HC Deb 05 May 1960 vol 622 cc1392-404
Mr. Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 5, line 32, to leave out from "day" to "to" in line 33.

Mr. Speaker

It is my belief that it would be of convenience to the House if we were to discuss this Amendment with the next two Amendments, in page 5, line 34, to leave out "two" and to insert "five", and in line 34, to leave out "or to both".

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, Sir. I think that it would be convenient if this and the next two Amendments were considered together. Perhaps I might indicate the intention of this Amendment, which I have no doubt some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will elaborate.

The House having decided, rightly or wrongly, to continue the prohibition of street betting and to legalise betting offices, the Clause deals with the penalties that should be imposed in future for street betting. I concede that there is some logic in the suggestion of the Royal Commission that, if a serious attempt is to be made to divert all cash betting through the channels of betting offices and to put an end to street betting, one of the ways to give effect to that object would be to increase the penalties for street betting.

The Royal Commission proposed that the existing penalties should be increased. The Bill accordingly proposes that the penalty on first conviction should be £100 and that in the case of a second or any subsequent conviction the offender should be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine not exceeding £200 or to both.

Many of my hon. Friends feel that it is both wrong and unnecessary to introduce the sanction of imprisonment and that a sufficiently salutary deterrent would be obtained by an increased fine. For that reason, it is proposed that the permitted maximum should be more than that suggested in the Bill. The real object of the Amendment is to remove from the Bill the liability of an offender to a term of imprisonment.

Mr. Wigg

It is most regrettable that the Government should rely on the sanction of imprisonment rather than a fine and upon the ultimate sanction which can be expressed by refusing a man or permit if he is trying to establish a business with one foot in either camp. As the House has learned already, it is absolutely clear that in the south of England in particular, though the line is much further north than some people think, the habit of the betting office does not exist. It has to be established.

Therefore, the Home Secretary must recognise that there will be quite ruthless treatment when the Bill becomes law. Old habits die hard. If the House does not accept the Amendment, many of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) will find themselves not only paying heavy fines but faced with prison sentences. This is very regrettable. The circumstances in which these men have lived their lives, developed their businesses, and sought to serve their clientele, have been illegal, but the existing situation has been allowed to drift on.

Whilst I shall be 100 per cent. behind the Home Secretary and the Government when the Bill becomes law, I think that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Proceedings on the Betting and Gaming Bill exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).— [Mr. R. A. Butler.]

Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Wigg

I should have thought that the Home Secretary, as a gesture of good will here, would have been content with the increase in the monetary penalties for which we ask, and would have forgone what could be the terrible phantom of a term of imprisonment for a mistake, a defiance of the law, that has really become a habit, and does not arise from any particular effort to sabotage the Government's intention—

Mr. Paget

What happens to the chap who cannot pay £500?

Mr. Wigg

Fancy my hon. and learned Friend asking me that! I should think that he has at least read the Bill, which says "not exceeding". I should have thought that there were very few bookmakers who had been operating for any length of time, particularly in Bermondsey, who would not be able to pay £500. However, this being the maximum, one would expect that the bench would take the circumstances into account. They will know the circumstances far better. If I were a bookmaker, I would not like to appear before the benches in some areas—composed, for example, of people like my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and some hon. Members opposite. They would give one the fine and the imprisonment as well, if they could. They think this is a wicked thing. I do not think that it is wicked—though folly, if abused, yes.

To hold over a man's head the sanction of imprisonment when all that he has done has been to serve the area in which he lives—and, perhaps to exploit the shortcomings of this House— is wrong. It is quite savage to have a penalty like this and seems to indicate that the Government are not sure of themselves. I have never had the opportunity of reading history under any guidance, but one thing I picked up for myself was that wherever penalties were made savage, wherever they were increased, one could be reasonably sure that the original penalties were not working, and that the situation was getting worse.

