HC Deb 10 May 1960 vol 623 cc285-95
Mr. Fletcher

I beg to move, in page 23, line 27, at the end to insert: not being earlier than the first day of March nineteen hundred and sixty-one". I hope that by this Amendment we shall afford the Government an opportunity of being rather more forthcoming about their intentions for the timetable for bringing the Bill into operation.

We can now assume that the Bill is likely to pass into law in this Session. That does not mean anything about the time at which it will come into operation, because that depends upon the day to be appointed for that purpose. It is not as simple as that, because Clause 26 (1) says that the appointed day may be different days for England and Scotland and for different purposes of the Bill. Indeed, in Committee it was suggested that Statutory Instruments might be made to bring the Bill into operation on different days in different places for different purposes. Something was said about this during the discussion on an earlier Amendment, but not very much. It was conceded by the Government, by the acceptance of an earlier Amendment, that at any rate there would be an interval of six months between the time when the Bill comes into operation generally and the time at which increased penalties for street betting begin to operate.

I think that now the House should consider the general timetable for bringing the provisions of the Bill into operation. My Amendment suggests in terms that it should not be before 1st March, 1961. In deciding when the Bill should begin to operate there are various considerations which should be taken into account by the Government. I will mention first the point which has been stressed on more than one occasion by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who said it would be incongruous were the Bill to be brought into operation at certain times of the year. He said it was essential that it should be brought in before the spring.

Mr. Wigg

Before the beginning of the "flat".

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, before the beginning of the flat-racing season. It is, therefore, on his advice that I suggest the date of 1st March, 1961. Of course, it could be that 1st March, 1962, would be a better date. It may be that the hon. Member for Dudley is right and that if one leaves the date beyond 1st March in any year one should wait until the corresponding date in the subsequent year.

The second consideration which the Government must take into account is the problem which will confront the betting industry when this Bill becomes law. Obviously sufficient time must be provided to enable the machinery to operate. The position in Scotland is different from that which obtains in England. In Scotland betting offices have been in existence, although illegally, for a considerable time, and one may assume that a great many of them will be licensed under the provisions in the Bill. In England, and particularly in the south of England, the position is totally different. In the south of England we have not been accustomed to betting offices, and a great many of my hon. Friends are not particularly enamoured of the idea of betting offices. That method of betting is contrary to the methods which have been adopted in the south of England. Therefore, when the Bill becomes law, bookmakers will be faced with a very serious problem. They will have to find appropriate buildings from which to operate and there will have to be, I suppose, several thousands or tens of thousands of pounds invested. In an earlier discussion one of my hon. Friends assumed that there would be something like £100 million invested.

Mr. Rees-Davies


Mr. Fletcher

One of my hon. Friends suggested £100 million, rather more than the amount spent on Blue Streak. I have not attempted to make an estimate but it was said over and over again during the Committee stage that if we are to have betting offices to serve the community and to replace the existing method of street betting, we shall have to have a great many offices and they will not have to be too far distant. We were told of the number of betting offices in York. I forget the number—

Mr. McAdden

It is forty.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. Fletcher

If forty offices are required in York and if we compare the population of London with that of York, we shall find that several thousands of offices will be needed in London alone, and, therefore, there will be a property problem. It is very desirable that there should be abundant time given to enable the licensed bookmakers to obtain appropriate property. They should not be subject to extortion by being under some unreasonable time limit to comply with the provisions of the Bill.

The third point which will require consideration when fixing the appointed day is the relevance of the recommendations of the Peppiatt Committee. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to take this opportunity to tell us how he now envisages the timetable of the Peppiatt Committee in connection with the proposals in the Bill. The House will realise that the recommendations of that Committee could not be implemented at all without some system of licensing. It would have been impossible for the Peppiatt Committee recommendations to be carried out unless Parliament was prepared to adopt the licensing system envisaged in the Bill or some similar system.

