HL Deb 12 December 1912 vol 13 cc177-90


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, it will be in the recollection of the House that at an earlier period in the session the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Hereford brought in a Gambling Advertisements Bill. That Bill, in consequence of its somewhat drastic provisions, met with very little support in this House, and the right rev. Prelate withdrew it. But in the course of the discussion the most rev. Primate pointed out, I thought with very great force, that those persons who consistently opposed proposals of this nature and at the same time admitted that something ought to be done should in common fairness bring forward proposals themselves. I was so much impressed with that argument that I have brought in the present Bill.

In framing this measure, which I think I may fairly describe as one of the most modest and half-hearted proposals that have ever been brought before Parliament, I have adopted a somewhat unusual course. I have adopted the course of consulting persons who really do know something about betting and racing. We have it in record—it was established by the Betting Committee of which I was a member upon the authority, amongst other persons, of the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Hereford—that betting is not a crime in itself, and I certainly am not prepared to condemn it unreservedly. For my part I do not hesitate to say that betting possesses certain recommendations which perhaps are not apparent to everybody. It appears to me to be occasionally the only method by which you can discover whether a man's opinion is an honest one or not, and I dare say there are many here present who remember very well, as I do, the formula which used to be very common in our younger days. I remember that when a boy made a statement which appeared capable of dispute, he used to be asked this question, "Will you swear that it is true?" The answer usually was "Yes." Then he was asked, "Will you take your dying oath that it is true?" and the answer again was habitually "Yes." Then he was asked the crucial question, "Will you bet upon it?" and if he refused to do so then the statement did not obtain the credit which was desired for it. As far as I am concerned I frankly admit that I am prepared to bet in reason upon almost any subject, even upon such a matter, for instance, as the prospects of this Bill.

But there is all the difference in the world between wagers of this kind, wagers made between private persons, bets upon games and things of that sort, and systematic betting through intermediaries—that is to say, professionals—a system which has now reached perfectly colossal dimensions, and which, in the opinion of those who know a great deal more about this question than I do, is undeniably responsible for a large proportion of crime in this country; and I think it must also be admitted in common fairness that whereas we might not be justified in preventing people actually committing an act of folly, vet nevertheless it is justifiable to legislate in order to prevent ingenious and persistent efforts being made to induce people to commit acts of this description. The outstanding fact with regard to betting at the present day is, as everybody knows, that whereas it was formerly confined to a few persons who made bets in large sums, now it is infinitely more widely spread throughout the whole community, although the sums which are ventured may be smaller in amount. This fact was completely established before the Committee to which I have already referred, and anybody who takes the trouble to study the Report of that Committee will observe that the tremendous spread of betting to which I have alluded was pronounced to be due in large measure to the great facilities afforded by the Press and to the inducements to bet offered by means of bookmakers' circulars and tipsters' advertisements. And it will also be discovered by anybody who takes the trouble to read this Report that the Committee considered that the best possible method of reducing betting was to confine it as much as possible to race-courses.

I do not think it is thoroughly realised that the bulk of betting business at the present day is carried on apart from racecourses altogether. Starting-price betting has now become a gigantic business in which vast numbers of people take part, and there really is not very much to be said in favour of it. It certainly is perfectly clear that these vast numbers of people who indulge in starting-price betting away from the course do not contribute towards the prosperity of the Turf. It is perfectly obvious that that is so, because, so far as we know, they never attend race-courses at all, and although any proposition put forward to deal with this particular kind of betting is denounced as very unsportsmanlike action, personally, although I have done it myself, I never saw anything particularly sportsmanlike in backing a horse you had never seen, which you were never likely to see, and on which the sole information you possessed was derived probably from one of the advertising tipsters to whom I have alluded. The exceptional facilities which are offered for this particular kind of speculation have led to extremely unsatisfactory results. They are known to all, and I am not going to say anything about them at the present moment. But there is one result in particular the disadvantages of which must have been realised by bookmakers themselves, and that is that this course of speculation has developed a very strong tendency on the part of starting-price betters to discover what has won first and then to back it afterwards. That is an operation which requires a considerable amount of ingenuity, and it has been the cause of a certain amount of crime in connection with it. The effect of this Bill will obviously be to render betting of this particular description rather more difficult in the future than it has been hitherto. At the present moment a large portion of the Press voluntarily or involuntarily does everything that it can, not only to teach the people to bet, but to make things as easy as possible for them, and a section of the Press is perpetually dangling temptation, so to speak, before the eyes of a credulous public.