This seems to be a clear indication that it is because the Government are not at all sure of the betting shop taking root and of their being able to get rid of the street bookmaker that they have introduced this savage provision. In this matter, as in many others, I am proud to have followed the lead and the liberal guidance of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). There is not a wider or more radical man in his thinking than he. If I had to choose between his advice and that coming from the other side of the House, I would take his every time. I am sure that his instinct is sound. The House will be wise not to resist my hon. Friend's Amendment.

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

As my hon. and learned Friend will be aware, I moved an identical Amendment in the Standing Committee, so I wish to add my voice to the voices of hon. Members opposite, apologising to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) for missing the first few seconds of his speech.

I suspect that on this occasion, as on a number of other occasions, my hon. and learned Friend will find some reasons for rejecting the Amendment. When I last tried to advance reasons in support of the idea he said that although my arguments were ingenious he found them unsatisfactory. I suspect that tonight his own ingenious arguments will persuade the House to reject the Amendment.

I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend will base his case on the fact that imprisonment is the only effective sanction against street bookmakers. Therefore, I shall not so much base my argument to him on the grounds I used last time but I shall suggest that there are moral grounds on which it would be grossly unfair for him to try to impose the penalty of imprisonment.

Mr. Wigg

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not put unfortunate thoughts in the mind of his hon. and learned Friend. He has suggested that the hon. and learned Gentleman might base his argument on the sanction of imprisonment. It seems that the hon. Gentleman believes in the policy of his right hon. Friend. I suggest that he should rely not on imprisonment or on the fine, but on the fact that, if these men continue to defy the law, they will be prejudiced if they themselves wish subsequently to have betting shops.

Mr. Channon

When I say that something is what I suspect my hon. and learned Friend will rely on, that does not at all mean that I necessarily agree with the premises upon which he may base his conclusions.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Gentleman must remember that upstairs we never had any reasons from the hon. and learned Gentleman. All we had were excuses. The hon. Member is now giving the hon. and learned Gentfleman some reasons. That is what I do not like.

Mr. Channon

I am sorry if I have convinced the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) of the soundness of my hon. and learned Friend's case which I am seeking to controvert.

Before I come to some of the practical reasons for regarding as a mistake what my hon. and learned Friend has suggested hitherto, I suggest that, on moral grounds, it would be grossly unfair to impose the penalty of imprisonment. What the Government propose affects two sets of illegal bookmakers, the illegal bookmakers working in betting shops north of some line drawn across the centre of England and illegal bookmakers working in the streets south of this imaginary line.

My hon. and learned Friend's proposal in this instance is that illegal bookmakers working north of that line should be rewarded by being allowed to set up new betting shops. Their livelihoods will at once become legal and, in one sense, they will be rewarded for their past endeavours. Bookmakers south of the line, on the other hand, who also have been carrying on activities in betting equally illegally, are not to be rewarded or even left as they are now; they are to be firmly punished. [Interruption.] I assure my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) that, just as he is worried about the future of his constituents, I am worried about the few people in the Borough of Southend who engage in street bookmaking.

It seems rather unfair that these two sets of illegal bookmakers who have been functioning until now comparatively unhampered by the police should be treated differently, one set at once being allowed to carry on their business and, indeed, being encouraged to do so, the other set being firmly and more severely punished than in the past. That is the moral argument.

The other argument, which, I know, will appeal to the hon. Member for Dudley, relates to whether or not what is proposed by the Government would be effective. My hon. and learned Friend will know the past figures of the number of people convicted of offences against the Street Betting Act, 1906, and the number of those sent to prison. The penalty of imprisonment has existed under the Street Betting Act since 1906, yet we have heard over and over again from Government spokesmen about how ineffective it has all been. Street betting has gone on, perhaps even increasing, during the past fifty-four years, under all Governments. The penalty of imprisonment has been there all the time. It cannot, therefore, be argued that imprisonment has been effective. It is not fair to say that it is an effective sanction.

On both grounds, first, that it is unfair to one section of illegal bookmakers, and secondly, that it has not been an effective deterrent in the past, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend, even at this late stage, will reconsider his attitude and base himself more firmly on financial penalties against the bookmaker.

