about, what happens to their hard-earned money when they entrust it to the football pool promoters.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I have received a large number of letters about this Private Member's Bill and I must confess that all of them have urged me to support its Second Reading on the ground that gambling is wicked and should be stopped In as far as they believe that it will stop gambling, those who have written to me have asked me to support the Bill.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Sheffield. Park (Mr. Mulley) and I gathered from him that he does not want to stop gambling at all. I gathered from other hon. Members that they do not think gambling is such a bad thing after all and that sometimes they indulge in a little gambling themselves. Indeed, if I understood the hon. Member correctly, the purpose of the Bill is to make the pools demonstrably fair and demonstrably just so as to attract, I imagine, even more business, so that gambling would increase and so that more and more people would be employed in an industry which those who want me to support the Bill think ought to be closed down.
§ Mr. Mulley
If I may put the point briefly, the interest of the Churches and 2119 the interest of the gamblers are at one in this matter for an unusual combination of reasons. The Churches wish there to be less advertisement and less unnecessary circulation of coupons, because they think that advertisement and circulation of this kind promotes gambling. The pool backer also wants less of these things because he, unfortunately, has to pay for them. The object of the Bill is to meet both those aspects of the problem.
§ Mr. McAdden
In spite of the hon. Gentleman's ingenious defence, I still hold to what I have said—that those who urge me to support the Bill are people who want to stop gambling whereas he himself has no such desire. Indeed, if he has his way, with the support of those on both sides of the House who would seek to amend the Bill in Committee, when the Bill comes out of Committee it will be even stronger in defence of gambling and not in defence of the abolition of gambling. I am, therefore, rather puzzled as to what I should do. I have come to the conclusion that instead of paying too much attention to all the postcards that have been sent to me I should make up my own mind and not worry too much about them.
I gathered from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park that he had no criticism to offer about the honesty of pool promoters. He did not suggest that they indulged in any wicked practices or that they were scoundrels and that they ought not to be entrusted with running their business. There was no allegation about their commercial integrity. All he said was that they were big firms and employed a great many people. If he thinks that big firms which employ many people are fit and proper subjects to come under some measure of control by the Government, by all means let him say so. [HON MEMBERS: "Oh."] I gather from the noises from the other side of the House that that is not so.
If there is a more vital reason, it might have been advanced. There was an attempt to advance a different reason in drawing a difference between fixed odds betting and pool betting. The suggestion was that in so far as those who went in for pool betting were a kind of shareholders in the business, they had a greater right to demand information than those who went in for fixed odds betting 2120 and who knew what the return was to be. That is a distinction which I recognise and appreciate and to which I pay a great deal of attention. It is a difference.
§ Mr. Nally
The hon. Member completely fails to understand that if I am a bookmaker or promoter running a fixed odds coupon there is always the risk that I can lose. The difference between fixed odds and other forms of pool betting is that the pool promoters cannot possibly lose. It is conceivable that a promoter can lose on fixed odds, but one cannot lose on the machinery of the other form of pool betting.
§ Mr. McAdden
I listened to the hon. Member and I allow for the fact that he probably knows much more about gambling than I do, but I do not like the suggestion from the other side of the House that I do not want to understand something. It is my duty, as it is of other hon. Members, to apply my mind to the best of my ability. It may be that I am unable to understand and that there may be a limitation in my mental ability which prevents my doing so, but to say that I do not want to understand is as unworthy as the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park that it is vicious obstruction if anybody tries to say anything against him.
In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park did not bring forward one tittle of evidence to suggest that there was anything wrong with the way in which the pools are being run. He said that they were large businesses, employing large numbers of people. The same criticism was advanced by the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally), who said that these people were not only pool promoters but were investing some of their profits in all kinds of things, such as mail order and departmental stores. I should not have thought that very wicked.
