HC Deb 10 May 1960 vol 623 cc255-74
Miss Bacon

I beg to move, in page 14, line 31, after "gaming", to insert: (otherwise than by playing dominoes)".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if with this Amendment we discussed the Amendment in Clause 24, page 18, line 45, at end insert: For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that dominoes is a lawful game.

Miss Bacon

Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

My Amendment is designed to rectify a curious anomaly in the Bill as it now stands. While it is legal to play darts and billiards in a public house for stakes, it is quite illegal to play dominoes for stakes. This is entirely wrong. It means that in future if anyone goes into a public house and bets a pint of beer on a game of darts or a game of billiards, that will be quite legal, but if anyone bets a pint of beer on a game of dominoes, that will be entirely illegal.

Of all the extraordinary speeches that we heard in Committee, the most extraordinary was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on this point. He has a great deal of good sound common sense, but on this occasion he had to give way to the legal arguments of the lawyers who seemed to be in the shadowy background. Gaming in licensed premises was made unlawful by Section 141 of the Licensing Act, 1953. We do not want to see unrestricted gaming in licensed premises. A Government Amendment in Committee brought gaming in public houses into line with the rest of Part II of the Bill, which meant, in effect, that all games of skill were exempted; but the right hon. Gentleman in his wisdom said that, while darts and billiards were games of pure skill, dominoes was a game of chance.

Mr. Vosper

Skill and chance.

Miss Bacon

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong there. I believe that his words were that it was a game of pure chance. I looked it up a little while ago, but I may be wrong.

Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)

Is darts a game of pure skill?

Miss Bacon

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) suggests, it might be argued that darts was not absolutely a game of skill. There is, I suggest, a good measure of chance even in a game of darts. There is certainly a good deal of skill in a game of dominoes. There is, in fact, no such game as dominoes, just as there is no such game as cards. There are various games played with dominoes. One I remember from long ago which I used to play with my grandfather is called "Fives and threes", and that certainly seemed to require a good deal of arithmetical skill. Dominoes is played by very many old people, usually for a pint of beer or the odd shilling.

It is entirely wrong to retain this anomaly in the Bill. We must be sensible and realistic. Games of darts, billiards or dominoes for a pint or the odd shilling or two have been played regularly throughout the country, even though it was illegal to do so. I am fairly certain that, even if the Bill in its present form goes through, these games will still be played, dominoes as well as darts and billiards.

We should not make asses of ourselves but should pass laws which will be carried out. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, to make a concession here and include dominoes, which is played so much in our public houses by old people, and bring the game into line with darts and billiards.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

I support the hon. Lady's Amendment. Indeed, I have an Amendment down with the same object, to rectify the curious anomaly which has arisen in the law. The hon. Lady will be interested to refer to column 1090 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings in Committee, where my right hon. Friend is reported as saying: I am advised that dominoes is not a game of pure skill".—(OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 29th March, 1960; c. 1090.] I went to my local "pub" last Saturday evening and I there met a friend whom I asked to remind me how to play dominoes. We sat down and played three games together. I regret to say that I lost handsomely in every game. My friend said to me, "You have forgotten how to play. It is surprising that I won so easily, because I am only an amateur." I am not prepared to say that dominoes is not a game of pure skill. Certainly, from my experience of it, it is a game of material skill. The only element of chance seems to be in the drawing of the dominoes before one starts the game.

Of course, there are lots of ways round the law. I believe that we played quite legally on that occasion in the "pub". I asked the publican for the box of dominoes. He said, "Here you are, but do not play for money." He was safe- guarding himself. We played our game and we did not have a drink. But, having lost three games, I then stood my friend a drink. As far as I understand it, that is legal.

Mr. Rees-Davies

No, it is not.

Sir J. Duncan

We finished our game and retired to the bar.

Mr. Rees-Davies

That would probably be all right.

6.15 p.m.

Sir J. Duncan

As far as I know, that is legal, because there is no relationship between the game and my standing my friend a drink.

This all seems rather silly. The Scottish Licensed Victuallers' Association is very keen to have the game legalised and put on the same sort of basis as darts in Scotland. I support the intention of the Amendment, even if its wording is not quite right. Licensees in Scotland have had their troubles with clubs. According to all my information, it seems that dominoes is the one game which is played in all bars in Scotland. The law as it stands at present is really rather silly, and we can get round it if we want to. We should not make the law an ass. Let us make it sensible by accepting the hon. Lady's Amendment or words to a similar effect.