I agree with the object of a later Amendment which would increase the amount of the fine that could be levied against people who bet in this way and also with the penalties that exist for the withdrawal of the licence from people who try to function in betting shops in future. Those two provisions will be far more effective than imprisonment has been in the past. As the figures show, convictions for street betting are still enormous, but we are told that only a small percentage of persons are convicted. It is monstrously unfair that the bookmaker working in a betting shop in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin should be heavily rewarded and that the bookmaker working in the street in my own constituency should be punished.

The only person who has given me serious alarm in this matter is my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), who, in Committee, painted a very lurid picture of the dangers that would arise should the penalty of imprisonment be withdrawn for street bookmaking. It seems to me that if he considers that these abuses will go on, and that gang warfare will arise, the penalties would not be those provided for offences against the Street Betting Act, 1906, or this Measure when it becomes law, but rather penalties for offences against far more serious legislation. I should have thought that whether there is a penalty of imprisonment for betting in the street is totally irrelevant if gang warfare breaks out.

There is always hope, but, without much sincere prospect of success, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will reconsider this matter.

Mr. Ede

I support the Amendment. I should like to ask the Joint Undersecretary of State whether he can cite any other Measure under which the alternative to a fine of £200 is as little as three months' imprisonment. Why has this astoundingly low limit been fixed? We know that for certain motoring offences the penalty is fixed at four months. If a penalty of four months is inserted in an Act, a defendant has the right of trial by jury. Why has that not been done here? The answer is that the Government know that nobody regards the street bookmaker as a criminal and that it would be as difficult to get a conviction for street book-making in many cases before a jury of 12 men and women as it is to get a conviction of motor car drivers in respect of some of the most serious offences heard before a jury.

No one thinks of the street bookmaker as a criminal. In fact, many people who know the risks that he runs regard him as a good sport for taking those risks so that they can put their money on with him. I ask the hon. and learned Member not to brand men who meet what the Government may think is a very perverse demand but a legitimate social need as criminals with terms of imprisonment. I ask him to pay attention to the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Southend. West (Mr. Channon).

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Mellish

I hope that when the Joint Under-Secretary of State replies he will say something about the intentions of the Government regarding the time factor involved before this Bill, which is against street bookmakers, comes into being. This is the most savage of Clauses. First, we have taken action against a certain person in our society, for reasons which have been advanced by the Government and which I have tried to say are unfair. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has raised an important point. We have an extraordinary Government in many ways. We have pleaded with the Minister of Transport to increase some of the penalties to deal with the drunken driver, the person in charge of the lethal weapon who is a menace on the road. We would be pleased to do something about it, but the Minister of Transport will not do it.

Now, the Government come along with a Clause which is nothing like what we expect from hon. Members opposite. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not a man who enjoys hurting people, neither is his right hon. Friend the Joint Undersecretary who handled the Bill in Committee. Under the Clause, there is to be a fine of £100, followed next time by three months' imprisonment—for what? For taking a little bit of paper in the street with "2s." or "3s." marked on it. I do not believe that these people will find the shops easily. There will be a long period before they are able to settle down to the working of the Bill. Great tolerance will be needed by the Government to help these people out.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) assumed that the constituents whom I represent and who are bookmakers are quite well able to afford £500 for the second offence. Many of the bookmakers in my constituency—I know quite a few of them—are the one-man-business type of person. Many of them have family businesses which have been in the family and passed on from father to son. I know of only one in my constituency who employs three or four runners on the pitches. Some are individual bookmakers in their own right. These are the little men about whom I am concerned. I thought that hon. Members of the party opposite were concerned with the small man, too, but they are not; they are imposing on him a fine of £100 or three months' imprisonment. If the Government cannot accept our Amendment, I hope that they make certain before the Bill becomes law that these people will get some protection.