By this Bill, if it becomes law, it will be seen that betting upon race-courses is not interfered with at all. The publication of starting-price odds will also not be interfered with. The Bill will not even interfere with the newspapers' own particular prophets, those gentlemen to whom I am told great respect is due owing to the care which they take in making their selections for the benefit of the public, and so forth; and the Bill will not, I need hardly say, interfere with betting between private individuals, and I even doubt in my own mind whether it will prevent betting with bookmakers provided the initiative is taken by the private individual. On the other hand, what the Bill will do is this. It will prevent the issue of betting circulars; it will prevent the advertisements of so-called commission agents; and, of course, it will prevent the publication of tipsters' advertisements. I do not think there are very many people who defend the publication of betting circulars. I am informed on good authority that it really is quite unnecessary to issue these circulars at all, and I am quite disposed to agree with that opinion, because if a man has a good and well-established business, no matter what it may be, it very seldom requires any advertising whatsoever. But as for tipsters' advertisements, nobody yet, so far as I know, has ventured to say a solitary word in their favour. As a matter of fact, the tipster is not only a blatant fraud in many instances; he is an insult to common-sense, because as a rule he postures as a philanthropist who is in possession of particularly valuable information which he is ready to impart to any person who is foolish enough to entrust any money to him.

I think I may fairly say that this Bill represents the irreducible minimum of what everybody knows in his own mind to be urgently required, and I do not think it necessary to waste the time of the House in bringing forward any additional arguments in its favour. All I have to say further is this, that I have received most unsuspected support for this measure from quarters where I least expected it. I announced that I had consulted persons who really knew something about racing and betting, and I have been fortunate enough to obtain the support of certain noble Lords who, I believe, will address you this evening and who are recognised authorities upon racing. I also observed in The Times only yesterday that Tattersall's Committee were strongly in favour of the proposals in the Bill, and I need hardly say that I have received many promises of support from other quarters. The only objections which I have hitherto noticed to the proposals in this Bill—and it gratifies me to see that there is no hostile Motion on the Paper with regard to it—proceeded from a section of the sporting Press, and I confess that it appears to me that these objectors are suffering under a double hallucination. They seem to be under the strange and remarkable hallucination that because a thing appears in print, especially in one of their own newspapers, therefore it is above suspicion, and that the man who advertises must be absolutely honest and straightforward, a view which I entirely decline to accept. The second hallucination is that in their opinion Parliament exists mainly for the purpose of preventing people being "welshed." I know from sad experience how disagreeable it is to be "welshed," but I altogether dissent from the view that this is our especial business. It appears to me that it is not the special business of this House or of either House to prevent people from being what is vulgarly termed "welshed," but it is our business to do something, although it may be very little, to attempt to reduce the temptation with which the credulous and the ignorant are beset on all sides at the present moment, and it is with that view that I urge the acceptance of this Bill by your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, I desire to say a few words only upon this Bill. I gather from the noble Lord's speech as well as from such other indications as have been available that this Bill is likely to be welcomed in all parts of your Lordships' House. That is a matter of supreme satisfaction even to those who may think that the Bill might with advantage have gone a little further than it does go. I am not numbering myself among those, because I believe that our best mode of action in a difficulty of this kind is to secure that which we are quite sure of being able to get general support for rather than try to get ahead of what public opinion will at the moment allow.

The provisions of this Bill have been a long time coming to birth. Ten years have passed since the Select Committee to which the noble Lord referred reported to the House upon the subject as a whole of which this is only one part. But with regard to this, the Committee said— The Committee cannot condemn too strongly the advertisements of sporting tipsters and others which appear in the columns of many newspapers. They are of opinion that all such advertisements and also betting circulars and notices should be made illegal. That was a recommendation agreed to apparently after very careful consideration, as it was discussed on two separate days and finally was agreed to without a recorded Division. During the ten years that have elapsed since then there have been many debates on the subject in this House. Five or six Bills have been introduced dealing with one or other part of what was then reported upon by the Committee; and one of those introduced by a noble and learned Lord whose loss this House has for years lamented, Lord Davey, became law a few years ago—I refer to the Street Betting Act. But as regards the rest, we have been told five times in debates that His Majesty's Government are considering a Bill on this subject. I venture to hope that His Majesty's Government's consideration of it has been facilitated by the noble Lord's action to-night in bringing forward a Bill in practical shape, and that we may now feel that their consideration may take fruit in practical and vigorous support of a measure which is, I think, on all sides recommended and supported.