Mr. William Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I do not know who is the Government's adviser about dominoes, but I have come to the conclusion that he can never have played the game. The game of "Fives and threes", which is very popular in all parts of the country, takes a great deal more skill, if one wants to win, than chess, that monotonous game which I see played in the Smoke Room so often. "Fives and threes" requires more skill than playing draughts in trying to think what the next moves will be.

The fact is that in every public house and club in England there is a dominoes set in the bar. Although under the Act we are repealing men could be fined for playing dominoes for a stake, I question that in the last 20 years there have been ten prosecutions for playing dominoes in licensed premises. What harm is there in men who are having a glass of beer in their leisure time playing dominoes for 6d. or 1s. a corner? They do it now. The Home Secretary will not, perhaps, be surprised to know that if it is known that the police are coming on their weekly visitation the word goes round the " bush telegraph" and, when the game of dominoes is finished, the loser pays the winner his money after the police have gone. I believe that the penalty is £50 if one is caught, but if the law is maintained as it is these games will still go on. The ordinary working man, either in a club or a public house, will be threatened, because if a policeman does not like him he will be brought before a court and he can be fined £50. This is bringing the matter to a fine art.

I have played dominoes for 41 years. I learned the game in the Navy at 3d. a corner. I have often played it for a shilling a corner. I see no harm in it. I am prepared to sit down with the Government's advisers and give them a game of "Fives and threes" and show them how skilful it is. It is a good, skilful game. Why there should be a penalty for playing it I do not know.

An uncle of mine of 78 was caught playing dominoes at 3d. a corner with three old men whose ages totalled 305. When I went to see the chief constable about it, he said to me, "I do not want to take this case into court. I shall be laughed out". I say to the Home Secretary quite frankly that he will not stop the British working man playing dominoes for 6d. or 1s. a corner either in public houses or in clubs. If the Government want to liberalise betting and gaming, they should go after the bid lads, not the ordinary working man who plays for 6d. a corner.

Mr. Vosper

If the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) and I could play dominoes with each of us holding exactly the same dominoes, which I understand is not possible, I would accept that dominoes is a game of skill.

Mr. Blyton

Fives and threes is a game of skill, but dominoes are out.

Mr. Vosper

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) said, the chance lies in the draw, just as it does in the dealing of cards for whist and bridge.

I had better start at an earlier stage, because this is by far the most difficult Amendment on the Notice Paper so far. I had better explain why. At present everything that is done in the way of gaming in public houses is illegal. The playing of darts for money is illegal. The Royal Commission considered this matter and in paragraph 421 came to a very definite decision. That paragraph states: The association of gaming with the consumption of alcoholic liquor increases the danger that the player will be led to gamble to excess and we think that the existing prohibition of gaming on licensed premises should be maintained. That would be the complete prohibition which goes back to when the Bill was first introduced, not as it is now before the House. When the Government introduced the Bill they followed the advice of the Royal Commission and maintained the existing prohibition on all gaming in public houses, including the playing of games of skill for money.

In Committee, as a result of representations made to me by hon. Members on both sides, we decided that it would not be unreasonable to make some concessions to bring the law more into line with the existing practice. An Amendment was therefore moved to bring gaming in public houses into line with Part II. This was accepted by the Committee.

Briefly, that Amendment had four effects. First, it became possible to play games of skill in the bar of a public house. Secondly, it became possible to play any games of skill or skill and chance in any part of a public house, including the bar, under the conditions laid down by the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act. Thirdly, it became possible for residents in a hotel or in a public house to take part in any gaming in the residential part of the public house or hotel. Fourthly, it became possible for a room in the public house or hotel to be set aside for gaming. Provided members of the public are not admitted without prior application, any form of gaming could take place.

That was a considerable advance on the Bill as introduced and a considerable step towards what is the existing practice. Generally speaking, the Committee welcomed the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) wanted to go further and legalise all gaming in any public house in flat contradiction to the Royal Commission's recommendations. The Committee thought that that would be going too far. Generally speaking, I think that these improvements have been acceptable to the House, to the licensed victuallers and to the trade in general.