§ Mr. McAdden
I should not have thought that, having made a profit out of the business which they were engaged in running, people should not seek to use that profit in other directions. I should not have thought that that was a matter to be advanced as grounds of criticism. The hon. Member for Sheffield. Park was exceedingly worried 2121 about a business of this kind, to which the general public are invited to contribute and to which, I gather, he hopes they will contribute even more when it is reorganised on the lines which he suggests. The hon. Member feels that these businesses should be brought under jurisdiction and closer supervision.
As I remember—and I listened most carefully—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park hardly bothered to mention that they are already subjected to a certain amount of control as a result of the existence of the 30 per cent. Pool Betting Duty. Obviously, their liability to the payment of that duty can only be arrived at after careful examination and certification of the books of the company. The certification would beby people who are regarded as honourable and reputable gentlemen—auditors.
I should have thought that accountants and auditors—qualified people—ought to be entitled to the respect of this House. If those gentlemen are members of different professional bodies and as such audit the accounts of these companies, one ought to have regard to the professional status of the people concerned and not to suggest, by implication, that there is some kind of "fiddling" going on into which the House ought to inquire.
If it be suggested that by reason of the fact that in this industry to which the public are invited to subscribe, the public have no real say as to how their rewards are arrived at, that is not confined to football pools. I know that the Football Pool Association have been attacked quite considerably by sections of the Press. I read the newspapers and from time to time I read "Reynolds News," a publication much favoured by hon. Members opposite and to which some of those who have spoken in the debate have from time to time contributed.
I find when I read the newspapers, "Reynolds News" among others—I do not single it out as more wicked than others—that they indulge in newspaper competitions. They invite readers to judge between the different merits of attractive girls who work in the "Co-op" and also to judge of fashion styles and the like. In those instances the rules are such that it would be interesting to see whether such competitions should come under the eagle eye of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading.
§ Mr. McAdden
I got this from "Reynolds News," which said:The entries will be judged by a panel whose decision must be accepted as final and conclusive.Those who go in for the competitions do not have any say about who the judges will be. The rules say:Any question arising in connection with the competition will be decided by the judges, and their decision must be accepted as final.One cannot say more about it.
§ Mr. McAdden
I will tell the hon. Member. The rules say:No correspondence can be entered into.At any rate, the pools are fairer than that because, when my wife wrote and said that she did not want coupons any more, they wrote back and asked, "Please say why." The rules also say:Proof of posting cannot be accepted as proof of delivery and no responsibility can be accepted for entries lost, delayed or damaged before or after delivery….Non-observance of any of these rules will disqualify competitors.These are competitions in which people are invited to contribute sums of money and in many newspapers the entry for the competition is 6d. It is true that there were fixed prizes, but what publicity is given to the way in which these competitions are conducted? How much money goes to the newspapers in 6d. entries and how little goes out in prizes? If there should be publication of the account of football pools—and I am quite willing to discuss whether there should be or not and to support it if I believe it to be in the public interest—such legislation should be applied to all the various undertakings which seek to obtain money from the public and do not have the same control from the public point of view as is asked by the promoters of this Bill in the case of football pools.
§ Mr. McAdden
The hon. and gallant Member says "Including Conservative Party funds." If he believes that that is essential why has he not persuaded the promoter of the Bill to include it? It 2123 just shows that the Bill is not as complete as the hon. and gallant Member thinks it ought to be. So far as Conservative Party funds are concerned, no one can say that that is a gamble. It was an absolute winner and was bound to be right.
§ Mr. McAdden
The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion and I am entitled to mine.
The promoter of the Bill started with a very worthy object, and most of us will be prepared to support the object he has in mind, namely, the publication of accounts so that everybody can see that they have had a fair deal. Most of us would be prepared to support the general principle of such an idea if the Bill did not go further and suggest other things such as ready money betting on football, if it did not go forward to suggest making more complicated and more difficult some of the legislation with regard to gambling which already exists and which has been the subject of a Royal Commission.
