HC Deb 07 August 1972 vol 842 cc1411-29
Mr. Carlisle

I beg to move Amendment No. 53, in page 3, line 14, after 'licence', insert: 'or to any application for the grant of such a licence by way of transfer of one that is in force for the same premises at the time of the application;'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment we are to take Government Amendment No. 54, and Amendment No. 58, in page 3, line17, at end insert: '(3) In any case in which after the passing of this Act a betting office licence has been granted to the Totalisator Board in respect of any premises it shall not be competent for the Board to object to the application by the widow of a bookmaker or by any son or daughter of a deceased bookmaker for the grant of a betting office licence in respect of any premises in the same locality in respect of which such bookmaker held a betting office licence at the time of his death on the ground that the grant would be inexpedient having regard to the demand in the locality and the number of betting offices already available'.

Mr. Carlisle

The Government Amendments, Nos. 53 and 54, have the same purpose as Amendment No. 58, although they are in slightly wider terms. They deal with the question of the transfer of an existing licence of premises. The House will remember that in Committee I moved an Amendment to Clause 3 the effect of which would be to provide that in future the demand provision should not apply to the renewal of an existing licence, so that the renewal of an existing bookmaker's licence could not be objected to on the basis of lack of demand.

The effect of the Amendments would be that applications for the transfer of existing licences to another individual should not be opposed on the basis of lack of demand either. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) who, although silent this evening, is the author of two of the Amendments that I have nut down. He certainly caused me to look at these points again. I believe that the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) also raised this point in Committee. In terms, it was felt that if a licence holder died it was wrong that that person's widow, widower, son, or daughter should be prevented from taking over the premises on the basis of a lack of demand.

The Government decided that they would go slightly wider. If the same demand exists as existed when the original licence was granted, it is unnecessary to retain the demand provision on the transfer of the licence. If trade has fallen in the area so that there is no further demand for the licence, the normal commercial rules will take account of that situation. On the normal type of transfer, it being assumed that there was a demand on the basis of which the licence was originally granted, it seems unnecessary, merely because there is a transfer of the licence to another name, for that demand to be proved again.

If Amendment No. 55 is passed by the House, the whole of this provision will become subject to a commencement order. But I was specifically pressed to bring in these Amendments due to the fear that the demand provision might work unfairly if the Tote were able to go into the market due to a statutory advantage provided for it by Clause 3. Therefore, it seems reasonable that the added protections which were introduced to meet that criticism should be tied to Clause 3 so that if it became necessary to implement Clause 3 these added protections on transfers and on renewals should also be implemented.

Mr. Brian Walden

There is no point in my moving Amendment No. 58 in view of the more comprehensive Amendment and guarantee of the Minister. I thank the Minister. He is right in indicating that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) and myself were concerned about this point which seemed to us to he one of equity. The hon. and learned Gentleman has gone into it and has rectified it. I think that his Amendment is better than mine. Therefore, if the House finds his Amendment acceptable, I would not wish mine to be moved.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I hope that the Minister of State will not think that my silence up to now has been due to a lack of interest or attention. One could describe my attitude as being one of full of silent admiration for the splendid work which my hon. and learned Friend is performing. Some of the Amendments he has tabled are absolutely admirable, particularly this Amendment. As he said, it is the result of, not only Committee stage points, but of correspondence between us.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for the careful way in which he has considered the point, as he has considered others. I hope that the safeguards which the Amendment writes into Clause 3 will never be applied because I hope that Clause 3 will never come into operation. Nevertheless, I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for what he has done.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 54, in page 3. line 17, at end insert: 'nor applying for the grant of a licence by way of transfer of one that is in force for the same premises at the time of the application)" '.—[Mr. Carlisle.]

