HC Deb 17 November 1959 vol 613 cc1115-20

[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).

[Sir GORDON TOUCHE in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law with respect to betting and gaming, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the said Act in the sums payable out of moneys so provided under any other enactment.—[Mr. Vosper.]

10.13 p.m.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

Are not we to have an explanation of the way in which the moneys which will be granted to the Government if the Resolution is carried are to be used? We have been led to understand, in the course of the debate, that one of the purposes of the Betting and Gaming Bill is to obtain some revenue from the licences which will be granted. We do not understand why the Government are now asking the Committee to grant them money.

Is it required to build the premises in order to lease or rent them to the bookmakers? Will the Government put up the money for the erection of betting shops, or do they envisage that they will have to enlist an army of enforcement officers to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are carried out? Do they visualise that we shall have to have an enormous addition to the strength of the police force to provide adequate supervision? The Committee is entitled to know why the Government require the money.

During this two-day debate we have had no indication that money would be required for any purpose connected with the Bill. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury is not present. I understand that he should be present to explain what are the provisions of this Money Resolution. I fail to understand and I think the Committee has a right to complain. Hon. Members have been deprived of the interest and attention of the Home Secretary during almost the entire debate today and now we are affronted by not having the Financial Secretary to the Treasury present to tell us something about this Money Resolution. May we have some sort of explanation from the Treasury Bench, however feeble it may be?

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

We have had a two-day debate in which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides have spoken at considerable length about the Betting and Gaming Bill, but we have had no indication from the Government Front Bench that the provisions in the Bill were likely to add to the drain on the public purse. Neither the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary nor the Joint Under-Secretary who replied to the Second Reading debate tonight, nor any of the authoritative speakers opposite, said a word to indicate what estimate they have formed of the likely cost of implementing the Measure. The Committee has a right to know how much we are to put upon the taxpayer in order to have these betting shops.

Are we to have the additional expense of an enforcement officer? We have had no indication from the Government about whether they propose to appoint an enforcement officer. I think it unreasonable that the Government should expect this Committee to allow the Money Resolution to go as a blank cheque. I never like signing blank cheques, and when the cheque is to be filled in by the Treasury Bench I become even more nervous.

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will not try to fob us off with a few generalisations but will indicate what estimate the Government have made concerning this proposal. I am quite sure that the Government would not have brought a Measure of this importance to the House without having made a most careful estimate of the cost. I hope that the Government will take the Committee and the country into their confidence. After all, they have bull-dozed the Bill through its Second Reading tonight. I shall not be sure until I look at the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, but I do not believe that a single hon. Member opposite will be found among the faithful—

The Chairman

Order. That does not arise on the Question now before the Committee.

Mr. Thomas

I accept your correction, Sir Gordon. I should not have been tempted, as I was when I looked at hon. Gentlemen opposite.

I ask the Joint Under-Secretary to do the Committee the courtesy of making a speech on this Money Resolution and to give us an idea of the amount involved and any further details which he, as a Minister of fairly long experience, will know we are entitled to hear.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

The Government are not treating the Committee with the respect to which it is entitled. We have had a two-day debate on a major piece of legislation. The Home Secretary is not here, the Attorney-General is walking out and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was not here to move the Motion standing in his name. Despite all that, the Government seem to think that the Committee will take the Money Resolution "on the nod" and accept whatever they say without discussion or inquiry.

We are entitled to know what this means. I hope that it does not mean as much as some of my hon. Friends fear it may mean. I do not know what the financial obligation is. It may be that the financial obligation under this Money Resolution has been reduced by virtue of the last-minute waverings on the part of the Government, in certain circumstances, not to press with the idea of betting shops. It may be that if they abandon the idea of betting shops, as was indicated in the concluding stages of the debate on Second Reading, our financial obligations will be less.

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to give us a rather clearer indication of the information we want on this Money Resolution than he was able to give in the concluding part of his Second Reading speech. I ask all the Ministers connected with the Home Department to accept the proposition that, if they want anything to be done about the Bill, they must treat the House and the Committee with a little more respect than they have hitherto shown.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Edinburgh, Leith)

I should like to ask one question concerning whether the expense will be met in Scotland. I regret that there is not a Minister from the Scottish Office present and I would like some explanation. According to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, the financial effect of the Bill is stated as follows: The expense incurred in Scotland will be met by local authorities and this, together with other provisions of the Bill which may result in small additional expenditure by local authorities, might affect grants from the Exchequer. I should like to know what estimate has been made of the added expenditure that will have to be borne by the local authorities.

I should also like to know how they will be compensated for it, because the concluding sentence of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states: The additional charge on the Exchequer cannot be estimated but will be very small. That presupposes that the Exchequer will have to meet some additional grant. How is it proposed to compensate the local authorities by whom it is anticipated that this extra expenditure must be undertaken? Will they be compensated directly under this Money Resolution and the Bill, or will there be adjustment of the block grant? Apparently, the Government, in their wisdom, decided that all the local authority expenditure would have to be taken out of the block grant. This is an added burden that will be placed upon them.

I am sure that the House of Commons will be interested to know how the Government proposes to meet this added expenditure.

Mr. Lipton

Where are the Scottish Ministers?

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) has the advantage over his hon. Friends that he has read page iv of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum attached to the Bill, where the reason for the Money Resolution is clearly set out. I do not want to disappoint the hon. Members for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), but the money involved will be so negligible as almost to make the Resolution unnecessary.

Mr. Wilkins

We do not want it.

Mr. Vosper

I am glad to be able to accommodate the hon. Member.

I will explain, as the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum explains, where the expenditure arises. It occurs in three places in the Bill, in Clauses 2, 3 and 16. In Clause 2 it is the expense incurred in granting and renewing bookmakers' agency permits. In Clause 3 it is expenditure incurred in renewing and granting betting office licences and betting agency permits. They form part of the expense of maintaining the magistrates' courts, which are met in part, at any rate, out of the Exchequer under Section 27 of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949. The fees payable in respect of these permits and licences, like the other fees received by magistrates' courts, will be paid into the Exchequer. They will therefore partly offset the cost of administering the provisions of the Bill in this respect.

It could be, of course, that the fees paid into the courts will exceed the expenditure in respect of the granting of permits and licences. There is, nevertheless, the need to introduce a Money Resolution in case this does not arise, and in subsequent years, when the fees are less, that will certainly be the case. The hon. Member for Leith will no doubt like to know that in Scotland the cost of the grant of permits and licences by a licensing court will be met by the local authority, which will receive the fees as a partial offset. I ought also to have mentioned that a very small cost is involved in Clause 16 in relation to the licensing of amusement arcades in England and Wales and in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Leith asked me about the last sentence in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. There may be—I say only "may" be—some consequential increase in the amount paid out of the Exchequer by way of rate deficiency grant.

The whole of this is of very small proportions. For some time we doubted whether there was any need to introduce a Money Resolution at all. I cannot give an estimate of the amount because it depends entirely upon the number of the applications for permits and licences, but it will be very small.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.