§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is natural that in a new Parliament we should seek to modernise and to rectify some of the social legislation which governs our personal habits. Later, we may well deal with other laws framed, like the present betting laws, too long ago, or, like licensing, as a product of war-time restrictions.
This Bill is concerned with the habit of gambling, an instinct which is deep-rooted in the human race. Gambling laws, or gambling without laws, have existed in highly developed societies down the ages, and the forms of gambling have hardly varied. A citizen of ancient Pompeii has recorded on a wall of that city that on a trip to Nuceria he won 855 denarii at the gaming table. He took pains to add, and history has passed it down, that it was achieved fide bona, that is, without cheating.
In the chariot races in ancient Rome, the successful chariot drivers were honoured and feted, the victors receiving a sum of money and, if they were slaves, sometimes receiving their freedom. There was betting on the races and large sums of money changed hands. The chariots carried different colours and the rivalry between colours led not only to heavy betting, but to riot and bloodshed. The latter has not yet stained the escutcheon of the Jockey Club.
In framing our modern legislation, we must realise that in human nature gambling is a constant instinct, and we must decide what aspects of conduct can appropriately be regulated by the criminal law. In this, as in other spheres, we should distinguish between what is immoral or sinful and what is criminal. There are wide differences of opinion among modern theologians on whether gambling is inherently immoral. The Bill is based on the practical Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, 806 Lotteries and Gaming, under Sir Harry Willink's chairmanship, and I pay that Commission a tribute which, I hope, the whole House will endorse.
The Royal Commission, after hearing much evidence, thought that it was extremely difficult by abstract argument to establish that all gambling was inherently immoral, without adopting views about the nature of good and evil which would not find general acceptance among moralists. However, whether gambling is immoral is not a question with which the criminal law should be concerned.
The intention of the criminal law, broadly speaking, may be said to be to prohibit what is injurious to society itself, or to those who, because of age or incapacity, need special protection. It is not its function to serve as a substitute for the conscience of the individual and it is undesirable that it should try to do so. Free society is committed to a belief in self-discipline and private judgment and we should be careful not to weaken those virtues by allowing the criminal law to encroach unecessarily on the field in which they can be exercised.
It is plain that dangers not only to the individual, but, also, to society, can result from immoderate gambling. As the Royal Commission said, it is the concern of the State that gambling, like every indulgence, should be kept within reasonable bounds. The Bill is framed with that object in mind.
The Royal Commission heard extensive evidence from representatives of the Churches, the law, police and social workers about the social effects of gambling as we know it as practised today. The pattern has altered so little since its Report that I think that we should be able to accept its conclusions as just.
Some witnesses argued that excessive sums were spent on gambling by persons of modest means. This was shown to be a cause of social ruin, poverty, and broken homes. Some found that gambling caused interruption of industrial effort. Some found that it was a predisposing cause of crimes of petty embezzlement and larceny, and an important cause of juvenile delinquency and child neglect. On the other side, it 807 was said that, apart from isolated cases, the social consequences of gambling were, at present, unimportant.
The Royal Commission specially reviewed the effect of gambling on crime in general. It reached the conclusion that gambling is of no significance as a direct cause of crime, and of little importance as a direct cause of minor offences of dishonesty. As for the economic effects of gambling, the Royal Commission felt that some confusion of thought had been caused by the use of figures for the annual turnover on all forms of gambling as a measure of expenditure.
If we turn to the annual reports issued by the Churches' Council on Gambling at the time when the Royal Commission was conducting its inquiry, estimates of annual turnover on gambling were given varying between no less than £700 million and £750 million. The comparable figure given in the report for last year is, in fact, somewhat lower than this—£560 million. The Royal Commission pointed out that this aggregate figure is misleading as an indication of present expenditure on gambling, because it ignores the fact that a substantial part of the amount staked is returned to the gamblers by way of winnings. The Royal Commission's own figure for the net personal expenditure on all forms of gambling was £70 million—about one-tenth of the turnover figure—and concluded that gambling, on the scale at which it is indulged in at present, cannot be regarded as a serious strain on our national resources or manpower.
The Royal Commission expressed its views about the aim of gambling legislation as follows, which I think it is worth imparting to the House:We are led by all the evidence we have heard to the conclusion that gambling, as a factor in the economic life of the country or as a cause of crime, is of little significance and that its effects on social behaviour, in so far as these are of a suitable object for legislation, are in the great majority of cases less important than has been suggested to us by some witnesses. We therefore consider that the object of gambling legislation should be to interfere as little as possible with individual liberty to take part in the various forms of gambling but to impose such restrictions as are desirable and practicable to discourage or prevent excess.808 The Government accept this as a statement of the aim of gambling legislation which should be suitable to our present day, and the Bill has been framed to carry out that aim.
Before I come to describe the details of the Bill I should like to say that some of the Royal Commission's recommendations have already been carried on to the Statute Book. Those in Chapter VII, relating to the conduct and control of football pool betting, were largely implemented by the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), which found its way on to the Statute Book as the Pool Betting Act, 1954.
The Royal Commission made no specific recommendation about the law of lotteries, but it indicated the lines on which change could be made if it was desirable, and these were followed in the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, 1956, introduced by the former hon. Member for Enfield, East, Mr. Ernest Davies.
The Bill does not deal with dog racing.
The Royal Commission recommended that wagering contracts should continue to be unenforceable in the courts. The Government accept this recommendation and no change is made by the Bill in the present law in this respect.
The Royal Commission recommended that the law relating to betting, gaming, and lotteries should, as far as possible, be included in a single Statute. The Bill does not itself carry out this recommendation, but it is intended that after it has been passed into law those parts of the existing criminal law not repealed by it should be the subject of a consolidating Measure. The Fifth Schedule of the Bill contains minor amendments of the unrepealed law to secure consistency and uniformity, and to facilitate consolidation.
With that introduction, we are left with the two major issues which confronted the Royal Commission, the law governing betting off the course, and the law governing gaming. We have accepted the general lines of the Royal Commission's recommendations on both these matters, with which I now propose to deal.
Part I of the Bill deals with betting and is, therefore. largely concerned with 809 the activities of bookmakers. Until the end of the eighteenth century, when the professional bookmaker is said to have made his appearance, betting was a private matter among individuals. It was subject to the various laws relating to gaming, and the only restraint on it imposed by law was that excessive betting was a criminal offence. This offence was abolished by the Gaming Act, 1845, which, at the same time, made all betting contracts unenforceable in the courts. Since bookmakers could no longer sue in the courts for payment of betting debts, they adopted the practice—with which some of us are familiar—of requiring money to be paid by their clients in advance and there was a rapid growth of ready-money betting shops between 1845 and 1853.
In the 'sixties and 'seventies of the last century there was a considerable development of street betting. When this became a nuisance local authorities took powers to make byelaws to deal with it, but this only led to the street bookmakers drifting into those areas where there were no byelaws in force. A Select Committee of another place which was appointed in 1901, and reported in 1902, concluded that it was impossible altogether to suppress betting—a conclusion which we must all agree now was a sound one—but that the best method of reducing it was to localise it as far as possible on racecourses and other places where the sport was carried on. As a result of this recommendation of the Committee, the Street Betting Act, 1906, was passed, which made it an offence to frequent or loiter in streets or public places for the purpose of bookmaking or making or settling bets.
However, not many years after the passing of the Street Betting Act, the development of the public telephone service made it possible lawfully to get round the intention of the two Statutes, that bookmaking off the course should be suppressed. By the use of the telephone it became possible for bookmakers in an office to take bets on credit by telephone without contravening any of the provisions of the 1853 Act.
This has led to differential treatment for different social classes of the community. Those who have easy access to a telephone and can obtain an account with a credit bookmaker can bet with-out 810 infringing the law. Those who wish to see their bookmaker personally to bet in cash—usually in small amounts—are very often compelled to break the law.
The Royal Commission estimated that about half a million people bet off the course on credit by telephone, their average weekly stake being between £2 10s. and £3 10s. Its estimate of the number of people who bet in cash was no less than 3½ million, that is seven times greater, with an average weekly stake of about 8s. The Government agree with the Royal Commission that this situation should not continue and that facilities for cash betting off the course ought to be provided within the law. The Bill accordingly implements the Royal Commission's recommendations that betting in cash by post should be permitted—facilities already exist contrary to the law, mainly at addresses in Scotland—and that licensed betting offices should be established where members of the public can go to place their bets in cash.
The object of these offices would be to prevent the present illegal practice under which a large volume of cash betting still takes place in the street. mostly in the poorer localities of large towns and other industrial districts. Despite the efforts of the police a number of illegal betting houses also exist, and there is a special problem in Scotland, about which my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will speak later in the debate. The failure of the authorities to enforce the law—not through their own inefficiency or indolence, but through the unpopularity of the restrictions which they seek to enforce—has brought the law into contempt. This cannot but help to impair the good relations which ought to exist between the police and the public.
The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, in his report for last year said:I would like to draw attention to the bad effect that certain legislation has on relations between the public and the enforcing agency, not just because it is unpopular or inconvenient but because a very large section of the public regard it as outmoded. This applies particularly to the betting and perhaps the gaming laws, the repeal or amendment of which would do much to ease the lot of the police and improve their relations with the general public.811 The existence of a restrictive law which is outmoded and unpopular cannot but lead to attempts to corrupt the police by street bookmakers. The Royal Commission reckoned that while such attempts are occasionally made, the number of police officers who succumb to them is very little. But the temptation is obvious, and it is one of the most deplorable features of the present law that the police should be exposed to suspicion, particularly when that suspicion has very little foundation in fact.
§ Clause 1 repeals the Betting Acts of 1853 and 1874, and related Scottish provisions. Clause 2 implements the recommendation of the Royal Commission that bookmakers should be registered by requiring a bookmaker who acts on his own account, whether on or off the course, and whatever the nature of his business other than a pool betting business—which is already required to be registered under the Pool Betting Act, 1954—to hold a permit authorising him to act. The procedure for the grant and renewal of permits is laid down in the First Schedule.
§ The Royal Commission thought that the authority to be responsible for registering bookmakers and licensed betting offices should be a judicial body, and the Schedule follows this recommendation in making the responsible authority in England a committee of the justices and in Scotland the licensing court. A fee of £100 is payable with a nominal annual fee for renewal.
§ Clause 3 provides for the establishment of licensed betting offices, colloquially known as betting shops, to which members of the public may go to place bets in cash. Licences may be granted to the holder of a bookmaker's permit or to the Racecourse Betting Control Board, or an agent for either or both of them. Betting with a bookmaker may take place in these betting offices on horse races or dog races, or any other sport or event. The offices maintained by the Racecourse Betting Control Board or its agents will be able to take bets by way of pool betting on horse races, for transmission to the Board's pools.812
§ A person who wishes to operate a licensed betting office as an agent for a bookmaker or the Board will need a betting agency permit, granted under similar conditions to a bookmaker's permit. The procedure for the grant and renewal of these betting office licences and betting agency permits is also laid down in the First Schedule. The responsible authority will be the same as that responsible for the grant and renewal of bookmaker's permits. The grounds for refusal to grant or renew a betting office licence are set out in paragraph 20 of the First Schedule.
§ Clause 4 provides that a licensed betting office shall be maintained in accordance with the rules set out in the Second Schedule. These rules, about which we shall no doubt have a good deal to say later, follow the recommendations made by the Royal Commission in paragraph 263 of its Report. The main object is to prevent overcrowding and continuous betting. The offices may not be used for any other purpose than betting; people under the age of 18 may not be admitted; loitering will be forbidden. and radio and television may not be provided. Suggestions have been made that these betting offices will be too austere, and that there should be some relaxation in the restrictions suggested by the Royal Commission. We have not included, in the Second Schedule, the recommendation of the Royal Commission that no seats shall be provided
§ There will be ample scope for discussion of these matters in Committee. although I think that it would be wise for all to bear well in mind the undesirability of doing anything, in the final form of the Statute as it emerges, that might encourage continuous betting. In framing the Statute together—as I hope we shall—we ought to remember that a great many agencies, to some of which T have referred, including the Churches. will watch very carefully the way in which we handle these recommendations of the Royal Commission. I am clear that we are right to draft the Bill on the basis of the Royal Commission's Report
§ I have observed the comment that the word "shop" is unattractive, but whatever we call it there must be some centre at which betting can be legalised, in view of what I said earlier. As far as I have been able to examine it, the alternative 813 suggestion, of the mere licensing of runners, would not be as workable a proposition as that which we recommend. Subsection (4) implements the recommendation that loitering shall not be allowed outside licensed betting offices.
§ Clause 6 provides for the cancellation of bookmakers' and betting agency permits by a court convicting the holder of specified offences against the Betting Acts, or of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty, and Clause 7 forbids the holder of a bookmaker's permit or betting agency permit to employ a person under the age of 18 years in the effecting of betting transactions.
§ Clause 8 widens the powers of the Racecourse Betting Control Board, and, in particular, gives it an exclusive right to carry on pool betting and betting at tote odds on horse races. The Board will have power to authorise other persons to carry on these forms of business, on such terms as it may think fit.
§ Before leaving this part of the Bill, I ought to mention briefly two topics upon which it says nothing. The Royal Commission considered the practice by which bets are collected in factories and other places of work by bookmakers' agents. This practice is not, in general, unlawful at present, but if a factory runner—and this shows the complexity of the present situation—had a particular spot in a factory, to which other employees went to place bets with him, this would be "using a place" in the technical sense of the Betting Act, 1853, for resorting and for the collection of cash, and would, therefore, be contrary to that Act.
§ But I am advised that an offence would not be committed by a factory runner if he collected bets in cash in the course of moving around his place of work on his business. That is the present position. The Royal Commission recommended that it should be made an offence for a bookmaker to pay remuneration to an agent in these circumstances, although it envisaged that a group of workmen might still send out one of their number to take the group's bets to a betting office, remunerating him in their own way, perhaps by tips out of their winnings.
§ There seem to the Government to be a number of objections to this recommendation, 814 the chief of which would be that it would be very difficult to enforce, and it has not been implemented in the Bill. We rest, therefore, on the provision that an offence is not committed by a factory runner collecting bets and later placing them in a shop after he has moved around the factory.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I understood that the purpose of the Bill was to make the job of the policeman a little easier. Is the right hon. Gentleman really doing so now? The new definition of the law which he is proposing will not make the policeman's job easier Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that it will be more complicated? Who defines what a runner is, when he stops to collect bets, or collects them when he is still moving?
§ Mr. Butler
This is a matter which we can go into in greater detail in Committee. I think that we have been wise not to accept the recommendation of the Royal Commission and to leave the ordinary factory runner to be covered by the definition that I have given, with the provision that an offence is not committed by a runner in collecting debts and placing them in a shop after he has moved around the factory. There must be some allowance for human nature in this practice.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Would the Home Secretary explain why, in paragraph 256 of the Royal Commission's Report to which he has referred, it speaks not only in terms of factories, but generally? Surely, unless we take some action to prevent runners who are able to go round in places other than the streets, we shall have runners on commission in addition to having the betting shops.
Although I can understand the reluctance to do anything in the factories, what is the position with regard to the other recommendations in the paragraph, dealing with "any place other than a public place"?
§ Mr. Butler
I have given the House our decision on the main question of factory runners. I can only refer to the factory runner as defined by myself in the course of my explanation of the Bill.
§ Mr. Mellish
I represent a dockland constituency. Let us suppose that the 815 runner coming from the betting office or shop goes to dockland and collects a number of betting slips while keeping on the move. Is he liable to prosecution? If he loiters he is liable, but what happens if he goes into the docks?
§ Mr. Butler
He is liable for prosecution if he is outside in the street. If he is in a private place, such as a factory, he is not liable for prosecution. That is the exact legal position and the intention of the Bill, as I have explained it to the House. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has intervened, because I have been able to clarify the position as it stands at present and as I have explained it to the House. It is for the House, therefore, to consider whether that will operate satisfactorily or not.
The second topic is concerned with a matter not dealt with by the Royal Commission, but on which representations have been made to me in recent months by bodies interested in the sport of horse racing and the breeding of race horses. This is that the Bill should contain a provision requiring bookmakers who take bets off the course on horse races to make a contribution towards the sport of horse racing and the breeding of racehorses.
I have no doubt that the race courses want more amenities, and that higher prizes would improve the quality of horse breeding. This proposal raises difficulties, first, of principle. For example, how far is it right to intervene by legislation to enforce a payment by one group of people for the benefit of racing, even though the interests concerned are plainly linked? Then comes the question of practice. What should be the basis of such a levy, if there is to be one, and how can collection be enforced?
This appears to the Government, after the most detailed examination, to be an issue which ought to be independently and expertly examined before any attempt is made to deal with it by legislation. I have already, therefore, announced the appointment of an Interdepartmental Committee to consider it.
This Committee, which is under the chairmanship of Sir Leslie Peppiatt, a Past President of the Law Society, is, I am informed by the Chairman, to begin 816 its work forthwith, and I hope that it will be meeting even this week. The Chairman has said that he will do his best to report before the Bill has completed its "course. I can only recommend to the inquiry that the sooner it is able to give us its information, the better it will be.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
How is it public policy to increase the amenities on racecourses and to forbid amenities in a betting shop?
§ Mr. Butler
I have already said that the question of how the betting shops are to furnished, constructed and everything else is a matter for the joint and collective wisdom of the House; and by all means let us have the benefit of the advice of hon. Members.
In relation to racing, there is surely quite a case here. The tote automatically provides part of its takings by way of a levy for the interest of racing as a whole, and that can be defined partly as amenities on the course which are in the interests of the public—and are rather modest at that—and the second aspect is the rewards which might or might not be available for raising the future standard of British racehorse breeding, and so forth, to keep pace with the foreigner and to be able to survive in the modern age. All that we are asking the Interdepartmental Committee to consider is whether there is a fair and practical plan for doing this.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The right hon. Gentleman referred to Sir Leslie Peppiatt's hope of being able to report while the Bill is in progress through the House. Does that mean that if he submits a practical scheme the Government will endeavour to embody it in the Bill before it reaches the Statute Book?
§ Mr. Butler
I cannot prejudice the Committee in its work, but if a practical scheme emerges which answers the tests that I have laid down, namely, that it can be defined as a just and practical scheme, we shall do our best either to include it in the Bill or to give it the force of law. I must see what the Committee reports before I can make a decision on its Report.
I now turn to Part II of the Bill, which deals with gaming. Under the existing law, gaming—that is, the playing of 817 games for stakes hazarded by the players—is not in itself illegal. It is brought within the ambit of the criminal law by reason of the game itself being unlawful; or being carried on in a common gaming house, or in a public place.
The statutes which declare certain games to be unlawful in themselves are of great antiquity. The earliest still on the Statute Book is an Act passed in the reign of King Henry VIII, in 1541, because archery was being impeded, according to the Preamble of that Act, bymany subtle and inventative and crafty persons who have found or daily find many and sundry new games, such as slydethrift otherwise called shovegrote, and are keeping houses and alleys for the maintenance thereof.This Act is still on the Statute Book, and, under it, it is still unlawful for a personof what degree, quality or condition soever he be…for his gain, lucre or living, to keep a house or alley…for the playing of coyting, cloyshecayles, half-bowle, dicing or carding, or any unlawful game now invented or hereafter to be invented.This Act was repealed as respects games of mere skill by the Gaming Act, 1845, and I am glad to be able to tell hon. Members that, if they keep a house or alley for the laying of bowls or tennis, this is not at present contrary to the law.
Eighteenth century statutes which are still part of our law added to the list of unlawful games the card games of ace of hearts, faro—the only one still played—bassett, hazard, passage, roulette, any game of dice, except as the House will know, the royal game of backgammon. Under the common law, it is an offence to keep a common gaming house, that is, a house in which a large number of persons are invited habitually to congregate for the purpose of gaming.
The law on gaming is complex and confusing, but I must warn hon. Members that its general effect is that anyone who habitually keeps or uses a place for the purpose of playing games in which there is an element of chance for money or money's worth runs a great risk of committing a penal offence. I understand that bridge for money stakes at a club in London is, in fact, illegal, but snap, which is a game of skill, is not.
§ Mr. Butler
I have drawn this to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in case he may ever have some time to spare from the arduous duties which he has taken on.
According to a strict interpretation of the law, a person whose habit it is to give frequent parties at which cards are played for money stakes, however small, may unwittingly turn his home into a gaming house. Under such circumstances the law cannot be strictly applied. The police have been described by a former Commissioner of Police to the Royal Commission asadministering a law founded on common sense…not the law of the land as enacted by Parliament and interpreted by the judges.However they may try to follow the dictates common sense, it is inevitable that they should sometimes lay themselves open to criticism and charges of discrimination. The police are doing their best in circumstances in which the Legislature has no right to place them, and this is a fundamental reason for this part of the Bill.
Clause 9, therefore, sweeps away all the existing law regarding gaming and paves the way for a new start according to fresh principles recommended by the Royal Commission. No game will be unlawful in itself. Gaming will be unlawful only if it breaks certain rules set out in Clause 10. In paragraph 412 of its Report the Royal Commission defines the main objects of the criminal law as being…to prevent persons being induced to play for high stakes for the profit of the promoter.The Report continues:We consider this can best be achieved by the prohibition …of those types of gaming in which the organiser has a direct financial interest in the stakes.The first two paragraphs of Clause 10 (1) follow closely the Royal Commission's recommendations. The first rule as set out in paragraph (a) is that either the game played must in itself be fair between one player and another, such as whist or bridge, or the game must be conducted in a fair manner. For example, if it is a game having a banker, all the players must have an equal opportunity of being banker.
819 The second rule is set out in paragraph (b), namely, that the money staked by the players during the course of gaming must all be paid to the winner, that is, that there must be no "cut" on the stakes for the benefit of the organiser.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman how he applies his erudite principles to pool betting which, after all, is a kind of game, and where the promoter has a very personal interest in the amount of the total stakes?
§ Mr. Butler
This Bill does not deal with that subject. The only references I have made to pool betting are those which I have made to the Act of 1954.
The third rule is a variation of the Royal Commission's recommendation. Paragraph (c) of the subsection adopts as the third rule that there should be no payment for the right to take part in gaming. The three rules set out in subsection (1) should be suitable for the conduct of genuine private gaming.
Clause 10 (7), to which I draw the attention of hon. Members, deals with clubs and permits the making of a charge for the right to take part where gaming is carried on as an activity of a club, subject to the requirement that the payment is of a fixed sum of money determined before gaming began. It will be noted, also, that clubs will be permitted to charge for membership of the club. Subsection (3) prohibits gaming in which any person under the age of 18 takes part. Without this provision it would be possible for gaming to take place in clubs in which young persons were included among the players or for gaming to be organised among young people by an ill-disposed person providing that the conditions of subsection (1) were complied with.
Clause 11—which may well be the subject of controversy later—deals with gaming machines. It forbids gaming on such machines on any premises to which the public have access. The Royal Commission had some stern words to say about the particular type of machine known as the "fruit machine" or "bell fruit machine". The Government, after serious consideration, and after examining one or two machines at clubs, are 820 of the opinion that the Royal Commission's proposals in this respect were over-restrictive.
Notwithstanding their illegality, gaming machines are to be found at present in some clubs, where they are a popular form of amusement and contribute to the club funds. Since they do not have an attendant, their use is not contrary to the general objective of the law regarding gaming, namely, the prevention of persons being induced to play for high stakes for the profit of the promoter.
The Clause therefore modifies the Royal Commission's recommendation by permitting gaming on these machines in premises to which the public do not have access, provided that the coin to be inserted in the slot does not exceed 6d., and that the surplus of money resulting from the operation of the machine is devoted to purposes other than private gain. I dare say that this matter will deserve consideration, but I think that we have come to a sensible conclusion, because I know of several clubs which profit greatly from having these machines on the premises.
Clause 12 prohibits gaming in any street or other place to which the public have access. Clause 13 is technical. Its purpose is to exempt from the Bill the kind of whist drive or similar entertainment promoted for raising money to be applied for purposes other than private gain which was made lawful by Section 4 of the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, 1956.
§ Mr. Mellish
These matters are very important. As we shall be asked to vote upon them I think that we need an explanation. Take the game known as "Tombola" which, believe it or not, now interests millions of people in Britain. Many people play this game, if one may call it such, to provide money for religious organisations and clubs. I wish to ask a straight question of the right hon. Gentleman. Under the provisions of the Bill, is "Tombola" illegal or not?
§ Mr. Butler
I was coming to the part of the Bill dealing with this aspect, and I will try to say something about that.