In the previous measures no effectual attempt has been made to meet the advertising and circular difficulty. The last discussion took place upon it five months ago, when my brother the Bishop of Hereford was urged by those who were, as I think reasonably, opposed to the Bill in the form in which he introduced it, to leave these matters to those who really understood the question in all its bearings. It is, therefore, absolutely right and in accordance with what was then put forward that those who felt, with a full knowledge of the subject—a knowledge which I certainly do not possess—that the Bill introduced five months ago was impossible to support, should now themselves formulate the proposals which seemed to be what the noble Lord has called the irreducible minimum of what is desired. This is not a Government measure, but I hope that after what has been said upon the subject for so many years we may believe that we shall have something more than a kindly view of it taken by the Government and that we shall have their practical support both here and elsewhere. For, my Lords, this thing is wanted. It is wanted with increasing urgency year by year. There is absolutely universal testimony both to the increase and to the mischief of the evil which this Bill is intended to remedy—the evil of that inane form of gambling which is made easy for people wholly and entirely ignorant of the subject with which they are dealing, who merely speculate about this as they might about any other subject under the sun of which they know practically nothing.

It was proved before the Committee of 1902 how great was, even then, the increase of these advertisements and circulars, and how harmful they were in their consequences to those among whom they were circulated; and there can be no question, I think—indeed, it was proved even then and it is much more true now—that the increase in gambling of the kind here described is due in very large measure, perhaps almost wholly, to the advertisements and circulars with which this Bill is intended to deal. Since 1902 the increase has been very much greater. The information which any one can obtain for himself by studying certain of the sporting papers will show how column after column is now filled with advertisements of the very kind that this Bill refers to—tipsters' advertisements—and we have been told on high authority within the last few days that these advertisements have a double evil. They are not merely mischievous directly and in themselves, but they are doing their mischief by a process which can hardly be called other than somewhat fraudulent—that is to say, the same firm will advertise in the same newspaper under twenty different names, so that it appears like a concurrence of testimony from various quarters in the way of recommendations given in answer to appeals, whereas it is the same people doing the same thing under twenty different names. That has been brought before us lately on high authority, and though I am not able myself to vouch for the accuracy of the fact—I have no means of tracing these advertisements to their source—I have no reason to doubt that it is true.

It is sometimes forgotten in our modern legislation and in the progress of what we may call our civilisation that the facilities which are for the public convenience multiplied every day as regards communication and publication and the rest have their mischief as well as their gain; that while it is possible naturally and wholesomely to use these facilities to the uttermost, facilities of cheap and quick printing, rapid circulation through the Press, constant and rapid communication by telegraph—that those things are capable of being misused in a way that is fraught with great peril; and just in proportion as we encourage the increase of these facilities for ordinary communication we ought to be on our guard against evils which may result from those very facilities, and which we must do our best in some way or other to meet and counteract. At this moment the facts are beyond dispute, that not merely men and women throughout the country receive these circulars at home, but boys and girls at school, even in our elementary schools, are getting these circulars day by day and getting access to betting through the advertisements which are placed readily within their reach, and, as I say, through actual circulars which in many cases are given out to be handed round in schools to encourage children to start in this matter. The temptations which are thus placed in the way of those least able to understand their gravity or to resist them are a cause of mischief which it is, I am quite sure, the wish of every one of your Lordships to take away and to destroy if we can possibly do it.

The noble Lord has described the purpose and the intent of this Bill, and, indeed, the subject has been so often spoken of in this House that I will not do more than press that we may have not merely a Second Reading given to the Bill, but that every effort may be made by those who can best make those efforts to carry the Bill with the utmost possible speed into law. Not necessarily because it does all that we want. I recur to the noble Lord's phrase that it is the irreducible minimum. I should like to see a little more than this. But I believe that the noble Lord is right in asking for the irreducible minimum now, and leaving us to consider hereafter how we can strengthen the provisions of the Bill or add to our power of dealing with this evil. It is because I believe that the Bill will go far towards throttling a peculiarly baneful form of gambling made easy now for those who understand its meaning least, and counteracting an evil which is wrought upon those who are most helpless to resist it that I hope your Lordships will, with undivided voice, give a Second Reading to this Bill and encourage its being pushed forward elsewhere so that it may rapidly become law. I hope His Majesty's Government will realise the gravity of this question and the responsibility of the Executive Government for seeing, not only that no hindrance is placed in the way of the Bill, but that every facility is given to it so that it may become law as speedily as possible.