Mr. Carlisle

I beg to move Amendment No. 55, in page 3, line 17, at end insert: '(3) This section shall not come into force unless and until the Secretary of State so directs by order made by statutory instrument of which a draft has been laid before Parliament'. I suppose that it is arguable whether this Amendment or the Amendments which I moved on new Clause 1 represent the major change to the Bill, but all are clearly important and I concede to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) that they change considerably the effect of the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), then the Home Secretary, made it clear throughout that the Government would always be willing to look again at Clause 3. We did so in Committee and we amended it there. I made it clear in Committee that I was still willing to consider further amendment of the Clause by the imposition of a commencement order which would not bring the Clause into being when the rest of the Bill came into effect. I believe that by this Amendment I have wholly carried out the undertaking which my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet gave on Second Reading and which I gave in Committee.

11.15 p.m.

The purpose of Clause 3 was and has always been to enable the Totalisator Board, should it wish, to enter on its own account into the off-course market where in practice a closed shop situation had substantially arisen, and where it would be likely, unless it were given some advantage, that every application which it made would be blocked on the basis that the demand in the area was adequately met by the facilities which already existed. I have always made it quite clear that the only purpose of Clause 3 was to enable the Totalisator Board to enter into that market. I have equally made it clear that if I felt in the future that the viability of the Totalisator could be adequately met without recourse to Clause 3 I would welcome holding the Clause in abeyance.

For various reasons which, at this hour of night, I need not go into, I believe that the Totalisator's future viability can be met without the use of Clause 3. I believe that for two reasons. First of all as is openly known, and as the hon. Gentleman has said, the Totalisator Board has carried out and is carrying out, various discussions with bookmaking interests; that may mean that it would not wish to use Clause 3.

Alternatively, I think it must be made clear, that if the Totalisator Board, as it would be free to do, choose to enter into the off-course market by negotiation with one or more bookmakers on some form of agency agreement, it would be wrong that there should be in the Bill a Clause which would provide for the board in that situation a statutory advantage over those with whom it would be competing.

I have always accepted the force of both those arguments. Therefore, I have always accepted that I would amend the Clause were it possible to do so.

The advantage of the commencement provision in the proposed new subsection is that it makes clear—I say this advisedly —that if in fact the Totalisator Board advises the Home Secretary at a later stage that despite its efforts it is unable to enter into any agreement of whatever kind to ensure its viable future, and that, to ensure that, it is necessary to enter the market on its own, and it cannot do so without this statutory advantage in entering this market, the Home Secretary of the day may make an order—and I am sure my right hon. Friend in these circumstances would lay such an order—which would implement Clause 3. Of course, if the Totalisator Board is satisfied that it can have a viable future without the Clause there would be no intention of implementing the Clause.

I say again to my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough that he was the first on the Notice Paper about this subject. There is a slight difference between the wording of his Amendment of that of mine. His would make the order effective at the moment of its being laid, although the order would be subject to amendment; but my Amendment goes further, because by it the order would have to be laid first and would not go into effect till it had been laid the requisite number of days, during which time it would be subject to annulment, before coming into force.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I do not wish to oppose the Minister's Amendment but I want to say a word in favour of sub-Amendments which I have put down. I hoped the Prime Minister might be here tonight to support my sub-Amendments. He coined the famous phrase "with the full-hearted consent of the people" and my sub-Amendments give the Minister the opportunity to carry out the wishes of the Prime Minister.

I am suggesting by my sub-Amendments that the Bill should not come into effect until June, 1975, or after the next General Election. Neither the Conservative Party nor the Labour Party promised at the last election to introduce this Bill. There has been no demonstration by the dockers, engineers, bricklayers or carpenters demanding the Bill. I cannot, therefore, see why we should not stand it over until after the next General Election or June, 1975, whichever is the sooner.

I am concerned about the expedition shown by the Government in helping people who do not need help as much as do the old-age pensioners, the sick and the disabled—

Mr. Carlisle

We are the first Government to bring in a constant attendance allowance for the severely disabled, the first Government to bring in additional help for the chronically sick and the first Government to provide for an annual rather than a two-yearly review of pensions.