Part III of the Bill deals with the kind of games to be found on stalls at travelling fairs and amusement parks, 821 and as sideshows at charity fetes and sport meetings. These forms of amusement fall within the definition of gaming, and without special provision being made in Part III of the Bill they would contravene the conditions of Clause 10 and so be unlawful.
Clause 15, if the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) will examine it, allows such amusements to take place at non-commercial entertainments such as bazaars, sales of work or fetes. There are only two conditions to be complied with and they are to be found in subsection (3), where paragraph (a) provides that the whole proceeds of the fete, including the proceeds of the amusement, shall, subject to the deduction of expenses, be devoted to purposes other than private gain. That would probably cover what the hon. Member for Bermondsey has in mind.
Paragraph (b) requires that there shall be other inducements of a non-gambling character to attract people to attend; for example, an ankle show or something of that sort, a condition normally fulfilled in the case of a bona fide fete. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.
These amusements are commonly to be found today at entertainments for raising money for goods causes, such as a garden fete in aid of church funds. They are, of course, not interfered with by the police and it is probable that their doubtful legality is not realised at present. The Clause puts them firmly within the law. I hope that that will be a consolation to many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Bermondsey, who do so much to organise charity fetes and other similar bona fide functions for charity, and I think that the conditions which we have laid down are perfectly reasonable for them. As I spend almost every Saturday when the sun is shining at fetes of this sort, I feel much relieved.
Clause 16 allows amusements with prizes at such places as fun fairs and amusement arcades. These, although at present illegal, are tolerated in most areas, subject to conditions which vary as between one area and another.
Under the Clause a permanent amusement arcade or amusement park, of the kind which is to be found at some seaside resorts, will need a permit granted 822 by the local authority. There is a slight departure from the recommendation of the Royal Commission in this respect in so far as the Clause does not require a permit to be obtained by an occasional pleasure fair of short duration, such as that which appears on Hampstead Heath at Bank holidays. Since these amusements are of a commercial character, some simple conditions as set out in subsection (3), which is designed to ensure that the amount charged and the prizes given for these amusements are of a moderate size. Under paragraph (a) the amount paid by a competitor to have a "go" is not to exceed 1s.
Clause 17 frees from all restriction gaming machines of an innocuous character commonly operated by 1d. and usually played on by children, in which the successful operation results in the return of the coin or a free turn. The remaining provisions of the Bill are procedural, consequential or technical.
In framing this Bill, the aim of the Government has been to liberalise a branch of the law which over the course of years, has become outmoded and ineffective and, therefore, treated by many people with ridicule and contempt. We hope that the Bill—with the improvements that will be made to it during its passage through Parliament—will provide reasonable freedom for people who wish to bet or to play games for money to do so, while, at the same time, retaining sufficient safeguards to act as deterrents against their being led into excess.
Social legislation of this kind must take into account the great variety of ways of thought, temperaments and modes of conduct to be found among ordinary people. No Government could claim that in this they had any monopoly of expertise and it is natural that we should look to the collective wisdom of Parliament for much assistance in the shaping of the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "A free vote."] As the Bill is examined in detail upstairs, there will, without doubt, be found room for the loosening of a restriction here or a tightening there to make it into a code of legislation on gambling suitable to the form of our society in the twentieth century.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
May I ask my right hon. Friend 823 about Clause 8? I see that the Racecourse Betting Control Board is there allowed more or less to make such rulesas the Board may think fit".Indeed, Chose last four words appear on page 6 of the Bill. Does my right hon. Friend realise that money taken out of greyhound racing and from bookmakers will be paid into supporting horse racing and that the poor man's money will be going to support the rich man's sport? I do not think that that is the intention of my right hon. Friend. I hope that he will rectify this and see that greyhound tracks get an equal share.
§ Mr. Butler
I should not like in any way to stand between the House and the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who is to speak next. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be speaking tomorrow and will be able to deal more fully with the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke).
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening lecturette on ancient Roman history and the early history of betting and gambling, which we found very illuminating and interesting, and also for his statement on the broad argument of general principles by the Royal Commission, which I accept as a fair and accurate account.
I also wish to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman in thanking Sir Henry Willink and his colleagues for the valuable work they did on the Royal Commission. Although, as I shall make clear, I do not altogether agree with the line of their argument, they worked extremely conscientiously and fairly. I am also glad that there is to be consolidation of this complicated mass of legislation after we have parted with this Bill in some form or other.
We are grateful, too, for the right hon. Gentleman's very careful and full exposition of the various Clauses of the Bill. I do not propose to follow him over the whole course of the Bill. My hon. Friends will take up all the points he has made. I wish to concentrate on the main controversial issue, which is Part I, the proposed changes in betting. On this in 824 particular there are deeply divergent views, very strong conscientious feelings and a sharp division which outs across the parties in this House. It therefore seems to me that this is eminently a matter on which there ought to be a free vote at all stages.
In our election manifesto we made it clear that if we had formed a Government, although of course we should have given the House guidance, we would have left the matter to a free vote. Tomorrow, and on other stages, we on this side of the House will leave all our members free to vote as they feel they should without any guidance. I hope the Government may yet change their mind on this question of a free vote. The right hon. Gentleman is well known for the limpid clarity and unambiguity of all his utterances. He made a statement on Thursday, 12th November, of which I shall read the key words, not leaving out anything that matters. The right hon. Gentleman said:I do not expect any Member will find any difficulty in either expressing views or voting according to conscience.…He went on to say:I do not see why any Member should find that the passage of the Bill should inhibit him in any way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1959; Vol. 613, c. 609.]If the Whips are put on, what meaning is one to attach to those words? I cannot believe that they are a meaningless jumble of words, for that would be to attribute hypocrisy to the right hon. Gentleman. If the Whips are put on, how could it be that hon. Members would have no difficulty and not be inhibited in any way? The words of the right hon. Gentleman can mean only, either that there will be no pressure from the Whips, or that he is openly inviting his hon. Friends to ignore the Whips. If they feel they want to vote differently from the Whips tomorrow or at any stage, they will be able to appeal to the clear and deliberate words of the right hon. Gentleman. On this side we shall have free votes at all stages. All of us, therefore, including myself, are speaking only for ourselves in this debate.
Before I come to the main matter I want to talk about, I have a few general points to make and questions to ask the right hon. Gentleman. First, I do not think there is in the Bill any provision for the licensing authorities to report 825 annually to the Secretary of State and for the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament. This was recommended by the Royal Commission in paragraph 458 of its Report. It is extremely important that such a provision should be incorporated in the Bill, because this is a matter on which we should keep a very careful watch, particularly in the early years of the operation of the Act.
Secondly, I think everybody agrees, whatever their views about the Bill, that we are starting a somewhat hazardous and doubtful experiment. It seems that if we are doing that there should be an automatic review in, say, five or six years, or something of that sort. A review proved necessary in Ireland and Southern Australia after betting shops had been opened there. I think it ought to be written into the Bill.
Thirdly, there will be a very difficult transition period until the Measure comes into force in some form or another. There will be an hiatus which I think will impose almost impossible difficulties on the police. I think the situation about the old and the new law will become chaotic. It will become very difficult for the police to catch and punish people for doing something which is to become legal but which is illegal now, or to enforce the future law about betting shops. We ought to do something to shorten this hiatus and period of transition.
The Bill carries further an unhealthy trend in statute law of shifting the onus of proof on to the accused person. I have counted at least seven instances in which this occurs in the Bill and there may be more. That seems to be wrong. We ought not to put the convenience of authority above personal liberty and the fundamental common law right of the citizen to a presumption of innocence I think we must watch this aspect of the Bill very carefully. It is a dangerous trend that appears in many statutes, and it is very marked in this one.
There is one question which I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever among his colleagues will be replying to the debate, in relation to Part II of the Bill which deals with gaming. I quite agree that the law seems to be improved compared to what it was before. It was unintelligible and 826 unenforceable. This is a question which has very much concerned people in the North, where there are amateur bowling associations which hold handicaps and tournaments. The members pay an entrance fee and receive prizes in the form of money, cups, medals and so forth. The chief beneficiaries of these undertakings are charities, and above all, hospitals, which receive very large sums of money in the areas where these tournaments are held. These are very great events, and thousands of people pay to watch them.
Since 1957, the police apparently have notified many of these clubs that if the handicaps take place, they will lay themselves open to a charge under the Gaming Acts. The question which I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether such enterprises will be legal or illegal under the Bill. If they are not legal, they certainly should be made legal, because these are much more reputable and desirable undertakings and activities than many which are to be legalised by this Bill.
Now I come to the major controversy which is contained in Part I and the related Schedule concerning betting shops, the licensing of bookmakers and so on. There is much more at stake in this part of the Bill than in any other. There are very great moral issues at stake. There are also great fortunes at stake. We must not forget that, as with Independent Television, we are proposing now to give a number of privileged people a licence to print their own money, and this is something we have to be extremely careful about, because there is a great deal at stake in this Bill.
To start with the point on which I think there is very broad agreement—the present law, dating back to the Betting Act, 1906, is really indefensible. We said in our election manifesto that the anomalies under the Betting Acts would be removed, and we were thinking particularly of the anomalies concerning street betting. They contain in their present form a class division which lies at the root of this matter, because they appear to assume that it is right to stop working men- from betting but right to allow anyone else to do so. These laws, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, are unenforceable, and an unenforceable law is a bad law.
827 The great majority of people would agree that the present state of the law is indefensible and that we must put something in its place. Where heated differences arise is about what to put in its place. All we can do in this matter is for each of us to make the best effort we can to understand the views of everybody else, and, secondly for each of us then to state his own approach and the conclusions that he draws.
My own approach to this matter is that betting is not inherently and in itself immoral. It is certainly not so regarded by the great majority of our fellow-citizens. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there seems to be some instinct in human beings that leads them to gamble. Betting and gambling are not in themselves intrinsically evil, but come into the category of things on which each citizen should be left to spend his money as he wishes. I do not think myself that betting is a sin, but a folly. But it is a part of liberty that people should have the right to do foolish things. They therefore should have the right to bet.
Further, although betting is not intrinsically an evil, it is certainly potentially an evil, and if it is not a sin, it can lead to sin. Betting in an immoderate form is an abuse. There is something very wrong with a society in which there is too much gambling, and I would certainly like to see less gambling in Britain than there is. I quite agree with what the Royal Commission said:No sensible man could but wish that gambling played a less prominent part in the life of our nation.It seems to me that the proper way to cure excessive gambling is not the illusory, self-defeating attempt to prohibit it, but to go to the root causes, not the symptoms; and to replace so far as we can the desire to gamble by a desire for better forms of social activity, by education, greater encouragement being given to art, sport and youth activities. This seems to me to be the right way for those of us who want to reduce the amount of gambling that goes on instead of trying to stop what we cannot stop.
There seems to me to be one point at which betting inevitably gets into the danger of becoming a social evil, and that is where it is exploited on a large 828 scale for private gain. It is this which creates the motive to increase and encourage betting. It is this large-scale organisation of gambling which we have particularly to worry about. It seems to me, therefore, that to check, to control and to tax it is within the proper field of State activity; otherwise, we can do nothing about it. If one says that there should not be any State activity because that is to give official recognition to an evil thing, one disarms oneself and is unable to do anything about it. One practical guide to action is that we should in all cases and as far as we can back the small man against the big bookmaking chain.
I have tried to look at the Bill in the light of this approach. The main provision in this part of the Bill with which I am now dealing is for the licensing of betting shops. It makes certain restrictions on betting shops. I say quite frankly that whilst I agree that provision must be made for legal cash betting, I do not like the idea of betting shops in the form in which they appear in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has made the same approach here as he did on the Street Offences Bill. In both cases he has said "Let us brush the evil off the streets and out of sight, and not worry about the consequences." He reminds me of a furtive charwoman who sweeps the dust under the carpet so that it should not be seen by the fine people in the house.
The Bill in this respect carries out the recommendation of the Royal Commission, but it seems to me, reading the Royal Commission's Report, that it had a very slanted argument to justify its conclusions in regard to betting shops. It seems to me that it underrated the dangers of betting shops and exaggerated the difficulties of alternatives or additions. It seems to me that the Royal Commission of 1933 was in many respects wiser and better balanced than that of 1951.
A question that causes me very much concern in trying to judge the merits of this Bill is whether the Bill will stop street betting or not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, the right hon. Gentleman, in attempting to clarify the law in regard to factory runners, is making the new 829 law more chaotic than that which we are trying to amend. I cannot make out whether they will be legal or illegal, or what constitutes a factory, whether it is like a dock or just outside a dock, because none of these things is in the Bill. It is all brought in by inference from the changes that are being made. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to legalise certain forms of running and not others, it must be clarified more clearly and not left to inference, and certainly not left with the degree of clarity which the right hon. Gentleman has thrown upon it.
It seems to me that people want to bet in factories, and outside and near their homes. The provision of a betting shop, which may be half a mile away in the High Street, may not cool this desire to bet in this form. It is quite true that Clause 5 imposes rather fiercer penalties than Section (1) of the 1906 Act, and on that there are two points to be made. The first is that the highest penalty is still the same—three months' imprisonment. We have a three months' penalty under the existing law for a third conviction, and now there will be a three months' penalty for a second conviction.
The second point is that the analogy between street betting and street offences, which have been treated in much the same way by this Government, is not a good analogy. When we are trying to get prostitutes off the street, we have on our side a great deal of public opinion, but this does not apply when we are trying to get street betting off the streets without having provided a proper alternative to it. This is borne out by the evidence given by the Police Federation to the Royal Commission of 1951, which said that the difficulty of enforcing the law isthat public opinion and local feeling are always with the offender.…Illegal betting is in no way reduced by frequent arrests and convictions.That is the view of the police. Would things be fundamentally different under the Bill in its present form? Would not public opinion still be with the offender? Would the increased penalties be a deterrent?
Here I think that a passage in the evidence given by the Magistrates' Association to the Royal Commission on 830 the danger of police corruption is very important. This evidence said thatGreater penalties would only increase the temptation to bribe.We have greater penalties in the Bill. I am not at all sure that a Bill which provides an inadequate alternative and then increases the penalties is making a very valuable contribution to the solution of this problem.
I therefore think that the Bill in its present form may continue street betting and lead to a general defiance of the law and to greater danger of corruption. We must bear this very carefully in mind. Some people say that the alternative is to legalise street betting. They suggest that this would solve all the problems. Here I agree with paragraph 228 of the Royal Commission which states that if we removed the present restrictions on street betting and just legalised it, it would appear in all sorts of bad and unpleasant forms, with touting and attempts to get bets laid wherever people congregate. I think that that is right. Although it is tempting, the legalising of street betting is not the right solution.
It follows from what I have said so far that we must make Amendments to the Bill which will cut away the desire for street betting instead of increasing the penalties for it and leaving an unsatisfied desire for it. In the light of that, let us look at the betting shops as set out in the Bill. Several things about betting shops seem clear to me. I think that we know rather more about them than did the Royal Commission, because they have sprung up all over the country since the Royal Commission reported.
There was a remarkable article in the Daily Telegraph on 14th November, written by Mr. B. W. R. Curling, whose pen-name is Hotspur and who probably knows what he is talking about. He says, in effect, that the Bill will facilitate the growth of chains of big bookmakers. He says thatin Dublin one bookmaker owns a chain of nearly half the betting shops. In the country districts another bookmaker owns an even bigger chain.According to reports appearing in the Press about illegal betting shops in this country, the same thing already seems to be happening here.
831 If we pass the Bill in substantially its present form, I think that the betting shop will become like a tied public house. There will be a great chain of them owned by a few dominant book-making concerns. I think that the Bill is a charter for the big bookmaker and will squeeze out the small bookmaker.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Has the right hon. Gentleman looked at today's Sporting Life, in which a bookmaker of one of the biggest book-making organisations in this country, Mr. William Hill, is attacking the Bill for all he is worth for the very reason—and no other reason—that he knows well that the Bill will be a charter for the small bookmaker? It depends upon the licensing magistrates in this country, and he knows full well that the small bookmaker will get a preferential chance whereas William Hill will have to provide a chain all over the country.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
If Mr. William Hill has these doubts he should see what has happened in Ireland where betting shops have been started and where it is very easy to build up these chains. There are many motives in these matters. I do not know that everybody who attacks the Bill is necessarily against it. The motives, aims and tactics in this matter are sometimes very odd.
The second comment about betting shops, in the present form of the Bill, is that the law against loitering, even if it is observed in the letter, will be massively evaded in fact. Here again, let me quote from the article by Hotspur in the Daily Telegraph:Since the Bill was published there has been much activity among bookmakers seeking shop property. Usually two adjoining shops are required.This is happening in this country.One will be fitted up as a restaurant, with television and full betting information during the afternoon. Next door will be the betting shop. The customer will not loiter in the betting shop. He will loiter in the restaurant next door, sauntering out as the spirit moves him during the afternoon to have his bets.The Bill purports to prohibit certain things in the betting shops such as television, radio and information about odds. All these things will appear in the restaurant next door. If the third channel were given to I.T.V., I do not 832 doubt that we should have continuous racing comments over television for the benefit of the bookmakers—not for the people in the betting shop but for the people in the restaurant next door to the betting shop and owned by the bookmaker.
It therefore seems to me that we must have two objectives if we are to be realistic. One is to find an effective way to stop continuous betting in the betting shops and the second is to cut away the desire for street betting, if we are to get rid of it. In my view, we must do two things which are not in the Bill. The first is to restrict the hours during which the betting shops are open and possibly to close them during racing hours. I do not think that it is enough to leave this to the licensing authorities, as the Bill leaves it. There would be a variety of regulations in those circumstances, some providing closing and some not. I think that Parliament has a duty in this matter to lay down a uniform law, one way or the other, for we must have a uniform practice throughout the country.
There are very strong arguments for closing betting shops during the whole of the racing hours. This is very powerfully argued in the article in the Daily Telegraph to which I have referred. The argument was also given in the evidence of the Police Federation to the Royal Commission. The Police Federation said:Control should be exercised in order to ensure that no loitering takes place on the premises and that no race by race betting is possible.The evidence continues, in very strong language:The only way in which this could be achieved satisfactorily would be by closing all the offices "—that is, the betting offices—during racing hours.…We must consider this very carefully, but at the same time we must do something else—provide for cash bets in letter boxes in betting offices and arrange that these letter boxes are not closed during racing hours. This would mean that there would be many more letter boxes than there could be betting shops. They could be very conveniently placed and they could cut away, as betting shops cannot, the desire for street betting. We 833 must cut away that desire at the root; we cannot stop it by multiplying the penalties.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
The problem is that of marking the bets with the time at which they were made—unless there is a clock on it, which makes it quite a big business.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
Before the right hon. Gentleman continues with his constructive suggestions, may I ask him whether I may take it that he accepts the background of the betting offices or shops and that he is making certain suggestions for their improvement to satisfy the desire for street betting?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
Yes. I intend in a moment to pull together what I have been saying. I think that we should need to have letter boxes, closed at the time of the start of the race. That would probably be necessary. At any rate, if we want to stop street betting I can see no other way of doing it.
§ Captain M. Hewitson (Hull, West)
It would be rather difficult. If we had four race meetings running together, there might be a five-minute interval between races. How should we be able to work the letter boxes?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
I agree that any proposal which one puts forward in this matter contains certain difficulties. Indeed, one of the problems is that no proposal is without some difficulties. The fact remains that street betting will remain illegal with the institution of the betting shop. I have no doubt that the Royal Commission of 1933, which made the recommendation which I have mentioned, thought that ways could be found—which we shall have to consider in Committee—of meeting at any rate most of the difficulties. I do not believe that any hon. Gentleman can put forward a proposal containing no difficulties whatever.
In paragraph 227 of its Report the Royal Commission of 1951 dismisses rather too easily the argument about 834 letter boxes. It says that there would be no proof of the bet, but that is equally true of all street betting today. It is true of all credit betting. The Commission said that another objection is that young people could put bets in the box. We want very stringent laws, as there are in the Bill, against betting by young people, but it is no good kidding ourselves that we can stop every young person in the country betting. Under the proposal to establish betting shops there is nothing to stop young persons getting someone else to put bets on for them. There is no way in which young people can be stopped altogether from betting if they are absolutely determined. However, one can make it as strictly illegal as one possibly can.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
The difficulty about that is that my hon. and learned Friend would still have to stipulate some age, whether it be two or five, at which it would be proper to begin to teach young people that betting is a mug's game. It seems to take people all their lives and right into the grave to learn that. It is interesting to note that when the Magistrates' Association, which has now given its approval to the idea of betting shops, gave evidence to the 1951 Royal Commission it strongly urged the idea of letter boxes.
If we make these two changes we would then have letter boxes open all the time, including racing hours. We would have betting shops which would be closed during racing hours but open in the mornings and evenings for placing bets, for paying winnings and I suppose for arguing over disputed bets, because that will happen under any system we choose.
I have made it clear that in my opinion the Bill in its present form is beset with very grave dangers. I cannot vote against it because that would be tantamount to saying that I want the existing law to remain as it is, and I do not. The existing law is absolutely indefensible. But I cannot support the Bill in its present form because it opens dangers of great abuse in continuous betting. It cannot stop street betting.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain his objection to continuous betting? I can bet on credit continuously on every race even if four race meetings are taking place in one afternoon. Why should there be a class distinction between a man placing a cash bet and someone like myself who can bet continuously on four race meetings?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
If I could find a way of discouraging the hon. Baronet from continuous betting I would do so, but I cannot now go into the whole argument. It is very well set out in the Royal Commission's Report. I accept its argument in this respect. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to a different view.
The Bill in its present form may not stop street betting. It may increase the danger of corruption. It will certainly facilitate large-scale exploitation of betting. In its present form the Bill seems to me to have a certain amount of humbug and hypocrisy in it. To be acceptable it will need massive changes in Committee.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
As the Minister who was in charge for the Government during the passing of the Pool Betting Bill and also during the Committee stage of the Small Lotteries and Gaming Bill, I am glad to give a general welcome to this Bill. There are excellent reasons why this should be a Government Measure while the others were Private Members' Bills and not subject to the Whip. As the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said, it seems extremely unlikely that there will be a Division on Second Reading. Everyone agrees with the Short Title and the Long Title. On the other hand, while no one disputes the need to amend the law, it is a law which is broken by the majority of citizens and which is, unfortunately, corrupting or tending to corrupt a small minority. There are as many opinions within the House about what we should do as there are Members of the House. Without a lead from the Government we would get nowhere. It is quite essential that the Government should take responsibility for the passing of this Measure. It would be impossible for us to get a satisfactory Measure without the Government putting on the Whips.
836 The Government's proposals as now embodied in the Bill follow fairly exactly the principles laid down by the Royal Commission. They are based on the Report, but not wholly. Indeed, in one important respect, namely the recommendation about runners, they go a long way from the Royal Commission's recommendations.
As we proceed with the Bill, the Government should seek to give effect, as far as they possibly can, to the opinions which may be expressed in different parts of the House rather than to their own preferences. They must be the arbiters of what is practical and what is not practical, but subject to that they should try to give effect to the desires of the House.
I wish to confine my remarks to Part I of the Bill. Parts II, III and IV are, generally speaking, on the right lines, except that I am rather sorry to see that gaming machines are in certain circumstances to be made legal. That is unnecessary, but it is a point which can be dealt with in Committee.
I agreed with much of what the right hon. Member for Smethwick said. I do not like the proposals relating to betting offices. I appreciate that those proposals follow the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but I think that the Royal Commission was wrong. I shall say as briefly as I can why I think that they are wrong and what should be done instead.
First, I see nothing morally wrong in betting offices as such. The ethics of gambling lie in the fact of speculation and not in where the betting is done or with whom it is done. It is, of course, always possible to argue that any particular change in the law in this connection may lead to an undesirable increase in betting or, on the other hand, to an undue restriction of the rights of the subject. Certainly the level of gaming is an important question and one which we must not leave out of our considerations altogether, but it does not seem to me to be the problem confronting us this afternoon. Our problem on the betting part of the Bill is limited to how illegal betting is to be stopped and how to deal with the desire or demand or pressure, whatever is the right word, of millions of people of small means who wish regularly to put on a bob or so.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
It is not only those who wish regularly to do so. Under the provisions of the Bill the housewife who wishes to bet the odd shilling on the Derby or the Oaks will be committing a criminal offence if she tries to place the bet on the days on which the races are run, because she will not bother with betting shops.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I appreciate that, but I was dealing with the large question of the regular small betters—the people who are now almost every day breaking the law. It is quite clear that nothing we could do in the way of providing new facilities for credit betting, postal betting and telephone betting and the like would really touch that aspect, because the cost would be out of all proportion either to the stake invested or to the winnings. Obviously. when one is dealing with these very small bets of a shilling or so, an extra 3d. or 4d. makes quite a difference.