Mr. Renton

Having listened carefully to this interesting debate, I am sorry that I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment. If we did so, we should undoubtedly weaken the sanction against street betting, which earlier tonight, the House has decided should not be allowed, after betting offices have been established. As the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) reminded the House, one cannot escape the logic of the Royal Commission's recommendation that once facilities for legal cash betting have been given we must be careful to enforce the law against street betting.

I do not think that any Member of the House will disagree that in fixing maximum sentences we have to think not of the most typical case that is likely to arise, but of the worst possible case that we ought to foresee. I quite agree that if we were judging the matter in terms of the most typical cases, a great many of the remarks which have been made in the speeches of hon. Members, on both sides of the House, would be fully justified; but that is not what we are doing. We have to consider the worst type of cases. In practice, that is likely to mean the cases of the most persistent offenders.

Three months' imprisonment has been described by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) as savage. I remind him that an even higher sentence could have been awarded under the Street Betting Act, 1906, by prosecuting the offender on indictment, when the sentence could have been six months. We are not, however, repeating the provision for prosecution on indictment and three months' imprisonment on summary conviction will be the maximum.

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) drew attention to the fact that there were, as he put it—and I took a note of what he said though he slightly overstated the case—that few big bookmakers could not pay £500. There is no doubt that most of the people who have so far been convicted for street betting—and we have to think of the principal in future—are runners or agents of bookmakers and not bookmakers themselves.

Nevertheless, the principal bookmaker may be convicted as an accessory. The principal may be a rich man willing to risk, ultimately, having to pay several hundred pounds. Although he is willing to take that risk he is not very likely to be willing to take the risk of even three months' imprisonment. In a glaring case, or one in which the principal bookmaker is a persistent offender, imprisonment, even a short sentence up to three months, may be necessary as the ultimate sanction. It is for that reason—confirmed, I think, by what the hon. Member said—that we say that to replace the sentence of three months' imprisonment by a maximum fine of even £500 would not be appropriate to the situation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) made a most lively and interesting speech on this point, as he did in Committee. He based his argument against the case that I am putting on the assumption that because imprisonment was not an effective sentence in the past it is not likely to be so in the future. I do not think that one can assume that imprisonment has not been an effective sanction in the past. I agree that the sanction of imprisonment has been used in only a very small proportion indeed of the total number of convictions under the Street Betting Act, but we have to bear in mind that there may have been a natural reluctance on the part of magistrates to apply the full rigour of the law under that Act, when there were no legal cash betting facilities at people's disposal.

Surely we are all agreed on this occasion that this new law which we are making must above all be enforceable. We say that it is not unreasonable to ask the House to sanction a maximum sentence of three months' imprisonment, coupled with a maximum fine, in the worst cases, of £200 if necessary, and that that is neither oppressive nor excessive.

The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked me to mention any other case where the alternative to a fine of £200 on summary conviction was as low a maximum sentence of imprisonment as three months. Without notice, I cannot give him the precedents, but I tell him candidly that in deciding that these maximum sentences which we have in the Bill were probably the appropriate ones— it is, after all, a question of judgment— we did consider the circumstances likely to arise in the context of probabilities relating to street betting, the alternative cash betting facilities which would be available, and so on.

I think that, bearing in mind the present value of money, and the effectiveness of the sanction of imprisonment, it is not unreasonable to couple these two things together.

Mr. Ede

Do I understand that the people whom the hon. and learned Gentleman consulted did not mention the fact that where it might be four months or more a case could go to a jury?

Mr. Renton

We had in mind the possibility that if we stuck to the old sentence of conviction on indictment, a number of these cases might be tried on indictment, but we felt that in the circumstances summary trial was appropriate and adequate for this type of case and that our courts of assize and quarter sessions were not the sort of place where we would expect to have this kind of case tried and that they were cases which could properly be tried by magistrates.