I now come to the difficult point raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon). By making public houses subject to Part II, it then becomes possible to play games of skill in the bar of a public house, but not games of skill and chance because of another Clause which prohibits those games being played in a place to which members of the public have access. Therefore, in the public part of a public house, with the exception of a small gaming party under the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, it is not possible to play games of skill and chance under the Bill as it stands.

The hon. Lady by a simple Amendment seeks to bring in dominoes. Her Amendment probably goes further than she wishes because it would make it possible to play dominoes in any street or public place. I think that the House is concerned with the playing of dominoes in a public house. The method that she has chosen is of naming one game. As the hon. Lady has accompanied me through 25 sittings on the Bill, she will realise that the whole foundation of the approach of the Royal Commission and of the Government to gaming is that no game shall be named in itself. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) wanted to name whist, which would have solved many of our problems, but once we start naming a game we go back to the existing law which has been so difficult to enforce. The whole approach has been against naming a game.

The simple differentiation between games of skill and games of skill and chance in the bar of a public house was introduced—

Mr. Paget

To put in the word "dominoes" is not naming a game any more than it is when a person says that he plays cards. There is a whole series of games with dominoes.

Mr. Vosper

I was coming to that point, which I think is a rather serious aspect of this problem.

The first objection to accepting the Amendment is simple. For the first time in the Bill a particular game is named, or, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said, possibly not a game but a practice is named. The first difficulty is: what are dominoes? As the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring and I play, no doubt it is a simple and innocuous game, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees Davies) said in Committee, dominoes itself could be built up into any form of extreme gambling. If a provision along the lines of the Amendment is introduced into the Bill, one opens the field to all sorts of practices quite beyond what hon. Members on both sides have in mind.

The second point is: why stop at dominoes? I am told that in many public houses cribbage is the more popular game. There may possibly be a desire to play pontoon and poker. Is it a fact that dominoes is the only game of skill and chance which, on the whole, the people want to play in public houses? In other words, if one could define dominoes in accordance with the existing practice and restrict it to that without any extremes, would one be driven into naming further games and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley wanted, legalising all forms of gaming in public houses? That is the difficulty, as I am sure the hon. Lady realises.

There is possibly the further point that there has been considerable opposition to making the advance that we have made in regard to public houses. We have gone beyond the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and I have had representations against this. If one goes into the field of gaming, in the form of skill and chance in the bar of a public house, one is opening the door even wider. There are some sections of the community who would resent that approach.

The position as it stands is not entirely unreasonable. It will be possible to play dominoes according to the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus played it on Saturday in accordance with that Act. I accept that probably most people do not play it in that way at the moment. All that one has to do is put in a contribution at the beginning and the winner takes the kitty at the end. The difference is that one does not stake as one goes along and there is a limit to what can be won. It is perfectly possible to play it that way. It is also possible to play it in some form of club or room behind the public house, provided that the casual visitors are not admitted. The regular habitué of a public house could, by organisation with the landlord, have a room in which to take part in dominoes. Therefore, there are possibilities under the existing legislation.

6.30 p.m.

The House must consider whether it is necessary to go further at the risk of opening the field to much wider practices and bringing in all sorts of other games and, probably, in the long run, going as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley wanted to go and legalising all forms of gaming in public houses. That is the issue. It is not a simple drafting Amendment to include dominoes. It has much wider implications than that.

Mr. Fletcher

The Joint Under-Secretary's reasons for asking the House to reject the Amendment were most unsatisfactory and I hope that on reconsideration the Home Secretary will be prepared to consider what is involved. The Joint Under-Secretary has told us that, when we considered the matter in Committee, he assented to representations that were made on both sides of the Committee that there should be some measure of liberalising the present practice in public houses. The right hon. Gentleman has explained that, as a result of the Amendments which he himself introduced, he has made substantial departures from the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Therefore, it is not very convincing for the right hon. Gentleman, towards the end of his argument, to say that we must have regard to what the Royal Commission said, because we have departed from that.