No problem would remain, of course, if all cash betting were legalised, but I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that very few people want unlimited facilities for cash betting off the course—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last sentence, but would he explain his opinion—for which, if I may say so, I have very great respect—that this is a proper matter for the criminal law at all?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If we could do it without resort to the criminal law I would be only too pleased, and I hope that the hon. Member will develop that later in a speech. But if we are not to have unlimited facilities or the existing restrictions which have led to wholesale disregard for the law, an overworked police force and, as has been suggested, signs of corruption, some middle course is necessary.
The Royal Commission and the Government, following it, have argued that licensed betting offices are the only solution, and that was the case put forward by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. Respectfully, I want to argue that that view is wrong. The Royal Commission was somewhat bureaucratic in its logic, and reached a somewhat bureaucratic conclusion.
838 The people with whom we are concerned are almost all weekly wage earners, or people in that class of society. The only convenient opportunity they have to bet regularly, if they wish to do so—and they do—is on their way to or from work, or while at work. In their going to and from their work it is quite certain that we would not be able to persuade them, by the offer of some legal alternative to street betting, to go very far from their accustomed route. We would not be able to get them to deviate a great distance. My own view is that it would be a matter of hundreds of yards at the outside, or possibly even less. If that proposition is correct, as I believe it is, the number of offices required to do the job that we all want done would be very large indeed.
I have studied my own constituency. The Edgware Road is familiar to most hon. Members. It passes through and along my constituency for a distance of about two miles. I have discussed the matter with a bookmaker constituent whose business is in that area. He has told me that, anticipating the Bill—indeed, before its publication—he had sought something in that area of which to make a suitable betting office, and had discovered that any premises that were at all possible would cost far beyond the figure his business could afford—and it is not a particularly small business.
I have no doubt at all that there are many areas where the cost of providing any sort of office which would be at all tolerable would be so high as to put a real pressure on bookmakers to seek to avoid incurring that cost. If that is so, they will, of course, start street book-making straight away. Once that happens, we are back to where we were and have made no progress at all.
Of course, if enough shops were provided it would solve the problem, and the vital decision in settling the form of the Bill is how many shops we want and what are to be the controlling factors in determining the number of shops in a locality. Sub-paragraph (b) (ii) of paragraph 20 of the First Schedule gives the power to a committee of the justices. The criterion there laid down for the justices is a very difficult one, although I do not think that it is beyond their powers to settle. Although that is the only provision in the Bill, it is not, of 839 course, the only control over the numbers of betting shops there will be if the Bill comes into operation.
First and foremost, there is the town and country planning machinery. The Royal Commission's Report says that the licensing of betting offices must be—and it makes this assumption—subject to prior planning consent. The Commission sat in the very early days of town and country planning and could not go very deeply into the matter, but we now know a good deal more of the subject. I have studied the Bill carefully, and it appears to be entirely silent on this question. Does it contemplate that licensing approval should be given after obtaining provisional consent from the town and country planning authority, or does it contemplate it the other way round?
There is a third consideration. Bookmakers, in the ordinary way, do not own property suitable to this purpose. They will have to acquire it. Therefore, the purchase or lease of the property would itself have to be subject to consent if either of these conditions were present. This is a difficult problem. It involves very important considerations, and the right hon. Gentleman has already referred to some of them.
There is the fact that it will make a lot of difference to neighbours to have such an establishment almost next door. Some will be pleased; others will be very much the reverse. That question has to be settled by someone, and I do not think that it can be very easily settled by the licensing justices. Therefore, if the scheme is to work, it will be quite essential that there shall be some general arrangement somewhat similar to the liquor licensing provisions in the new towns. It is possible to have that, but I would feel that it was something that we would not exactly welcome. It would involve a large and complicated piece of machinery. I should like to know the Government's intention in that connection.
The limiting factor on the number of these shops will not be the decision of the justices, nor will it be the decision of the planning authority. It will be the cost of the shops. If that is right, the result of the Bill will be that a limited number of betting shops would 840 come into existence. They would be the property of those who could afford them, and there would be a tendency towards something that is happening, I believe, in Ireland—chains of shops belonging to large and somewhat monopolistic concerns—and the intended purpose would not be fulfilled. The shops would be insufficient to prevent street betting. They would be a large vested interest which would make further reform much more difficult simply because they would be something already created as a result of statutory action.
If that is so, what can be done? First of all, the objections that I have expressed to private betting offices are absent in the case of betting offices belonging to the totalisator. That is an existing public monopoly, and to my mind there would be no great objection to the totalisator owning such betting offices. It would avoid almost entirely the complicated licensing procedure which is now incorporated in the Bill. Of course, the totalisator betting offices would not solve the problem any more than will the private betting offices, but, on the other hand, they would make some contribution towards a solution.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
May I interrupt my hon. Friend for a moment? Does he mean that he would restrict the offices solely to the Board and have no other offices except those run by the Board?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Yes, that is what I would like to see. I would like to see all the licences for betting offices granted to the Racecourse Betting Control Board and to that Board alone.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that there should be a complete monopoly for off-course betting solely with the Board through the totalisator?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
No, I am not suggesting that at all. But, in so far as it is desirable to have betting offices, they should be the monopoly of the tote.
Secondly—and this, I think, is the answer to my hon. Friend—the Bill itself helps the situation by permitting bookmakers' agents to operate in factories and other private places, as has been described by my right hon. Friend. I welcome that provision. It seems to me to be entirely right. It will provide 841 something which will genuinely operate to remove the inducement to bet illegally on the streets.
There is, thirdly, within the four corners of the Bill already the provision legalising cash betting by post. I do not think that that will make a large contribution, though it will make a small one, to the problem. I am quite certain, however, that the real crux of the problem is the question of bookmakers' runners, that is to say, their agents, operating in the street.
May I put the problem in a slightly different way? If we are to control cash betting we can do so either by licensing particular places or by licensing particular individuals, or by a combination of both. I do not think that the licensing of particular places, as mainly suggested by the Government at the present time, will do the job. Indeed, they really make some admission of that by permitting agents in factories themselves against the advice of the Royal Commission.
It may be that totalisator betting offices and licensed bookmakers' agents in factories would be sufficient to kill street book making. I do not think that lit would. If it would not, then the remedy is to license agents to take bets elsewhere. I am not suggesting for a moment that general licences should be granted to bookmakers to have their runners anywhere they please. That would be to repeal the Act of 1906 and to legalise street bookmaking.
I do not see why we should not allow a committee of the justices, in the sort of way proposed in the Bill, to license private individuals, in limited numbers and in such cases as it thinks fit, to take bets and to pay out winnings within certain specified areas and at certain specified times. In other words, instead of having particular betting shops there would be betting areas with a limited number of people licensed in them.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
That would be the sort of idea which I do not think there would be any great difficulty in incorporating in the Bill.
I do not see why it should be more difficult to lay down and enforce rules governing the operation of individuals in 842 public places than in offices. They would be doing the same job. In any case, there has to be an individual doing the job.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
Would the hon. Gentleman have betting barrows as well as betting shops?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I should like to consider that. A licensing system would be necessary to do very much what is now done by the bookmakers' runners, but the number of persons licensed would have to be limited very strictly, and it would have to be laid down very specifically when and where they could operate.
A change of that sort is not dealt with very easily in Committee. I suspect that many such proposals will be made in the course of this debate and the difficulty will be to deal with these matters. I hope that the Government will allow a long interval between Second Reading and the beginning of the Committee stage and that they will have further discussions with outside bodies, the Churches, the bookmakers' organisations, and anyone else they please. Having done that and in the light of what is said during the course of this debate, they should then make up their mind—I am not asking the Government in any way to hand the matter over to hon. Members, because I do not think that would be suitable—and, having made up their mind, they should take the House into their confidence and announce any major changes before we enter the Committee stage. We would not, of course, be entirely satisfied with that, but, on the other hand, if we knew the main lines on which we could proceed and were prepared to accept them and if we could all work together to improve them, we would, as a result, get a satisfactory if not an agreed Measure.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
I have listened with growing interest to the attempts that have been made to apply logic to the problem of gambling in this country. Of course, everyone wallows in difficulty as he tries to bo logical about the illogical.
I am a Nonconformist. I was nurtured in a Nonconformist home, and I am proud of the Nonconformist conscience. It is made much fun of these days. There 843 is a greater laxity in almost every field, but nonconformity is considered, as I see Mr. Randolph Churchill says today, as something that can be ignored.
It so happens that we Nonconformists regard gambling as a sin. Like my hon. Friend, we are all entitled to our own personal convictions. We regard gambling as an evil. We believe that it is responsible for far more human misery than is ofttimes acknowledged by responsible people.
I am aware that some people say that although we regard gambling as a sin we must be tolerant. After all, the great word of this generation is "tolerance". It means on occasion closing one's eyes to things that one knows are wrong.
I ask myself whether, as a result of the Bill becoming law, there will be less gambling or more gambling. That is a fair test. Will the Bill help us to train our young people along the lines which we all want them trained, or will it encourage them to develop gambling habits? Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I do not believe that people learn from their mistakes in gambling. It seems to be a proved fact that the more they lose the more they bet. It is a strange thing. Different laws apply in the sphere of gambling from any other sphere. People who have lost their homes and reputations still gamble. Therefore, I believe that this House has, above all, a moral responsibility to protect the young as long as we can from developing gambling habits.
There is a long history of Parliamentary intervention seeking to control and reduce the ravages of gambling in society. As was to be expected, the Christian Churches have led us in our thinking on this problem. For centuries this House has honoured and respected the views of responsible churchmen as they have pronounced on issues of this sort which, in essence, are moral issues. In his well documented and authoritative book, "Gambling in English Life", the Rev. Dr. Benson Perkins, who is the Secretary of World Methodism, reminds us that ever since 1541 Parliament has been concerned with gaming Acts. Every century has had its wave of gaming legislation to restrict the harm done to individuals and to society.
844 In 1853, a date which the Leader of the House mentioned, Parliament was so disturbed by betting shops, which up till then had been legal, that it introduced a Measure to make them illegal. Now we are coming back to 1853. The ravages in British social life from betting so disturbed the House that in 1853, in spite of the wave of gambling opinion outside, the House had the courage to close down those shops.
The twentieth century has witnessed an astonishing development in the gambling craze. It is now an industry which directly touches the lives of more people than does any other industry in the country. Its ramifications are beyond description. The Press and publicity organs like radio and television all pander to the power of the gambling industry. We had a recent illustration. Even the B.B.C., by announcing the betting odds at the beginning of a race, or by announcing the starting price, I think—[Interruption.] Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) knows the technical terms better than I do, but the B.B.C. panders, and, of course, television and the Press—
§ Mr. Thomas
I accept at once the voice of the expert.
In the first half of this century Parliament was so disturbed by the dangers of this spreading disease that no fewer than six Select Committees and Royal Commissions were established to find ways and means of controlling gambling. I presume—because I always like to presume the best intentions—that the Home Secretary wants to control gambling and to restrict it. I hope that that will be more authoritatively said by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when he speaks later.
Of the two outstanding Commissions of this century, those of 1932 and 1951, I have no hesitation in agreeing that the 1932 Royal Commission revealed both greater understanding and a greater sense of responsibility in this matter. Unfortunately, the Bill before us seeks to give legislative sanction not to the 1932 845 Commission but to the 1951 Commission. I know, and I at once concede, that it is most important that the law shall be respected and that the law has been brought into disrespect. I realise the anomalies concerning cash betting vis-à-vis credit betting, although I do not believe that a working man is any longer unable to get credit for gambling. I do not believe that today it is a rich man's privilege to pick up the telephone and place a bet. My right hon. and hon. Friends know far better than to believe that today this question of cash or credit betting is an obstacle which prevents people who wish to gamble from doing so.
I believe, however, that when the House turns to remove these anomalies we ought to be very careful that we are not creating greater anomalies. When people ask why it should be wrong to make a cash bet with a runner whom one knows, in the corner of a public house that one frequents, while it is right to telephone a bet to a man whom one has never seen, of course they are right in saying that it is an absurd position. I do not seek to defend it. I start off, as I explained, as a Nonconformist regarding sin as a gamble—[Laughter.] Hon. Members are much too quick. The odds are that I shall make another slip before I finish speaking.
Of course, the law is riddled with absurdities, like the drinking laws and Sunday legislation. But look at the proposals in this Bill. What is the moral difference between betting on the street corner and betting in a betting shop? What difference is there between a person running out of the house and placing a bet with a bookmaker, as I saw in my own division the other day while I was talking to a bookmaker about this Bill—this person knew the bookmaker; she called him by his name, which I will not repeat—and going up to town and giving the money to an agent or to someone she has never seen?
Is this tidying up the law? Does this deal with the problem? This is only playing into the hands of the big moguls of the gambling world. The betting shops, I believe, will add to the domain of the big gambling emperors. [Laughter.] If the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) thinks it is amusing to have our social life 846 influenced by these great gambling giants, he has a different idea of the sort of Britain we should have from the Britain that I should like to see.
I believe that the Bill is bound to fail. It will not work, for several reasons which I propose to enumerate. In the first place, I am opposed to it because it makes gambling easier. For the first time in my lifetime teen-agers will be able to walk in, with all the respectability of the law, and indulge in gambling.
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, at 19. They are teen-agers. The noble Lord represents a rural area, but he should know that in the cities the temptations to young people in their teen years, 18 and 19, will be increased. If we are to have these shops—and I do not want to see them—the age ought not to be below 21. That is early enough for the State to say that it is prepared to sanction betting by young people.
Secondly, I believe that the Bill is intended to make gambling more respectable. Thirdly, I believe that it will debase values in our society. Its Operation will be impracticable because of the number of shops which will be required. Working on the basis of what happens in Dublin—we must work from the known to the unknown—in the City of Cardiff at least 300 betting shops will be wanted if the thing is to work A conservative estimate is that 4,000 betting shops will be wanted in London. Where shall we get them? What is to happen to the price of property? Of course, some people will be rejoicing at all this, but I believe that if we bring this vast number of betting shops into the City of Cardiff and into every town and village in this country we cannot help but give the impression that the State encourages gambling and that it does not matter if the youth of today are caught up in the craze.
I want to know whether it will be possible, in these betting shops, for people to pay in their football pool moneys.
§ Mr. Thomas
That is betting or gambling, is it not? I want to hear about that authoritatively. I regard my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool 847 (Mr. Abse) as an authority, of course, but I wish to hear the Joint Under-Secretary of State on that.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like an answer to that now? The answer is, "No."
§ Mr. Vosper
The hon. Gentleman did ask whether it would be possible for pools stakes to be paid into the betting offices, and I answered him, "No."
§ Mr. Abserose—
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend will have his chance, I hope. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is opening a very wide gate indeed. I can well imagine that Littlewoods and Vernons, which today control 80 per cent. of the football pool world, will move into every community in Britain—
§ Mr. Thomas
I beg my hon. and learned Friend to appreciate that I am making a very serious point. We shall change the character of our social life in Britain if this sort of empire-building is permitted in our community.
I stand open to correction by the right hon. Gentleman, but I understand that under the Bill loiterers in these shops can be pulled up only by uniformed policemen, not by plain-clothes men. That is how I read it and how others outside the House have read the legislation. This, of course, means that one will never get within a mile of catching loiterers there. Does anyone imagine that when a uniformed policeman turns the corner people will not know in the shops? The runners now will be running for a different purpose. It is an absurd position that the Home Office is creating for itself. I am in no doubt whatever that the Bill was not even considered in its details before the election; 848 otherwise, the Government could hardly have made as many mistakes as they have in a major Measure to which they give high priority, bringing it forward so soon in the Session.
Another point to which I wish to refer is the character of the relationship between the police and gambling. Everyone knows that it is a happy relationship at present. It is a strange man or a very innocent one who does not know of the assignments and appointments that are made. I am not criticising the police force. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] What I say is this: who is there here who does not know that "bookies" sometimes know when they are going to be picked up?
§ Mr. Thomas
We all know it. I am a Methodist, and I know it.
I come to the major reasons which I have for telling the House that I have no doubt or difficulty about voting against the Bill. I shall be in the Lobby tomorrow night, and if a Whip were on I should still be in the Lobby against a Bill of this sort. I believe it to be damaging to the best interests of the country. It is against those who are seeking to build a Christian order of society. There has been a marked deterioration in values, as everyone knows, during the post-war years. There has been a greater emphasis on material values. People are beginning to judge success more in terms of pounds, shillings and pence and less in terms of voluntary service. We all know about these things, and we must be disturbed by the trends which have been revealed.
I hold a deep conviction that democracy itself depends upon high values being held by its citizens. Gambling encourages cupidity and selfishness. It discourages a sense of social responsibility. It destroys a sense of stewardship about the right use of money. When we have a Measure which is likely to increase gambling in this country, every hon. and right hon. Member, wherever he sits, ought to think twice before going into the Lobby to support it. I say to hon. and right hon. Members opposite that that should be their attitude. They are not free in this matter because the Whips are on.
849 Of course, they like to give the impression in the country that there is a regimented party on this side. I hope that there will be a great many abstentions on their side of the House. I should like to see them vote, but I know the rules of the game.
Hon. and right hon. Members hold it in their hands to demonstrate to the Government that they disapprove of a Measure which can undermine the efforts of people who are working for the best and highest in our society. There has been a turning away from organised religion in these islands during the postwar years. Any hon. Member who knows anything at all about the religious life of these islands will agree that there has been such a turning away. People have been abandoning the restraints and the disciplines of the Christian religion, and if we abandon its restraints and its faith we shall not be long in abandoning its values as well.
I regard this Bill as an enemy to the best in our society. How, then, are we to control gambling? Hon. and right hon. Members have the right to say to me, "Do not merely be denunciatory and negative. What have you to put in the place of this?" I believe that the State cannot be indifferent to something which has been prevalent so long in the history of mankind, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us earlier, from the earliest times. In the civilisations of Egypt and Babylon, of India and of China, in their earliest forms, they were persecuted by this weakness of human kind. And it is a weakness, and I say that we ought in Committee to be reaching for some of those constructive proposals which have already been made as alternatives to the betting shop, which can only enthrone what ought to be dethroned and can only lend respectability to that which never really can be respectable.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morrison (Salisbury)
Before I turn to some of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), whose interventions we always so much enjoy, I think it would be right for me to declare my interest in the Bill. All my life I have been interested in horses, and I still continue to ride them whenever 850 I can. However, as it is a good many years ago since I turned 12 st. 7 lb., on the racing side today I can speak only as an onlooker. Like many other people, I periodically have a little bet on a horse. Anyone who owns and breeds a horse—and I do—is always supposed to have large bets. I would ask the House to believe me, though I do not expect it will, that in fact it is a very small bet, and I can safely say that annually during the years my bookmaker or the totalisator has had a slight advantage of me. However, I thought it right to declare my interest.
I should now like to comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West. We all deeply respect his feelings towards gambling, and we know that, with other people, he thinks that it may be a wrong and indeed a sinful thing, but I submit to him—and I must say he seems to know a good bit about it—that with this Bill the moral issue does not really arise, for this is an attempt to bring up to date something which is totally out of date at present. The hon. Gentleman himself referred to the question of use of the telephone, as did the Home Secretary. I have always thought it silly that one section of the community could ring up a bookmaker to place a bet and another could not. It seemed to me to be quite unfair.
I am a churchman as well as he, but of the Church of England, and I have been a churchwarden for twenty-seven years. I have been interested to note that only one bishop so far appears to have spoken on the matter since the publication of the Bill. That was the Bishop of Carlisle, who did not discuss the moral issue, but thought it was right to bring the matter up to date and as far as possible to have things above board instead of under the counter. I believe that in that he was right.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), who led for the Opposition, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) referred to the Whipping on this Bill. I would only say that the debate has made it plain, it seems to me, that unless the Government took the final hand in the guidance of the House we should get into an appalling muddle very shortly and that we should possibly put on the Statute Book 851 an Act or Parliament which could not be carried out in law and by the police. It is the object of the Bill to carry out recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, and in doing so to lighten the load on the police and to bring things up to date.
There was one matter touched on by Home Secretary but not, I think, by anyone who has spoken since, and that was the Committee which he announced last week has been set up under the chairmanship of Sir Leslie Peppiatt. That Committee is charged with the duty of finding out whether it is desirable that some contribution towards racing as a whole should be payable by the starting price bookmakers, and secondly, if it is desirable, ways and means of making that possible for those bookmakers, who at present largely do not contribute but whose livelihood depends upon the condition of racing as a whole.
I hope very much that this Committee under Sir Leslie Peppiatt will be able to report at a fairly early date and that it will be able to report in favour of some action being taken, because I want to see not only more comforts and better accommodation and stands for the sporting public, but also a chance for more people, when prosperity is with us in this country, to be able to enjoy the sport if they wish. There is no doubt that, unless something further is contributed, other nations will have the edge on us in amenities to the public and in the general well-being of racing and the breeding of bloodstock. I want to feel that in the future British racehorses will have a reasonable chance of winning the Derby and other big races, and I think if would be a great pity for the sporting traditions of this country if that were not possible.
Before coming to one or two matters arising out of the Bill itself, I would observe that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is not with us in this Chamber. I am sure that all hon. Members regret that he is unable to be present. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Many years ago now I followed him in debate and congratulated him on his maiden speech. I have not always since then agreed with him in debate, but he has had a serious operation, and we all wish him a speedy return to this 852 Chamber. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] It is a pity he is not here for this debate upon a Bill in which he has great interest, being a member of the Racecourse Betting Control Board.
I do not want to take up much time in talking of the Bill itself because I believe that the majority of the Bill must be settled in Committee. I was glad to hear the Home Secretary say that he would listen to opinions generally in conducting the Bill through the process of Committee.
Clause 2 refers to the bookmakers' permit. There is an interesting little point. I think I am right in saying that the £100 payable for a licence is payable to the local authority. That seems an unusual way of dealing with a licence, and I wonder what the purpose is. Perhaps my right hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate would be good enough to enlighten us on that.
I speak now as a local justice of the peace. I think that it would be helpful to the licensing authority if it could have some indication other than purely through the police that a person prepared to pay £100 and to apply for a licence is agreeable to the industry itself. I hope that will be considered. At present, a reputable bookmaker cannot set up in business unless he is approved by one of his associations, and that is every bit as much in the interest of the public as it is in the interest of bookmakers themselves. That arrangement might possibly be worth considering in this connection. A recommendation might be considered by a reviewing magistrate's court from the equivalent of Tattersall's Committee.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South said, I hope that there will be a reasonable interval of time before the Bill goes to Committee. I am sure that a great deal will be said during the later stages of the Bill about the location of betting offices and their interior contents. I believe that there are a great many views in the House on those subjects. I am sure that it will be generally agreed on both sides of the House that there should be as little loitering as possible on betting premises, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will listen to the many points put to him about the interior appointments of betting offices.
853 Hours of opening is another matter which needs further considerable thought. Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick I read the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, with particular reference to the Bill, and with particular interest, because Hotspur used to be my fag at school. Naturally, he had some feelings on these matters since he has had a lifelong interest in them.
I do not know what will be the Home Secretary's final decision, guided by the House, but I hope that, whatever is settled about the hours of opening of betting offices, it will be designed to prevent general loitering. I agree with the right hon. Member for Smethwick also about the setting up of betting shops. It is very desirable that all possible safeguards should be included in the Bill to ensure that they do not become the monopoly of one or two very big bookmaking firms to the disadvantage of local bookmakers throughout the country.
I do not consider myself a card player of any sort and, therefore, I am not competent to give much advice to the House on Part II of the Bill which deals with gaming. I was relieved to hear the Home Secretary say that "snap" was not an illegal game. It would have spoiled a great deal of family amusement if it had been so considered. A great deal of thought will have to be given to the whole question of gaming premises before the Bill is finally passed. Many of the existing laws on that subject need bringing up to date.
The Home Secretary briefly mentioned Clause 11 which deals with gaming machines. My own experience is that generally the so-called "fruit machine" is almost a certain loser for the investor, but the fact that under the Bill the maximum stake must be no more than 6d. will be of help to people who take their chance on these machines. Even so, it is right and proper that the right of the individual to spend his money as he wishes should be maintained.