Mr. Lewis

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving me the help I always get from him. All these were in the Conservative Party's manifesto, but there was no mention in it of a Horserace Totalisator and Betting Levy Boards Bill. There were also promises to cut prices at a stroke and to reduce the cost of living. That has not been done. A consumer protection Bill has not been introduced.

My sub-Amendments give the Government the opportunity of proving that they take notice of what the people want. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill, with help from the Government. I am not attacking the Government—

Mr. Arthur Davidson

The Labour Government introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill.

Mr. Lewis

My hon. Friend is right in saying that the Labour Government deserve credit for it. I do not want to get involved in party politics on this matter. I feel that we should say that this should come into effect only after a general election, whenever that will be. All the Minister will have to do is to say to the Prime Minister, "I wish to activate these provisions and the only way to do so is to have a General Election. Therefore, we must have a General Election quickly." We on this side would welcome a General Election now rather than to have to wait until 1975.

I regard these Amendments as helpful to the Minister since they give him the freedom to consult the people and to get their full-hearted consent. Of course, the only doubt it will throw over the situation is that the Conservatives may not get back in again, although I should like to see the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) come back to the House. But his Government certainly may not get back. The electorate would at least have the opportunity to pass an opinion on the Bill.

The present Government persistently oppose the will of the people. They have done so over the Industrial Relations Bill, in which they did not consult the trade unions or get their agreement, and they have done so on the European Communities Bill. However, they consulted the Totalisator Board and the horse racing industry before they introduced this Bill. They rushed the Bill through and nobody knew anything about it. We are now going into the Common Market against the wishes of the people—

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman is straying a little far from the Amendments. I hope he will return to them.

Mr. Lewis

I am trying to be helpful to the Minister and I am sure he wants to have the full-hearted consent of the people.

My two sub-Amendments may appear to be small and insignificant. Hon. Members opposite may think that they have only a limited effect. However, they would give the Minister the chance to carry out the Prime Minister's wish about getting the full-hearted consent of the electorate to all these other issues. These are very important sub-Amendments. I am very interested in discovering the wishes of the electorate. We might see then whether it was felt that prices had been cut at a stroke. We might see whether it was felt that enough had been done for the sick and the disabled. I hope that the Minister will regard one or other of my sub-Amendments as a very good addition to his Amendment, since they both provide him with a genuine opportunity to show that he believes in democratic government.

We are told that the dock workers should agree to ballots. I can assure the House that they do. The Government insisted on a ballot of the railway workers recently. They seem to have forgotten to insist on one for the dockers. I suggest that we have a ballot about this Bill. Obviously the Minister will not agree to a referendum about it. The Government would not agree to a referendum about the Common Market—

Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)

Before my hon. Friend becomes too optimistic, I remind him that this is the same Minister who piloted through this House the Bill to denationalise the State pubs and breweries in the teeth of the opposition of all the local inhabitants.

Mr. Lewis

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has helped me greatly, as he always does. He has put forward another reason why the Minister should accept one or other of my sub-Amendments. The Minister would then have an opportunity to see whether the workers of Carlisle and the other areas where the State breweries were accepted another piece of legislation which was not in the Tory manifesto. My hon. Friend has reminded me that not only have this Government thwarted the will of the people and gone against the wishes of the people in those areas, not only have they gone against their election manifesto, but, it would appear, they are against accepting one or other of two simple Amendments which would give them the opportunity to go back to the electorate and say, "This shows how democratic and good we are. We introduced a Bill which no one wanted except rich racehorse owners and which no one supported except those connected with betting. Nevertheless, we accepted an Amendment from that awful Member from West Ham, North, who is always making trouble, with the result that we are coming back to you before putting into force one of the main principles of the Bill."

