HC Deb 29 January 1988 vol 126 cc663-72

Order for Second Reading read.

1.54 pm
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) on such a successful passage of an important piece of legislation, and I wish him well in Committee and on the later stages of the Bill.

I acknowledge the help and assistance of many national bodies of sporting organisations in the preparation of my Bill, particularly my noble Friend Lord Wyatt, who has skilfully piloted a similar measure through the other place. I thank the Home Office for its courtesy and consideration in the preparation of this modest measure. I am pleased to say that the Bill commands all-party support, and I am grateful for the help of my fellow sponsors.

Every Sunday, sporting events take place at which the Sunday Observance Act 1780 is openly and flagrantly breached by charging for admission, whether for cash, for tickets sold in advance, for car parking or for other reasons.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soames

No, I shall press on.

Last Sunday there was an excellent football match between Arsenal and Manchester United. It was watched by 29,202 people who paid to attend the match, and probably by some 6 million people who will have watched the game on television. That was an illegal gathering.

Mr. Beggs

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that the hon. Gentleman would not want to mislead the House, but he stated that his Bill had all-party support—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. That is a point of argument, not a point of order.

Mr. Soames

A large number of similar events, some even more important, are held on Sundays. They include the Wimbledon finals, the British Open Golf championships, the Littlewood cup final, the British grand prix, the Sunday cricket league, the International Polo championships, and the list goes on. In theory, all those events take place improperly, and their organisers are breaking the law when they charge for admission. In these cases the law is self-evidently an ass. This is a most unhappy, unsatisfactory state of affairs which cannot and must not be allowed to continue.

The laws of England have not been well served today by the procedural monkey business earlier, which has led to my private Member's Bill being led into this Chamber, as if it were some legislative abbatoir, to be hit on the head, when in fact it is important and necessary amending legislation. It should not be for the House to prevent the extension of facilities for the further enjoyment of leisure by millions of our constituents.

Sundays have indeed changed, and they have changed for the better. Sunday is becoming an even more special day. More and more opportunities are opening up for families to spend the day together at a wide variety of events, and rightly so. The leisure industry, which is one of our biggest and most important employers, is expanding all the time as demand grows. I have to say that those who oppose the Bill are, by and large, out of touch with the feelings and demands of family life in Britain today. They tend to use the word "family" as an entirely emotive red herring.

The Bill prevents no one from going to church. It does not make it compulsory to go to church and it does not stop people from staying at home if they want to. It enables people to go legally, with or without their family, to the sporting event of their choice and to have a bet, if they wish. It is hardly the personification of Sodom and Gomorrah.

These events are taking place entirely in contravention and breach of the Sunday Observance Act 1780, which describes such gatherings as "disorderly houses" or "disorderly places". That has surprised and shocked some of the eminent and important people who attend the Wimbledon finals and other great sporting occasions. The organisers of such events are liable to fines and, indeed, imprisonment. The law is still liable to pounce on Sunday sport, but it is largely unenforceable and unenforced. That is an unattractive and unwelcome state of affairs for any Government, of whatever persuasion.

Cricket, football and rugger matches at which admission is charged are held on Sundays as a matter of course. Some organisers, particularly of Sunday golf tournaments, try to get round the law by making spectators one-day club members. Sports venues such as Wembley have one free gate, which they hope no one will find. If it is found, there is room for only a couple of hundred people. Such transparent devices would rightly founder if tested in court. Some sporting organisations which do not have the muscle of the big sporting bodies are frightened to stage events on Sundays, although their members would very much like them to do so. This is further evidence of the highly discriminatory nature of the way in which the law has evolved.

My sponsors and I have had letters of support, from many organisations which do not want to risk going to court in connection with a breach of the Sunday Observance Act. They are respectable people who do not want to be known as keepers of disorderly houses or disorderly places. They wish to act entirely properly, within a proper framework of the law. The 14 governing bodies of sports such as cricket, football, motor racing, tennis and rugby have all assured me of that and have published their views in a letter to The Times.

My noble Friend Lord Wyatt, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and I—and others—have consulted most of the sporting organisations. They strongly wish these matters to be cleared up so that they no longer have to resort to subterfuge and continued malpractice. Surely, when a law is so widely and frequently broken in the presence of so many millions of people, it must be right for the House to adjust it to remove the threat of penalties. That is what happened in 1932 when the Sunday Entertainments Act at last allowed admission to be charged for singing, musical and similar entertainments. Forty years later the Sunday Theatre Act made a similar provision, and Sunday cinema shows have gradually been made legal and become popular. But sport remains a major victim. Parliament should not be seen to be too lax or easy-going about such matters. Every Sunday the law of the land is being brought into grave disrepute.