In Committee, we accepted that the arguments put forward by the Royal Commission directed to the restriction of games in public houses were unsound, and the right hon. Gentleman himself has introduced Amendments which do four things. They permit games of skill in the bar of a public house. They enable dominoes to be played in the bar of a public house under the provisions of the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, which are very restricted. Residents in a hotel or public house can play any game of either skill or chance and even in a public house a room can be set aside for the playing of games of pure chance provided that members of the public who are not otherwise in the public house do not have access.

Therefore, we are now contemplating under the Bill a totally different kind of public house from the old-fashioned one. Unless the Amendment is accepted, we shall be making a serious departure from the principles which the Home Secretary himself enunciated in a debate which we had a few weeks ago on the licensing system. He was then advocating, as were hon. Members on both sides, a system under which the old-fashioned public house, which was rather drab and uncomfortable and in which as a rule nothing except drinking took place, should in modern times be replaced, as is already the case in a great many of the new towns and newly built-up areas, by a kind of modern public house to which a man can take his wife and members of his family, which is not unpleasant and in which there are other amenities besides drinking. Nobody wants excessive drinking or excessive gambling, but one of the defects of restricting what can be properly done in a public house is to increase the tendency to do nothing but drink in a public house.

I cannot see why there is any more harm in playing dominoes in a public house than there is in playing darts. That is the simple issue before the Committee. A great many people want to play dominoes in the "pub" in the same way that a great many other people want to play darts. It is a social custom for them to play dominoes. The issue that this House has to decide is why they should not play dominoes if they want to. It cannot be suggested that there is anything wrong or wicked about playing dominoes.

The Joint Under-Secretary has repeated a lot of technical, rather bureaucratic arguments against the Amendment. He said that it would open the door to all kinds of gaming in a public house, but it would do nothing of the sort. There is a big distinction between the playing of dominoes, which is a simple game generally played for small stakes, and the playing of cards, which leads to gaming for high stakes. Therefore, there is no reason whatever to think that legalising the system by which people quite harmlessly play dominoes in a "pub" for small stakes would in any way lead to excessive, or even any, card gambling in "pubs". For one thing, it would be illegal.

Mr. Vosper

Possibly, the hon. Member misunderstood me. I suggested that acceptance of the Amendment would lead to pressure for other games to be played in the public house and I instanced cribbage.

Mr. Fletcher

I do not think it would. I have certain reservations about cribbage. It is not played for high stakes. Cribbage is a modest pastime. I play it myself. I play chess too, but not for money, because few people play chess for money. Some do, but often it is played regardless of any stake on the game. The same is largely true of cribbage. Therefore, dominoes and cribbage are simple, harmless games which, if people want to play them in public houses, they should be entitle to play.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Would the hon. Member like to give us his definition of what is dominoes? I think he would find it absolutely impossible.

Mr. Fletcher

I am not suggesting that there should be any definition of dominoes. There are plenty of phrases in the Bill which are not defined. We had the greatest difficulty in pursuading the right hon. Gentleman to include a definition of "club".

Mr. Rees-Davies

Would the hon. Member not agree that very soon it would be possible to invent a new form of dominoes for a public house which could lead to excessive gaming but would still be one of the forms of dominoes?

Mr. Fletcher

I am prepared to believe that there is no limit to the inventive genius of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), but it is no use for him to try to pretend that he can start playing roulette or baccarat and call it dominoes. Everybody knows what dominoes is, whether it is defined or not. I cannot accept the argument that because we legalise the playing of dominoes, we must legalise the playing of anything else. The right hon. Gentleman, I gather, thinks that if he legalises dominoes, he should legalise cribbage as well. I have no objection to cribbage being added, but I am sure that the line could properly be drawn at dominoes and cribbage, if desired. We must apply a great deal of common sense to this matter.

There is a distinction between the simple games that one wants to play in the bar of a public house, whether darts or dominoes, and the games that are played in bridge clubs, and so on. I urge upon the Home Secretary that it is desirable that people should be able to play simple, harmless games in a public house. One of the evils of the public house system in the past has been the tendency to excessive drinking, because there is nothing else to do there.