I believe that the House is the poorer for the absence of Sir Alan Herbert, who wrote an interesting article in the "Star" today. That is where I got my brief from—the brief that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) was interested in. I suggest that the hon. Member reads that article. If he does so he will discover some very cogent arguments which I am only sorry that Sir Alan Herbert is not present to be able to put to this House far more entertainingly than I am capable of doing.
I believe that there are many Members on both sides of the House who would be prepared to support legislation designed to bring about a better state of affairs with regard to football pools so far as the general public is concerned provided that it was not specialised legislation dealing with only one section of gambling. If we are to tackle the problem of gambling let us do so on a comprehensive basis, let us refuse to be intimidated by postcards from sectional interests, either of the gamblers or of the Churches; let us undertake a comprehensive review of the whole question of gambling, pay some attention to the ad- 2124 vice tendered to us by the Royal Commission and not waste the time of the House with a fiddling piece of legislation which will only make the matter more complicated in the end than it was at the beginning.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I acquit, as I am sure hon. Members do, the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) of not wanting to understand the Bill. He clearly did, and had listened to the debate. If he is really against the Bill as it stands, I hope that he will not persuade hon. Members to his way of thinking. Frankly I am not embarrassed by being supported by the "Cross Bencher"—"Tribune" axis referred to by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley). I might be in other circumstances, but not in these.
I am not a gambler. I probably gamble a few shillings a year on the Lincolnshire Handicap and races which occur in my own constituency. In the Election of 1950 my slogan was "Fair judgment to win Lincoln next week and to win the Lincolnshire next month." I am happy to say that fair judgment won Lincoln but "Fair Judgment" was nosed out by a head in the Lincolnshire.
Whether we like it or not, the people of this country do like gambling on pools: the figures show it. In spite of tax increases, the turnover on pool betting is up, the tax revenue is up and it certainly does not illustrate anything of the economic law of diminishing returns. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has just returned from Australia, where I believe gambling is not unknown, may not be unmindful of this in his Budget calculations.
On the point of the Royal Commission's report, to which my hon. Friend referred, I would say that the previous Government—the Labour Government—did not pigeonhole the report. We did not just put it away. We considered it carefully and in detail; but it is fair to say we did not reach any conclusion and we did not come to this House saying we would introduce legislation.
I am speaking for my right hon. and hon. Friends and I welcome this Bill on their behalf. It is a good Bill, and we hope to make it even better in Committee. Some hon. Members believe it would be a good thing were we able to earmark 2125 some of the funds from pool betting to provide additional playing fields and facilities for the sports connected with the pools. I propose to be brief, because I hope that hon. Members who oppose this Bill will have every opportunity of stating their case. I hope they will be defeated and that the Bill will be read a Second time.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
I do not feel very strongly about this Bill, which I think might be given a Second Reading. My experience has been the same as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend. East (Mr. McAdden). I have had quite a lot of letters, many just stating in two lines, "I hope you will support this Bill." Where a reason is given the letter usually begins, "Dear Sir, As a Methodist, I write to you. I urge you to support this Bill to restrict pool betting…"I am wondering whether the Churches, who are so concerned, are under a misapprehension about what it is sought to do by this Bill. One lady wrote to me, "I urge you to use your vote to stamp out this evil in our midst." She apparently was under the impression that the Bill would abolish football pools altogether. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) was correct when he said that the Churches are supporting this Bill, but I wonder whether they realise why they are doing it.
If we ask that football pools be registered with local authorities I think there is a definite danger that we shall give them some sort of official status. Little-wood's, for example, might be able to put on their literature, "Registered with the Liverpool Corporation." Why do not we go the whole hog and nationalise football pools? I would not be against it at all, and I take the opportunity to ask what is the attitude of the Government towards this Bill. I shall be interested to hear.
Either you say gambling is wrong and you oppose it and restrict it—and perhaps we ought to go further and really restrict gambling—or you say that gambling is respectable, in which case why should not the Government have some of the enormous profits made by private enterprise? I am not against the Bill on those lines, and I hope we shall have some indication of opinion from the 2126 Government Front Bench so that we may know where we stand. I should require a lot of information before approving of or opposing this Bill on Third Reading, if it is given a Second Reading. We are told there are a 100 pool betting firms. How many of them disclose their accounts? How many are public companies and how many private companies? I presume some are public companies?