May I say at once that the Bill has nothing to do with the Shops Bill. It is not a stalking-horse for Sunday trading. It would not allow a single extra retail shop to open on Sunday or spoil the special nature of Sundays. Most fixtures take place on grounds away from major centres of population. Let us consider racing, which is gravely discriminated against. Racing is the favourite sport of millions of our fellow citizens. The racing industry is proud that it already provides marvellous entertainment for all the family. There is no sporting gathering at which the atmosphere is more friendly and welcoming than a gathering on a race course. A day at the races can be a proper, old-fashioned family day out in the open air, with the added prospect of superb spectator sport.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

As a regular racegoer I wholeheartedly endorse the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and I have great sympathy with the argument for permitting racing on Sundays. However, will he address himself to a question that causes some difficulty for me and for a number of my hon. Friends: why on earth do we need to open betting shops in the high street to permit racing to take place on race courses? The revenue from the betting shops will not contribute in any way to the financing of the meeting and, if anything, the fact that they are open will detract from, rather than add to, the attendance at the races.

Mr. Soames

I intend to deal with that matter, which I know exercises many hon. Members' minds. I hope that I shall deal with it to the hon. Gentleman's satisfaction.

By their nature, most of the 59 race courses in this country are not in built-up areas. They are in rural areas. Their opening on Sunday would do no more to destroy the special nature of Sundays than the opening of historic houses, garden centres, safari parks and museums. We are the only major racing country, apart from New Zealand, which does not have Sunday racing. In France, more than three times as many people go racing on Sunday as the daily average for the rest of the week, including Saturday. The House should know that many more people go to church in France than do so in Britain.

As the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) said, there is a special factor connected with racing, and that is betting. Gambling on a Sunday has long been legal. Bingo halls and casinos are permitted to open on Sunday. Jackpot machines are allowed to operate, but not betting shops. Those interested in the outcome of racing in Ireland, France or Italy, or in any other Sunday sport taking place in Britain, can bet with complete legality on Sunday by telephone if they are grand enough and rich enough to have a credit account. But there is an idiotic restriction—I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) is against nannying restrictions, because if ever there was one this is it—that should be swept aside. It is directed mainly at the less rich sections of the community. Those people may not have easy access to a telephone or do not bet often enough to warrant having a credit account. They are not permitted to bet, because betting shops may not open.

Like so much similar legislation, the background to this law lay in the belief that what used to be called the working-class could not be trusted to behave with the same restraint and common sense as those who are better off. Seldom can there have been a more idiotic, patronising and offensive idea. The so-called working class would resent a bunch of beastly, middle-class moralists lecturing them on the dangers of betting on Sunday.

The Home Office, the Revenue and the Exchequer—I accept what they say — believe that if horse racing or greyhound racing took place on Sunday and betting was not allowed on course or in licensed betting offices there would be an upsurge in illegal betting. That is the critical point, and I endorse the Home Office view on the matter. I should be happy to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend the Minister if he believes that that might help.

There are fewer than 10,000 licensed betting offices in England and Wales. Nearly 105,000 public houses, restaurants and other premises that are open on Sundays employ enormous numbers of people and are licensed to sell drinks. There are many thousands more cafes, pizza parlours and eating places which do not sell drink but which are open on Sundays. I hear no clamour in the House that such places spoil the special nature of Sunday or ruin the lives of those who work in them. Indeed, their closure would destroy much of the Sunday that is loved and enjoyed by millions of people and their families.

Opening a few licensed betting offices would not detract one jot or tittle from the spirit of Sunday. Their positions are carefully regulated by magistrates and they are well apart from each other. They are not Hogarthian hell-holes — far from it. They are generally agreeable establishments, attracting many men and women who derive much innocent pleasure from having a flutter.

My Bill would not permit betting on the race course, nor cash betting off track to begin before 12 noon on a Sunday. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington will be glad to hear that everyone would have time to attend church before betting began and after it ended. As in the rest of the leisure industry on Sundays, no one would be asked to work six or seven clays a week. There would be shift systems, with compensatory payments for working on Sunday. I assure Opposition Members that if my Bill went into Committee I would try to incorporate the employment protection measures enshrined in the Bill promoted by my noble Friend Lord Wyatt. He tells me that the Tote credit service is frequently in action on Sundays and is manned entirely by volunteers. Indeed, it has three volunteers for each position available.