The right hon. Gentleman will find that those of us who are opposed to gaming in general and to providing further facilities for gaming are not opposed to allowing people to indulge in simple, harmless pastimes in a public house. That is all we are asking the Government to do in the Amendment, which has been supported by the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan) and has received a good deal of general support on both sides. This is a simple issue and I hope that it will not be resisted on the technical and artificial lines put forward by the Joint Under-Secretary.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I believe that the desire of the whole House, including the Baptists, would be to find a way, if it could, of accepting what lies behind the spirit of the Amendment. I believe that the Home Secretary would like us to be able to play dominoes and certainly cribbage. I think that it is fair to say that in the West of England cribbage is entitled to hold its head up as high as dominoes is elsewhere. I thought that I detected a note from the glances of the Home Secretary during the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton)—I think that he gave the show away and that he agreed with every word of his speech —that he felt, as I do, that if we could find a way in which the traditional games of this country could be played in public houses, we ought to find that way.

The traditional games are, I suppose five in number. They are darts, a skilled game which we can now play and on which, if one wants, one can have a bet; shove halfpenny on which we can now have a bet, although, of course, we must remember that the Bill has not yet become law and it is still illegal—what the Government are doing is to make it legal to have a bet on the dart board and the darts league will be happy about that —bar billiards, which is a skilled game, and two others, which are a mixture of skill and chance—dominoes and cribbage.

The problem—and it is a proper stinker—is how to get these made legal. One thing we cannot do. It is no good saying that it is technical and so on. It is nothing of the kind. We cannot just name a game. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that dominoes is known to everyone. It just is not true. There is no limit to the variations which can be thought out by people who want to engage in certain forms of dominoes for high stakes. There are five by three, three by five and various others. I do not happen to play dominoes, I regret to say.

We cannot do this task by naming and calling the game dominoes, any more than we can call a game cribbage. I have racked my brains because I do not want to see the House made a fool of any more than any other hon. Member does. We shall all be made fools of, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Houghton-le-Spring rightly said, if we think that because we pass a law which retains the illegality of dominoes when the game of darts becomes legal, any of a licensee's customers or friends will not continue to play so much or take a corner at dominoes.

If the purpose of the Bill is first to liberalise, as I thought it was, and secondly to get respect for the law by having it properly defined so that the police have to enforce the gaming laws, I can imagine the trouble there will be when some of my old-age pensioner constituents get engaged in illegal dominoes on a Sunday morning.

There is only one way that I can think of that would get the Government out of this nasty difficulty. When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary started on this vast social reform he, more than anybody else, realised that the field of social legislation is much more difficult to legislate about than any other sector, because we run against the consciences of people. I regret to say that my right hon. Friend and I have fallen out quite badly on the last Amendment. We are by no means sure that we may not find all the holiday camps in a difficulty, because I do not think that the Amendment was quite right. In that event, there could be trouble. So, likewise, dominoes and cribbage will undoubtedly go on.

I hope that hon. Members will be able to think out better ideas than the one I now put forward. I certainly put it forward with all humility. I do not say that it is very good. I suggest that at brewster sessions each year, when a publican comes forward for his licence for drink, he should be entitled to apply for a games licence and should state to the bench that what he requires is permission for the playing of dominoes and cribbage. If he then gets his games licence he will be licensed to play games to that extent on his premises.

There are one or two other ways in which it could be done. It could be done by merely saying that in the discretion of the licensing justices he can apply for a gaming licence. That, however, would permit the licensee to game more widely than we all intended. But for two reasons he would not do so. The first is that if he allowed other than just dominoes and so on, the following year he would lose his licence. The second is that the licensed victuallers of this country are as fine a body of men as one could wish and thoroughly respectable. In any case, they do not want to allow gaming on their premises. It conduces to the lagging on drinks if people get down to too many games.

6.45 p.m.

I have come straight back from the licensed victuallers conference at Margate where I propounded this idea because I wanted to see what the conference felt about it. I found that it had no objection to it whatsoever. The licensed victuallers feel that it is very important that the traditional games of cribbage and dominoes should continue. They do not want gaming on their premises generally. They are opposed to it, one and all. They want both these games and, of course, they support the hon. Lady's Amendment, but then they are not expected to know about the drafting of the law and matters of that kind.