Part III of the Bill which deals with amusement parks is a good attempt to bring up to date matters which largely need repair by the House. I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on facing the problem of filling a long-felt want and I should like to express 854 the hope that before we part with the Bill, the Peppiatt Committee will have arrived at its findings. I hope that the Home Secretary and his draftsmen will find it possible to incorporate those findings in the Bill for the general benefit of the racing public.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, for the very kind references that he made to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and to say that we share his hope that my hon. Friend will be quickly restored to health and be able to give us valuable assistance out of his great experience during the further stages of the Bill.
Unlike the hon. Member for Salisbury, I cannot bring expert knowledge of the turf to our considerations but, on the subject of the Peppiatt Committee, I should be frankly surprised if the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not find some means of extracting money from bookmakers once they come within the licensing provisions suggested in the Bill. I agree very much with the hon. Member in his difference with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) on whether the principle of gambling is involved in the Bill. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West was laying odds in the course of his speech, and it is very difficult for anyone to go through life without taking a gamble or a chance of some sort.
In this assembly I imagine that it should be difficult to find anyone who had objection to gambling in principle, because I can think of no occupation more subject to chance than the one in which we are engaged. Apart from electoral considerations, there is the gamble as to whether we catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. There are the Ballots frequently held for Motions and Bills and, to make matters more complicated, there are the Boundary Commission outside and the usual channels inside to add uncertainty to our political life. It is, therefore, rather surprising that we can find hon. Members who have an objection in principle to gambling. Whether gambling should be backed by money is certainly another matter.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I was hoping that that point in my argument would have escaped attention.
I am glad that the Government have at last had the courage to introduce the Bill, though I do not support its detailed provisions in every respect. It represents a substantial change of attitude on the part of the Government from that shown at the beginning of the debate on the Private Member's Bill—the Pool Betting Act—which I introduced in 1954 and to which the Home Secretary kindly referred today.
I also feel that it may be necessary, as this debate proceeds, for the Government Whips to be on so that the Bill may succeed. Probably the Home Secretary's view on this matter was coloured by the experience of the House in 1934, when the Betting and Lotteries Act of that year was in Committee for several months and finally the Government, in despair, had to bring the Committee stage to the Floor of the House, and it was concluded only after three all-night Sittings. I hope that for the convenience of hon. Members that experience will not be repeated with this Bill.
I hope that the Home Secretary will relax the power of the Whips in Committee as far as possible and rely on his own very considerable powers of persuasion. If the Minister has to fall back on the Whips it is an indication in a matter of this sort, which is a non-party question, that he is not too confident of the arguments that he is deploying. I hope very much that the Home Secretary, despite his other very considerable responsibilities, will find it possible to attend the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Mulley
There was an instance recently of an important Bill where the right hon. Gentleman was not able to be present during the Committee's proceedings.
As the House has realised, the controversy over this Bill arises on off-the-course betting, particularly on horse racing. Before saying something about 856 that, I will refer to two or three other aspects of the Bill. The first is the question of pool betting, particularly football pools, which was the subject matter of the Private Member's Bill that I introduced five years ago. The Government very kindly seem to take the view that this is adequate to deal with football pools. As the author of that Act, perhaps I may say frankly that I feel there are still improvements to be made in this direction. I am thinking particularly of the accountability of pools, the question of commission and, of course, the unresolved question of the maximum prize. All these matters might receive thought during the Committee stage of this Bill.
There is also the special feature of pool betting that promoters can incur expense knowing that it does not come out of their own pockets, as all the expenses are deducted from the stakes before any winnings are paid. While we were glad to have the assurance from the Joint Under-Secretary that football pool promoters would not be able to collect coupons in betting shops, this provision, as the Bill is drafted, will be difficult to operate if the same people run betting shops for horse racing or, more particularly, for fixed odds football betting.
Is there not a case for excluding all betting on football—which is quite a different sport from racing—from betting shops, and so on? Football pools which give the largest prizes are really State lotteries, since I can say almost categorically that no one can win one of the large prizes in a football pool if his forecast is in any way related to a knowledge of the game. It is only when none of the expected results happen that the prize is very large. Indeed, I believe that if one of the treble chance pools were taken to the courts it would be decided that it was not betting, but a lottery.
I wonder, therefore, whether the Government have considered the possibility of a straightforward State lottery instead of one by the back door, which is what Premium Bonds amount to. I think that there is substantial support in the country for a State lottery, which might take away much of the support for, and interest in, the football pools. I was interested to see in the Daily Herald this morning that a substantial number of 857 its readers who have taken part in a questionnaire on this subject support the idea of a State lottery.
On the question of gaming, I am glad that at last the 1541 Act is to be repealed and that whist and bridge—games perhaps which even my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, may find respectable—will at last become legal. We know that Henry VIII had his own idea about indoor pastimes. I have always felt it was rather unfortunate that, having engaged so largely in the supreme gamble of matrimony, he should have governed our gaming laws for nearly 500 years.
§ Mr. Mulley
I intend to support the Second Reading of the Bill although I am dissatisfied with the way the Government propose to deal with off-the-course betting. I think that they were bound to bring in a Bill based on the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, but we should recognise, first, that Royal Commissions are not infallible and, secondly, that nearly ten years have passed since this Commission was in session. One important development over the intervening years has been television. Whilst it was probably politic to base the first draft of the Bill on the recommendations of the Commission, I hope that the Government will not dig in their heels and say, "It is the Commission or nothing".
I shall also support the Second Reading because I am satisfied that the existing state of the law is disgraceful, is absurd, is unenforceable and is unfair. Anyone who votes against the Second Reading is voting for the continuation of a law which fails every possible test. What is the alternative if this Bill is defeated? The law will remain as at present. As I understand its Long Title, it is possible for us, in Committee, to get the collective wisdom, if there is no undue interference from the Whips, and to rewrite the betting and gaming laws in any way we like at that stage. For those reasons, while I have reservations which I shall try briefly to indicate, I propose to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
Our need is to produce a state of affairs in which everyone who wants to 858 bet can do so without unreasonable difficulty. At the same time, his betting should not cause offence to people who do not want to bet, and the system should be such that there is no undue advertisement which might persuade people to bet against their normal habit. Especially there should not be extravagant advertisement at the expense of the public, as is the case in pool betting.
One wonders how the Street Betting Act of 1906 could have been passed; how people could believe that we could abolish street betting by Act of Parliament. At the same time, in talking about no loitering, and so on, in the proposed betting shops, we must be careful that history will not decide that we were as naïve as the framers of that legislation. And while there should be freedom to bet, it should not impinge on the way of life of people who do not want to bet. There must be some restrictions, but, with the emergence of betting shops or punters' parlours, I fear that they may be linked to next-door restaurants. In the main streets of our towns such shops will be a nuisance at best, and at worst they may become a grave social danger.
I fear, also, that if we help the police by taking away some of the absurdities of the street betting laws we may be imposing upon them a similar burden in asking them to enforce the provisions on loitering, no television, no radio, no results, no boards giving odds, and so on, in the betting shop. In dealing with the betting community we are dealing with some of the sharpest minds in the community, and I wonder whether we can hope to frame a law with all those restrictions which will really work and will carry the support of the community.
The question I put to myself was: is it necessary to have betting shops Jo provide the betting facilities we want? In any case, presumably people with telephones and credit accounts will continue to bet by telephone because it is so much easier, in the same way as many people order their groceries by phone on credit accounts; and there is no illegality about buying groceries in that way. If we go, as the Bill obviously does, to the point of legalising cash betting by post, we have gone a long way, I think, towards providing the necessary betting facilities. But we need something more.
859 I would put this suggestion forward. It was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). After I thought of it, I found that it was the majority recommendation of the 1932–33 Royal Commission. The suggestion is that, instead of having licensed betting shops, we should have licensed letter boxes or deposit boxes outside bookmakers' offices or other premises acquired for the purpose, into which cash bets could be put at any permitted hour. The 1932 Royal Commission said that the boxes should not operate during the hours of racing. That is where I differ, because I think that the main attraction of having such boxes would be to permit bets to be placed during the time when horse racing or dog racing was in progress. Because there would not be an actual shop, there would be no need to argue about how many chairs should be allowed in the shop, whether there should be blackboards and commentaries, and so on.
I have a high enough opinion of the bookmaking profession to recognise that it would find ways and means of ensuring that the boxes were cleared at the right time and in such a way that the bookmakers would not be defrauded by people trying to place bets after the result of a race was known. I do not think any great dangers of that sort would arise. I think that it would even be possible in these days for the bets to be placed in the box and some kind of a receipt—obviously not for the exact amount of money staked—given if the electronics industry were called in to help.
I ask the Government to consider this as an alternative in view of the difficulties in regard to betting shops. It might be thought desirable—certainly, I should have no objection to it—if, as well as the deposit box and cash betting, it were possible for the betting office, as I prefer to call it in this context, to be open in the morning or in the evening, outside the hours of betting, for people to collect their winnings. I do not feel that there would be any great difficulty about that. I think that the problem is likely to be the kind of conduct and the kind of difficulties which will occur during the hours of racing if there is an attempt by Parliament and the police to make betting offices appear to be just 860 undertakers' offices or places where people walk in very quickly, just place a bet and walk out.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am glad to know that.
I was sufficiently sure of the prowess of British inventors and the perspicacity of the bookmakers to believe that some device would be forthcoming so that the possibility of someone getting "easy money" would not arise. One can imagine the great difficulties which might arise in a bookmaker's shop if the hour of the race approached and there were a queue of people who had a very good tip and were trying to place bets and it appeared that they would not be able to do so in time. I am sure that getting one's bet on by way of a deposit box would present no practical difficulties at all. It is true that teen-agers would be able to bet more easily, but I take the view that any teen-ager who wants to bet will be able to put a bet on whatever system we devise.
One advantage of the alternative is that it would be much cheaper for the bookmaker, and that would make it easier for the smaller bookmaker to remain in business. Also, it would be easier to provide facilities near factories and other places of work, which would not be the case if large premises had to be provided with facilities for people to queue to bet, with counters and assistants and so on. As I see the Bill at the moment, it is possible—I say no more than that—that the small bookmaker will be forced out of existence and that the Bill does not give sufficient facilities for the small punter. As things are at present, I am satisfied that the larger punter is already able to look after himself. We should be concerned with the working man's bets and providing reasonable facility for him to place his bets, and if on the whole, as I think, he prefers to deal with a small bookmaker, that should be possible.
Whatever solution is put forward, it will not be ideal. In approaching the problem, we have to try to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. In Committee, no doubt, we can go into this in 861 much greater detail. However, I end by appealing to the Government to study the alternative proposals which are put forward, and I urge that during the Committee stage they should not rely too heavily on their Whips to put through a Measure which may, as it is at present drafted, be unpopular and unenforceable and may not achieve the purpose which I think the majority of hon. Members wish to attain.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
The House may think that it is for its convenience, and the convenience of Scottish Members, in particular, if I say a few words at this stage in the debate about Scotland.
I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), who has earned such distinction and renown by his Pool Betting Act, will not think it discourteous of me if I do not follow him in his remarks, though I can certainly assure him that everything that he has said, particularly because of the distinction that he has gained, will be most closely studied. I noticed that he reflects on himself rather less credit than the Government have reflected on him by the fact that they have not thought fit to improve upon his Pool Betting Act in the Bill.
If the hon. Member will permit me to leave it at that, I will deal with the special Scottish aspects. I think that that would be useful for Scottish Members, and for the House as a whole, because there may be certain lessons to be learnt from the experience that has been gained in Scotland. I shall leave my right hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend, the Joint Under-Secretaries of State for the Home Department, who will speak later in the debate, to deal with the more general points raised in the debate where they are of equal application both to Scotland and to England and Wales.
The problem in Scotland is this. On the one hand, the present law is not being observed. The number of proceedings taken against persons for offences against the law on betting, gaming and lotteries has been growing year by year. In 1958, proceedings were taken against 16,812 persons. On the 862 other hand, complaints are often heard that the present law is not being enforced with sufficient vigour, and, in particular, that the police do not pay enough attention to illegal betting shops. Indeed, some people allege that they pay no attention to them at all. Let me say at once that that charge is quite unfounded, but it is undoubtedly the case that enforcement of the law as it now stands presents the police in Scotland with a problem which is in every sense intractable.
First. let me say a word or two about the existing law in Scotland. As regards betting, most of the Acts mentioned by my right hon. Friend today apply in Scotland as well as in England and Wales. The Betting Act, 1853, under which betting shops are illegal was applied to Scotland by the Betting Act, 1874. Street betting is liable to the penalties under the Street Betting Act, 1906. The provisions of the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, and the Pool Betting Act, 1954, apply North of the Border in the same way as in the South. In Scotland, however, there are additional powers for dealing with betting shops and street betting in the Burgh Police (Scotland) Acts of 1892 and 1903 and some local Acts.
As far as betting shops are concerned, these provisions give wider powers than the Betting Act, 1853; for example, they allow punters found on the premises to be fined, they permit confiscation of money or equipment used for betting, they give the police power of entry without warrant into suspected betting shops. The provision giving the power of entry without warrant has been adopted by Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and Greenock and Lanarkshire among others, but not yet by Glasgow, but there is a Glasgow Provisional Order at present awaiting confirmation which would allow entry without warrant. There is one other Scottish Act which I should mention, the Betting (Juvenile Messengers) (Scotland) Act, 1928, which makes it an offence to use a person under 16 for carrying betting slips.
As to gaming, most of the legislation is rather inadequate and goes back to an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1621.Anent playing at cardes and dyce and horse races".863 That Act made it unlawful to play cards or dicein any common house, town hostelry, or cookes house,or to play in any private man's house unless the master of the family played himself. It also provided that, if a person won more than 100 marks in 24 hours, the surplus was to go to the church for the benefit of the poor—and that was after John Knox. The Burgh Police Acts provide penalties for both managers and frequenters of such houses and allow entry without warrant.
There are also specific provisions dealing with gaming in public or with people who induce others to game in public. The Prevention of Gaming (Scotland) Act, 1869, for example, deals with chain-droppers, thimblers, loaded-dice players, card sharpers and other persons of similar description who practice their arts in public or cozen or cheat others in public. Some hon. Members may feel sorry that these romantic arts are no longer to appear on the Statute Book, but I can assure them that they will not thereby cease to be illegal.
I have given a very brief account of the law in Scotland in regard to betting and gaming. The effect of that law is much the same as in England and Wales, even although the statutory basis may in some cases be different. I can also tell the House that, in general, the provisions of the Bill are the same for both sides of the Border. My right hon. Friend has already very fully explained what they are, and I need not go over the same ground again.
May I say a word about the situation in Scotland? Our main problem particularly concerns betting. As I have said, 16,812 people were proceeded against in 1958 for 3,907 betting and gaming offences. That seems a lot, but the provisions of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act and local Acts allow punters to be prosecuted as well as the staff when an illegal betting shop is raided, so that a large number of prosecutions can result from a single raid.
The figures illustrate the main difference between Scotland and England in off-the-course betting. In England, I understand that street betting is still probably the commonest form of off-the-course betting. In Scotland, over the 864 last few years, there has been a conspicuous growth of illegal betting shops, hence the large number of prosecutions, mainly of punters. I want to say a little more about these shops, partly as background to the Scottish problem and partly because what has been happening recently in Scotland may give some guidance as to what is likely to happen if licensed betting offices are introduced in Great Britain.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there might be some reason for the increase in the number of betting shops in the last two years in the fact that the people of Scotland would take it that the Conservative Government encouraged betting when they introduced Premium Bonds?
§ Mr. Macpherson
The truth is that the growth started long before that and has been fairly constant ever since 1951. One can find one's own reasons for that, but the recommendations of the Royal Commission themselves may have had something to do with it.
We have recently asked the police all over Scotland for information about illegal betting. The results of our inquiries bring out some interesting points. First, as regards numbers. According to the police estimate, the number of premises accepting cash bets in Scotland is over 1,100. These shops are spread over nearly every part of the country, though they seem to be particularly prevalent in the Glasgow area, where there are about 350. Of the remaining 750, about 250 are in cities and burghs where there are burgh police forces and 500 in areas served by county police forces. According to the police estimates, the number of people engaged in street betting as principals in Scotland is about 500 to 600.
The question is bound to be asked, and has already been asked this afternoon: will legalisation of betting offices help? The effect of the Bill is that licensed betting offices will become lawful while street betting will continue to be an offence and will be more heavily punished. Some think that the legalisation of betting premises will not result in any real reduction of street betting. Recent experience in Scotland shows just the opposite. The police are almost 865 unanimous in saying that there is a significant reduction in street betting where betting shops are opened. May I quote one or two examples? I would rather not give the names of the places concerned.
In one burgh there are now estimated to be 13 betting shops; as a result, the number of street bookmakers has dropped from 40 to nine, so that street betting is no longer considered a problem in that area. In another burgh, where there are now 15 shops, the chief constable says that before the shops appeared street betting led to large disturbances and crime; and he says that it is now no problem. In one city the chief constable says that street betting is largely confined to areas like the newer housing estates where there are no premises that could be acquired by bookmakers to act as betting shops. There is only one chief constable in Scotland who considers that street betting is more of a problem at present than betting shops, while two others say that there is nothing to choose between them. The lesson seems clear: as betting shops open so street betting declines.
There is every reason to suppose that the same will happen when licensed betting offices operate. Indeed, it is probable that street betting will decline even more for two reasons: first, because betting offices will be legal and the penalties for street betting will be higher; secondly, because whereas at present bookmakers who conduct their business in betting shops and those who do so in the street are both on the wrong side of the law—indeed, the same person often does both—under the system proposed we expect that the holders of betting shop licences will be on the side of the police and will be anxious to ensure not only that they do not lose their licences by unlawful betting, but, also, that their own legitimate business interests are not damaged by illegal competition.
People often ask why it is that illegal betting shops have been allowed to grow in this way in Scotland. I suggest that they might equally ask why street betting has been allowed to grow in England. The answer is the same. People want to bet. A great many people are interested in horse racing. The Royal Commission said:The number of persons betting fairly regularly on horse racing off the course"—866 speaking for the United Kingdom as a whole—appears to be about 4 million.If they cannot bet legally, they will find ways of doing it which are not within the law. The police do what they can in so far as their manpower and other duties permit, but it needs a lot of men to organise and carry out a raid and take the consequential action. In most counties and Glasgow, a lot of preliminary observation is needed to obtain sufficient evidence to justify an application for a warrant.
When the raids do take place and those who are found in the shop come before the courts, the fines imposed are not usually large enough to act as a deterrent. The owner of the shop normally pays the fines imposed on punters as well as on the staff and regards this as part of his overheads. It has even been reported that in some cases, as well as paying the fines he gives the punter a consideration for his time and trouble, so that, when a raid on a betting shop is expected, there is quite a rush to get inside. It is even said that some who do not bet, but have nothing better to do join the rush. If this is true, it surely shows that the existing betting laws do not and cannot work.
A good deal has been said about the sort of betting offices we should have under the Bill and perhaps it is relevant to consider what the present betting shops are like. Our information is that they vary. Some of them are well run and very well appointed; others are mean and dingy. Many of them are much more than places just for taking bets and paying out winnings; television and wireless are provided there and often commentaries are given on races through private lines to the courses.
This means that punters tend to stay in the shop for the whole afternoon betting and listening to the commentaries, and, if they are lucky, drawing their winnings. That, of course, is quite contrary to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, which was strongly opposed to the use of a betting office as a kind of club, or entertainment hall. Several suggestions have already been made for dealing with that sort of position and no doubt all this will be looked at very closely in Committee.
867 The next question of interest, certainly to some people in the country but perhaps not so much to those who are in the House at the moment, is: what will happen to existing shops under the Bill? I think that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) referred to the transition stage.
It is not unreasonable to suppose that if the present shops are properly conducted, and can be made to comply with the conditions, their owners will be able to obtain licences to run them as betting offices; indeed, there are provisions in the Bill to help them to do so. For example, there is a provision that anyone who was in business as a bookmaker at any time during the three years ending with the day on which the Bill was published should get preference for the first year after the appointed day over other applicants for betting office licences. Secondly, in considering whether an applicant is a fit and proper person to be a bookmaker the licensing authority must ignore a conviction in Scotland for a betting shop offence committed before licensed offices are in operation; and, thirdly, in Scotland the courts cannot cancel a bookmaker's permit because of a conviction for keeping an illegal betting shop during the period between the passage of the Bill and the date when Clause 5 comes into force.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Does that mean that those who have been running illegal betting shops over the past few years will get preference over those who have not committed an offence but want to start a business after the Act comes into force? If the licensing authority has to choose between two applicants for premises and one applicant has been running a business illegally and the other has been waiting for the Act to come into force, will the former get consideration over the latter?
§ Mr. Macpherson
As has already been said, no solution will be an ideal one. We have to look at this from a practical point of view. There is no guarantee 868 that every owner of an existing shop will get a licence; but he has at least a reasonable chance of getting one if he can comply with the conditions and if his premises are reasonably sited and well run. The same kind of treatment will apply to bookmakers at present engaging in street betting whether in England or Scotland.
No doubt many people will feel, as the hon. Gentleman does, that it is wrong to give people a preference if they have been convicted of breaking the law. The fact is, however, that, broadly speaking, all off-the-course bookmakers betting in any public place or on their own premises face to face, so to speak—and not remotely by telephone, telegram, or post and on credit terms—have been and are breaking the law. One particular bookmaker may have been charged, and convicted, another may not. That is more or less a matter of chance. [Laughter.] That is so. The House must face the fact that it is a matter of chance. I think that this is extremely important. Nor are bookmakers the only people who have been breaking the law. I doubt if there are half a dozen members of this House who have not, albeit unwittingly, broken the law on betting and gaming somehow.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Would the hon. Gentleman try to speak for his own side, because although this has been treated very lightly and pleasantly, Nonconformists take this very seriously—or, at least, we have not yet been caught?
§ Mr. Macpherson
Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. A very respectable lady whom I know took a ticket in a lottery. She did not think that she was doing wrong. She passed her ticket to a small child. The ticket won a bottle of whisky as a prize. It is remarkably difficult to keep within the law in this field. I have no doubt that, however anxious hon. Members may have been to do so, they may quite inadvertently and unwittingly have slipped outside from time to time.
It may be suggested that from now on there will be a rush to buy or rent premises and use them as betting shops. I would remind the House that betting offices will often need planning permission, and I have no reason to suppose that there will be any undue alacrity in 869 granting planning permission for betting shops in the meantime.
In any case, let me make this clear. Whether a conviction between now and the time when betting office licences are granted will or will not disqualify an applicant for a licence those who break the law as it is at the time when they break it will remain liable to all the penalties applicable at that time. This special treatment of owners of illegal betting shops in Scotland is one of the main differences between the two countries under the Bill. Otherwise, most of the special Scottish points are necessary to fit in with Scottish legal terminology or procedure and I do not think that I need refer to them specially today.
As regards the procedure for granting permits and licences in Scotland, the Bill follows the recommendations of the Royal Commission and has given the function to the liquor licensing courts. The reason is that the function seems to be essentially a judicial one—to decide, if necessary after hearing evidence, whether the applicant complies with certain requirements laid down in the Bill. The grounds on which a court may base a refusal of a betting office licence are clearly stated in paragraph 20 (b) of the First Schedule. In effect, they are that the premises are unsuitable, that adequate facilities already exist, or, in case of renewal of a licence, that the premises have not been properly conducted. There is an appeal to the sheriff against a refusal to grant a permit or licence.
That is all I want to say about betting. I would like to say a few words about gaming. I do not think I need say very much, because gaming is not a very serious problem in Scotland except perhaps for "housey-housey" which is, I understand, played for high stakes in some areas. I would only say that the Bill legalises many harmless forms of gaming in which highly respectable people frequently indulge, probably without thinking that they are at present illegal; and, on the other hand, imposes much heavier penalties for those kinds of gaming which are apt to be commercially exploited.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
Does the Bill alter the position with regard to "housey-housey"?
§ Mr. Macpherson
It alters the position to a certain extent. The position at present is that it is illegal if played in the street, or in public places, or in a club or private premises, unless it complies with the conditions of Section 4 of the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, 1956.
It is possible to play "housey-housey" legally at present, but to do so one must comply with the condition that only one payment shall be made for the whole gaming session—that payment not to exceed 5s.—and that only one distribution of prizes takes place. It is much more usual, I understand, to pay so much per card and to give a prize in respect of each winning card. Although this is contrary to the existing law the police have had to apply common sense. This practice is often tolerated so long as it takes place on a modest scale.
Under Clause 10 (7) it will be possible to play "housey-housey" according to the method that I have just described—that is, to play for so much per card—provided that the money staked on the card is paid by way of winnings to the successful player, and that only one charge is made for the session. The conditions are clearly set out in the Clause.