Legitimate concern has been expressed about stable lads who might have to do extra work on Sundays, although there is already a satisfactory system of alternative Sunday working. 1, my sponsors, and everyone else in the business believe that the Bill would not pass unto law unless decent and satisfactory arrangements were made for all those who work in this important business.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

In that case, why did the hon. Gentleman not incorporate such provisions in his Bill? I am becoming extremely tired of hon. Members who come to the House with Bills but say that it will be quite a different thing in Committee. The hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to put such provisions in his Bill, but he did not do so.

Mr. Soames

As so often, the hon. Lady is entirely incorrect. I did not have the opportunity of doing that, because my Bill was already at the printers when Lord Wyatt's Bill passed through its final stages in the House of Lords. As I said, I shall seek to incorporate the schedule if the Bill proceeds to Committee.

Jockeys are accustomed to ride on Sundays in France, Italy, Germany, Ireland and in other countries that are more enlightened than ours. Likewise, trainers are happy to take their horses anywhere on Sundays if they think there is a chance of winning. I am sure that the same accommodation can be made with transport drivers, jockeys, valets and all the other heroes who work in the racing industry.

I urge those who oppose the Bill to understand that racing is not just about betting. For most people the heart and soul of racing is the splendid thoroughbred racehorse and the brilliance and the dash of the jockeys, who are truly the bravest, toughest and most resiliant sportsmen one could ever hope to see. In my view, racing is a great deal more of a family sport than, for example, football.

It is a tiny minority who seek to prevent Sunday racing by vociferous objections, based on an ill-founded view of the meaning of morality and religion. In so doing they are bringing the whole spirit of the law in this country into disrepute. I am sure that several hon. Members have received a copy of a letter from Dr. Marvin Shyster[Laughter.]—Dr. Martin Shuster of the "Keep Sunday Special Campaign" in which he says that, regrettably, despite the voicing of their concerns and unwillingness to work with the sponsors of the Bill, they have been unwilling to compromise in any way. I must advise the House that that group has never approached me or any of my sponsors even to discuss the matter. Much of the opposition to the Bill, such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington is based on intolerance, bigotry and latent spoil-sportism.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I am proud to be a sponsor of his Bill. He might like to know that those of us, especially on the Conservative Benches, who oppose Sunday trading, support his Bill because, as he rightly and eloquently told the House, there is much illegality at the moment. That is why so many people have ignored the advice that has been given by those who were perhaps our compatriots in the earlier days. I commend my hon. Friend's Bill and hope that the House will approve it.

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his help and support in the early stages of the Bill's preparation.

Is it right that the law should prohibit someone from having a bet on Sunday on a horse when it allows another man to gamble his money on the spin of a wheel or the turn of a card? The answer is no. The Bill should be given a chance to proceed. The legislation relating to Sunday sport must be taken out of the shifting sands of confusion and dishonesty and placed on the firm bedrock of reputable law.

2.13 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I speak as briefly as possible now to explain the Government's view of the Bill.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) on getting such a high place in the ballot and on his speech, which was well-balanced, thought-provoking, passionate and amusing.

It will not surprise the House to learn that in the Government's view the Bill appears to deserve some encouragement, as we have taken exactly the same position in another place. We will be content to see the Bill make progress for four reasons. First, it does not seem unreasonable for the racing authorities to want to be able to hold race meetings on a day when already other major sporting events are held. In that sense, the Bill follows the lead taken by others and which has been established for some time, as my hon. Friend pointed out so clearly and fully in his speech.

Secondly, the character of racing is such that sensible provision for betting needs to be made for Sunday events. Not everyone who goes to race meetings bets. I go occasionally, although rarely so splendidly attired as my hon. Friend, and rarely do I bet—for the spectacle and the sport provided. If races were to be held on Sundays, it is the Government's firm view that, under the present law, they could not be accompanied by betting activity. Our policy is that betting should be conducted through the lawful and regulated betting industry. All right hon. and hon. Members would wish to see such betting as there is in the country conducted lawfully and in a well-regulated way.

It is established practice that betting takes place off-course and on-course. The Bill would allow both forms of betting in betting offices, such as there are, rather than in betting shops, and on racecourses. That is the right approach, so that Sunday racing should not be prey to illegal betting problems.