It seems to me that it could be properly done. I would invite my right hon. Friend to think whether we cannot in another place bring forward an Amendment, to come back here, in which a publican could apply for a licence for gaming. He would say straight away to the licensing justices, "All I really want to do is to play dominoes and cribbage." The police would say that they had no objection. He would get his licence. If the following year it was found that there had been a breach of it by the playing of chemin de jer or pontoon or poker and that he had turned his premises into a gaming house, he would lose his licence. Is my right hon. Friend willing to stake that the licensed victuallers will play the game with him? I believe that they will play the game with him absolutely. If they do not and one or two go wrong, they will lose their licences the following year.

I believe that in this way, without harm or prejudice to the Bill, we may be able to achieve what we want to do, which is to permit the traditional games of chance and skill combined and to enable them to be played, including dominoes. What is frankly quite impossible is to define particular games. Anyone who has ever tried, including the members of the Royal Commission, and Mr. Gilbert Beyfus, who gave evidence on it, have subsequently all said categorically that one cannot possibly begin to try to define a particular game—there are so many myriads of them. It is not from lack of desire to do this on my right hon. Friend's part or that of anyone else that we oppose the Amendment. We must oppose the Amendment, although I have complete sympathy with it, because it is quite impossible to write it in otherwise than in relation to dominoes, and if we have to include cribbage we shall not know where we shall end up.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will try to think of some way in which these traditional games can be included. I have suggested only one way. There may be many others. In one way or another, I hope that when we conclude with this Bill we shall have been able to maintain the major things in the public house—the skilled games for a bet; the traditional games also for a bet; a room set apart for these purposes so that a club or association can meet.

Under the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, 1956, I do not believe that these games can effectively be dealt with. Under Section 4 of that Act no player can pay more than 5s. The whole of the proceeds must be applied to purposes other than private gain and the total of prizes must not exceed a certain amount.

It is a little involved. I think the result will be, if this proposal is dropped and nothing can be found to replace it, that the next thing that will happen will be that somebody will bring in an amending Bill to amend the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act. I would certainly do so, but I have not looked at it in that way. I think that my right hon. Friend might consider the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act itself and see whether he can amend the conditions of that Act to enable him to achieve what he wants to achieve here and then incorporate it in the Bill.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)

Or amend the Licensing Act.

Mr. Rees-Davies

But under Section 41 of that Act it is completely and absolutely prohibited. It is true that next year there will be another opportunity with the repeal of the Licensing Act, but there will be such a ballyhoo about dominoes that I am inclined to think that the Home Secretary will have to give a general instruction not to prosecute in the Metropolitan area. Then we shall be back to the one thing we want to avoid and that is chief constables having to decide on the ground of their own consciences.

This is a difficult subject. I am not critical of anybody about it and it does not behove anybody to be critical of another colleague if he cannot offer a practical solution. But, having regard to the high reputation of the licensed trade and to the views of the brewers about future licensing laws, I submit that they can be trusted not to indulge in general gaming if a licence could be produced which could be applied for at the brewster sessions.

Mr. Paget

I have great difficulty in understanding the logic of the hon. Member's argument. Why do the words "dominoes" and "cribbage" become comprehensible and workable if they are in a licence but not if they are put in a Bill?

Mr. Rees-Davies

I did not suggest that they should be put in the licence at all.

Mr. Paget

We are dealing here with licensed premises. If, under the excuse that it is dominoes or cribbage, really serious gambling is taking place in a public house then, whether it be strictly within the law or not, the licence will be in peril next time. The licence is at the discretion of the licensing justices. If they find that either by twisting the law or otherwise the premises are being misconducted the licence is in peril, and that is exactly the same position as would be the case if a gaming licence were issued. If too much gaming were allowed under a gaming licence, the licence would be imperilled. So is the drinking licence if the public house is used in a manner which is objectionable, whether or no dominoes or cribbage are are used for that purpose.

It seems to me that the courts and magistrates have been given much more difficult tasks than to use their common sense and say whether what was going on was a game of dominoes or cribbage or was something else. Magistrates in their common sense will tackle that problem without any great difficulty. They have tackled much worse. One can, of course, use dominoes or cribbage on which to bet high. One can use the course taken by flies across the ceiling to bet high. One can take a drop of water on a windowpane to bet high. There is nothing on earth that one cannot bet on high, including darts. One could draw a number and bet on which dart went nearest to it, thus producing a mere game of chance. One can bet on anything.