§ Mr. Harris
I am obliged. In that case, I wonder whether we may be told exactly what profits are made by all the companies? I accept that there are one or two making vast profits by a system under which they cannot possibly lose but I wonder whether all the companies are in the same condition. I would ask the House to consider this question and realise that, by doing all that is asked for in this Bill, they will be giving to betting, and especially to football pools, an aura of respectability, and there may well be an increase in pool betting rather than a decrease.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I also wish to emphasise that many people have a complete misunderstanding about what the Bill seeks to do. I am afraid that it is mainly the church people who have the impression that this means the abolition of gambling as we know it. Of course, it means nothing of the kind.
I support the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friends for bringing it forward. The principle involved is very simple. I felt inclined to interrupt the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) to ask him whether he agreed with the principle that anyone who invests money has a right to know, and wants to know, what happens to the money after he has made the investment. The millions of people who, I personally regret, find amusement, entertainment or something of that kind in pool betting have a right to know from a printed balance sheet exactly what happens to the money after they have made their investment.
§ Mr. McAdden
If the hon. Gentleman had interrupted me I should have told him that I have no objection to the principle, but I say that we should make it general and not pick out one industry.
§ Mr. Wilkins
The place to bring about an Amendment is in Committee. That is what we want hon. Gentlemen to do. We want them to let the Bill go to Standing Committee, where Amendments can be made to improve it.
I have been here all day. I was interested in the previous Bill. I was gratified at the degree of harmony reached on that Bill. As I have noticed during the last eight years, the House always seems to be at its best when we are discussing Measures of this kind, including Private Members' Bills, which intimately affect our daily lives. That is particularly true about those Measures which relate to animals.
We ought sometimes to think about humans as well. A good many people are, in this instance, like innocents, being led to the slaughter. We should bear in mind from time to time the great public issues of this kind. I ask hon. Gentlemen to let the Bill go to Standing Committee. Let us look at it there. I believe that by some very simple Amendments we can make it acceptable to the majority opinion of the House.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Whenever legislation comes forward, whether it be introduced by the Government or by Private Members, I always ask myself whether or not it is necessary from the point of view of individual sense of responsibility. Too much of our legislation, whether it be public or introduced by Private Members, tends to take away from the individual any need to exercise a sense of personal responsibility. It is against that test that I have tried to judge the Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) on the way he moved the Motion for the Second Reading. He tried to show what his main objective was, but I can only conclude that, whether that be the object or not, though I am prepared to believe that it is in his mind, the effect will be quite different from the one he intends. As I understand, this is an attempt to try to deal specially with a certain form of betting on the ground that that form of betting involves all the people who actually make the bets being put in a position which in an ordinary business affair would have been the shareholders' 2128 position. In fact, I suggest to him that that is not so at all.
The fact is that people making the bets are in the position of a consumer because they go into this business in order to get something out of it. They enter into it on the chance of winning some money. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is perhaps confusing the position, and I would say that the effect of the Bill will be to have not the slightest impact on betting, and that the only impact which the Bill will have will be on the size of the profits which the promoters of the pools can make.
§ Mr. Mulley
There is nothing in the Bill to restrict either profits or expenses. and, far from approaching the matter with no direct objective, I have only sought to implement the hard work which was done by a Royal Commission appointed by this House which spent two years considering the problem.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
As far as the Royal Commission is concerned, I have a great respect for the people who take part in them, but not always the same respect for what they finally conclude. On this particular issue, I think that if the hon. Gentleman makes the test which I make in all these cases—the test of whether it is really necessary from the point of view of a sense of personal responsibility—the Bill falls down.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden). I have had many letters on this subject, and to those who managed to get them in in time for me to reply I pointed out that they had failed to understand what the Bill contains. I pointed out to them the main headings in it. Although it is quite obvious from the replies which I have had—and there have not been very many, because there was not much time—that those concerned were not fully conversant with the Bill before they wrote to me and are still quite confused as to what the Bill will do.