Mr. Farr

I should like to say a word about my Amendment No. 57 which I understand has been selected for discussion. My Amendment proposes to add, at the end of line 17, (3) This section shall come into operation on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint by order made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to amendment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State for his Amendment. He said he was prepared to agree that I had been first in the field with my Amendment, which differs slightly from his. If my memory serves me, in Committee I was often first in the field with my Amendments and found my hon. and learned Friend singularly reluctant to follow me on any of them. I readily say how glad I am that he has followed me on this one, which is such a fundamental Amendment as to enable me to forgive him for not joining me on some of my other smaller Amendments in the past.

I fully agree with my hon. and learned Friend in what he has done. Although there are faults in Clause 3, which we are so to speak putting on ice, at least it has been put on ice. It will act as an encouragement to the bookmakers to get together with the tote to work out a satisfactory financial arrangement. I thank my hon. and learned Friend for being big enough to come to the House, in the light of the fresh evidence which has been given to him, to correct what was in the first place, as many of us suspected, a wrong in the Bill.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)

I, too, welcome the Amendment although not entirely from the point of view mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr).

It should be pointed out that there is now a significant gap in the arguments used in favour of Clause 3 on Second Reading. In moving the Amendment, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said that the one purpose of Clause 3 was to enable the tote to enter the betting shop sector. Now we hear that there may be agency agreements. Very well, let us accept that that will be the case.

It is fair to point out that Clause 3 also had a second purpose. It was considered to be a very important purpose; indeed, it was explained as being crucial. My hon. and learned Friend set it out concisely on Second Reading, when he said that in considering the history of gaming legislation any Government must appreciate the potential danger if the whole of commercial gambling gets into a very few hands, without any form of adequate control. That is why the last Government felt it necessary to set up the Gaming Board. For gambling on horse racing we have never had, and have never been tempted to have, such control as exists in gaming. We have always relied on the competition provided by the tote with those in the private market."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1972; Vol. 830, c. 792.] It would now seem from what my hon. and learned Friend has said that the key word is no longer "competition" but is "co-operation". Certainly it is not competition in the way that it was envisaged in February.

I make no complaint that the Government have changed their view on a piece of gambling legislation. I cannot think of a piece of gambling legislation that has gone through this House during the last 10 years on which Governments have not changed their views. Certainly the gaming legislation proposals put forward by the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins), when in opposition underwent radical change before the eventual Bill was produced.

One should examine what the effect of this change will be. Although I do not necessarily agree with it, I should like first to draw the attention of the House to a comment made today by the General Secretary of the Churches' Committee on Gambling Legislation, the Rev. Gordon Moody. It is fair to say that the Churches' Committee is about the only independent body reviewing gambling. Therefore, anything that that body says, and anything said by the Rev. Gordon Moody, is something to which this House should at least pay attention.

Mr. Walden

I do not wish to attack in any way the Churches' Committee on Gambling, least of all the Rev. Gordon Moody, whom I have the pleasure of knowing, but its attitude to gambling is well-known: it wishes gambling to be diminished. Why should that be regarded as an independent point of view?

Mr. Fowler

I do not agree, though I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The point I was trying to make was that this is a body which makes independent reviews of the spread and extent of gambling. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will disagree with that. I slightly disagree with the hon. Gentleman's statement that the Churches' Committee wants to restrain and diminish gambling as much as possible. That is not my impression of the current policy of the Churches' Committee. The current policy is to contain gambling within certain limits—that is the policy of both the previous Labour Government and this Conservative Government—but that those limits should be defined. My point is that the experience of the Churches' Committee over the last 10 years is probably unparalleled amongst bodies unconnected with the industry. Therefore, what the Churches' Committee says should at any rate be listened to in the House.

I repeat that I do not necessarily agree with the Reverend Gordon Moody, but it is fair to quote what he has said: such an agreement —the Reverend Gordon Moody is forecasting what my hon. and learned Friend would announce— could give bookmakers a hold over the Board. If I were a bookmaker I think I would not want the Totalisator to die, so long as it remained a nice little thing, and I could pat it on the head and, while pretending to feed it, take a regular supply of titbits out of its mouth. My hon. and learned Friend should address himself to that criticism of which he will have had notice and allay the fears of the Churches' Committee.