If the intention of the Bill—and I hope that we do insert the words "dominoes" and "cribbage"—is twisted, the licence is in peril. The magistrates will not like it and will say, "That is not the way to conduct a public house." Let us insert the words at their simplest and the licensing authority will know how to work the Bill.

Mr. R. A. Butler

This is a complicated matter and must be seen against the background of the experiences we all have of constituents and friends playing these games in our local "pubs" and perhaps of sometimes indulging in them ourselves. It must be approached in an un-priggish spirit and we must try to imagine how the Statute can be drawn in the most satisfactory way. The situation has been described by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary and there is no doubt that the difficulties which he mentioned are very much in existence.

I think that the Amendment is impossible to accept because it singles out a game by name and would refer in its drafting to a public place. It is not absolutely consistent with the crystal-clear declaration by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) in referring to playing in a public house. If we are to look at it, I would prefer to look at it from the angle of the public house, which has been mentioned by various speakers including my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). If that be the case we would certainly have to look at this again and in looking at it I must draw attention to some of the difficulties.

The Bill really hinges—if we really want one hinge—on the interpretation Clause—Clause 26—and its definition of a game of chance. That is the hinge which keeps the Bill together and therefore we must be very careful about upsetting it. Already its effect is that in the bar of a licensed premises, under the Bill as it will emerge and go to another place without further Amendment, it would be possible to play three of the games to which my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet referred, namely darts, shove-ha'penny and bar billiards. They are games of skill and therefore, as he says, can be indulged in, under the definition and under the Bill as a whole, in a bar. My hon. Friend mentioned five games altogether but we are left with six homely games. They include dominoes, cribbage and poker dice. My hon. Friend was most remiss in omitting poker dice. The whole attention of this majestic Chamber should be directed to that game as well as to the other five to which he drew attention.

If we are to make an exception, is it to be done by naming the game, by the brewster sessions, by amending the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, or by amending the reference in Clause 24 to one of the master Acts—the Licensing Act, 1953? Which is it to be? I cannot give a final answer today. It has been difficult so far to find a solution.

Looking at these proposed solutions one by one, I am inclined to say to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that it will be exceedingly difficult for the brewster sessions magistrates to have this invidious task added to their already invidious and heavy duties. In some of our cities the brewster sessions last a week and more. I will undertake that that should be looked at. However, I see great difficulties. As my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State said, it is already possible under the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act to play a form of dominoes, or to play in a room behind. It may be possible to approach this from that angle. I shall not discuss the licensing Acts, but I had better look at this to see whether any individual exception can be made for any individual game.

7.0 p.m.

Here I come up against the next problem, that of the difference between dominoes, cribbage and poker dice and the other games. It would seem very difficult to introduce any particular mention of cribbage, or any particular concession, because here we reach the great realm of card games. If we do that, after all the discussion we have had on gaming in the course of this Bill, we shall be even in greater difficulty than before. Similarly, poker dice, though an innocuous game, has a particularly venomous title. Cribbage may well be a homely occupation of Jane Austen or a Mrs. Gaskell pastime amongst our rural population, and it may emerge as a possible exception in the ravages of the Annual Price Review.

I do not want to come to any conclusion this evening. I did not come to the Chamber minded to make any concession, because I have been so carefully and legally trained by my advisers, and was advised by my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State. But with his concurrence—and his knowledge of the Bill is well known—we had better look at the four possibilities that have been raised and see if we can find a solution. In that case the position of the House is reserved. If an Amendment is made in another place, it will be brought back here.

I cannot give an undertaking. If hon. Members want to push this, then they must push it to a conclusion. If I can find a solution, then in another place we shall attempt to introduce a modification, but it would be limited to public houses and the difficulties to which I have drawn attention must be borne in mind.

Miss Bacon

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. Putting down this Amendment has been worth while. It seems to be the general intention of the House as a whole that something should be done to legalise the existing practice in public houses. As far as I am concerned, if it is confined to public houses, that would suit me very well; it was just that we had to find a place in the Bill where we could put the Amendment. If, as I am sure he does, the Home Secretary realises that this ought to be done, then some way will be found in which it will be done, and when the Bill comes back from another place we shall find some appropriate Amendment. In view of the Home Secretary's obvious desire to make a concession on this, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.