I have no doubt that the Methodist Church is firmly convinced that this Bill will help to restrict betting. I am sure that the effect of the Bill will not be to do that at all, but precisely the opposite. I do not believe that any of us here ought to place ourselves in the position of being a minister of religion of any denomination trying to tell our constituents what they ought or ought not to do, 2129 as far as their own spiritual peace of mind is concerned. I have never believed that that is the role of a Member of Parliament, but that this is a matter for the personal conscience. If those who indulge in pool betting are dissatisfied, from the point of view of their peace of mind, with what goes on, they have the answer in their own hands, and that is not to indulge in the practice at all.
As far as the pool promoters are concerned, it seems to me that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East said, it is a little unfair on those people who have discovered a means of obtaining absolutely certain profits from carrying on their business.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
If the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) honestly believes that pool promoters are comparable to welshers in betting, he must have failed in his duty, when he was Home Secretary, in not putting that matter right.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
What I think the right hon. Gentleman is overlooking, and what many hon. Members who have spoken in this debate have also overlooked, is that though pool promoters would not have to carry out the instructions contained in Causes 1 and 2 of this Bill if it becomes law, nevertheless, what they would still have to do is to render returns to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue for taxation purposes. I should have thought that the kind of remark which the right hon. Gentleman has just made—although I am sure he did not mean it—rather implies that the Commissioners of Inland Revenue are not to be trusted to see that these people are not behaving in the way in which welshers behave.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that if any Inland Revenue officer was looking through the accounts of any private individual or collection of private individuals, or private company, he could not allow himself to overlook anything that came to light showing that those 2130 individuals ought to have paid out a dividend and had not done so. The Income Tax Commissioners would have to take notice of it.
All the letters I have had from my constituency have urged me to vote for the Bill. From what I have heard this afternoon I am convinced that that request has been made on a false assumption. Therefore, I feel that it will be quite wrong and dishonest of me to support the Bill, although I realise that there is considerable public opinion in favour of doing so.
My reasons for opposing the Bill would be that I believe that betting and gambling of all kinds are essentially matters within the responsibility of the private individual to make up his or her mind about. There is no compulsion upon any of them to indulge in pool betting if they think that an unfair profit is being made. The pool promoters have committed no offence against existing legislation. Within the law they are conducting their business, and there is no reason to suppose that they have run foul of the Income Tax authorities. They are making a very substantial contribution to the State both by way of indirect taxation and postage, and as the State has agreed to compromise in matters relating to betting and gambling, there is no justification for the Bill.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Captain M. Hewitson(Hull, Central)
I am not going to support the Bill but to oppose it, because it is ill-conceived and badly drafted. Even if it has been drafted with greater care, it would have received little support in this House.
I agree with the annual publication of accounts, but to make it a condition that accounts must be published weekly would place a burden on the punter—the man who pays his half-crown or his shilling—and would make dividends very much less than they are at the present time. [An Hon. Member: "How?"] Let me tell hon. Members how. Pool coupons are sent out once fortnightly, so as to save paper and envelopes, on which Purchase Tax has to be paid—the coupons also carry Purchase Tax—and to save postage. To insist on a weekly account going to each punter would mean extra cost in paper, postage and Purchase Tax, all coming out of the pool.
2131 Let us look at the make-up of the pool. The money sent in is 100 per cent. The Chancellor immediately takes 30 per cent. from gross. Approximately 50 per cent. goes in prizes. That leaves 20 per cent. to be accounted for, and in the Royal Commission's Report it is easily accounted for. The larger pools promoters fix a maximum of 5 per cent, as their working profit, but I doubt whether any of them ever take the 5 per cent. In fact, I know of one firm that takes only half of the 5 per cent.
