HC Deb 10 May 1960 vol 623 cc214-20
Mr. N. Macpherson

I beg to move, in page 5, line 41, after "transaction", to insert: or in a licensed betting office ". This Clause, dealing with betting with young persons, was inserted in the Bill in Committee with, I think, the assent of the whole Committee. Subsection (1, b) makes it an offence to employ a young person "— that is, a person under 18— in the effecting of any betting transaction;". It would, therefore, prevent a young person from being employed in licensed betting offices behind the counter in taking bets, giving receipts for them or paying out winnings, but it would still be permissible, as the subsection stands, to employ a young person in licensed betting offices as a chalker or in some other capacity which does not involve effecting a betting transaction.

It seems undesirable that young persons should be employed in licensed betting offices in any capacity. The Amendment, therefore, prevents young persons from being employed at all in licensed betting offices.

It is true that paragraph (2) of the Second Schedule makes it a rule for the conduct of licensed betting offices that no young persons … shall be admitted to or allowed to remain on … licensed premises.

That paragraph is meant primarily to prevent young persons from going into licensed betting offices to bet. It seems better, therefore, to make it quite clear that young persons must not be employed in the actual licensed betting offices.

Mr. Fletcher

May I ask the Joint Under-Secretary one question? In Committee, he said: The intention is that young persons should be debarred from receiving or placing bets on behalf of an employer but that a young person could be employed as a typist or in the making up of accounts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 15th March, 1960; c. 842.] He has now told us that the object of the Amendment is to prevent a young person being employed as a chalker. Is he also intending, contrary to what he said in Committee, to prevent a young person being employed as a typist in a betting office?

Mr. Macpherson

With the leave of the House, may I say that a licensed betting office is the actual betting office that is licensed for the effecting of betting transactions, but there may be premises behind it and it would be possible in the premises behind for a young person to be employed. The premises behind are not licensed. In fact, we come to that aspect in a later Amendment.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

We shall at least know that when a chalker or "chalker-upper" appears on the "What's My Line" programme he is over 18. I am wondering what is the point of this. Is it the Government's view that betting is wrong, or is it not? If it is their view that betting is wrong, why are they prepared to pass this Bill, which will probably lead to the investment of about £100 million of the nation's resources in new expenditure on gambling? That is something comparable to what has been wasted on Blue Streak.

On the other hand, if the Government think that it is all right, and that there is nothing wrong with it, why should not apprentices be brought up in this business, which the Government seem to consider is quite right? We are told that a bookmaker's business is often a family business. Why should not the son help his father in the trade which the Government are legalising, which they do not say is wrong? Presumably, if it is that sort of trade, there is no reason why the son should not follow the father or, indeed, the daughter the mother, as I believe that there are some lady bookmakers.

What is this sort of nonsense? If we legalise in this way the use of great sums of new capital and new resources of the nation, why, on the other hand, must we say that this business is so disreputable that apprentices and young people may not be introduced to what is the living and business of their parents? That sort of idiotic hypocrisy I find it very difficult to put up with.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Wigg

I note with some significance that the names to this Amendment are the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is not here. We have, therefore, to take from the Joint Under-Secretary what he has said on this occasion and on previous occasions.

It is perfectly clear that what has become a national industry in Scotland, although utterly illegal, requires the employment of young people, not necessarily connected with taking bets, not working as chalkers-up, but behind the scenes in compiling the accounts. It is clear that this business cannot be carried on without the employment of young people.

The Amendment is on the Notice Paper because the Secretary of State's duty to this illegal industry in Scotland is obviously so great that he has to take steps to protect it. There is no protest from an hon. Member opposite who has always spoken so well for the betting industry in Scotland. In the Midlands, we have plenty of work—and productive work—for young people to do. Are they to be diverted from productive industry into betting shops which, on the evidence of the Joint Under-Secretary, cannot be carried on without their employment? If it is bad for young people to be engaged in the betting industry, where they are brought into contact with the public and their conditions of employment and activities can be observed, why is it right that they should operate behind closed doors?

Apparently, the Joint Under-Secretary regards this as a bit of a check, but if betting shops are to take root in England on anything like the scale they have taken root in Scotland, we must have regard to the conditions of employment in those offices. This appears to be an innocent proposal, but I believe that it has never been seriously considered by the Home Secretary but was put on the Notice Paper at the instance of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I repeat that he has never at any stage of our proceedings had the courage to come to the House to defend the state of affairs in Scotland. I think that before we accept this Amendment we should hear a great deal more about it.

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

The only significance in the intervention of the Secretary of State for Scotland is that he gave me a hand in Committee on the Bill and helped me to deal with this Clause. I am grateful to him, and he has taken the same course with this Amendment.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was not with us in Committee when, without a vote, the Committee decided that it was wrong that people under the age of 18 should be employed in betting transactions. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary certainly thinks that that is the right decision. I rather regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman is a dissenting party to that decision. The only significance of the Amendment is that there could be the odd person employed in a betting office itself, who was not taking part in a betting transaction, as a chalker or something of that kind and it was thought right to include the prohibition of that person.