I suppose that some small bookmakers, when considering whether to apply for a licence, may be influenced by the intentions of the Government regarding the recommendations of the Peppiatt Committee. I think that everyone would like to know whether the Government accept in principle the amount suggested by the Peppiatt Committee—between £1 million and £1,500,000—as being a reasonable amount to be obtained by way of a compulsory levy on bookmakers. Therefore, I hope we shall hear whether the Government now contemplate that the recommendations of the Peppiatt Committee will be carried into effect.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member but it appears to me that the debate is going further than the confines of the Amendment which he is moving.

Mr. Fletcher

I am most anxious not to go further than the Amendment I am moving, which is to the effect that the Bill should not come into operation before 1st March, 1961. I mentioned the Peppiatt Committee's Report only because we learnt from the right hon. Gentleman on 3rd May that legislation is contemplated next Session. It may be that the Government hope that the legislation will be passed into law at a relatively early date. Of course, it may also be the case that it will not, and if it is intended to delay any legislative provisions based on the Peppiatt Committee's Report, it may well be that 1st March, 1961, would not be an appropriate date, and that the date should be later. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept this Amendment and also that we shall be told something about their general intentions regarding a timetable.

Mr. Wigg

I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) for moving this Amendment because it gives those of us whose interest in this Bill is sustained to the last an opportunity of saying to the Government that they could obtain the maximum amount of good will by giving as much notice as possible to those involved regarding their intentions.

I do not go so far as my hon. Friend in asking the Minister to give us a timetable or to comment on the timetable mentioned in the Appendix to the Peppiatt Committee's Report. That seems to me to be asking too much. Needless to say, I wish to keep in order in what I have to say, but I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) on his good fortune in the Ballot for Private Members' Motions. It will enable us to have a reasonable debate on the Peppiatt Committee's Report and give the Government an opportunity of hearing the views of the House.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman or his right hon. Friend will then give the House the benefit of their advice on the Peppiatt Committee's timetable. With due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East, I do not think that is relevant to the point we are discussing, but it was established in Committee that there are to be many appointed days. The appointed day mentioned in Clause 29 is only the first of many. It would be as well if operation of the Bill were introduced in a leap year because there is an extra day then and it looks as if the Government will need extra days.

Mr. Ede

Perhaps that would detract from the advantage.

Mr. Wigg

That may be so. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East carries me with him on the point he made about the appointed day not being earlier than 1st March, 1961, and in saying that it might well be later. Although I want the appointed day to be announced as soon as possible, I do not want precipitate haste. I want even the Scots to put their house in order and all the interests, including the police forces, to have ample opportunity of seeing what is coming and preparing themselves accordingly.

When you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, rose to remind my hon. Friend that he was getting out of order, I thought for a moment that you were going to forget the honourable position you occupy and comment on the fact that, although my hon. Friend was anxious to have a starting date just before the start of the flat-racing season, you might regard as a calamity a date near the middle of the jumping season. My hon. Friend in making his decision has opted for a date just before the flat-racing season. That kind of timing is very important, and it is one of the reasons why I have detained the House for a few minutes on this subject.

We cannot expect very busy men engaged in a great Department of State like the Home Office to be aware how ordinary mortals like myself concern ourselves in our spare time. Without taking the issues involved into account, they might opt for Midsummer Day and that might come in the middle of Ascot Week. The Home Secretary might be quite unaware that 21st June came on the day when the Gold Cup was being run. All sorts of consequences could flow from that. I urge the right hon. Gentleman, before he makes up his mind about the appointed day—if I may change my metaphor from racing to cricket—to look all round the wicket and to take what consultations are open to him. Then he should give all the interests concerned—bookmakers, police and everybody—the fullest opportunity to prepare themselves.

This is a simple thing to ask. If this is done, I am reasonably confident that the right hon. Gentleman may avoid some difficulties, such as having the starting date on Gold Cup day or, even worse, on Derby day.

Mr. Ede

I have all along felt that the bringing into force of this Measure would be an operation far bigger than anything the Home Office has undertaken for a great many years. When justices first began concerning themselves with publicans' licences there must have been a somewhat similar period, although I think they came into that very gradually. What faces us now is that all the illegal betting, it is hoped, will be brought within the ambit of the law or will be suppressed.