For those reasons, and after giving the matter most careful consideration, we felt obliged to advise the House that these penalties, stringent though they may appear to be, are necessary for the worst type of case. It must not be thought that these maximum penalties are the type of penalties which will be awarded for typical cases, even on second and subsequent convictions.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

There is a matter arising out of what my hon. and learned Friend has said which, I hope, he will consider before the Bill leaves another place. He has said that these penalties are needed for the worst type of case and he mentioned, in particular, a bookmaker acting on his own account. When the Bill becomes law, there will be a sanction far heavier than imprisonment. There will be the possibility of taking away the bookmaker's licence, or not granting it when it comes up for renewal at the end of the year. That is a far heavier sanction than anything included in the Clause.

Under Clause 2, a person who acts as a bookmaker on his own account, without a licence, is committing an offence, and Clause 25 provides that both summarily and in that case also on conviction on indictment, there are heavy penalties, including imprisonment, so there would be the possibility of imprisonment even if these Amendments were made. Apart from the Amendments, there is another penalty which is far heavier even than imprisonment. I agree that there must be heavy sanctions and I am prepared to support my hon. and learned Friend in opposing the Amendment, but I hope that he will consider this aspect of the case before the Bill becomes law.

Mr. Fletcher

I find the hon. and learned Member's reply most unsatisfactory. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) pointed out, there is no precedent for a maximum of three months as an equivalent of a fine of £200. The hon. and learned Member made it quite clear why he was not prepared to fix the maximum term of imprisonment at more than three months. It is obvious that the Government are afraid to permit these people to have the benefit of trial by jury. I think that all my hon. Friends found the hon. and learned Gentleman's reply so unsatisfactory that we must take the matter to a Division.

Mr. Wigg

May I plead with the hon. and learned Gentleman? We do not want to go through the Division Lobby on an issue of this kind. Will he be kind enough to have another look at this matter and to try to meet us, because it revolts us to have to divide on this? I ask the Government most earnestly to save us the embarrassment of dividing against them.

Mr. Renton

Naturally, we gave very great thought to this matter and, as I said to the right hon. Gentleman, we were not guided by precedent in fixing these sentences because we are making a new departure in this branch of the law and there is no precedent which would be completely valid.

Nevertheless, I have just had my attention drawn to the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, under which a person guilty of various offences may be convicted on summary conviction to exactly these maxima, namely, three months' imprisonment or a fine not exceeding £200, or both.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) said that there was another sanction, namely, taking away the man's licence. That is only a sanction if he has already taken out a licence and is a licensed bookmaker indulging in street betting. If he has dodged the column altogether and is not a licensed bookmaker, that will be no sanction against him.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Then he is caught under Clause 25.

Mr. Renton

That is quite true, but he is committing a separate offence under that Clause. We should ensure that we have the appropriate punishments for each of the offences in the Bill. That is what we have done.

Mr. Fletcher

May I take it from what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said that he is prepared to look at the matter again in the light of the speeches which have been made?

10.30 p.m.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Mr. Speaker, I think that I should say that I have had a message from the HANSARD reporters that they will not be able to conclude the OFFICIAL REPORT today, because they will be unable to get the copy through to the printers, unless we conclude our deliberations fairly soon. In the circumstances, I think that we should accept their opinion. I gave an undertaking to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) after Questions, and I should not like to go back on that, although I would have liked to have sat until eleven o'clock.

In the circumstances, I think that we should adjourn our discussion. In a few moments, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will move the necessary Motion that we should do so. As there has been a discussion on the Amendment, what we had better do is this. Whilst I think that there is much validity in the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, I certainly will look at this in the light of the other Statute which has been brought forward. Of course, I would not be able to do anything here. It would have to be looked at before it goes to another place. Then, if we were able to do anything, it would come back here in the normal way later in the summer.

In the circumstances, I should be obliged if the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) would be kind enough to withdraw his Amendment. Whilst I cannot give any absolute promises, in order not to truncate a matter involving heavy penalties on the citizen I think that we should adjourn discussion on this and leave it for further consideration in another place. Later, I will move that we adjourn consideration of the Bill.

Mr. Fletcher

In view of that assurance by the Home Secretary, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[Mr. R. A. Butler.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered upon Monday next.