On Second Reading my hon. and learned Friend referred—I think rightly—to the competition between the tote, on the one side, and private bookmakers, on the other, as introducing some kind of control mechanism into the gambling and racing industry. What is the position to be now? I have always been a supporter of extending the remit of the Gaming Board and having a gaming board of control. The previous Government made a great mistake in not doing that. There should be a gaming board of control having a remit over the whole of gambling. However, I might be out of order if I were to seek to go deeply into my proposals in that regard. There should be some control mechanism in gambling and in gaming as it affects racing.

I did not agree with the proposal made under Clause 3 which the Government put forward. It is now incumbent on the Government, having also agreed that they want some control mechanism, to say, now that their policy has shifted significantly from competition to co-operation, what exactly their proposal is. Do they think that the situation has changed since they made their proposals in February? What is their position on control or over-seeing of the betting industry?

11.45 p.m.

Mr. Walden

The Minister said that it was doubtful whether this Amendment or what was to be done in respect of Clause 6 was the most important thing under the Bill. I am disposed to agree with him about that, although what the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to do by the Amendment will remove by far the most objectionable feature of the Bill as it came from Committee.

I want to try to allay some of the quite misplaced fears of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler). It is not my job to speak for the Minister. He may console his hon. Friend as best he can. However, I think that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South is on a completely false point. The Minister and I once had a long argument upstairs about the use of the word "competition". If he now wishes to understand what it was that was worrying me, he has only to refer to the remarks of his hon. Friend who obviously does not understand what the situation was and will be, because the word competition has always been misused by the Government in presenting the Bill. The situation was and will be that the tote is a pool competitor of the bookmakers in this sense, that it runs pool betting on horse racing and bookmakers run SP on-course and credit betting. Nothing will change because of the Minister's commencement order powers. Nothing will be different from what has been the situation ever since the board was set up.

What would have happened under the Bill is that the totalisator board would have been a competitor, in the sense that I understand that word, with private bookmakers by becoming one. The hon. Gentleman's fears about a monopoly in gambling and his worry about private bookmakers would not in the least be resolved by that situation, because he should know—and probably does know—that the Totalisator Board would not itself, as a board, have gone into the SP field. It would have made a deal with a private bookmaker. One of the big fish would have become a bigger fish by doing a deal with the tote and it would have operated with the tote in the SP market. In that sense, what worries the hon. Gentleman and what worries the Reverend Gordon Moody and the Churches' Committee on Gambling Legislation would have been magnified and not diminished.

If there is—and I think there is—a movement within the gambling industry which is tending to concentrate more and more betting in a few hands, I can only say that that mirrors the modern world. That is what is happening everywhere to everything. It may be deplorable but, first, it is not scandalous; secondly, it is not corrupt; thirdly, it does not seem to be any particular occasion for any Government to do anything about it.

If it became apparent that there were grave abuses by private bookmakers which were damaging the interests of racing and which were fraudulent towards the punter, of course the Government would have to do something about it, and the Home Office naturally keeps its eyes open to see whether anything of that kind occurs. A lot of discussion about the starting price and making sure that one got a valid starting price was occasioned wholly by the legitimate worries of both the Government and hon. Members that if the SP could be rigged that would be unfair to the ordinary punter. I understand what the hon. Gentleman is worried about and I understand, too, his well-placed concern, but his fears are illusory, and in any case would not have been met by the retention of this Clause in the Bill without a commencement order.