§ Mr. Mulley
Do I understand that the provisions of the Small Lotteries Act are not continued under the Bill? Will "housey-housey" for purposes other than private gain not continue exactly as it does now?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am not saying that it will not be possible to play in the way which is at present legal. That remains legal. What I am saying is that it will be possible to play in a way which is at present illegal, provided that the conditions of Clause 10 are met.
I now want to make a few general remarks. We Scots are generally noted for bringing a moral point of view to bear on practical social problems. Many people in Scotland consider that any form of gambling is immoral and wrong. I believe the same is true in England, and we know that it is in Wales. No doubt all these people do their best never to engage in it themselves in any shape or form, and to bring up their families in the same way. Some of these people, 871 but by no means all, believe that not only should they themselves abstain from it but that they should compel everybody else, through the power of the State, to abstain from it. Others consider that this is a moral decision that each person should make for himself. Many more, whether out of prudence, or through lack of opportunity or inclination, take no part in betting or gaming.
Everybody would probably agree on one thing, namely, that the law cannot be allowed to continue in its present state, as regards both betting and gaming. It conforms neither with present-day opinion nor with present-day practice. In particular, as I have tried to show, off-the-course cash betting is widespread and is widely tolerated. There are only two practical courses open: one is to strengthen the law and attempt to suppress gambling; the other is to try to canalise it in ways which will enable it to be more easily controlled and the law to be more readily enforced.
Had the Royal Commission found that betting and gaming, in their practical effects, were a source of great and intolerable social evil, public opinion would have demanded that the law should be strengthened to stamp out the evil or at least to reduce its effects, however popular and widespread betting and gaming might be; and I suggest that the police and the courts would have had the full support of the great majority in their efforts to do so.
But that was not the finding of the Royal Commission; and it is well to bear in mind that its Report was unanimous. The Commission summed up its views in paragraph 186, which my right hon. Friend has already quoted.
It did not deny thatexcessive gambling may and does cause poverty".But poverty can equally be caused by idleness or excessive indulgence in other activities—even very laudable activities—if they are pursued to excess. One can quote music, or sport. Lord Keynes quoted some in his evidence to the previous Royal Commission. As the Willink Commission says, it is excess that has to be prevented. Above all, respect for the law must be restored.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
I take the hon. Member's point that excesses must be prevented if possible, but does he believe that the betting shop will do anything to prevent excessive gambling? Is there any limit to the amount that people can gamble?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I said that it will at least canalise it and enable the Government to control it better. There is no reason to suppose that it will in any way increase gambling.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
Is the hon. Member seeking to put across the case that if we legalise betting shops less betting will take place than takes place now in the illegal betting shops?
§ Mr. Macpherson
That might well be so. It is very difficult to foresee. I certainly do not insist that it will be so, or say that I feel it will be. The point is that we want to stop it growing and to curb the excess.
The Royal Commission said, in paragraph 267:It is highly undesirable that any branch of the criminal law should be regarded with contempt and broken daily by a large section of the community, and police morale and discipline are bound to be adversely affected if the police are called upon to administer a law which cannot be effectively enforced and which lends itself to corruption or charges of corruptionWhatever view one may take of the morality of betting, one has to admit that there can be no less propitious basis for a healthy and law-abiding society than a law which is openly disregarded and even disdained. Nor would anyone wish to perpetuate a state of affairs where there is one law for the richer sort, who bet on credit, and another for the poorer who have to pay cash.
Common sense dictates that the right course, both from the moral and from the practical angle, is to bring betting under control off the course as well as on the course, even at the cost of giving it some degree of legal recognition, rather than to turn a blind eye to its existence or to attempt to stamp out something which is causing no widespread social harm to the nation as a whole, according to the findings of the Royal Commission, and is not considered wrong by a very large number of our fellow citizens. To legalise is certainly not to encourage. Legalisation is necessary to ensure respect for the law.
873 In this Bill we have followed as closely as possible the unanimous recommendations of the Royal Commission on off-the-course betting and on gaming. There may well be details in the Bill which should be looked at in Committee, particularly to ensure that it suits Scottish conditions, and we shall certainly consider most attentively all that is said by Scottish Members in this debate and in Committee. We do believe, however, that in the general lines of our proposals we are attempting to deal realistically with the problem created by unlawful betting and gaming activities which play so large a part in the daily life of many of our fellow Scots.
In conclusion, I would agree with what my hon. Friend said about the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) who is, unfortunately, absent. Speaking in the debate which took place on betting and lotteries on Friday, 9th March, 1956, the hon. Member said:I have not the slightest belief that any Government, be it Labour or Conservative, will ever at any time do anything about betting and gaming."[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2511–2.]I am glad that this Government have had the courage to face this problem realistically.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
I intervene very briefly, because most of the points that I have in mind are Committee points. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland more or less led me to take part in the debate by some of the observations that he made.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that by legalising betting and gaming we are, in essence, controlling it. As he estimated, in the City of Glasgow we have about 350 betting shops, all of which are illegal, but they are there—illegally. Under the provisions of the Bill, as I visualise the situation, the local licensing authority and the local planning authority will control the number of betting shops within that city, but it should not be assumed that because we are giving statutory recognition to betting and gaming that necessarily means that they no longer constitute a moral or social evil. They still do. Control and not suppression seems to me to be the best possible approach to the problem.
874 I want to deal with one or two points to which the Joint Under-Secretary of State referred. Is he satisfied that the best authority for the issuing of licences, renewal of licences and the granting of permits is the local licensing authority? By the local licensing authority in Scotland, we mean the local magisterial bench, which largely consists of people who are part-time engaged in local government work and who give their services voluntarily. I hold the view that our existing local licensing benches are already grossly overworked and that to place this additional burden upon them is a very serious matter.
There is another aspect of the local licensing authority to which I want to refer. I find that many solicitors and lawyers are members of a local authority and they may find themselves in the position of having to bring a bookmaker client before their own colleagues who sit on the magisterial bench. I do not think that that position is altogether satisfactory. I am imputing no motives; I am merely directing attention to the situation that exists at the present time.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) raised the question of the advisability of an annual report being made by the local licensing authorities to the Secretary of State, so that the House could become conversant with what is taking place in connection with betting and gambling, and he suggested that there should be an automatic review within a period of five or six years.
A further point is with regard to bookmakers who issue their own football coupons. The Joint Under-Secretary of State made no reference to that. We must not confuse it with the question of football pools, as we understand them. I am referring to bookmakers who specially print their own coupons. They distribute and collect them and the betting takes place in betting shop premises.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State also did not mention the question of limitations being placed on the number of betting shops which each bookmaker should be allowed to have in a local licensing area. I want to be quite candid about this. We talk, as the hon. Gentleman did, about the street bookmaker disappearing. He is disappearing only 875 as a street bookmaker, into a betting shop.
Unless the local licensing authority is really aware of the situation, it may be that we shall lay down far too high a standard of premises and that the street bookmaker, as we know him, who will become a betting shop proprietor, will be outbidded, as it were, by the larger bookmaker, the financial tycoon in the betting industry. We should then see a situation developing in which all the betting shops would be ruled by firms like McLean's, Littlewood's, Vernon's and the like.
We must do something to protect the small bookmaker. I do not gamble or bet myself, but I think that we have to protect the small man who has been in the betting industry for many years, who started as a street bookmaker, and who will now have a bucket shop or betting shop, whatever we agree to call it. He ought not to be denied the opportunity of being given a permit or licence because the financial tycoons in the industry will be able to set up more salubrious premises and meet all the desires and demands which we may impose on them under the Bill.
These are one or two points which I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will keep in mind when we come to the Committee stage.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
In the course of my speech I shall refer to one or two of the matters raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes). First, I wish to congratulate the Government on their courage after all these years in recommending the implementation of most of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, because it seems to me that the law at the present moment, in the words of Chapter I of the Royal Commission, isobscure, illogical and difficult to enforce.The case for a Bill seems to be completely made by that simple sentence.
Some hon. Members have referred to the social aspect of this matter. The evidence of the Royal Commission throughout seems to show that those who have given evidence on the social side have tended to exaggerate its importance. There is a figure, which is 876 a guess in a way, that 1 per cent. of the national income is being spent on gambling, but that, of course, is not the net figure because it does not take into account the money returned as winnings. Paragraph 186 of the Report of the Royal Commission states:We are led by all the evidence we have heard to the conclusion that gambling, as a factor in the economic life of the country or as a cause of crime, is of little significance and that its effects on social behaviour, in so far as these are a suitable object for legislation, are in the great majority of cases less important than has been suggested to us by some witnesses.I do not think this is really a moral issue at all. This is mainly an administrative problem of how to deal with the mass of law dating back to Henry VIII—1621 in Scotland—and trying to tidy it up.
I do not propose to say anything about the technical differences in the law relating to England and Scotland, but I have been in a betting shop in Scotland. As a number of hon. Members who represent English constituencies do not appear to have had that experience, I should like to explain exactly how a betting shop works. It seems to me, both from the point of view of the recommendations of the Royal Commission and the contents of the Bill, that this is one of the keys to the solution of this problem.
I went into this betting shop and saw a board on the wall. The "blower" was going. There were two race meetings in progress, one at Fontwell and the other at Warwick. The actual races took place at quarter-hour intervals. If I remember rightly, the racing at Warwick started at 1 o'clock and at Font-well at 1.15, so there was a possibility of twelve bets being made with the two race meetings going on continually. The "blower" was supplying information from the Central Telegraph Agency and the betting prices were altered on the board by a man using a piece of chalk. At the same time the runners for the next race were being entered. That is very important, because very often if one goes to a racecourse one is not aware until the numbers are put up which horses will take part in a race.
As soon as the "off" was announced over the "blower" all the bets for that race were rubbed out, and only after the 877 weigh-in and the "all clear" had been given were winnings paid out. This was a continuous process all the afternoon, and I did not see any harm in it. A great deal has been said in this debate against continuous betting. I ask the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) why he objected to continuous betting, because to me it seems that little harm was being done.
From my admittedly small experience, it appeared that there would not be great crowds in the betting shop. The bulk of the people are at work in the daytime and will not have the opportunity to watch the board in a betting shop. They will do their betting in the factories and offices where they work, which is to be legal, because by inference my right hon. Friend said—there is nothing in the Bill about this—that the bookmaker's runner will collect the bets in the factory, and during the time he is journeying from the factory to the betting office he will not be committing an offence. He will be a messenger conveying bets to the office, So long as the hours are limited, it seems to me reasonable to suggest that betting should be continuous.
Most of the people in that betting shop were shift workers, for example, long-distance lorry drivers who by law must have a period of 48 hours' rest after completing a journey. If they wish to spend an afternoon at a betting shop, why should they not be allowed to do so? Another man in the betting shop was a chef, who, under the provisions of the Catering Wages Act, must have so many hours off. Why should he not go to a betting shop and spend an afternoon there if he wishes?
§ Mr. Gordon Walker
The hon. Gentleman started his speech by saying that he supported the Bill, but the intention of the Government is to stop continuous betting. Therefore, the hon. Member must be against the Bill.
§ Sir J. Duncan
No, the right hon. Gentleman is too logical. I started by saying that I congratulated the Government on producing a Bill.
§ Sir J. Duncan
I do not want to be put off from telling my story.
There was not a television set on the premises and no race was being televised 878 that afternoon, but when a race is being televised I see no reason why it should not be possible to watch it on a television set in a betting shop. I had to stand all the afternoon, but if one proposes to have an afternoon's racing at a betting shop, why on earth should one have to stand? Seats are provided at a racecourse, or one can take a shooting stick.
§ Sir J. Duncan
I do not think there will be great crowds of people at betting shops, except, perhaps, on Saturday afternoons.
There appear to me to be two main difficulties regarding the provisions in the Bill. According to Clause 4, one will not be allowed to loiter outside a betting shop. In the Second Schedule, it is laid down that people cannot loiter inside a betting shop. If loitering is not to be allowed inside or outside, I think that somehow there must be an alteration in the law. I think it would be better to allow people to loiter inside the shop rather than outside.
Reference has been made to the idea that some bookmakers may provide a teashop next door where tea may be served and there might even be a television set and a board if necessary. That is one way in which bookmakers could get round the provision in the Bill designed to prevent loitering. I think it better to face the fact and say that it is preferable to allow people to loiter inside the betting shop rather than to give the police the intolerable job of dealing with people who are loitering outside or trying to get round the law by loitering in what is alleged to be a teashop owned by the bookmaker or his friends.
I should like to see the Second Schedule of the Bill rewritten in order to allow loitering inside the shop. I should like to see the provision of furniture in the shop, such as a betting board and chairs and a "blower", and, if necessary—I have no very strong views about this—a television set. On the other hand, I should like to see the strictest control exercised over the betting shop, and not only from the point of view of licensing the bookmakers and the premises through the court or by 879 some other means. if the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central had made any suggestions about such other means, I might well have supported him, because I am not convinced that we could not do better in Scotland than have a licensing court. That is the sort of thing which we must consider during the Committee stage discussions.
I would control the number of people allowed into the room according to its size. Inevitably, this would mean the bookmaker would have to provide some sort of "chucker-out" or guard on the door. It might be achieved through the issue of tickets or something like that. I would be ruthless in dealing with the admission of juveniles, and I would make it a condition that if juveniles were found on the premises the licensee would lose his licence. Under the provisions in the Bill the police are to be allowed into the betting shop premises at any time. I do not mind whether they are to be in uniform or not. I think that they will have to be hanging about outside, although I do not think there will be the kind of ugly rush to the betting shop suggested by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas). I would order the licensee to exhibit his licence. I think that there is already a provision in the Bill to that effect. I would make him exhibit a notice stating the number allowed in the shop so that everyone would know that there was a limit. That would stop queueing. I would not allow him to encourage betting, but I would allow the information to come through on the "blower" and the bookie to maintain a stock of racing newspapers for the clients to look at. I would allow no other activity in the office, not even the pool betting which, apparently, goes on in Glasgow.
I would restrict the hours of opening from 10.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. In that way, I should stop betting on the dogs at night. At present, betting on the dogs is not very important, but there is a danger that there will be street betting on the dogs unless some form of facilitiy is allowed for betting in offices. I would not allow continuous betting on the dogs in the office at night. Betting offices, plus the factory run, ought to satisfy the needs of the average working man who wants to put a bet on during the daytime. 880 If my suggestion for allowing people to stay in the betting office worked, I think the police could deal effectively with street betting. If the offices were closed at 6.30, chief constables I have consulted tell me the police would be able to control betting on the dogs because the average man who wants to bet on the dogs at night does it on the course and does not bet on the street. If the offices were allowed to remain open until 6.30, a man would be enabled to bet legally on the dogs in the office on his way home from work.
§ Miss Herbison
The hon. Member has made various suggestions which seem inconsistent one with another. For example, he wants these betting shops to be made very comfortable indeed. He wants people to be able to loiter from 10.30 a.m. to 6.30 at night, yet in the next breath he tells us that he does not want juveniles allowed in these betting shops. Surely, if he feels it is socially undesirable for juveniles, he should not make it so comfortable for those who are a little older.
§ Sir J. Duncan
I am not asking for excessive comfort, but surely if one is to have an afternoon's racing indoors—that is what it boils down to—there should at least be a fire at which to keep warm and a chair to sit on. I am not asking for an armchair and the luxury of afternoon tea. I am aware that one betting office in my constituency gives afternoon tea, but I should be much more happy if clients did not get anything to eat or drink in betting offices. That, if necessary, could be put into the Schedule. We have all been asked to throw out suggestions, and this is one. I believe the police could operate the system on these lines, but there would be great objections to the police trying to control crowds outside betting offices if people are not allowed to loiter either outside or inside them.
I think we shall have great difficulty with the part of the Bill dealing with gaming, not that it is not entirely sensible, but because of its effects on other people. Can one imagine having a club registered as the "South Shields Baccarat Club"? The police would not be able to object. Under the Bill, baccarat will be legal and twenty-five members of the club could pay "five bob" as a registration fee and register the club. Once the 881 game was made legal, the police could not stop it. Whether the game was "housey-housey", baccarat or roulette, so long as those playing played in accordance with the terms of the Bill such a club could be registered.
Then we should have great difficulty about public houses. There would be an outcry from the licensed trade that the extra advantages which the legalising of these games in clubs was manifestly unfair to the licensed trade. That trade is already strictly controlled. It is not supposed to allow gambling of any sort in a public house and publicans have to be extremely well-behaved. It seems to me that public houses would lose badly if clubs which hitherto have been controlled in the matter of gambling were to be able, quite openly and frankly, to call themselves by the name of the game played there, such as "housey-housey" or baccarat. We have to pay great attention to the position of clubs during the next few months with a view to legislation to put them on a fairer footing with the licensed trade than they will be if the Bill becomes law as at present drafted.
We pride ourselves in Britain on being an adult democracy. In a way, this Bill is a challenge for us to show whether we are. In the past, the law, although not enforced and not enforceable, has been in a way paternal to protect the weaker brethren and all of us from our own weaknesses. Now, we pride ourselves on being an adult democracy able to stand on our own and make our own decisions as free and intelligent citizens. This Bill is a challenge to that concept of adult democracy.
I believe that as time goes on the widening of opportunity for enjoyment in other ways, whether it be pool betting, hiking at weekends or holidays on the Continent for which one saves, these wider opportunities for spending money and the wider interests of the people, will mean that the continual demand for gambling and the fears of those in authority will get less. I believe that by this Bill, after it has been improved in Committee, we shall have struck a blow for individual liberty and commonsense which will show that we are an adult democracy and can afford to treat our people as such in future.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
My interpretation of the consequences of this Bill, including the moral consequences, are very different from those of the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan). Listening to the Home Secretary giving the amount spent each year upon gambling, it was chastening to think that in our society so many people find so little excitement in life and so little zest that they can gain a thrill only by this type of activity. I say to the hon. Member that I think a more mature democracy would be seeking means to stimulate the imagination of people so that they dream other dreams than that of winning on a horse race.
Although some of us professionally engage sometimes in the farcical proceedings under the existing betting and gaming laws, and even though we want an effort to be made to provide a rationale to the betting and gaming laws, I can only agree to this scheme if the effort will not lead to further stimulation of gambling and will not make it still easier for gambling promoters to make still vaster fortunes out of the cupidity and credulousness of the most feckless sections of the community.
It is because I approach it in this way that, although I do not share the religious beliefs of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), I can well understand that in many respects he is speaking for a very large section of the Welsh people. I suggest, therefore, that there should be no levity about the matter, or about the weight that should be attached to the comments of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West. I would like to ask whether it is likely that as a consequence of the opening of betting shops there will be a diminution in gambling, and whether, most important of all, since this is the declared aim of the Government, there is a likelihood that the street bookmaker will then come to an end?
My answer to that is that in this Bill we are in great danger of having the worst of both worlds. The fact is that if we establish betting shops we shall give the opportunity, as has already been said by the Home Secretary, for fixed odds football coupons to be taken into the betting shops.
May I examine the consequences of that? Throughout the length and 883 breadth of Britain, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of agents who are going from door to door peddling fixed odds football coupons. That is going on everywhere. In fact, there are concessionaires, right throughout the country, and area managers, supervising this type of business and this is a very large, not a marginal, matter. It is probable that about £30 million was spent last year and the year before on this type of betting, which is carried on largely by the agents.
These agents do not only carry the fixed odds football coupons, usually of some national bookmaker like William Hill, Limited, but also carry the coupons of one of the big football pool promoters. What, in fact, is happening is that we have ready-made at this moment—unless we are prepared to stop the fixed odds football coupons going into the betting shops—hundreds of runners who will continue in their activities even under the Bill.
I am well aware of the penalties within the Bill which will attach to street betting, but we must remember that the Royal Commission understood the type of problem about which I am speaking and feared that, unless proper action was taken, there was a grave danger that we should have what I have described as the worst of both worlds. In paragraph 256 of the Report, the Royal Commission expressed the view thatIt should be an offence for the bookmaker to employ or pay any commission to any person in respect of off-the-course bets laid on behalf of the bookmaker elsewhere than at premises licensed—The Home Secretary has pointed out that there is no desire—and I can understand this—for action to be taken under this paragraph so far as it affects factories. So be it, but what I am asking is: why limit it there?
Street betting will not be able to be carried on in the street under the Bill, but there is nothing to prevent a man going into the front garden of anybody's house with fixed odds football coupons and taking a bet, for he will not be offending against the Street Betting Act. He will not be conducting betting on the street. He will even be able to go into the house in a working-class street, where, in fact, there may be no front garden, with his football coupons, which 884 will be his passport. He will be able to go inside and the bets will be made there.
We all desire that, if anything is to come out of this legislation, it must be to increase respect for the law. Therefore, if we are serious in our intentions, and we want to get rid of the street bookmaker and accept something which I accept with the greatest difficulty—the conception of the betting shop—we have to be prepared to say that all fixed odds coupons must be posted to whoever is the promoter, in exactly the same way as any ordinary football coupon now is or should be posted.
In parenthesis, may I say that if we want to gain respect for the law, we shall also have to stop the present practice whereby there is a considerable loss of revenue to the Post Office, because even ordinary football pool coupons reach the offices of the promoters by couriers, cutting out the Post Office completely, despite the existence of the present law. If this is doubted, examine the figures. While football pools have increased in amount, there has been no proportionate increase in Post Office revenue from this source. Therefore, if we are serious in our intention to get rid of the street runner, it is absolutely essential that attention is paid to this problem.
I should like now to turn to another problem. Praise has rightly been given to my hon. Friend, the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) for the Bill which he introduced into this House. My hon. Friend is more modest about it than the Government. His Act has certain defects, and I understand that, as my hon. Friend explained on other occasions, he was compelled, because it was a Private Member's Bill, to allow, for example, supervision of the big football pools to be undertaken by the local authorities, although it would have been his wish, if he had not been sponsoring a Private Member's Bill, that the supervision of the football pools should have been undertaken either by a judicial body or by Government auditors.
I speak on this matter because I believe that the public are being most cruelly misled by some of the big football companies, which are advertising persistently and consistently that they are giving prizes on a large scale.
885 Let me explain what I am referring to. For example, if we take Littlewood's Pool for the season last year, we find that on 29th November, 1958, there were two winners, who shared the colossal prize of £300,260. There were shown in that week, by way of deduction for commission and expenses, 17 per cent. If we look at any of the six weeks previous, when a prize of this dimension was not given, we find that the deduction for commission and expenses was, respectively, 24.9, 24.7, 24.6, 24.7, 24.6 and 249 per cent. So one finds that when there is a huge prize the commission and expenses dramatically drop.
This is not an isolated example. If we take the pool for the week of 31st January, 1959, which caused so much comment in The Times and elsewhere, one winner won £300,684. The deduction for commission and expenses was shown to be 15.8 per cent.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
On a point of order. I understood that football pools were not included within the scope of the Bill. Is the hon. Member in order, Mr. Speaker?
§ Mr. Speaker
I was waiting to see how, if at all, the hon. Member would relate his argument to the Bill. I hope that he will now do so.
§ Mr. Mulley
On a point of order. Is it not in order, under the Long Title of the Bill, to amend any Act relating to betting? The Act which I introduced, (o which my hon. Friend has referred, is mentioned in many places in the Bill. Would it not be in order for that Act to be amended under this legislation, if necessary?
§ Mr. Speaker
The true view is that there is some limit to the amount of detail on this topic which it is right for the hon. Member to introduce into the debate.
§ Mr. Abse
I am suggesting that this is an appropriate moment at which consideration should be given to the defects of existing legislation.
My purpose in pointing out that when there was this winner of £300,000, 15.8 per cent was deducted, whereas in subsequent weeks a very much higher percentage was deducted, was that this is the 886 type of practice which was thoroughly condemned by the Royal Commission. I refer hon. Members to the Report of the Royal Commission, which made it clear that the Commission desired the introduction of legislation which brought an end to what the Commission described as "the artificial creation of prizes."
What is happening is that every now and then, Littlewoods and Vernons, for example—and statistics reveal it beyond doubt—are, in the sense that the Royal Commission meant, artificially creating a prize in the hope that they can induce the public to believe that these prizes are regularly available. They are not regularly available. The public is being lamentably and seriously misled.
The point which I was making was that in the Private Member's Act the control over football pools, unfortunately, was placed with local authorities. That is not what we wanted and in my view it is not what is desirable. In Cardiff, where perhaps the influence of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West has had some effect, the accountant appointed to supervise the pools in Cardiff is an independent and separate accountant from the accountant of the pools company. Everyone thinks that that is natural and right.