§ Captain Hewitson
It depends on the size of the investment. If it were £1, it would be 5 per cent. of £1; if it were £1 million, it would be 5 per cent. of £1 million.
Where does the margin go? It goes in expenses for printing, in postage for sending out the coupons, in advertising, and in all the rest that goes to make up a pool. Out of that margin, the Post Office is getting a very good income, because every envelope that goes through the post has to be stamped. Also, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets the benefit of the Purchase Tax on the paper used for the printed coupons, envelopes, and all the rest of it.
Therefore, when everything is reckoned up, 30 per cent. of the total income of the pools goes in tax to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, together with the Purchase Tax on the articles I have already mentioned, and, in addition, the Post Office receives its revenue from the postage involved. Therefore the State is doing quite well out of the punter.
The suggestion was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) that something should be given back in the interest of sport. If such a scheme is in the minds of my hon. and right hon. Friends, why do they not promote some legislation to that effect, or, when the Finance Bill comes before the House, put down an Amendment for the purpose of giving a percentage of the 30 per cent. which the State takes gross from the pools to sport in general in this country? I think that such a suggestion would meet with the general approval of the House. As I have said, this Bill is ill-drafted. We are told it has the support of some of the newspapers. Let us 2132 look at some of the competitions run by newspapers.
§ Mr. Nally
On a point of order. There are some rules, Mr. Speaker, which are laid down in the interest of decency and dignity other than strictly Parliamentary rules. Would you, Sir, use your considerable interest to urge the hon. Gentleman to at least give the Minister, who has been sitting here during the whole of this debate and who has only the common interest to serve, an opportunity of replying to the debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
There is nothing that I can do to assist in the matter. So far, the Minister has not shown any disposition to speak.
§ Captain Hewitson
To draw attention to an investment of 6d. a week for a prize of £500 with the investor having no hope whatsoever of not ever knowing what the income of the competition really is—
§ Captain Hewitson
I cannot have grammar. I did not have an education like the hon. Member. However, if I may get on with my argument, there are. in all daily and weekly papers of national standing, competitions of one kind or another; they all need investment, and they take more from the general public than do the pools.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) has already told us all this.
§ Captain Hewitson
There is an imputation here against a Member, Mr. Speaker, that he is working for money, and I would ask for your protection.
§ Captain Hewitson
It is said that the Churches are supporting this Bill, but 2133 it is rather strange to find them supporting Clause 7, which deals with ready-money betting. I do not think they really mean that. They are really trying to give support to a Bill which they think will make things more difficult for pools promotion.
§ Mr. Mulley
May I say that the Churches have made it quite clear that they are opposing that Clause, and hope to persuade the Committee to accept their view. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will put the same trust in his persuasiveness before the Committee.
§ Captain Hewitson
I repeat that it is very strange to find Churches supporting a ready-money betting Clause. I am a gambler myself. At one time I made a book, but I never had any support from the Churches in regard to ready-money betting. In fact, it has been the other way round—they have always done their best to abolish it. I think that the Churches' support of the Second Reading of this particular Bill has been given in the hope that the Bill will destroy a section of gambling.
If that is their idea, then I am saying nothing against it. If they think that is a method of destroying gambling, then good luck to them; but if they are using it with their tongue in their cheek in the hope of suppressing something—knowing quite well that it will not sup press any form of gambling—then I suggest that that is hyprocrisy. If they are so interested in suppressing gambling or so violently opposed to pools, I would like to see them come into the open and say so, and to propagate—
§ Mr. Mulley
rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Captain Hewitson
If that is their method—[HON MEMBERS: "Sit down."] I am not going to sit down; I am claiming my rights in this House. The promoters of this Bill knew full well what was happening when they drew up the Bill—
§ Mr. de Freitas
Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will ask the Government whether they will give time for this Bill on another occasion, because there is obviously a good deal of interest in this matter?
§ It being Four o'Clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 12th February.