My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord upon having produced what in my humble opinion is a very sensible Bill in regard to this difficult question of betting. We have had other Bills of a similar nature introduced into this House, but I have not seen my way always to support them; but in this instance I do think we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord for having introduced a Bill which I think may very well pass into law. I do not for one moment believe that you can make people virtuous or sensible by Act of Parliament, but I do think that Parliament can do a great deal to take away temptations which lead the young into folly or into crime, and I am afraid that there are a great many who are led into crime as well as into folly through these tipsters' advertisements and circulars. I hope that his Majesty's Government will do their best to try and release at all events the young, those mentioned by the most rev. Primate, from temptations of which they know very little, which do not appear to them to be temptations but which have led many a young man into a life of crime. Anything that Parliament can do to prevent the young from being led away is worth trying to do.


My Lords, I am sure we all feel indebted to the noble Lord for having introduced this Bill, and there is not likely to be any note of opposition introduced in the course of these proceedings. The need for this Bill is generally admitted from both sides of the House, and on behalf of His Majesty's Government I may say that we take a view favourable to the Bill, although in the present state of business in another place it is difficult to promise for it a speedy passage through that Assembly. I suppose really the chief difficulty which measures of this kind have had in the past has been that they were so extreme that a large number of members of this House have been I unable to support them; but on this occasion we have a Bill dealing with part of the subject at any rate on which no adverse criticism has been passed. The chief value of this Bill, if it passes, will be in its making betting agents' business more difficult to carry on. It will not prevent the circulation of betting agents' literature through the post, though it would enable the Postmaster-General, if he chose to do so, to suppress circulars advertising betting and tipsters' advertisements which may be found in open postal packets. We have every sympathy with the object of the Bill, and the Home Office will be glad to co-operate with the noble Lord in any Amendments which it may be considered necessary to insert in Committee. Therefore I hope the noble Lord will proceed with the Bill so that, should it be impossible to carry it this session, it may when reintroduced in a final and amended shape pass more speedily into law.


My Lords, I do not like to leave my noble friend who brought this Bill before the House without a word of support. He described his measure as one of the most half-hearted measures ever introduced into this House. I think he was a little unjust to his own Bill. It seems to me that his Bill is not wanting in courage, and for my part, and I speak only for myself, I like it both for what it does and for what it leaves undone. The love of sport is, I believe, ineradicable in the people of this country, and I hope it will always be so. There will always be people who will desire to what is called "back their opinion." This Bill does not interfere with them. It leaves betting on race-courses without any interference. But what the Bill does touch is what the noble Lord described in I thought a very well chosen phrase as the "attempt to dangle temptation before the eyes of a credulous public." That is what I think we shall do well to endeavour to put a check to. We know that the methods pursued by the people who do this are fraudulent methods. We know that the evil is a growing one. We know that for at least ten years we have recognised that it is desirable to make some attempt to cope with the evil. I therefore, for one, am grateful to my noble friend for having brought forward this Bill.


My Lords, I am glad to feel able to infer from the course of the debate that this Bill is likely to be adopted by your Lordships' House, and I desire to express my personal gratitude to the noble Lord for introducing it, because I look upon it as in some sense a sort of first fruit of the unlucky Bill which I ventured to introduce last summer. Personally I have to confess to your Lordships that I adhere to that Bill as embodying the opinions of some of the most experienced and enlightened Judges as to what ought to be the law of the land on this subject, and though I do not myself expect to live to see such legislation carried in this House or in the other House I hold the belief that your Lordships' grandsons will certainly be in support of such Legislation and will wonder that their forefathers allowed the mischief which is working through all parts of English society to go on so long unchecked. As I have said, I am grateful to the noble Lord opposite for introducing this Bill, though I agree with him that it is a very modest Bill. But he knows the possibilities, and I feel that he is wise in the method that he has adopted. But this Bill is so limited in its operation that I am afraid it will leave the betting trade to flourish very much as before.

The noble Lord himself reminded us that the Bill will not interfere in any way with the publication of starting-price lists, and I am told by those who are familiar with the matter that a very great portion of the popular betting on races is done by way of starting-price lists. That will go on as before. The noble Lord reminded us that the betting habit is a growing habit among the great mass of the people. We have evidence of that every week in the newspapers and in the vast multitudes of people who gather to witness football matches and so on. This Bill, as I understand it, will not in any way interfere with that part of the betting trade which depends upon what are called football betting coupons. I have the hope that it may be possible to introduce into this Bill in Committee some slight addition which would render illegal the trade in football and other betting coupons. That portion of the trade brings an immense amount of temptation into the way of vast multitudes of poor people, and is doing a great amount of harm.