In my view, it is most unfortunate that the Liverpool Corporation has chosen to appoint as the accountant to supervise the pools in Liverpool, in the case of the Littlewoods' firm, Little-woods' own accountant, and, in the case of Vernons, Vernons' own accountant. Every lawyer will understand how an impossible conflict of interests is bound to arise in such an appointment. I believe that it is high time that the Liverpool Corporation, as a trustee, as it is, for punters throughout the country, ensured that in the meantime, until Government legislation is introduced, at least independent accountants are appointed to supervise the pools in that area.
§ Mr. Mulley
This is very important. Is my hon. Friend saying that these artificial prizes are created because the provisions of the Pool Betting Act are not observed, or is he saying that there is a defect inherent in that Act which makes this possible? I should like to be quite clear on that point.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
May I intervene, for the sake of accuracy? The hon. Member has said much about Littlewoods and Vernons. Is it not a fact that Vernons do not pay these artificially large prizes, but have a limit of £75,000?
§ Mr. Abse
If the hon. Member wishes me to give the figures I will do so. For example, on 29th November, 1958, when it paid £75,000 and a surplus of £76,000, Vernons' deduction for commission and expenses was 16.4 per cent. Over the previous six weeks it was never less than 23.8 per cent. In my opinion, Vernons is indulging in exactly the same unfortunate practice as Littlewoods.
May I return to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park? He asked me whether I was suggesting that the law was not being obeyed, or whether there was a defect in it. My interpretation of the law is that there should be an auditor who is independent. I believe that that is the law. If I am incorrect, then it is high time that in a Bill such as this, and in the interests of millions of punters throughout the country, the comparatively minor legislation which is needed was introduced. It would at least prevent abuses of this kind.
Another recommendation of the Royal Commission was that there should be a limitation in the size of prizes. The Royal Commission suggested £20,000. If hon. Members want to stop the stimulation of gambling and seriously intend to contain it, they must try to prevent firms from taking advantage of the general public by dangling before them prizes which are impossibly large. We should ensure that the prizes are such that, whereas they satisfy what is clearly a demand, they do not so excite and colour people's imagination as to cause them to spend excessive amounts on either ordinary or football pool betting.
Hon. Members have spoken about the social effects of betting and have related the expenditure to the national income. It should be remembered that 888 only a comparatively small section of the community indulges in gambling, even though it is a very large number of individual people. I would like to point out that those of us who act in the matrimonial courts see a stream of woe arising from gambling. We see many a marriage wrecked because the husband is spending too much money before he gets home, and too large a proportion of this money often comes from people who are not the most mature members of our community.
If the House sincerely wishes to take action, it should surely deal with some of the points which I have made, particularly those about fixed odds coupons, the limitation of prizes, the prevention of the creation of artificial prizes and the proper appointment of auditors. These are a few of the points which the Government should be prepared to deal with in this Bill. Unless they are prepared to introduce them into the Bill, I, for one, and I am sure the people of the valley which I represent, will not be prepared to view with favour the introduction of betting shops.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
I hope that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his severe and savage attack on football pools. I must admit that I know nothing about them, and I did not think they came within the scope of the Bill.
Nor can I believe that the point of the Bill is to lessen gambling. I do not think that anyone can reasonably ask, "Can you give a guarantee that the Bill will stop or lessen gambling?" I do not think that is a very fair question.
I welcome the Bill because I believe that my right hon. Friend has done something which is of great service. There are many points in the Bill which need to be altered, but he has attempted to get away from the absurdities of the law, which relate to the sixteenth century, not to the twentieth century. I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) does not approve of gambling, but I am sure he agrees that it is very much better that a large number of citizens do not continue to break the law every day of the week. A very large number break the law, as the hon. Member knows. The object of the Bill is to try to make people more law-abiding.
889 The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr Wigg) has been mentioned by hon. Members. I should very much like to join with them in saying how sorry I am that he is not present. I signed the two Bills presented by the hon. Member and my hon. Friend the Member for Alder-shot (Sir E. Errington). We tried to do something about getting them through, but we never even obtained a Second Reading, even though we managed to make our speeches. The only way we could do anything to show our disgust at the laws was to bring in a Bill about tote betting. The bookmakers then alleged that we were entirely anti-bookmakers. I am not anti-bookmakers. I think that they give a very reasonable service, but they must come into line with the tote.
I should like to express my views on how I think we can put the Bill into better form. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said about the absurdities of betting shops. To have them with sawdust on the floor and a spittoon in the corner is utterly ridiculous. I am not certain that many people will go into betting shops. We must face the fact that runners are the people who gather the majority of the money. Runners are milkmen, bakers, butchers or men pushing a tea-tray or a trolley. Runners will not go to collect money from people placing the bets and then go a quarter of a mile down the street to a betting shop. We all know, knowing something about gambling, what they will do. They will go round the corner, pick up a telephone, get through to one of the big bookmakers and receive 1s. 6d. in the £ commission.
§ Mr. Stanley
The right hon. Gentleman has the same idea about some of these clever men as I have. I am positive that that will happen.
If a betting shop is made very uncomfortable, no one will go into it. If it is made comfortable, it can be said that that will attract the loafer to go into it and place a bet. We must try to keep 890 whatever rules we have as simple as possible. I do not believe that the ordinary person or anyone betting today will change his habits on betting because of a Bill enacted in the House. Therefore, we should pass a Bill which the people want, providing that what they do regularly—many of them do it regularly—is law, not leaving them with the knowledge that they have broken the law. Hon. Members may think that I am going too far.
One hon. Member talked about the docks. It is well known that there are five or six bookmakers who stand in the same place on the dock with whom people wishing to place a bet always place their money. Why do we not legalise the position of those bookmakers? Obviously one cannot set up as a bookmaker at some street corner. If one does, one will interfere with other people. If one is in a place where one is interfering with no one, it is logical and sensible to make it legal.
All of us have tears in our eyes when we talk about a small bookmaker struggling against the large empires. That concept is not true. I do not believe that there is any small bookmaker who is really a bookmaker. He is just an agent of a large bookmaker. If Joe Smith sets up as a bookmaker in a village and the favourite wins he has not lost any money. He has probably made some because he has laid it off with one of the large bookmakers. We need not pay too much attention to expressions of sympathy about him. We should endeavour to ensure that people have the right to bet so that these "small bookmakers" have the right to earn their commission and thus earn their living. We certainly should not pretend that they are entirely on their own.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Does not the hon. Gentleman think it is a fearful prospect that large concerns like Littlewoods and Vernons will be taking over all the cities of Britain or that there will be a great battle between those giants for controlling the gambling and betting shops of Britain?
§ Mr. Stanley
It does not matter what one thinks. If these people want to live on a commission they will do it, and we cannot stop them. I wish to talk about what I think is practical, not what one 891 would say, living in the clouds, would be awfully nice. We must get down to business and discover what happens.
As we are altering the law, I cannot see why we cannot alter the Gaming Act. A ridiculous situation will now arise. There will be complete laws allowing one to bet and gamble. However, if a punter owes money he can go to the bookmaker and say, "I am not paying you. I am pleading the Gaming Act." That is a very simple anomaly which we could alter, and the bookmaker can do vice versa.
I turn now to the Peppiatt Committee and how I think that racing could be helped. I cannot see how hon. Members will have a chance to discuss the Committee's findings. From one's experience of any Committee which has been set up, it takes rather a long time for its Report to reach the Secretary of State and, when the recommendations have reached the Secretary of State, it is a long time before they are put into a Bill. My right hon. Friend has guaranteed that, if the Report is favourable to racing, he will write the recommendations into the Bill, but he can do that only in the House of Lords. I cannot believe that there is time for him to do it here. I think it is a pity that we cannot do it. If when my hon. Friend replies he can tell us that there is a chance of that being done, it will be a great relief.
There are people who ask why bookmakers should pay anything towards racing. It is already an accredited thing, because the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, laid down that the principle of betting was to help racing and breeding. This is true of the tote. I have listened to practically all the speeches in the debate and I have not heard the tote mentioned once. I believe that it performs a very important function.
I have some rather interesting figures of what happens in various countries. In Great Britain, 1. per cent. of the tote turnover goes to racing. Racing receives nothing from bookmakers, except what they pay to go on to racetracks. Therefore, an off-the-course bookmaker pays nothing. There are twice as many bookmakers in this country as there are people employed in racing and greyhound stables. They are the largest 892 employers in sport, to which they contribute nothing. In the State of New York, 4 per cent. of tote turnover goes to racing. They have no bookmakers. In the State of Illinois, 8 to 9 per cent. of tote turnover goes to racing. They have no bookmakers. In France, 8 to 9 per cent. of tote turnover goes to racing. They have no bookmakers. In South Africa, 6¼ to 7¼ per cent. of tote turnover goes to racing and the bookmakers pay 3 per cent. The only other country in the world where bookmakers contribute nothing and are allowed to operate is the State of Victoria, Australia.
Bookmakers should pay something. At present, those who go on to racecourses pay five times the entrance fee. They pay their way. One of the glories of going on to a racecourse is the shouting of the bookmakers. I like it, and I should hate to see it abolished. Off-the-course bookmakers who make their money from racing and put nothing back into the sport should contribute to the sport.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
My hon. Friend mentioned the Peppiatt Committee and has recommended that off-the-course bookmakers should support racing. Should part of off-the-course money wagered on greyhound racing be contributed to horse racing because it is dealt with through the office of an off-the-course bookmaker?
§ Mr. Stanley
I do not know the figures. I asked one person, and I think I am right in saying that certainly not 2 per cent. of the money in off-the-course betting is on dog racing. If my hon. Friend has a different figure, well and good, but that, roughly, is my information.
It may be asked: why do we want money to go into racing? I say that it is to look after the person who goes racing. The racecourses in England are probably the most uncomfortable, the most old-fashioned and the most expensive of any in the world. I gather that we are likely to lose two racecourses near London; that Hurst Park will probably be built over—the shareholders are soon to decide—and that the new by-pass at Esher is planned to go straight over Sandown. In time, we shall 893 undoubtedly have to build new racecourses. That will be very expensive, and I do not see why betting should not help there.
Betting can also help breeding. We have a certain export trade. The British thoroughbred has always been looked up to all over the world as the best. Let us keep it so. The Americans have more money than have we and can offer larger prices. We could do much more about the National Stud than is being done at present. It must be five or six years since Sir Percy Loraine's Committee reported on the National Stud. We have always been promised a debate on that Report, but whenever we are asked about it the debate has always been put back.
I should like now to outline what I think is the best way to control any money that goes on racing. We need very greatly to alter fine present Racecourse Betting Control Board. We can have that Board, but I should like to have two other boards under it. One would be a tote board and the other a bookmakers' board. My set-up for the Racecourse Betting Control Board would certainly mean a full-time chairman, probably a full-time vice-chairman and a permanent secretary—and I should pay them well.
I would have two bookmakers on my central committee and two tote representatives from my tote committee. At the same time, I would have four or five people from the National Hunt and the Jockey Club because, whether people like it or not, those two bodies run and rule racing and must, therefore, be represented. If the Government think it best, under the 1928 Act, to have all the various Government Department representatives, well and good, but I myself would not like this body to be larger than I have said. However, if the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Chancellor of the Exchequer all want to be represented I would not mind so very much, though I would like the Home Secretary to appoint the three full-time members. The chairman and the secretary of the Board would hold the same posts on my tote committee.
I would like to see the tote buy up Tote Investors. Only through Tote Investors can one engage in credit betting 894 on the tote. The tote itself cannot do this, but it should be allowed to. I have no definite figures, but I imagine that about 45 per cent. or even half of the money put on the tote goes through Tote Investors. The tote itself should be able to do this.
It might be asked: why not run another company in competition with Tote Investors? That would be too difficult. The set-up of this company is very good. It operates on all racecourses and already has about seventy offices all over the country. Therefore, if the tote could take over that company it would at once have its betting shops, with telephones and all other necessary services, in every major town.
The tote should also be allowed to engage in postal betting. I can see no argument against this, but the present system would have to be altered as postal betting can work only if the bettor can post a letter an hour or two before a race, with the tote receiving it on the following day. At present, that bet would not get into the pool. Such a service would be a great benefit.
If it is found that all the runners in betting shops are to be given a commission by bookmakers so as to attract the bets, the tote must do the same. The bookmakers always say that they want to be on level terms with the tote. I would like them to be, but by letting the tote have the same facilities. In any case, the Bill gives the tote an advantage as the bookmakers have to pay the tote odds. I do not think that that is a bad idea, because I do not think that the tote will charge too much. It will charge the bookmakers only if they do not put the money through the tote, but if it all goes through the charge will not be very much—and it should be remembered that the tote cannot quote S.P. prices.
I want a better set-up for the tote board, because it will have to work out a lot of new schemes and raise a lot of money, and I would like my right hon. Friend to see how the money could be raised. The tote is given no security by the Bill for the setting up of such things as an electronic brain and the establishment of offices all over the country. That will prove very expensive, and if the tote did not take over Tote Investors it would have to make many improvements.
895 Something must be done to improve the tote on the racecourses. The present arrangements are probably the most uncomfortable in the world. One stands for a long time at the window and watches the chap fumbling for change. There is no shelter if it is raining, yet all that is wanted is a galvanised sheet. A part-time chairman, paid part-time, and members meeting once a month cannot possibly go round and see to all these things.
I find it difficult to say how I would want my bookmakers board set up, but I think that I would leave it to the bookmakers themselves to work out a scheme. If the Peppiatt Committee recommends a levy on bookmakers, that should be done. As long as the scheme was workable and was approved by the Secretary of State, I would be delighted to see it.
There is another control that we should have on the bookmakers. I do not think that it is fair on all the other bookmakers that a bookmaker should just appear before the licensing authority. Bookmakers should go before a kind of bookmakers' board, so that the bookmakers themselves could say, "This is a respectable member of our profession." They would give him a sort of clearance certificate to take before the licensing authority—
§ Mr. Stanley
No, not who should remain in it but who should enter it. Otherwise, I can see grave difficulties. A bookmaker may have been warned off. If the police did not know of that they might not object and the man would get his licence. If the man had to take to the licensing authority a clearance certificate such as I have described, I am sure that it would help the authority.
I am sorry to have got away from the betting shops and to have gone into so much detail on how I think we can improve the Bill and make it more realistic, but I think it is possible to do that and, as at the moment we are a gambling nation and over 50 per cent. of the adult population have a bet on the Derby, let 896 us see that that more than 50 per cent. of the nation can do so without breaking the law.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I am not going to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) in his recommendations of the various forms of control for both bookmakers and the totalisator, but in putting before the House a certain number of suggestions concerning the totalisator, I think he has done this debate a very good service. To follow his arguments for one moment, I would think that one has to face the fact, if one is going to be envisaging licensing of these betting offices for bookmakers and betting offices for the totalisator in one and the same locality, that this duality may easily be a very detrimental feature of this legislation.
I wholeheartedly welcome this legislation. I think my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been extremely courageous in bringing forward this comprehensive legislation which, I think, everybody agrees is overdue, for I think we must recognise that the present law is being widely disregarded and that it is grossly unfair to the police.
I think we should start by facing the two alternatives. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said that he was against all gambling. I could not agree more, but the question before us is: is there a case for banning gambling and betting completely except on the course? If we face up to what is the alternative we have to look across the Atlantic and recognise what happened in the United States when there was the prohibition of drink. They were trying to do away with what they regarded as a detrimental feature of their social life and what, unfortunately, happened was that they brought about the greatest wave of gangsterism that has ever been known on the other side of the Atlantic. I believe that if we say that there should be a ban on gambling in this country we have got to face that alternative, that we may then encourage gangsterism and lawbreaking because it will be extremely difficult to wean the British public away from a modest element of gambling. Therefore, I believe we face the alternative, as my right hon. Friend said, of bringing in a Measure to keep gambling within reasonable limits.
897 Having got to that point, I would say that for my part I propose to concentrate on the implications of the legalised cash betting because that is where I believe this legislation affects the public most. I believe there is a measure of agreement amongst all hon. Members that cash postal betting is not a seriously detrimental feature, and we have heard that cash postal betting is, in fact, carried on to a considerable extent today. The central problem as I see it in cash betting is: are we going to operate through a system of unlimited runners, or are we going to operate through cash betting offices? I doubt whether the two systems can work concurrently.
Frankly, I have always been doubtful about the desirability of introducing betting offices into our country. I have visited the Irish Republic every year for the last ten years. I have seen betting offices from the exterior only. Last week I had the privilege and the pleasure of being entertained in Dublin by Mr. Michael Davern, a Member of the Irish Parliament, and I also had the privilege of meeting in Dublin Mr. Patrick Walsh, the secretary of the Irish Racing Board. I had every opportunity on the occasion of my visit to Dublin to study the operation of the betting shops at first hand. I may say that I met nothing but kindness and consideration during my visit, and the only danger I experienced on my visit was in avoiding the excessive hospitality which the Irish people so kindly would have thrust upon me. I may say that I found my visit of extreme value.
Here I would preface my remarks by saying that I started off with a prejudice against betting shops but I have come to the conclusion that the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming was right when it said that there was no reasonable alternative to betting shops in our country. I managed to confirm what the Royal Commission observed in paragraph 240, thatthe establishment of betting offices has completely eliminated illegal betting in the streets".I found that was a fact. I found that the system which they operate in the Irish Republic has, in fact, killed this illegal betting. Thus, I felt that there must be a strong case for introducing betting shops into our country.
898 Now I would say right away that if we have come to that decision, that betting shops are right, then we must not strangle those betting shops at birth by grandmotherly legislation. We must give those betting shops a chance to operate. I would not go so far as to say that I would go the whole way with my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) who said that he would allow considerable amenities in betting shops. He said that he would even allow television and furniture. Those are entirely Committee points. I would say, however, that if we are to introduce betting shops into our country they ought to be equal to the best in Dublin. I do not think we need be unduly frightened about bringing that type of betting shop into our country. Our aim, therefore, should be to bring in these betting shops and to see that they are brought up to a high standard both of conduct and amenities, and I use the word "amenities" in the limited sense.
One way of ensuring that this better class of betting shops is established is to increase the annual licensing fee very considerably. In this Bill is envisaged an annual licensing fee of £1. I regard that figure as quite derisory. In the Irish Republic at present the annual renewal fee is £20 per annum, and there is in addition a 10 per cent. revenue tax operating in the Irish Republic. Therefore, we see that those betting offices in the Irish Republic are paying a very substantial figure either to the revenue or in the form of renewal of every licence every year. I think myself that one of the best ways of introducing the better type of betting shop is to see that the licence fee is not as low as we have it in our present Bill.
The hon. Member for South Angus also mentioned the hours of opening. I myself cannot understand why we have not hours of opening mentioned in the Bill. The Royal Commission specifically made reference to this and said that the hours of opening should be uniform. By "uniform" it meant uniform all over the country. I entirely agree with the Royal Commission. It recommended that the hours of opening should be from 10.30 to 6.30. In the Irish Republic, under the Act of 1931, the uniform 899 hours of opening are from 9 until 6 o'clock. I asked why 6 o'clock was fixed by the Act. I was told by Mr. Patrick Walsh of the Racing Board that in his view if the shops were open after 6 o'clock there would be an encouragement to loitering because, by that time, the populace would have more time to spend in those shops. I would say here that I saw no serious loitering either inside or outside those shops.
§ Mr. Houghton
I have listened to most of this debate, and I am very interested in what the hon. Member is saying, but I am puzzled by this term "loitering" which is used so much. What do people do when they loiter in those precincts? Are they just standing about, or are they up to some mischief? I am most anxious to know. I have not seen anybody do it. Has any other hon. Member? Would the hon. Member kindly say what this loitering is?
§ Mr. Temple
This word "loitering", as I understand it, usually means a moment of time or a protracted moment of time during which the bettor is making up his mind which horse to select for the next race.
I should like to follow the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde in his reference to the Peppiatt Committee. When my hon. Friend was envisaging off-course betting and its making a contribution to racing, I should like to know whether he was envisaging off-course betting on greyhound and other forms of racing. We must get it clear in our minds that in these betting offices any form of betting will be possible. It will be possible to speculate on the result of the next General Election. It will be possible to speculate at fixed odds on football results. People will be able to bet on innumerable forms of speculation. It is right also that we should realise that races may be going off at comparatively short intervals of time. On a bank holiday, for example, race meetings take place in six different parts of the country at one and the same time. I think it will be difficult to police this matter of loitering, but I am satisfied from personal observations that it is not a serious difficulty at present in the Irish Republic.
There is another very different matter to which I should like to refer and to 900 which reference has been already made obliquely, and that is the possibility that certain men or firms will open large chains of offices. We must face that fact. In Dublin one man owns 100 shops, and in the Irish Republic I believe that one man has an office in every town, large or small. Therefore, one could say that a series of offices or a chain of betting offices exists. I have had an interesting letter from the Independent Television Authority. It tells me that there is nothing in the Television Act, 1954, which directly prohibits advertising by bookmakers, but, on the advice of the Advertising Advisory Committee appointed under Section 8 (2, a) of that Act, the Authority has prohibited from the start all betting, including pools advertising.
I seriously suggest that now that we have comprehensive legislation before us we should place in that legislation some stricture whereby there is no advertising of any betting whatsoever on television. I put it in this way because there may come a time when television coverage is available from another country. In that event, it would be quite possible that television "spots" or advertising might be put out by a firm in this country which would be able to enter every home, and I would think that it would be a detrimental feature to have television advertising in everybody's homes, whether they liked it or not, in the middle of a programme.
The right way to tackle this would be to put in the Bill a ban on advertising so that it would mean that our firms, whatever form of betting or gambling they were interested in, would not be able to advertise on television in this or any other country. The question of the siting of betting offices has been mentioned—
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
A moment ago the hon. Member referred to a chain of betting offices in Ireland. Would he say whether he would be in favour of our writing into the Bill words to prevent chains of betting offices being formed in this country?
§ Mr. Temple
No, I would not. I did not refer to a chain of betting offices in that respect, as the hon. Member will appreciate.
901 The siting of betting offices is covered in a very loose manner in the Bill. It is covered in a much more specific manner in the legislation of the Irish Republic. In order that we may have a balanced view of betting offices, the Government ought to face up to a more specific definition of what they envisage about the siting of betting offices. Irish legislation specifically mentions that a betting office cannot be sited near to a place of worship or a church and there are other extensions of that provision. In order that I may take a balanced view of this legislation, I should like to know the Government's views much more specifically on this question of siting.
As to the number and density of shops, I think that it would be wrong to draw too definite conclusions from experience on the other side of the Irish Sea, but there was a very high density of betting shops in Dublin, and in a small provincial city with a population of 3,000 there were three betting offices. I understand that all those offices were financially a good proposition. It is unrealistic to think that people will walk more than a matter of a quarter of a mile to put on a bet at a betting office. Therefore, if one couples this with the facts that I have already stated, one can have some idea of the density of betting offices which will be required to do this job effectively in our country.
Runners have been mentioned already. As I see it, the Street Betting Act, 1906, will be the governing statute on runners if we accept the legislation in the form in which it is now presented to us. But the Royal Commission specifically recommended in paragraph 457 of its Report the repeal of all existing statutes, except the 1928 and the 1934 legislation. I believe that in that recommendation the Royal Commission was entirely right and that it would be right to sweep away the Street Betting Act, 1906, and re-enact it in an entirely different form which would tell everybody exactly where we stand on this question of runners.
When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary introduced the Bill, he said that runners could operate in factories. The 1906 Act says that runners can operate in places other than a public place. It is difficult, therefore, to say that runners can operate only in factories. 902 We must have a real appreciation of where we are going. We must specifically say where these runners or agents can operate. I should like to see it put in a definite form rather than to have the negative approach of the 1906 legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus said that under the 1906 legislation runners could operate in clubs. I will go no further than to say that, even if we may have six extra sittings of the Standing Committee, I would strongly advise re-enacting the very small Street Betting Act, 1906, which, in effect, has only one operative Clause, and make abundantly clear exactly where runners are or are not permitted.
§ Mr. Temple
I endeavoured to answer that question at the beginning of my speech. I said that we cannot have it both ways—we cannot have both betting offices and unlimited runners—and I mean exactly what I said. If we have a vast number of runners, betting offices will be ineffective.
I have tried to answer the central question: will this legislation result in more gambling or less? The only other hon. Member who has asked himself that question and has endeavoured to give an answer has been the hon. Member for Cardiff, West. I have looked up the figures, the only reliable ones before me being those of betting and gambling in the Irish Republic. No reliable figures are published in this country, and there were no reliable ones published there before the new legislation was brought in. If one compares the figures of all betting in the Irish Republic in 1950 and 1958, it will be found that they are more or less static. There is a turnover figure of £16 million. The figures in the intervening years being remarkably stable.