Mr. Paget

I should be interested to know what the difference here is between working in the back room and working in the front room. Why is the young person seduced by the one, but not by the other?

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Vosper

I beg to move, in page 5, line 42, to leave out "accepts".

Mr. Speaker

I believe that it would be convenient to discuss this with two other Amendments which go with it, in Clause 11, page 8, line 9, to leave out "accept", and in line 38, to leave out "accept".

Mr. Vosper

This is really a set of tidying-up Amendments. The definition of "bookmaker" in the Bill does not include the word "accept". A bookmaker is a person who receives or negotiates a bet. On consideration, it was thought reasonable to adjust the rest of the Bill to agree with that definition and the word "accept" where it occurs throughout the Bill is redundant. These Amendments achieve that purpose.

Mr. Mellish

I would not oppose the

Amendment, but I should like to make a few remarks on it. The Clause deals with betting by young persons, and I should like to see that the person under 18 years of age is not encouraged to bet. In these days young people are much taller and bigger than they were a few years ago. I speak from experience. I have five sons. One of them, aged 18, is 6 ft. 3 in. and another, aged 16, is 6 ft. 1 in. I doubt whether anyone would say that either was not over 18 years of age. If one of them went to a betting shop, it is true that he would have to deal with me afterwards, but is a young person expected to carry a birth certificate around with him? The bookmaker might well be in trouble. This is the sort of Clause which the police will have to handle with great discretion and care. In principle, however, I support it.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. N. Macpherson

I beg to move, in page 5, line 44, at the end to insert: Provided that a person shall not be guilty of an offence under this subsection by reason of—

  1. (i) the employment of a young person in the effecting of betting transactions by post: or
  2. (ii) the carriage by a young person of a communication relating to a betting transaction for the purposes of its conveyance by post.
Subsection (1, b), with which we have already dealt, makes it an offence to employ a young person in the effecting of any betting transactions. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend. East (Mr. McAdden) moved an Amendment in Committee which would have confined this prohibition to employment in a licensed betting office. But we feel, and I think that the Committee were agreed, that, while the prohibition in the Bill may be too wide, to limit it to a licensed betting office only would be to narrow it too much. A young person employed in a credit betting office, for example, who receives bets by telephone would be directly employed in the effecting of betting transactions hardly less than one who took bets over the counter in a licensed betting office.

Paragraph (i) of the Amendment excepts from the prohibition employees who are not in direct communication or contact with the public, that is those not actually effecting betting transactions by telephone or by speech. Those who deal with correspondence or accounts, whether in connection with cash betting, postal betting or pool betting, are not in direct contact with the public in the same way. The only difference as far as cash betting is concerned is that they may not be employed actually in the licensed betting office.

Paragraph (i) is intended to overcame the difficulties of prohibition in subsection (1, c) making it an offence for any person to receive or negotiate any bet through a young person. It might be held to make it an offence for a young person to carry a letter to the post containing a bet. Such a proposition would be both unreasonable and uneforceable, and paragraph (ii) of the Amendment excepts it.

Mr. Paget

I am returning to my earlier point and I should be much obliged for some moral enlightenment here. Why is it moral for a child to receive letters which contain bets and money, to put the bets aside, to enter the bets in the ledger, to draw the cheques for paying the bets and carry out all these transactions, but it is wrong if he receives the envelope across the counter instead of by post? I could understand that there was some point in it if we were dealing merely with a messenger boy who carries a number of letters which may or may not include bets to and from a post box, but here we are allowing the child to open the letters, take out the money, work out the winnings and prepare the winning cheque. He can do the whole transaction as long as the bet arrives by post and is not made over the counter. It is farcical, but the reason is a great deal more cynical than farcical.

The reason for the Amendment, of course, is the pools. The reason for the Amendment is that thousands of young people are being employed today by the pools industry to receive these bets and correspondence. These are young people taken straight from school in competition with productive industry. They are never taught any job. They are merely cheap labour. They are introduced to no productive trade or work, but are taken from school in mass numbers not to a place where there is any of the personal contact of a family business, which may be the case in a bookmakers' office, but into a machine of mass gambling with no opportunity of ever learning anything. This is much the most evil form of seduction of youth by gambling, and this is the very thing we are expressly legalising here in a hypocritical and under-the-counter way, because the pools are too rich and powerful and because the Government dare not touch them.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I should not have intervened in this matter had it not been for the somewhat illogical way that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was attempting to put his argument. He was for many years a member of the Racecourse Betting Control Board. A great deal of the income of that Board is derived from Tote Investments Ltd., which, during the time when the hon. and learned Member was a member of the Control Board, employed young people in precisely the same way as he now thinks it so wrong on the part of other people to employ them. If he wants to talk of hypocrisy he should first search his past actions before he condemns other people.

Amendment agreed to.