The defect that I see in the Bill is that it is too restricted in its operation. The noble Lord might have ventured a little more. I cannot but think that we overlook to a considerable extent the fact that the men who are engaged in this trade are for the most part very clever persons, and they will easily evade a Bill of this kind to a large extent by altering their methods of procedure. They are a very clever and resourceful class of people. The noble Lord will remember that we had various representatives of this trade before us in the Betting and Gambling Committee, and they certainly struck one as men who would have made their mark in any walk of life which they might have adopted. I remember one in particular who had begun life by working at an honest trade, but very soon this ceased to satisfy his ambitions and he next appeared as a member of a Metropolitan vestry actively interested in the public life of London. That, again, did not last very long. We next find him as an omnibus conductor, and while thus engaged he established a trade union of the people connected with the omnibus business; but that, again, did not last very long. He next took to journalism in connection, I think, with the labour interest; and then he came before us as the secretary of a newly-formed tipsters' association—he was careful to tell us that he was the honorary secretary of that association. This gentleman was a man of unusual ability. I think I identified him a little later as conducting a Tariff Reform campaign in Herefordshire as one of Mr. Chamberlain's Tariff Reform missioners. What occupation he may be following at this moment I do not know. The point I wish to make by these illustrations is this, that by any legislation on this subject you are endeavouring to circumvent an unusually clever class of men, very resourceful and versatile, and they will very largely, I think, get round this little Bill. At the same time I heartily support it and am very grateful to the noble Lord for introducing it.

But I desire before sitting down to repeat my hope that in Committee, supposing the Bill is given a Second Reading, it may be found possible to introduce some clause which will put a stop to the very great mischief arising from the prevalence of football betting coupons. I have some friends in the North, in Manchester, in Cheshire, and in Liverpool, who, feeling the pressure of this great evil amongst the industrial classes, have formed themselves into an anti-gambling league. There are thousands of members belonging to the league, and while giving their hearty support to this Bill they feel that it will be to a great extent ineffective over all those masses in whose interest they are specially concerned unless football betting coupons can be dealt with in connection with the Bill; and I am quite sure that unless some provision regarding starting-price lists can be introduced, you will only touch the fringe of this great subject and deal in a very inadequate manner with a trade which is doing an untold amount of mischief, a mischief which is desolating multitudes of homes.


My Lords, this debate has furnished us with two interesting examples from the Episcopal Bench of tolerance and intolerance. I have listened with interest to the speech of the right rev. Prelate who has just sat down because I was fully aware that he would not be satisfied with my noble friend's Bill, that he would wish to amend it in Committee, and that he would grumble, if I may use the word, that it was not more extreme and more comprehensive. I may frankly tell your Lordships that that is the reason why for the last ten years members of the Jockey Club have not introduced a Bill on the subject into your Lordships' House. I should have been very glad to have done so many years ago, before the Betting Committee was appointed. We are all opposed to tipsters' advertisements appearing in sporting newspapers, and I venture to say there is not a single member of the Jockey Club, there is not a respectable owner of racehorses, not a respectable trainer or bookmaker who will not approve of Lord Newton's Bill. As I have said, we members of the Jockey Club would have taken action ourselves but for the intolerance of persons like the right rev. Prelate. I should be very sorry to be responsible for a Bill like Lord Newton's if I thought it was to be entirely altered in Committee in accordance with the extreme views held by the right rev. Prelate. On the other hand, I have heard with the greatest; satisfaction the speech of the most rev. Primate. It was a very tolerant and broad-minded speech, and he, I venture to say, quite rightly urged your Lordships not to amend this Bill in Committee or not to any serious extent alter the scope of it or enlarge its provisions. Lord Newton described the Bill as a modest one. It is a modest and sensible Bill because it deals with a specific evil and does not try to comprehend and include other evils that exist and which are not confined to racing. Lord Newton deals with one specific subject and asks your Lordships to pass a simple plain Bill which will not affect any interest which ought not to be affected, but which will do a great deal of good and destroy what is an increasing evil—these betting advertisements and circulars. Newspapers have been warned for years that they ought not to receive money from these advertisers, who merely gull the public and deceive the credulous, but they have taken no notice; and I for my part am delighted that my noble friend has brought in a Bill which will in future prevent them receiving these advertisements. I heartily support my noble friend's Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole Douse on Tuesday the 21st of January next.