I accept the decision of the House as it has been given that betting shops, which involve licensing, and factory runners, who involve registration, will be legalised, and, presumably, that will come into effect on a particular appointed day. I am quite certain that there will be enough knowledge in the Home Office among those in some of the subordinate positions for any stupid thing like arranging for this to start on Derby day or Gold Cup day to be avoided. I do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) of the remoteness of the Home Secretary from mundane affairs of this sort, for, no matter how he poses in this House, he has pretty considerable knowledge of this matter. In fact, I have seen him at Epsom on Derby Day on an occasion when the Cabinet had some knowledge it did not share with hon. Members of the Opposition.

This is going to be a very big job. Of course, it must be carried through reasonably quickly. Otherwise, after the revelations which have been made in the course of Committee and Report stages, the police will have to pursue prosecutions against illegal betting which is now taking place. The right hon. Gentleman assured me in Committee that they were going on with this and, whether it concerned the betting shop or the street bookmaker, the law would be enforced. Having reached a decision in regard to the law, it is to be hoped that the period of the interregnum will be as short as possible.

I accept the decision, adopted by the Government, that the betting shop is to be the only legal form of cash betting. I may grieve over it, but I have to accept it, and, as a good citizen, I do not want to put anything in the way of the Government getting on with the job, but questions of town planning are involved. There are certainly some areas where bookmakers will desire to have premises which have been zoned in such a way as to preclude the opening and conduct of betting offices.

We discussed that matter several times in Committee. I do not think we reached any very satisfactory conclusion about it. There may be some parts of towns and cities, and even of villages, where, owing to the present zoning, no hindrance in this respect may occur, but there are certainly large parts of provincial cities and of London where I should have thought the present town planning restrictions would preclude the opening of a betting shop. If there is to be a great restriction of choice in this matter, many bookmakers will be unable to get premises at a rent which will enable them to conduct their business.

Several times in Committee it was suggested that already offices were being obtained by some people, and others had already been rather frightened by the rents that were being asked. Until the betting offices are established legally and are in working operation, the increased penalties against street bookmakers, we are told, will not be brought into force. I think Clause 6, as amended, is so worded as to enable that Clause to be brought in separately. We were told in Committee that this would not be done until there was no excuse for going to a street bookmaker because betting shops would be reasonably available for the population of the area in which a street bookmaker might desire to operate.

8.0 p.m.

I do not know what estimate the Government have made of the time which will be required to carry through the processes which I have mentioned, but there will have to be meetings of the licensing committees, although they are given very little guidance in the Bill about the number of betting shops which may be required in any given area. The process of getting the licensing committees to work, granting the licences and considering the appropriate local conditions to attach to them when they are issued will also take some time. I notice that the Government have tried to economise in some Amendments to the First Schedule whereby the licensing committee will be able to divide itself in order to get on with the business by sub-committees.

I regard the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) of a date not later than 1st March, 1961, as allowing so large a margin for error that it is not a feasible date. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he can get the machine at work, not to be able to bring in Clause 6 but to get the betting shops established under licence, before some date in 1963? I think that that is a far more realistic date, and I may be taken as opposing my hon. Friend's Amendment that the date should be 1st March, 1961, because I think that to accept that date would be to create illusions in the public mind. I think that the right hon. Gentleman should give the House and the public an indication tonight of the timetable which he thinks it will be possible to observe when the Bill becomes law.

Mr. Vosper

I think that I can meet the wishes of the House in this respect. The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) said that he thought that the House was likely to approve the Bill in approximately its present form. The Bill has yet to be sent to another place, but as soon as we know its likely fate there, it is our intention to enter into discussions with the interested bodies about the timetable. That meets the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). Those bodies would be the representatives of bookmakers, the Racecourse Betting Control Board, those responsible for the amusement trade and anybody else who is particularly interested.

Mr. Ede

And the licensing justices?

Mr. Vosper

That is correct; I will add them to the list.