The third reason for regarding the Bill with some measure of favour is that it takes account of responses to the earlier Bill that was introduced in another place by my noble Friend Lord Wyatt. That Bill initially proposed that Sunday racing should be permitted only during the afternoon of that day. My hon. Friend's Bill contains that refinement, including the important refinement that betting offices should be open only in the afternoon. In addition, as I noted earlier, the intention will be to respond to Opposition Members' quite legitimate concerns about the position of established employees of the racing and betting industries by adding protective provisions against dismissal or other action for refusing Sunday work. I entirely agree. Most hon. Members would agree with that.

Fourthly, it seems to us that the Bill would benefit sporting events generally. It has a wide application to other sports. That will be provided by the explicit exemption of races, athletic or other sporting events from the full rigour of the Sunday Observance Act 1780. That Act has been amended before. As my hon. Friend pointed out, it has been amended to legitimate Sunday musical entertainments. Indeed, in 1972, it was amended to permit theatres to open on Sundays. In its present form, the 1780 Act casts some doubt over sports that are already being enjoyed on Sundays. It seems to us that it would be sensible and helpful to dispel doubt by disapplying the offences in the 1870 Act from sporting events.

I recognise, of course, that one measure of the Bill is the place that it would take in the balance of the House's expectations of Sunday as a whole. In no sense will the Bill amend in any way the provisions of the Shops Act 1950. As my hon. Friend explained, subject to trying to achieve its central purpose, the Bill will specifically respond to that in, for example, its restrictions on betting days and plans for the protection of employees' rights. They are sensible measures.

Some hon. Members are concerned that the opening of betting offices would have implications for controls on Sunday trading. They may see the Bill as objectionable on that ground alone. That is a misconceived view.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)


Mr. Patten

I wonder whether my hon. Friend will forgive me. I shall not give way. I have little time in which to make my speech.

Of course, the Government are fully alive to the views of those who wish to retain the present pattern of Sunday. The Government appreciate that there will be different views about the sort of day that Sunday should be. I make it absolutely clear that the Government and I understand and respect the views of those who, as a matter of conscientious conviction, wish to retain a particular form of Sunday. But the Bill will not amend the Shops Act. If the House prefers, it may be taken separately from Sunday trading issues.

Mr. Stanbrook


Mr. Patten

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not give way on this occasion.

As hon. Members will he aware, many sporting events take place on a Sunday. There are many other activities on Sunday.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Patten

I wonder whether my hon. Friend will forgive me. For reasons relating to time, I am unable to give way.

Mr. Holt

As a sponsor of the Bill?

Mr. Patten

As my hon. Friend is a sponsor of the Bill, I shall give way.

Mr. Holt

On the international dimension, I wonder whether my hon. Friend was looking at the matter from the Government's point of view. Would he like to put on record the number of Americans who will watch the Superbowl next Sunday or the number of us who will watch the bicentenary test in Australia?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) makes his point extremely well.

As I have said, concert halls, cinemas, theatres, leisure parks, sports centres, bingo halls and casinos are all able quite legitimately to provide recreation on Sundays. The Bill is very much aimed at allowing racing, particularly horse racing. There is no specific prohibition of horse racing on Sundays under the present law, but, because it stimulates betting, we should not be happy for it to take place unless betting could be engaged in lawfully both on and off-course.

I had hoped to speak for not more than 12 minutes, but 1 have managed to do it in 10. That leaves me a moment to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook).

Mr. Stanbrook

For a moment, I thought that my hon. Friend's normal fairness and courtesy had deserted him. I would otherwise have said that he was one of those hon. Members who are always anxious to give way, and to do so to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Is my hon. Friend—speaking for the Government — content that nowadays almost every shop should be prohibited from opening on Sundays; and does he at the same time want betting shops, as a total exception to that general rule, to be allowed to open? If so, is that not entirely inconsistent with the Government's present stance?

Mr. Patten

I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention, which the slow passing of time has allowed.

Mr. Holt


Mr. Patten

I cannot give way during a response to an intervention to which I did not particularly want to give way earlier.

The Bill does not seek to amend the Shops Act 1950 in any way. In the Government's view, it seems to make sensible provision for betting offices — an entirely different matter — to open only for the period when Sunday racing is under way, after 12 noon.

This is not a Government Bill, and we have no plans at present for similar legislation. We shall listen with interest to what others have to say in the course of the Bill's progress, but we see no reason at present to stand in the way of the changes that a seeks to make.

I apologise to the House for the speed at which I have been compelled to speak. I have tried to explain why we are in general sympathy with the Bill's purpose and ready to see it progress, if the House agrees.

2.22 pm
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) on his place in the Ballot, if not on his suit. —[Interruption.] I borrowed mine from Derek Hatton.

