HC Deb 27 July 1960 vol 627 cc1745-7

Lords Amendment: In page 5, line 34, leave out "or any subsequent".

Mr. Vosper

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Would it be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the next Amendment, in line 35?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, that will be convenient.

Mr. Vosper

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) expressed a dislike for compromise. Therefore, it may well be that the Amendment will not find favour with him. It is a sincere endeavour to try to meet the wishes of the hon. Member for Dudley and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), which they put forward both in Committee and on Report.

The present position in relation to penalties for street betting is that the maximum penalty for a first offence is a line not exceeding £10. For the second offence it is a fine not exceeding £20. For the third offence on summary conviction it is a fine of £30, or three months' imprisonment, and on indictment it is a fine of £50, or six months' imprisonment.

It was proposed to substitute in the Bill penalties of £100 for the first offence, £200 or three months' imprisonment for the second offence, and a similar penalty for the third and subsequent offences. There was to be no question of indictment. Therefore, the imprisonment provisions in the Bill are less harsh than they are under the existing law. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend and several hon. Gentlemen argued that they were in themselves excessive.

My hon. and learned Friend who dealt with this Amendment argued that the ultimate sanction of imprisonment was still necessary. We still subscribe to that view. It is my belief that the majority of street bookmakers are at the moment trying to bring themselves within the ambit of the Bill and find premises. I believe that the vast majority will do so, but there may be a small minority who will persistently try to ignore the provisions of the Bill. Amongst them there may be some to whom the financial penalty itself may not be a deterrent. It is logic to retain a penalty of imprisonment.

With regard to the points made on previous stages, my right hon. Friend has suggested that, instead of making imprisonment available for the second offence, it will become available only for the third offence. It will be limited to three months, as it is at the moment on summary conviction. That may not entirely meet the views expressed by hon. Members. However, it is essential to retain some deterrent of imprisonment. I hope that it will not be necessary to use it, except on rare occasions, and that this compromise will commend itself even to the hon. Member for Dudley.

Miss Bacon

The right hon. Gentleman said that some of us thought that the penalties were very harsh. We adhere to that opinion. Nevertheless, in so far as the Amendment makes the penalties even a little less harsh, we agree with it. We still think that, even with the Amendment, the penalties for street betting are far heavier than they ought to be.

Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)

I thank my right hon. Friend very much for the concession which has been made in another place. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said on Report that this matter would be given further consideration. I am grateful that some concession has been made. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) that perhaps it does not go all the way to meet some of the objections we had to imprisonment and which we expressed earlier. However, I am grateful to the Home Office that it has been able to make this compromise.

Mr. Ede

I, also, objected very strongly to the Clause from the moment it appeared in the Bill. I did so on Second Reading, throughout the Committee stage, on Report, and on Third Reading. I still regret that the penalties should be so high for an offence which nobody, neither the perpetrator nor the people with whom he associates, regards as involving any moral turpitude.

We are dealing with a group of men to whom the Lord Chancellor bore this testimony in another place: For the first eight years of my professional life, when practising in Liverpool, I largely had a criminal practice, as many young barristers have, and I appeared in very many cases involving either street bookmakers or betting house keepers. I cannot remember …it ever being suggested that these bookmakers, however illegally they acted, were defaulters and did not keep faith with their clients. In fact, their illegal position made it all the more necessary that there should not be any question of their defaulting."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 4th July, 1960; Vol. 224, c. 924.] All that the Government appear to have achieved is to have made the position of these men still illegal. Therefore, as and when they carry on their hazardous occupation, they will have more reason for not defaulting, which may be some gratification to their clients, who have never doubted their honesty.

Mr. Wigg

As I was associated with the efforts to get the Government to go even further than they have gone, I want to express my gratitude for the steps that they have taken. I also want to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I am not opposed to a compromise. I am all for a compromise, provided that it takes account of the facts.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendment agreed to.