I want to say a word about the Churches' Committee on Gambling Legislation. I do not want this to sound objectionable. I have a great respect for the Reverend Gordon Moody. I accept the committee's diligence and its attempts to find out what is going on. I accept that there can be no question of the committee being biased as between one bookmaker and another or one form of gambling and another, but one has to face the fact that it is like a fish out of water. I have never been persuaded that the committee really understands the motives that lead men to gamble. It constantly alleges that this is so that people can make large sums of money, and so on, or that it is a compulsive habit. That might be true in a very small number of cases, but the fact is that gambling, like drinking in moderation, and like many other activities which are better not discussed, happens to be an exceedingly pleasurable activity, and I do not think that it is the duty of a Government to go beyond seeing that it is not conducted in a disgraceful way and is not conducted in a way that leads to an unreasonable proliferation. That would be of concern to the Government.

But there is no question of that at the moment in terms of betting on horse races. All the great concern of the Churches' Committee is misplaced. Moreover, not only their instinct but also their information on the subject is often untrue. This is not a suitable opportunity for me to go into it in detail and the House would not wish me to do so. But I can cite from some of the more famous publications of that Committee where there has been error after error after error on page after page after page. That leads me to believe that the effort was diligent and certainly honest, but it was not particularly well informed.

The fears of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South are misplaced, but it will be for the Minister to reply to him. The sort of thing that he fears happening will not happen. The action of the Minister in putting a commencement on the Clause will change nothing from the situation as it exists. Nor is it the case —and this is where Rev. Gordon Moody misunderstands the situation—that the tote has become the pensioner of the bookmakers and, to some extent, is under coercive pressure from them so that they can tell it what to do. As the Minister has said repeatedly, if at any stage the Totalisator Board says to him that it cannot make any sort of arrangement with the bookmakers that satisfies it, he can lay an order activating the Clause. The idea that the board will therefore be delivered bound hand and foot to the bookmakers and then told what to do by the bookmakers is quite wrong. That is to misunderstand all the discussions that have gone on and the arrangements that have been made.

The board will receive a substantial sum by using the bookmakers as agents with very little, if any, inconvenience to it and with lower administration charges. Yet it still holds all the cards. If it does not like what it gets, it can at any time go to the Minister and ask for the activation of the Clause by order.

Mr. Fowler


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. We should not embark on too much discussion on this. In his enthusiasm the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) is going a little wide of the Amendment. He should now come back to it and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) should leave it.

Mr. Walden

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and so, I see, does the hon. Member for Nottingham, South.

I conclude by congratulating the Minister. What he has done is admirable. It makes sense and I wholly agree with his description of it. It is fair to bookmakers and it is fair to the Totalisator Board. If the board has any fears, or if it cannot make arrangements that ensure its permanent viability, the door has been left open for it to tell its problems to the Home Office. At the same time the Minister has honoured the guarantee given by the Home Secretary that if viability can be found in any other way the Government do not wish to activate the Clause in its original form.

As with the other substantial thing which the Minister did tonight in regard to Clause 6, he has done entirely the right thing and in entirely the right way, and I approve the Amendment.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) is a most persuasive advocate, but I think that he was less than fair to the Churches' Committee on Gambling Legislation. It is easy to say that its members are misinformed and are fish out of water, but every one of us is relatively a fish out of water on the subject of betting and gaming.

Mr. Walden

That is all the more reason for our making as few regulations about it as possible.

Mr. Davidson

It is not. My hon. Friend is wrong once again, even though he puts it with great force, because gaming leads to certain abuses. It is unfortunate, but it happens, and the House must be constantly concerned about the social implications of gaming, but this is not the occasion for me to expand on that theme.

The Minister rightly said that this was an important Amendment. Its effect is to delay the operation of the most important Clause in the Bill. I have had a fair amount of fun at the Minister's expense and I do not want to go over that ground again. The Minister rightly said that the then Home Secretary had made it clear, and the Minister himself made it clear throughout the Committee stage, that the Clause was to be regarded as a last resort Clause. It has plainly caused the House much concern. I have always thought that it was necessary and I still think that it may be necessary for the Minister to activate the Clause if the tote is to become viable, as is the purpose of the Bill.

I do not want to cover the ground my hon. Friend introduced, especially as he elevated me to the deputy deputy leadership of the Opposition, but I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions. He will recall that I was not only present in the Committee but supported him when he cogently explained why he could not accept the proposal advanced by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). I think that he owes me an explanation why he now finds it possible to accede to that request.