Everyone realises that the standard of living rose and cost of living increased between 1950 and 1958 and that the value of money went down. Therefore, the volume of betting in "real terms" has decreased. A point we should remember is that it is not profitable to open betting offices in residential areas. In saying that, I am coming near the answer to my question. I believe that 903 when population moves out from the crowded centres of our cities into residential areas the volume of betting will decline, and that if this Measure is enacted in its present form I envisage a decline in the total volume of betting and not an increase.
In my view, we are only doing our duty, if rather belatedly, in tackling the difficult question of cash betting. I believe we shall have the British public and the police force behind us in doing so. I hope this Bill will have a constructive passage through its Committee stage and will emerge as a Measure which will have a general degree of approval, and that it will be a Statute which will help the people of our country to keep within the law in the days that lie ahead.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I am grateful for the opportunity of saying a few words in support of the Bill, which I welcome. I hardly think I need declare an interest, although possibly I am the only hon. Member who has held a licence to train horses under both Rules of Racing and National Hunt Rules. I have been connected with racing for a long time.
I welcome the Bill because it is long overdue. Although it is a step in the right direction, to my mind it is a regrettably short step. The Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming reported in 1951 and in 1956 we had a debate on its Report. We have had debates also on the Second Readings of two Private Members' Bills and the matter has been fully debated on more than one occasion in another place.
It was in the debate of 1956 that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who was then Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, said that the Government intended to do something about this matter and that legislation would be prepared for introduction at the earliest opportunity. That was three and a half years ago. I do not complain that it has taken that long to produce the Bill, but I do complain about it being necessary to wait until the Bill was published before appointing the Peppiatt Committee to discover whether, to help racing, it is desirable or practicable to get a contribution from people who bet.
904 It is true, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, that the proposal was not considered by the Royal Commission, but it is certainly not a new proposal. It has been ventilated both in this House and in another place. Is it not a fact that in 1958 the stewards of the Jockey Club asked the Government to accept the principle that bets, whether laid on or off the course, should contribute to racing? Is it not a fact that some months ago the bookmakers themselves prepared a scheme and sent it to the Home Secretary? Did not the Jockey Club send my right hon. Friend a scheme as recently as July?
I feel strongly that it ought not to have been necessary to wait all this time before appointing the Peppiatt Committee. The Committee ought to have been set up and to have finished its work before the Bill was ever introduced. If that was not possible, what was all the hurry over the Bill? It is not a Measure which it is vitally important to get through right away. It is not very urgent.
We ought to have given the Committee a chance to report. Then, if it had some useful proposals, they could have been put into the Bill, which would surely have been a much more satisfactory arrangement than what has been suggested, namely, that if the Committee reports before our Standing Committee has completed its work and before the Bill leaves this House and goes to another place, my right hon. Friend, if he likes what the Committee reports, will try in some way or another to introduce it.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will give an assurance that if this is not practicable because of the time-table he will undertake to introduce other legislation, immediately this time—not in three and a half years' time—to implement the proposals of the Peppiatt Committee.
I should like to add something to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) about runners. This matter must be defined very much more clearly than it is at present. I understand from what the Home Secretary has said that runners can collect bets in a factory. What I am not quite clear about is whether they can go round in the 905 capacity of a butcher or a baker and collect bets from people in their own homes. If it is all right for them to do that, it is now, presumably, legal for them to be in possession of betting slips and cash in the street before they transfer them to where they are placing the bet. Is there any compulsion—the Bill suggests that there may be—to take the bet straight to a betting office? Is there any reason why the runner cannot give the bet to the bookmaker over the telephone?
I have in mind that a great industrial area like Trafford Park, Manchester, where there is a large number of factories, would not be the kind of place where one could very conveniently set up a betting shop, and I believe that there the bookmaker will not bother to set up a betting shop at all but will have the bets telephoned to his normal office by runners. If he does that, can he legally have the cash brought to his normal office without needing to set up a special betting office? Is it sufficient for him to have a bookmaker's permit to do so, or must he also have a licence for the office? I do not quite know—it has not been made clear to me today—what exactly is the purpose of a betting agency permit as opposed to a betting office permit, or who is to have one of these permits.
As I understand the Bill, a runner can collect bets for a bookmaker who is the holder of a permit, provided that he does not do it in a street or public place. According to Clause 2 (1) nobody shall act as a bookmaker unless he holds a permit. I am not sure whether that applies to all bookmakers, including those who bet on the course only and do not do any business away from the course, whether it applies to bookmakers who bet off the course and only with credit and do not do any cash betting, or whether it applies to the whole lot.
I should like to know what the penalties are for betting off the course without a permit, because they do not appear to be laid down in the Bill. Also, what would be the position of a runner if he collected bets for a bookmaker who had not got a permit? Who would have committed the offence, the runner, or the bookmaker who employed him?
Clause 2 seems to be rather over-elaborate. It lays down the procedure 906 for getting a bookmaker's permit. I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) about the desirability of the applicant for a bookmaker's permit getting a certificate from a bookmakers' association to show that he is a satisfactory person and is sufficiently financially sound to be given a permit. The public has to be protected against anyone who can produce £100 setting up as a bookmaker. We want to see that intending bookmakers are financially sound, but I do not know that it would be right for anybody to be able to object to a bookmaker's permit. Only the police should be able to object and not all and sundry, disgruntled clients and people who are annoyed in one way or another.
The position is rather different when it comes to setting up a betting office, because the local authority will obviously have a good deal to say about that. I suppose that it would be fair to allow people living near where it is proposed to set up the office to object to it, but they should not be able to object to the permit. It is important to distinguish between the means of getting a bookmaker's permit and a betting office licence.
I agree with much of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) about the Second Schedule. The Bill seems to say that we are to make betting in a betting office legal, provided that we make that office as uncomfortable as possible. What do my right hon. Friends regard as a length of time "reasonably necessary" to effect a betting transation? What I would call "reasonably necessary" some might call loitering. I would want to know the runners, jockeys, the draw for places and the betting, and then any changes in the betting, and I would want to make my bet at the last possible moment, all of which I can do in the House of Commons, if I feel so inclined, by ringing up my bookmaker. I do not see why I should not do so in the betting office as well. It would save a lot of time and trouble to everybody if there could be lists on the walls of the office showing the runners, riders and the betting, and so on.
Nor do I see why there should not be television. This talk about loitering is 907 grossly exaggerated. I do not see how anyone is doing any more harm by loitering in a betting office than he is on the racecourse, which he has to pay to enter, or in a public house from opening time in the morning until closing time in the afternoon—and I suppose that he could spend the rest of the day, up to midnight, I believe, at a strip-tease show. Surely he is no worse off in a betting office than doing any of those things.
I have said a great deal in criticism of the Bill, but I welcome Clause 8, which gives the totalisator copyright of its prices. I know that that is unpopular with the bookmakers, who complained about it when it was proposed in a Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) and in another introduced by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
The totalisator was introduced in the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, and it was intended that it should be an entirely non-profit-making body and that it should be controlled by the Racecourse Betting Control Board. It seems to me that it is the bookmakers who have infringed the Board's rights by using tote prices. Apart from that, there is no valid reason why bookmakers should be allowed to use tote prices without paying for them. The tote cannot accept bets at starting prices and the administrative and operative costs of running totalisators—and my figures are a little old and the actual amount may now be higher—are £1½ million a year.
That is what it costs to produce tote odds. I do not see why bookmakers should be allowed to use them for nothing. I hope that because of the Bill it will be possible to have an amicable arrangement between the bookmakers and the Totalisator Board about the use of these prices.
It might be wise and profitable for the Totalisator Board to let bookmakers use its prices and, indeed, obtain better terms for acting as agents for the Board. Surely that would be something which would appeal to most bookmakers. If I know anything about bookmakers there is nothing that they like better than being on something for nothing, which is what they would be in collecting bets of this kind.
908 At this late hour I do not wish to elaborate on anything that my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde said about the proposals to change the composition of the Racecourse Betting Control Board and running the tote executive and bookmakers' executive separately under one central board. I feel that bookmakers ought to be asked to make a contribution towards racing. After all, the off-course starting price bookmakers are the only people who make their living out of this and do not contribute towards it. From their point of view it would be a good thing if they could do this, because it would improve racing. It would lead to bigger attendances and ensure bigger business for the bookmaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester said a great deal about Ireland. It is astonishing what improvements have been made since the Act of 1945 was passed in Ireland, setting up a board of this kind. There has been an increase of 300 per cent. in prizes and entry fees have been halved. The board pays travelling expenses up to £10 for horses going to meetings. Admission charges for the public are no higher, and, in many cases, are lower than they were in 1938. There are free car parks, and all sorts of amenities. In this country, we get no contribution from betting. We have to put up with greater discomfort than any other country in the world where there is racing on a comparable scale, and we pay infinitely higher prices. We are far worse off here.
§ Mr. Temple
Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to know that off-course betting in Ireland makes no contribution whatsoever to the Racing Board.
§ Mr. Johnson
I was not quite clear on that and I am glad that my hon. Friend has put me right.
The Irish system might well be put into effect here. I know there would be a lot of objections to it, but I think that the proposals which have been made rather tentatively and briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde are sound. I want to add only one thing. The Thoroughbred Breeders' Association and the Race Horse Owners' Association are entitled to some representation on that Board as well as the the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee.
909 The Government have been courageous in bringing forward the Bill, although it has taken them a long time to do so. As we have seen tonight, the Bill will meet with opposition from people whose motives are somewhat varied. People who say that betting is immoral will consider it wrong to make it legal. For all that, if these people think about it seriously, they must agree that they cannot stop gambling and that it would be a good thing to try to control it.
There is a lot of merit in the Bill, but there is a lot that still wants doing. I hope that my right hon. Friend will allow us plenty of latitude when we discuss the Bill in greater detail in Committee. I have the highest regard for the knowledge and wisdom of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I suggest that on the subject of racing and betting some back bench Members on both sides of the House are rather better informed than either he or his advisers. On this occasion, however, I welcome the Bill, and have no hesitation in supporting its Second Reading.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I intervene in the debate with great hesitation. I was anxious to listen rather than to take part. The test I shall apply is whether the proposed legislation will make betting easier and will, therefore, cause more of it, or will in any sense discourage it. It is a difficult test to apply, because we probably cannot arrive at a definite answer; it is a matter of opinion.
I do not think that fresh legislation is always necessary merely because existing legislation is out of date. If we were to spend our time bringing obsolete legislation up to date we should be very busy. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are quite prepared to leave alone many obsolete laws, whether or not they are enforceable. If we consider them solely from the point of view of whether they need bringing up to date, there are many aspects of our legislation which need attention.
The main criticism of the existing legislation on this matter is that it is unenforceable. Is that necessarily a reason for doing anything about it? It is unenforceable to the extent, and in the same way, that the 30 m.p.h. speed limit 910 is. If we were debating whether present legislation were enforceable, and concluded that any which was not required remedying, the 30 m.p.h. speed limit would need our immediate attention. The limit is not observed; it is widely ignored, but on the whole it probably keeps down speed in the built-up areas. Does the existing legislation keep down betting? That is the question I want to try to answer.
I recoil from the prospect of having betting shops all over the place. If we have to have them I hope that they will be put next door to the offices of Income Tax collectors, and not the offices of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance.
The Bill is a reproach to our society. It shows that many of our people are bored and frustrated, and do not know what to do with their time. That is not the kind of society that hon. Members on either side of the House wish to see. More betting, more gaming, and more football pools are not the things towards which a higher standard of living should be taking our people. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) that we cannot educate people and bring about a new society merely by stopping, or even trying to discourage, some of the undesirable manfestations of the existing way of life. It will take a long time, but we should like to see a Bill of this kind made redundant by a change in public opinion and habits, and the use of leisure.
I feel very unhappy about the Bill. It looks as if gaming can go on in almost every club in Britain so long as everyone has an opportunity of becoming banker, and so long as the proceedings are not conducted for private gain. Are we to have gaming sessions in clubs throughout the country? Is that what the Bill is aimed at? Are we to have runners running in factories, but walking as soon as they get outside the gates?
I can only express the view, at this stage, that I am not yet convinced that the Bill will improve things from the point of view of the well-being of the community. It will probably bring a lot of betting and gambling activities from undercover into the open and, if it does that, I hope that people will feel that it is a reproach to us to be conducting 911 our affairs in this way—having as many betting shops in towns as there are multiple shops.
I do not accept that merely because we in the House ballot for Private Members' Bills and Motions, we are necessarily subscribing to the gambling instinct. This House has been called a talking shop many times, but I have never heard it called a betting shop. This method of choosing who is to do certain things on occasions when opportunities are limited is unexceptionable; it is the money factor in all this which I think is so reprehensible.
If I am asked, "If you vote against the Bill what do you put in its place? What is the alternative?", if the alternative is to leave things as they are, with all the difficulties and troubles connected with the present legislation, and that discourages gambling and gaming, then, rather than have this Bill, I would favour retaining the existing position. After all, it is not necessarily our job to make the work of the police easier. They have many difficult tasks to discharge. It is not our job to make honest people of those who are conducting things of which we disapprove.
We have to look at this from the broad aspect of the social good, and I am not convinced so far—I shall listen to the debate tomorrow—that this legislation will promote the public good. If it fails to satisfy that test, then, in spite of all the criticism we have made against the existing situation, I think that it would be preferable to embarking on new legislation which seems to put these activities on a legalised and respectable basis when many of us feel in our hearts that this is not the way that British people should be using their leisure. These indulgences are not really a mark of civilised society, which is, eventually, what we all want to get.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Sir Hendrie Oakshott (Bebington)
I wish to say something about what was said by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and relate it to something which was said earlier by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas).
But, first, may I extend a warm welcome back to the Government Dispatch Box to my right hon. Friend the Joint 912 Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. As we are talking about racing to some extent, perhaps I may be permitted to mix my metaphors and say to him that he seems to have found himself rather a tricky mount for his first ride in public after his absence from the saddle, but, with his skill and horsemanship, I have no doubt that he will manage successfully.
I heartily welcome the Bill, and I am glad that the Government have introduced it. It will, of course, arouse controversy. The hon. Member for Sowerby regarded it as a reproach to society and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West said that we were making betting respectable. I cannot agree. It seems to me that it cannot be other than a good thing to try to clean up the law on such matters as this.
It is not just a matter of making something respectable. I am not prepared to argue the moral issue as did the hon. Member for Cardiff, West—I admit, with the utmost sincerity; but here we have a situation where the law badly needs cleaning up. The opening words of the Report of the Royal Commission described the state of the law asobscure, illogical and difficult to enforce.The law is based largely on old statutes, some of them very old, and even those people with a proper feeling of absolute sincerity who oppose this reform cannot be happy to leave things as they are, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Sowerby.
I wish to express my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the understanding way in which he introduced the Bill. If I understood him correctly, he promised to listen to suggestions and criticisms, and in expressing criticism, which I shall do, I wish to assure him and my other right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that it in no way lessens my support for their efforts to get rid of some of the anomalies and absurdities in the present law.
My basic approach to the Bill is just this: I believe we are very properly sweeping away a lot of restrictions which are largely unenforceable, but we must not replace them with another set of restrictions which, in due course, will produce other anomalies. That, if I 913 understood him aright, was also the view expressed earlier in the debate by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley).
There is little I wish to say about Parts II, III and IV of the Bill where, I think, the Government's approach has been right and their proposals sensible. The proposals relating to gaming may well have the effect of putting a stop at least to some of the quasi-casino type of private house gambling which has attracted so much publicity in the last year or so. After the Bill has become law, the promoters of that particular diversion may well find that it is no longer worth while.
My main concern, as you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will not be surprised to hear, is with Part I of the Bill and the First and Second Schedules. Here again, I believe that, basically, the Government are right in their general approach. We shall never stop betting on horses any more than we can stop the tide coming in. The position now is that credit betting is already legal and it would seem only sensible and equitable that cash betting should be legal as well; provided that there are proper safeguards, as several hon. Members have rightly mentioned, to protect younger people, and provisions against excessive betting, and both these are contained in the Bill.
Having accepted the need for the legalisation of cash betting, I must, although I admit somewhat reluctantly, accept the idea of betting offices as well, under proper control. On the point made by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), I hope that we may be able to find a safeguard against the chain store idea. I, too, do not wish to see small bookmakers put out of business. I should not be inclined to push the bare-board austerity of the betting office too far, as I think is done in the Second Schedule.
Why prohibit the giving of information regarding odds and results except on request by word of mouth, as the Second Schedule stipulates? Everybody will want this information. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) suggested, why can it not be put on a board in the betting office so that people can see it without having to ask for it? They will ask for it anyway, and it should 914 be provided without their having to go through that formality.
Although the Second Schedule is reasonably flexible, I should like to see it even more so, for I do not think that it will work as it stands. We ought not to tie ourselves down too strictly. It would be wise to see how these general ideas turn out as time goes on and we ought to be prepared to make changes in the light of experience. I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Smethwick in his suggestion for a review. Whether five years would be the right period I am not prepared to say, but a review is necessary and desirable.
Then there is this very thorny problem related to betting offices, the question of runners, about which a great deal has been said. At present, there is nothing to stop a bookmaker having a runner in a factory, but the Street Betting Act makes it illegal for him to have a runner in the street and, under Clause 5 of the Bill, the penalties for street betting will be increased. Frankly, I do not believe that that is a good thing.
The law is already held in disrepute. In a sense some hon. Members have scoffed at the mention of the disrepute of the law, but I take this very seriously. I do not want the law to be in disrepute. Its enforcement over this is very far from effective, and there is something rather distasteful in retaining provisions in the law which are widely disregarded, and especially so to me at this moment, when my right hon. Friend and the Government are taking such bold steps to clean up the law on betting in other ways.
I should like to see something written into the Bill suitably to amend the Street Betting Act which would permit street runners, with proper safeguards against obstruction and solicitation. From what my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, I gathered that the Commissioner of Police would not mind seeing that. Does the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) disagree on that? He appeared to be shaking his head.
§ Sir H. Oakshott
I think that the police will have plenty to do in policing the new betting offices, so I should like to see this offence done away with. I 915 have to acknowledge that the Royal Commission disagrees with me on this. It did not want to see the Street Betting Act repealed or amended. I have a quotation from paragraph 228 of the Report, with which I shall not detain the House now, but I do not believe the objection of the Commission is entirely valid.
I should have thought that the law relating to obstruction is already a fairly good safeguard and that it could easily be strengthened. I have no wish to see bookmakers' boards at street corners, but it seems a little hypocritical for the law to see nothing wrong in a bookmaker having a runner in a factory and everything wrong with his having the same person as a runner in the street.
§ Mr. Ede
I gathered from what the Home Secretary said this afternoon that the runner in the factory would not be in the employment of the bookmaker, but would be the agent of the people in the factory who wanted to make their bets. I think he said that probably such a man would get a commission from them out of their winnings to which I added at the time he said it, "If any."
§ Sir H. Oakshott
The right hon. Member is a former Home Secretary and an expert on these matters. He may be right, but my understanding was exactly the opposite, that the runner would be the agent of the bookmaker.
Experience in the Irish Republic has shown that the opening of betting offices finally eradicated street runners, and if we can learn from Irish experience so much the better. In the meantime, I believe that we should be wise, without in any way permitting solicitation or obstruction, to make legal the employment of the street runner in the same way as the factory runner is employed. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will look at that matter again.
Now I turn for a moment to the Peppiatt Committee. I want to see a further contribution to racing from betting, and I say "further" because there is nothing new about this. This was established under the 1928 Act, which set up the Racecourse Betting Control Board. It provided for a contribution from the totalisator surplus for the benefit of breeding and racing. Today, 916 something more than that contribution is needed, and I believe that it can be found.
We have heard today experts like my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Morrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) who are both members of the Jockey Club. I am not a member of either the Jockey Club or the National Hunt Committee. I am not a breeder, and I am no longer an owner. I am just one of the race-going public. I love good horses and the sport of racing, and my enthusiasm about these things is shared by millions of people in every walk of life.
I want to see racing maintained and the English thoroughbred hold its place in the world, which we cannot say it is doing today. The reason is that more money is needed in this industry; more money for bigger prizes, for better sport for the public, and, more important, more money for racecourse executives to provide better amenities, better stands and also lower admissions as well as better programmes for the customer—the race-goer.
It has been estimated that to bring the standard of racecourses up-to-date—only five courses have been rebuilt in this country since 1918 out of about 70—would require an annual interest sum of about £2 million. Again, if we were to reduce the admission charges by 25 per cent. that would cost another £1 million. I mention these two figures to the House to show the extent of the problem facing the industry.
The totalisator already helps, thanks to the 1928 Act. The on-the-course bookmaker helps to some extent, by the fee for his badge, but the bookmakers in the offices who do not go on racecourses, but who make their living—and if it were not a good one, I do not imagine that they would stay in it—do not contribute at all. It is from these people that I want to see a contribution, and I think that an acceptable scheme could be worked out.
I would add to what was said by two of my hon. Friends, and by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park, by saying that I am very sorry indeed that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is not here. The hon. Member is a very great 917 expert on these matters and on the problems facing the industry, and I am sure that he would have expressed some ideas about them. I do not know whether he would agree with me when I say that I see no reason why the powers and constitution of the present Board should not be changed so as to set up a bookmakers' executive, such as my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde mentioned. They could run it themselves. Its membership could be provided on the recommendation of the Bookmakers' Protection Association. Out of that could come the contribution which is so badly needed.
In France, the betting interests contribute about £8 million a year to racing, and I want to see a proper contribution here, too. May I add—and one of my hon. Friends appeared to misunderstand this—that the contribution which I have in mind should come from betting on horse racing only. There should be no question of diverting money from betting on dog racing towards this contribution to horse racing. Personally, I would be very much against that.
The fact that the Peppiatt Committee was appointed shows that my right hon. Friend is aware how important these problems are. I would not suggest for a moment that the Committee should hurry up its deliberations, but I wish to say to my right hon. and hon. Friends that there are many people who will be disappointed and will regard this Measure as quite incomplete, unless in its final form there is some provision for a contribution towards racing and racing amenities from the betting interests, which at the moment do not contribute at all.
Having voiced a few criticisms, may I make one point on which I disagree profoundly with the right hon. Member for Smethwick. He spoke about sweeping the dust under the carpet. Often critics of reforms say that all that is being done is to sweep the problem under the carpet. I do not think that that can possibly be said about this Bill. My right hon. Friend is, in fact, doing the very reverse; he is pulling back the carpet and exposing the dust of centuries. I applaud him for his courage in doing so. Some of the dust still remains, but after his opening speech I am encouraged to believe that in the later stages 918 of the Bill he will go on applying his vacuum cleaner with vim and vigour.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
May I say to the hon. Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) that I disagree as profoundly with some of the things which he said as he apparently disagrees with my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). Perhaps I shall be forgiven if I come to our disagreements a little later.
The Opposition is treating this important Bill, with its moral and legal issues of tremendous complexity, as particularly suitable for an expression of the free vote of the House of Commons, and I greatly regret that the Government have been unwilling to make this very minor experiment in Parliamentary liberty and have decided to put the Whips on. What I have said means that, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick, I am expressing only personal views, but in particular I have the job of trying to express some specifically Scottish points of view.
I must confess to the House that I am a little at a loss to know what is distinctively Scottish about the Bill. "Scratch a Scot", it is said, "and you find a moralist". My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) comments, "Or scratch a Welshman". Although the Scots and the Welsh may be nations of moralists, this is not remotely to say that they are moral nations. If anybody had been in any doubt about this, I think that the speech by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland would have disabused him, because the hon. Member explained in staggering terms that already in Scotland, years in advance of the Bill becoming an Act, there are 1,100 betting shops.
He went on to say something which struck me as a little strange, coming from a Minister of the Crown. He indicated, I thought with a certain amount of pride and certainly with a little frivolity, that one of the certificates of fitness for having a licence to run a betting shop when the Bill becomes an Act will be a certificate of one's convictions for having broken the present betting law. I hope that he will forgive my saying that I thought this was a little unfortunate as a commendation of the 919 Bill, and it very much underlines the kind of comment which has been made by some of my hon. Friends who feel very deeply and conscientiously on the moral aspect of the Bill.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
I did not say that. That is what was said by his right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede).
§ Mr. Thomson
If I may say so, the Minister seemed to be commending the Government for their common sense in saying that they would take into account these convictions as a sign that people were fitted to have licences for betting shops.