The House is being asked two questions: do we want horse racing on some or all Sundays, and do we want off-course betting shops to open on a Sunday? Competing interests must be balanced in the arguments put forward. It must be acknowledged — I suspect there will be no argument about this — that those living in the areas where races are held are likely to be unenthusiastic about the proposal. It will mean extra traffic congestion, parking problems, noise and disturbance, on a day that the majority of the population regard, on religious and other grounds, as different and special.

Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)


Mr. Corbett

I beg the hon. Gentleman's forgiveness; I really cannot give way.

The same can be said about a number of other Sunday leisure activities, but it is nevertheless a substantial argument. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) will know, people whose homes are near Villa Park—which is on the edge of my constituency, and in that of my right hon. Friend—feel considerable annoyance when matches are played there. I admit that they are likely to be people who take no interest in football. Others, in spite of what the hon. Member for Crawley has said, will see the proposal as the thin end of the wedge leading to another bid for round-the-clock trading on Sundays. I shall not rehearse all those arguments, except to say that I think that we should be very cautious about requiring people to work on Sundays in non-essential capacities, because of the impact that that has on already fragile family life.

Clearly, the bookies expect this Bill, or one like it, to succeed. As I understand it, at least one of the big four bookies already requires new employees to sign contracts requiring them to work on a Sunday when called on to do so. From a personal point of view, I should be much happier about this measure if this multi-million pound industry were better run and better treated all those who work in it on and off the course.

Horse racing has a smutty image —[Interruption.] Listen. A former champion jockey is in goal after pleading to tax fraud and 30 other trainers and jockeys are said to be under investigation by the Inland Revenue. I accept that those activities touch only a handful of people in and around the industry, but they give horse racing an unfortunate face. Conditions at some of the 59 horse racing courses are bad, with poor or non-existent facilities for a decent overnight stay. Others have hostels which border on being unfit for human habitation. There are others where, because of shortage of accommodation, stables are used successively by different horses without any cleansing, running the risk of disease.

My impression is that the sport of horse racing is generally badly managed. The Jockey Club is far from being one of the world's noted democracies.

Mr. John Carlisle

That is why it is so successful.

Mr. Corbett

If that is the attitude behind the Bill, the hon. Gentleman should not be surprised if it does not see the light of day.

In any event, the Jockey Club seems unable to encourage and assist the investment in improvements which are needed in the industry. I am told that public safety, for example, at some tracks is even worse than that which appertained at the Bradford football club, with such tragic results.

The conditions of employees are often appalling. Those jockeys so properly praised by the hon. Member for Crawley work in an industry where there is no industry-wide compensation scheme and those who are injured in what must be regarded as a dangerous sport have to rely on what is essentially a grace-and-favour scheme operated by the Levy Board. That can be no substitute for an industry-wide scheme, properly financed and run by employers and employees.

The Transport and General Workers Union has told us that the national joint council for stable staff has made no progress on some proposals put by the TGWU for dealing with rates of pay should Sunday racing go ahead. The TGWU is willing to attend further talks with the employers, who have already flatly rejected the union's proposals. That is an unhappy position, and I hope that the employers will come to a sensible settlement.

This all adds up to the need for a thorough review of horse racing in all its aspects, including the desirability, or not, of Sunday racing. I tell the Minister now that Labour would welcome such an inquiry and accept its conclusions, and I invite him to do the same.

It has been said that there is no need for betting shops to open on a Sunday. There is a system in Ireland where runners are published on Fridays, bets laid on Saturdays and races run on Sundays. That system could operate here. Of course, if betting shops were to open, they would not simply take bets on the gee-gees. They would take bets on any sporting activity on a Sunday anywhere they chose to take that coverage. There are countries that hold general or presidential elections on a Sunday. There would be nothing to stop — indeed, there would be every encouragement — the betting shops confining their activities to horse racing.

The argument that there would be more illegal betting if the betting shops were not open is farcical. People might just as well argue that the town speed limit of 30 mph should be raised to 50 mph because so few people obey it.

I urge an inquiry into the horse racing industry and I believe that it is time for another Royal Commission on gambling. The last was in 1975 and it left many questions unanswered, especially those on gambling and its effects on society. We now have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people hooked on fruit machines. We need to stand back and decide whether the vast amounts of money spent on gambling are a sign of a healthy society.

My guess is that the big bookies are the sponsors and main supporters of the Bill. That is no good reason for going along with the hon. Gentleman's proposals without proper thought. Although I—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 5 February.