Anything I say today is purely provisional as a guide to the House and possibly to those bodies when we have these discussions. I have previously said that it is possible to implement the Parts of the Bill on different dates. I said that there would be no delay in implementing Parts II and III—the Gaming and the Amusements with Prizes Parts of the Bill—and they will be brought into operation as soon as possible; and I envisage that they will come into effect some time in October or November of this year. The only delay is the issue of permits for amusement arcades.

The House is particularly interested in the betting Part of the Bill. The first stage is the establishment of licensing committees of justices, and we envisage, although this is subject to discussion, that these should be appointed in October of this year. That will be the next date in the timetable. The following date of importance to the House is that under the First Schedule by which the first applications have to be made to the licensing justices for permits or for licences for offices. We envisage that that date might be the date which the hon. Member for Islington, East mentioned in his Amendment—1st March, 1961. That will be the date by which applications have to be in.

It is then envisaged that through the months of March and April those applications will be considered and that 1st May, 1961, might be the date on which Clause 2 and Clause 4 of the Bill come into effect. Clause 2 deals with the date by which all bookmakers will have to have their permits, and Clause 4 the date on which betting offices will become legal. The date envisaged for those two operations could therefore well be 2nd May, 1961, two months after all applications have to be in before the licensing justices.

No one envisages that every application will have been dealt with and every licenced office established by that time, but on 1st May, if this programme is followed, bookmakers would have to have their permits and licensed betting offices would become legal for the first time. It will be possible, of course, for some bookmakers, credit bookmakers in particular, to apply for and to receive their permits earlier than that—next year —but the effective date by which they must have them would be 1st May, and that is the date which should be in the Amendment, because it is the date which matters to most people.

The other date which is of concern to the House is in relation to Clause 6.1 think that the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was not in the House earlier this afternoon when my hon. Friend accepted an Amendment that that date should not be earlier than six months after the coming into operation of Clauses 2 and 4; and, therefore, the date affecting street bookmakers and their permits would not be earlier than 1st November, 1961.

Those are the sort of dates which we have in mind at the moment and which, subject to what happens in another place, will be put out for discussion with the representatives of the interested bodies.

I was asked about the Peppiatt Report. We are to have a debate the week after next on that subject, and I should be out of order in discussing it on the Amendment, except to say that when I made a statement on 3rd May about the Peppiatt Report I said that it would be sufficient to fit in with the Peppiatt timetable if this Part became law in the early months of next year. On the timetable which I have put forward as provisional, the date by which the Peppiatt Committee's proposals must receive Royal Assent would be 1st May, 1961. Beyond that, I do not wish to comment on the Peppiatt Committee's proposals.

The right hon. Member for South Shields asks whether we can do all this by the early months of next year. I have no doubt that we can establish the licensing machinery and that a great number of licensing applications can be considered in the early months of next year. I have no reason to suppose that all bookmakers' permits could not be granted by 1st May, but I do not suggest that all betting offices will be established by that date. I never had that impression. I have little doubt that many of them will be established, however, and that thereafter the justices will have to continue meeting until such time as they have granted the number of applications which they consider reasonable.

I hope that I have helped the House in giving the provisional timetable, which we shall discuss as soon as possible. I do not suppose that the hon. Member for Islington, East wants to press his Amendment, because he will see that there will be different days for different Parts of the Bill, but the date in respect of Clause 2 and Clause 4, the important Clauses of the Bill, is, I suggest, 1st May.

Mr. Fletcher

I am sure that the whole House will welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement. Whether he has been rather optimistic in his prophecy about the date on which the Parts of the Bill can be brought into operation is another matter. Some of us feel that it will take him rather longer than he suggests, and it will certainly take longer for those who obtain licences to obtain all the premises which are required.

Mr. Wigg

I should like to say "Thank you" to the right hon. Gentleman for giving us that statement. I am sure that it will help everyone. In the years to come, 1st May, 1961, will be an historic date in Scotland's history. On that day, for the first time, the police will start to administer the law.

Mr. Fletcher

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, there is no need for me to press the Amendment, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.