Does he envisage the Totalisator Board buying its way into SP shops by buying existing betting shops? Has he any knowledge whether that is being envisaged? Once Clause 3 is removed, there is little if any possibility of the board being able to open new shops, because it is obvious that the bookmakers would object strenuously to new shops being opened in their areas, and they would be entitled to object.

Has the Minister any knowledge of the hoard being more imaginative about the type of betting to be offered to the public? Will it operate the tiercé? Will it give much bigger pools for jackpot betting? Will it offer a much greater variety of combination betting?

I should like here to comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler). The Churches' Committee understandably takes the view that it is far more in the public interest that there should be a greater variety of combination betting because the greater the return on a small outlay, the better socially, because the less the public will have to visit betting shops and remain in them. It is the aim of the Churches' Committee that people should spend as little time as possible in betting shops, for the committee takes the view that it is socially harmful for people to remain in betting shops—for a whole host of obvious reasons. A combination bet is a once-and-for-all bet. It can be placed in the morning, and, if the punter is lucky enough, the dividend can be collected late at night. The punter does not have to keep on betting from race to race.

There is much in what the hon. Member for Nottingham, South said. It would be disastrous for the tote if an arrangement, an agency agreement or some other agreement with bookmakers, restricted the freedom of the tote in some way.

I understand why the Minister has, even at this late hour, decided it would be better to postpone the operation of the Clause. I do not criticise him for doing it. It would have been better if he had done it earlier. However, he has done it, and it would be churlish of those who made certain criticisms of the Clause, who pointed out the dangers and how it would be offensive to bookmakers, to oppose the Amendment now. 12 midnight.

Mr. Carlisle

The Government always looked upon the Clause as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. The end is the provision of a viable tote, enabling it to provide the public with an alternative method of betting.

I shall not get involved in the arguments over semantics in which I was involved with the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) in Committee. But I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler), as I told the hon. Gentleman then, that I cannot see the basic difference between providing an alternative service and being in competition. The tote provides competition to the bookmaker by providing an alternative method of betting, assessed mathematically, and the punter can decide whether he chooses to bet with the pool betting provided by the tote or bet on the board prices or starting prices offered by the bookmaker. The purpose of the Bill was to ensure the continuance of a viable tote, providing an alternative method of betting to the public.

The purpose of Clause 1, to enable it to provide a full alternative service, was to widen its powers, including entry into starting price betting. Clause 3 was a means to enable it to go into the off-course market. The Government always said that if they were satisfied that that end of viability could be achieved without the means of the Clause they would consider putting the Clause into cold storage. I am satisfied that as at this moment the chances are that the tote can achieve that viability without recourse to the Clause. Therefore, the totalisator is not being prevented in any way from going into the off-course market still, whether it buys its way in or negotiates a deal with a firm of bookmakers or more than one firm. The tote is still free to go into the off-course market and must make its own assessment of the economies and the commercial advantages to it of doing so.

The only effect of this Amendment is —believing that the tote can achieve such viability without a Statutory advantage—to put that statutory advantage into cold storage, so that if in the end it finds that it cannot achieve viability without going into the market on its own account it can ask the Home Secretary to activate the Clause. There is no change in the intention of the Government to strengthen the competition to the bookmakers, but we have always envisaged this competition as making readily available to the public an alternative method of betting. I believe that that can now be achieved without Clause 3, by arrangements which the tote may make either with the bookmakers as a whole or with any group of bookmakers.

Therefore, my answer to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) when he asks how the tote intends to come into the off-course starting price market is that this must be a matter for the board's commercial judgment. All the Government wish to make clear is that they do not consider that it is now necessary for the tote at this stage to have the advantages which would enable it to make its way into the market which at one stage appeared to be the only possible means by which it could be made viable.

Amendment agreed to.

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