On the moral question, I merely want to say that I agree with what the Royal Commission said in paragraph 185 of its Report. These were the words:The spread of gambling is one of the symptoms of an age in which people have more leisure and cannot or do not know how to make good use of it. The remedy lies not in restrictive legislation but in education and the provision of facilities for more healthy recreation.I am sure that that is the constructive way in which to tackle the problem of gambling. It ought to be clear by this time over the centuries that it is impossible to legislate gambling out of existence. What one must do is to try to control it adequately and to prevent the kind of social evils which follow from any excessive indulgence in it.
That is the attitude being taken by the Church of Scotland. I asked the Church what their point of view is. I understand that they are pressing upon Her Majesty's Government the urgent importance of introducing and passing legislation on this matter during the current Session of Parliament. I am sure that this is the practical course to pursue.
In this intensely interesting debate there has been general agreement on a number of fundamentals. Firstly, there has been agreement that gambling cannot be legislated out of existence. Secondly, there has been agreement that, since gambling on a wide scale is bound to take place whatever the state of the law, it is better that the law should be capable of enforcement, that it should have the support of public opinion and that it should deal equally with one group of citizens as against another. The 920 present betting law is almost a classic example of one law for the rich and one for the poor. Now that the general mass poverty which was the justification for the original discrimination has largely disappeared from our community, the former anomalies have had added to them a certain ludicrous element. The evidence given by the Police Federation to the Royal Commission on this subject was very much to the point. It is quoted in paragraph 219:…we have achieved nothing except perhaps the arrest and conviction of many hundreds of otherwise ordinary respectable citizens, who perhaps abide by every law in the land except the Betting Act of 1906.That is not a desirable state of affairs, and in so far as the Government are trying to remove it, I welcome the introduction of the Bill.
The Government are claiming and have been receiving from their back benchers a good deal of credit for their political courage in introducing the Bill. Whatever their political courage, I do not think anyone can congratulate them on the speed with which they have done it. The Royal Commission reported in 1951. The Tory Party conferences in 1954 and 1955 passed unanimous resolutions calling for the immediate implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. As the Minister himself said, it was not until 1956 that the findings of the Royal Commission finally made their way on to the Floor of the House. They did so then only because some of my hon. Friends introduced the subject, having come up, appropriately enough, in the Ballot for Private Members' Motions.
We wonder sometimes why Parliament does not command the interest in the community which we sometimes think it should. After all, if we take five years even to discuss the findings of an important Royal Commission on such a subject affecting many millions of people, both bettors and anti-bettors, it is a reflection on Parliament and the Government in power at the time.
During the debate in March, 1956, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), whose absence is so very greatly regretted from the debate, made his famous bet that he did not think that any Government, Labour or Tory, would 921 ever introduce the Bill. He was considerably discomfited when the Under-Secretary of the day, who I believe will wind up our deliberations this evening, said that a Billis being prepared for introduction at the earliest practicable opportunity."—(Official Report, 9th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2555.]Three and a half years seems an unduly long time for a Government to find the early opportunity they said that they were seeking.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I remember that debate very well with my hon. Friend who was then Under-Secretary. The Bill was not only prepared, but there is very little doubt that we should have had it in 1956 had it not been for very strong and proper representations being made at that time by the Jockey Club, the bookmakers, and many others on matters of the greatest importance to them about their fears with regard to the Bill. It was as a result of consideration of those representations, was it not, that the matter was deferred so that it should be given further thought—because of the very difficulties which we have to debate now, not because of any unreasonable delay by the Government?
§ Mr. Thomson
One always listens with respect to the hon. Gentleman on these matters, because so frequently he lets the cat out of the bag. We have heard from him at this late hour this evening, some information that we might have had from the Minister when he was explaining the time-table of the Bill. If the Jockey Club is behind this, that Club has a certain cause for complaint, because after making representations in 1956 that delayed the implementation of the promise, it now finds itself in the odd position of being told that a committee has been hurriedly summoned to consider these matters and that it is hoped to have the report before we finish our proceedings on the Bill. I have never heard of a more preposterous, incompetent or, perhaps, sinister way of doing things.
Although the Government have been very laggard, the bookmakers, and particularly the Scottish bookmakers, have shown a remarkable enthusiasm for taking over the legislative functions of Parliament. As the Minister has said, on Scotland as a whole about 1,100 betting shops are already operating, of 922 which about 350 are in the City of Glasgow. The police, with whom I have every sympathy, because they have been struggling to operate inoperable laws in regard to street betting, are now faced with the additional difficulty of knowing what to do about illegal betting shops.
To the inequalities of street betting is now added geographical discrimination in the way in which the law against betting shops is applied in one part of Scotland as against another. In Dundee, the law has been applied strictly. In fact, there have been punitive fines to try to enforce the closure of betting shops. However, while the judiciary in Dundee has been taking that perfectly proper action, the Secretary of State has been doing what amounts to exactly the opposite.
The Minister will know that in Dundee there have been a number of application from "bookies"—"turf accountants" to give them their polite name—for planning permission to change the use of premises there. Everyone in Dundee knows that behind this there has been the business of the betting shops. The Dundee local authority refused that permission, but the Secretary of State for Scotland over-rode that decision. That is the kind of ludicrous muddle into which the Government have got us by delaying so long.
In Glasgow, on the other hand, these betting shops are operating quite openly—there is nothing furtive about them—but quite illegally. One can go into many betting shops in the busy areas of Glasgow. I have not had the opportunity of seeing them personally, but I have had them described by a witness in whose reliability I have the greatest trust. He describes a post office-style arrangement—with a grille and seven clerks behind it; a comfortable lounge with easy chairs—much more comfortable than the conditions that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) was able to enjoy elsewhere in Scotland. My informant describes a large television screen and commentaries on the races, and he added that it was a little difficult to appreciate that what went on was all quite illegal, especially as there was a spectacle of two constables on the beat sticking their heads through the door and then moving on.
923 That, of course, merely illustrates the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, that, in Glasgow as in other parts of the country, notice is given of police raids. A certain ritual is gone through. Everyone knows that. I was recently told by an old-age pensioner—again, a man in whose veracity i have the greatest trust:When I went along to place my bet at the shop the other morning, I was told 'Don't come back this afternoon. There's going to be a raid '.And there was a raid. The bookie pays the fines of those found on the premises, and sometimes gives a cash bonus into the bargain for the trouble people have been put to by being arrested.
I am indebted to Mr. Jack House, a columnist on the Glasgow Evening Times, who wrote a series of articles on the betting shops of Glasgow. He described them in great detail and gave the story of one of these raids. The police, he explained, were very polite and, indeed, gallant to the ladies they found on the premises. They immediately assumed that they were there searching for their husbands and did not take them in the Black Maria. One gentleman had his dog with him, and when he attempted to enter the Black Maria he was stopped and the police informed him that although they had accommodation for erring punters at the police station they had no accommodation for a dog and so he could not go. He protested greatly and demanded to be taken, and the Black Maria went on with his protests still ringing in the policemen's ears.
Another point about this raid was that it took place just before 3 o'clock, and one of the people whom Mr. Jack House quotes in his very interesting article explained that the betting office was near the police station so that they were able to be arrested and have their bail paid by the bookie and be back in the betting shop in time to bet on the 3.30 race.
This is the kind of ludicrous arrangement we find ourselves in today. The law is being made a laughingstock, and the Government should have tackled this problem a long time before the present time.
924 The question is, of course, what is the best way to deal with it? I am bound to say that I cannot see how we avoid dealing with it except by means of some form of betting shops. I was much influenced—and perhaps other hon. Members may be much influenced—in coming to this decision, which I did with as much careful thought as I was capable of, by the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in the 1956 debate. He spoke with all the authority of an ex-Home Secretary and of a man whose standing in the Non-comformist movement of this country is beyond question. He used these words in the 1956 debate:…the betting shop has to be accepted unless we want to go on with the existing corruption in the police force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2556.]So, in principle, I feel that the betting shop is the way in which we must deal with this dilemma, but I must add to that that I have the strongest possible doubts as to whether the proposals in this Bill for dealing with betting shops are going to work Indeed, I think that if they were to go through in the form in which they are just now they could create a greater nuisance than the present illegal betting shops do. So far as I can see, betting shops are likely to open during racing hours but no loitering either inside or outside of them is to be allowed, which was a point the hon. Member for South Angus was speaking about.
This proposal to legalise betting shops would certainly help the small punter, and I have said that I am in favour of the small punter no longer being treated as a criminal. I think we have a duty to that group of people, but I think we have another duty which is sometimes forgotten, and has been forgotten a little during this debate, a duty to the community as a whole, and the people who live around the betting shops, particularly the womenfolk and the children. I believe that under the provisions of this Bill the neighbourhood of a betting shop will suffer the nuisance of undesirable hangers-on of organised gambling. They will be going into and out of the betting shop all afternoon to make their bets while racing is going on. At the very best all we can hope for in this situation is that the Government will once again have to be rescued from these problems 925 by a fresh outbreak of illegal activities—undercover cafés, furnished with all the trappings of television screens and all the rest of it, set up near the betting shops. That is what is likely to happen if we accept the proposals in the present text of the Bill.
A number of alternatives have been put forward today to deal with this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) proposed that there should be arrangements recommended by the 1933 Commission for letter boxes for placing bets, and my hon. and learned and ingenious Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) told us that there were already available—shilling in the slot betting boxes which recorded bets and the time they were made. That was put forward as one way of getting out of the dilemma of having betting shops and abuses during racing hours, and I think it is worth exploring, but it is doubtful whether it would work. We should simply get groups hanging around putting their shillings into the betting boxes and thus get the problem of betting in the street in a new way.
Somebody has suggested that we ought simply to repeal the provisions making street betting illegal and make it entirely open. No one who has had experience of tenement life in one of our Scottish industrial cities would seriously put that forward. If there is street betting, legal or illegal, it means a great public nuisance. It means that the regular bettors, the hangers-on, as I have called them, are there on the pavements. They use the most abominable language. They force womenfolk to cross over to the other pavement. Hon. Members opposite appear to be laughing. They should not laugh. There is a funny side to all this, but this is the serious side. One has the entries to tenements in Glasgow and Dundee treated as public lavatories and the most shocking nuisances where street betting goes on. I am sure that that is no answer to the present problem.
The hon. Member for South Angus made very powerfully a suggestion which had a great deal of logic in it. He said that the answer was to make sure that betting shops were open during the period of racing, with sitting accommodation 926 so that these people would be taken off the streets, as indeed they are in the cities of Scotland at the moment. I have considered this carefully, but I feel that it goes against the spirit of the Bill and, I should have thought, against the general spirit of the House as far as I have been able to sense it during the debate. Although it seems logical, it would encourage horse betting and gambling and certainly bring about a substantial increase in it. I feel that the purpose of the Bill is to control betting on horse races and, if possible, to restrict it.
Therefore, I prefer the proposal put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick which was dealt with in some detail in an article in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday. It is that our betting shops, like those in France, should be closed before racing commences. They would be open only during the morning. This would give plenty of time for small punters who wish to place their bets to place them either personally or by means of the runners who have been mentioned. But it would get rid of the undesirable consequences either of having betting shops operating without sitting accommodation or, as they do at present, with sitting accommodation. I hope that during the Committee stage these proposals for limiting the times during which betting shops are open will be very thoroughly gone into.
It is, of course, a question whether in doing so we shall sufficiently satisfy the demand for betting to prevent street betting in other forms growing up. If that proved to be so, we should have to look at it again, but for the moment I feel that this is the most practicable and desirable solution of the problem.
This raises the question of the powers of the licensing authorities. I support very strongly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes). He speaks on local government matters with a great deal more experience and authority than I can possibly command. I was very glad that he put forward the proposal that the licensing authority in Scotland should not be the liquor licensing body. As hon. Members know, certainly in the cities of Scotland, this is a lay body of elected councillors.
927 This is a controversial innovation, and it is undesirable that the kind of political controversies which will grow around the siting of betting shops and the kind of undesirable pressures that will be brought to bear should be brought to bear on publicly elected persons. I make no reflection on anybody, but I think that it is undesirable. I am not as a rule in favour of sheriffs as against lay bodies, but I think that it would be better that we should have sheriffs dealing with these matters in purely judicial terms.
I should like to say a few words about the proposal made by the hon. Member for Bebington. The proposal was that there should now be financial help given from the betting shops to the racing industry in this country. One of the great advantages of this Bill, if it is amended in Committee, will be that it will give us social control and also some financial control. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take generous advantage of this and will put a turnover tax on betting. But I am strongly opposed to the proposal that there should be a subsidy for the race courses—
§ Sir H. Oakshottrose—
§ Mr. Thomson
I cannot give way. I am so late that I must keep going. I was even sorry that the Minister had laid himself open to the suggestion by the announcement of the setting up of a committee. I believe that in principle the right hon. Gentleman should have said no. I realise his difficulties on this complicated Bill. The right hon. Gentleman is already facing opposition in various ways. He is facing opposition from the Churches. He is facing opposition from the bookmakers. It is a little too much to expect of any Tory Home Secretary that he should take on the Jockey Club as well. The bishops and the bookies and the blue blood of the turf are a formidable alliance, but the members of the Jockey Club must be reminded that racing is still a rich man's hobby, and it is not to be disguised as a useful export industry for this country. That is a minor aspect of it.
§ Sir H. Oakshottrose—928
§ Sir H. Oakshott
The hon. Gentleman has taken me up twice. Has he ever seen Epsom on Derby Day? If so, can he call racing a rich man's sport? Has he seen the Western meeting at Ayr and all the people there? If so, can he call it a rich man's sport? Will he bear in mind that I did not suggest a subsidy? I emphasised that there is nothing new about this because it was established as a precedent in the 1928 Act.
§ Mr. Thomson
I know the precedents, and I regret them, but the hon. Gentleman was proposing a statutory levy. Although many hundreds of thousands of ordinary people go to race courses, horse racing is still a rich man's hobby, and I object to subsidising millionaires. More than that, I understand that there is a strong case for saying that in this country today there are far too many race courses chasing far too few racehorses, and it would be a good thing if some of those race courses could be used for better purposes, such as municipal housing, hospitals or schools. We could do with fewer race courses in this country.
Now I must come to an end. I will conclude by saying that I think it is a great pity that the Government, at the start of this new Parliament, could not decide to let the House of Commons have a free vote on this issue. We complain sometimes that there is not enough interest in the House of Commons on the part of the general public. This may be partly because some of the issues which we are so fond of debating, which divide the House on nice, neat and tidy Party lines, do not interest many people outside.
Here we have a moral issue and one that affects many millions of people who have been treated as criminals and who have resented it. It does not merely cut horizontally across the Chamber, it zigzags around the Chamber. Here is an issue on which it would have been singularly appropriate for the House of Commons to cast its vote freely, and I can only say that, given the kind of leadership we have had from the Government on this issue, and from the Minister who spoke for Scotland tonight, I am not surprised that people's interest in Parliament is flagging.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
For reasons which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) and other hon. Members have already made embarrassingly clear, I have particular reason for being pleased to see this Measure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) reminded the House, it is three and a half years since, at that Box, it fell to me to accept, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, the main recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming.
I would add that on that occasion I did not make half so good a speech as we have just heard from the hon. Member for Dundee, East, speaking for the first time from the Box opposite. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman will have cause to remember his speech with greater pleasure than I have cause to remember mine on that occasion.
May I add to what has already been said about the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I, too, miss him in this debate. He had spoken earlier on the occasion I have mentioned and had bet his shirt that the Government would do nothing of the kind. So I won his shirt, but as time rolled on, and nothing happened, he staked a strong counter-claim and up till tonight it has been a very close-run thing.
There are broader and better grounds for welcoming the Bill than that. Before we get immersed in too much detail, it might be well again to say exactly what they are, not just to ourselves but to the many—a minority, perhaps, but a very far from negligible minority—who find it difficult to swallow legislation which, as they see it, will make betting and gambling freer and easier. We should be well advised not to make too light of this anxiety.
I do not think that the Bill affronts many consciences, but it worries some, and it ought to be made clear not only on the Front Bench, but on these benches, on what principles we are trying to work. We are not simply trying to choose the lesser of two evils, as the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), perhaps unwittingly, suggested. Those who take a cynical attitude about some of our activities here should not be left 930 to take a cynical view of our treatment of this subject.
The Royal Commission recognised the need to work on ethical foundations, and gave much space and thought to laying them. Whether we agree or disagree with what it said, it left no grounds for doubt as to what those foundations should be. It declared that the evil lay in immoderate gambling, as in other human indulgences, and it considered that meeting the dangers of immoderation was the State's real responsibility. That Royal Commission and its predecessor are entitled to respect for their opinion. They and the 1932–33 Royal Commission were at one on this. The second Royal Commission used the words of the first in defining its convictions. It said that the aim of the State should be to prohibit or restrict facilities, and such facilities only, as can be shown to have serious social consequences. That was one principle.
The second was that the criminal law must not be lightly invoked, that the evil resulting from any prohibition must be applied against the evil it is sought to diminish. Therein lies, to me at least, a sound moral basis for the Bill, on which some hon. Members have tonight raised doubts. We know perfectly well—it has been said over and over again—that the evils resulting from the law as it stands today are manifestly greater than the evils we are seeking to diminish. One of the worst is the corruption of the police, which is far more serious now when relations between the public and the police are undergoing a period of strain. It is fair, as my right hon. Friend said, to attribute these bad relations at least in part to bad laws. It is harder to find a bigger evil in any civilised country than social law which has become totally unenforceable and which is openly broken by otherwise respectable people and winked at by authority.
So we have a plain alternative to offer, either stamping out gambling or regularising it. Invoking the first principle, I would say that there is no alternative to regularising it. I think that in seeking to regularise it we may find much truth in what my bon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) said in his speech about human nature. He speaks with great knowledge of these things, and I have great faith in his instinct in 931 these matters. Human nature, I believe will prevail over the best intentions of Parliament, and it may well be that it will be difficult to change, at least at once, the habits of the 3½ million cash and half a million credit customers which the Home Secretary mentioned. It may well be that there is a danger that the betting shop will at first be by-passed, a point which my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) made.
After two years' work on it, however, the Royal Commission decided that it was the only way. It seems to me that it is reasonable to give this at least a little more confidence than some hon. Members have perhaps shown. As to how we do it, there are bound to be considerable differences, so many that I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) that there is a stronger case than has been made by hon. Members opposite for the Government keeping a firm grip on what happens.
I want to dwell not on matters which we shall touch in Committee, but on one or two other more general anxieties which have been expressed to me about the Bill. I am sure that the one inescapable duty before us in this matter is to protect young people. Later, we shall argue whether that term should include those of under 18 or under 21. But the Royal Commission laid stress on this, and I have heard anxiety expressed that the Bill does not as fully reflect that feeling as it should. If we examine the letter of the Bill, it seems to do so quite effectively, but that is not quite the whole answer.
There is concern lest the greater freedom afforded to adults—and more overt betting and gaming activities are bound to result—increases temptation among adolescents. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said that one cannot prevent young people betting. That is true, but we can and must try to avoid whetting their appetites for betting. I think that we shall have to watch that and make sure that we do not indirectly increase a taste for betting and gaming among the young.
That is why the conduct of the betting shops is so important—although I am 932 not going to enter the argument about how they should be furnished. At least, they should not be magnetic to the adolescent. Nor must the cafés and restaurants which will clearly be established very near to them, perhaps next door, and where the police powers are very doubtful. That is why I must add that I am inclined to disagree with the closely argued paragraph in the Royal Commission Report about the shops remaining open during racing. It is obviously a very open question and I tend to side with my colleague, Mr. Curling, who has been quoted once or twice during the debate, and who told us that they should be shut.
Secondly, there is general anxiety on the question of information. The Royal Commission laid down three basic principles for gambling legislation, about the third of which nothing has been said tonight. It was to this effect, that as much information as practicable should be made available to the public about the extent of gambling. That is important. One cannot expect to find it wholly covered in the Bill, but this question of information should be considered when the Bill becomes law. Perhaps reports by licensing committees to the Home Secretary, which has been suggested, will help. We are bringing this business out of dark corners into the light and the light should be pervasive not only so that we shall know the extent of gambling, but also so that we are able to gainsay some of those who will say that as a result of the Bill the nation has degenerated. The information, I hope, will be useful to both sides.
It is not surprising that attention has been concentrated on Part I. Horse racing is a national pastime, that is, to an extent that poker, chemin-de-fer and rummy for high stakes are not. That explains a difficulty which I know that some of my hon. Friends have found and which to some extent I share. I share the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott), who feel more interested in the fortunes of British horse racing than in the fortunes or misfortunes of the punters and bookies.
As things have turned out, we cannot judge the contribution which this Measure will make to the sport until the 933 Peppiatt Committee has reported. Some feel regret that this crucial point of the levy has been separated from the legislation. I must be honest about this— I have always felt that that must be so. I remember that when concerned with an earlier draft of the Bill I sent a note to my chief at the Home Office saying that I did not see how one could introduce a Measure to control betting on sound ethical principles and, at the same time, discuss the terms on which betting should support the sport. Some of my hon. Friends might feel that I am splitting hairs, but there is a difficulty and I, for one, accept it.
What worries me is this. I think that we would all regret a Measure which had the ultimate effect of diminishing the sport itself and enlarging the gambling industry built up around it. One of the attractions of racing in this country is its proportions. Our courses are diverse, unlike, say, the French, and they are a great test of versatility. The racing scene is diverse, too. As it was so movingly put by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde, there is the cry of the bookies, the tipsters, the regulars, the punters. That is part of the landscape which, rightly or wrongly, holds the national affection.
There is always a danger, which, I surmise, has increased in recent years, that racing itself will increasingly become a poor relation of the business built round it. I do not want to make any provocative comparisons, but I could name other sports of which it can be said that they have become the appendage of gambling, whereas gambling should become the appendage of the sport. The tail must not be allowed to wag the horse. We do not want a lot of shiny betting shops and shabby racecourses. Were that the result of the Bill, even though we might end corruption and make the law more respectable, we should suffer loss.
Perhaps I might close by touching on what seems to me to be a possible misconception about what we are trying to do. A lot has been said in this debate about sweeping Victoriana off the Statute Book. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has on another occasion used that expression. Though, as he showed clearly this afternoon, he is a far better historian than I am ever likely to be, I 934 venture to take issue with him. Even if it is true I am not sure that it is a bull point with all. There are some even in these days who look with nostalgia on some principles for which the Victorians had regard. One was thrift, which means that if one has 5s. over at the end of the week it does not go on horses or dogs or pools but goes into the piggy bank.
I am not sure that it is altogether true that we are sweeping Victoriana off the Statute Book. If we examine the betting and gaming legislation of the last four centuries we find, quite irrespective of who was sitting on the throne, that this legislation has had to move, not always in the same direction and often back on itself, in order to reflect and conform with national habits, vagaries if you like, of the English people, and much of our history has been written there.
Some early laws against gaming were designed to concentrate on manly military efforts and on archery. I will not continue the historical dissertation, but that is true. It is not that we have become more righteous or less righteous, that we gamble less, or gamble more than in Victoria's reign, but with social change has come changed habits, changed tastes, changed hobbies and recreations, and to fulfil the principles of moderation we have to move the fences about. That has been the test, and no small test, of the Government. Despite some odd muddles over the long years we have proved not unsuccessful.
What I believe the change reflects is not so much an escape from Victoriana, nor even a move to liberty, but a move in conformity to what I and some of my hon. Friends like to call the responsible society. I wholly agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) said about this earlier tonight. The Bill is not a reflection of an age which wants more liberty, still less licence, to gamble, but of an age—and admittedly I am optimistic about this—in which more can be entrusted to the more enlightened individual. It is an age that has grown up.
Much of our former social legislation, now being repaired, reflects a state of mind which saw an obligation to protect the working class from its own excesses and follies. The law that we are replacing is typical of that. If one has a 935 telephone one can be entrusted to bet to the limit, just as, a century ago, if one had a house one could be trusted to vote. If one has no telephone one must be restrained by law. If one has a club one is permitted to gamble, but if one has to rely on a "pub" one cannot do so.
This has always seemed to me particularly absurd in relation to a sport in which its least attraction is that it has no class distinction of any kind. I regard this Bill as a fresh charter for a more responsible people, not in a negative sense of knocking off Victorian chains, but a positive imposition of self-restraint and individual responsibility. It is better summed up in another phrase which I associate with my right hon. Friend—" tomorrow our responsibility". That is the real social issue before us now. That is the test for us and for the nation. That is the background for our work on the Bill.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Bryan.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.