HL Deb 27 March 1930 vol 76 cc1061-8

LORD CARSON rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the practice of certain bookmakers of circularising persons to enter into betting transactions and offering as an inducement to open credit accounts, and to ask whether such action is legal as being an attempt to induce wagering contracts; and whether His Majesty's Government will consider the advisability of preventing the issue of such circulars and making applicable the law relating to circulars by moneylenders.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in referring to the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I can assure your Lordships I shall not take up your time in dealing with the many anomolies, hypocrisies and inconsistencies of our present betting system. The object I have in view is comparatively a very small one. I do not suppose anybody in this House, or out of it, understands the reasons for the differences that exist as regards the various branches of the law in relation to wagering contracts and betting contracts. Some three or four years ago I brought before this House proposals for the amendment of the Moneylenders Act of 1900, and among other matters that I mentioned to your Lordships was the persistent way in which moneylenders by circulars tried to induce young people, particularly young officers, civil, naval and military, to enter into transactions with them. A great deal of matter was placed before the House at that time to show that a considerable amount of that business was carried on with a view to putting these foolish and inexperienced young people into funds for the purpose of carrying out betting transactions. After the Moneylenders Bill had passed your Lordships' House on three occasions, I think it was, it became law, having been greatly changed, so as to make it snore anemic and less effective, by the action of certain members of another place.

But both Houses were certainly emphatic that one of the evils that ought to be dealt with was this question of circulars and advertisements. Section 5 (1) of the amending Act of 1927 says— No person shall knowingly send or deliver or cause to be sent or delivered to any person except in response to his written request any circular or other document advertising the name, address or telephone number of a moneylender, or containing an invitation—

  1. (a) to borrow money from a moneylender;
  2. (b) to enter into arty transaction involving the borrowing of money from a moneylender;
  3. (c) to apply to any place with a view to obtaining information or advice as to borrowing any money from a moneylender."
There is also a provision in the Act for preventing touting on behalf of moneylenders. That is now the law. I am not here to moralise or denounce bookmakers generally or their business; I know nothing about them. I do not think I ever had a bet on a horse-race in my life, except once. Then I got even money and I won, so I have no real grievance, especially as the bookmaker paid me. That was the only time was ever at the Derby, many years ago. I am not such a fool as to enter into speculations of that kind.

This question of sending circulars to inexperienced people, if not coming within the actual law as laid down by the Moneylenders Act of 1927, certainly comes within the spirit of it. I can see no more reason for preventing the one than the other. In fact this system of trying to get people to deal with them seems to me to be even more attractive than the moneylenders' system. I hold in my hand a circular. I shall not mention the names of firms because it would be advertising them and I should be probably abusing them without their having an opportunity of being heard, which is what lawyers describe as against natural justice. Here is a circular which sets out the name and address of a firm and its nine telephone numbers. Then there is a list of the directors, and the thing is made specially attractive by the statement that they are members of the Turf Guardian Society. Your Lordships can see how attractive that would be to an inexperienced person, who might say: "After all, I am on the right lay now because they are members of the Turf Guardian Society. That is good enough for me anyway."

This is the circular that has come particularly to my notice:—


Not having yet heard from you in reply to our letters suggesting the opening of a credit account, we shall be glad to hear whether there is any point on which we can enlighten you with a view to our doing business.

Awaiting the favour of a reply,

We remain,

Faithfully yours"

So-and-so and so-and-so. Your Lordships will see that what that circular means is that there is no need to go to a moneylender. "We will lend the money by opening a credit account." Could there be anything more pernicious than for an inexperienced person to get into the hands of firms of this kind? I know that only too well, having regard to my long professional life and my experience of people who from time to time have come and discussed matters with me when they have found themselves in great difficulties. What is the difference between circularising to come and borrow, and circularising to come and bet, saying: "We will supply the money by opening a credit account"? I do not see any difference at all. I read in the newspapers from time to time of people being arrested in the streets, or summoned, for passing betting slips, whatever they are. I do not know, but they are something that people pass from one to the other. I suppose they are on a very small scale, but, apparently, under the by-laws of the various local bodies who govern various districts they can be prevented. But these great people who are members of the Turf Guardian Society, and can afford extra good notepaper and envelopes and the full 1½d. stamp, can go on as far as they like.

That is not the only analogy between this system and moneylending. These circulars are sent to young officers, civil, naval and military, addressed, very often, to the houses of their fathers, and of course what is at the back of it is: "We will open a credit. We know very well that your father will pay. He will not let you go out of the Army or the Navy. He is not likely to let you down." That this is at the back of it a great deal of evidence was given when the original Moneylenders Act was passed. As I am not now a Judge and have not had to deal with these cases for some time, I do not know whether such a letter as this is legal. Whether to induce a person to enter into these wagering contracts by offering him credit is legal or not, I do not know. I know that great distinctions are drawn between what is legal, what is illegal and what is void.

I respectfully suggest to this House that, having taken up the matter for the protection of inexperienced people in relation to moneylenders, there is no reason that can be suggested why such letters as I have read should not be brought under the same law as moneylenders' circulars. Without in any wise attacking or assailing the morality or the existence of the present betting system, which I know people say encourages horse-racing and horse-breeding, I think this one very simple protection for the inexperienced youth of our country might very well be adopted. I placed my Question on the Paper really in the hope that it might be considered in order at all events that by this one small restriction, which is more in accordance with the by-laws which prevent street and other betting in various places, we might at least try to protect these inexperienced persons from the persistent lure of such circulars.


My Lords, I think we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Carson, for bringing this matter to the notice of the House, and I hope he will be satisfied with the answer which I can give him. I should like, in the first instance, to say this. Although what is legal or illegal in betting may be a matter of difficulty, owing to a multiplicity of Statutes, there is no illegality in ordinary credit betting apart from the question of minors. Therefore, though I should not like to speak with any great legal certainty on a matter of this kind, I think the subject to which the noble Lord calls attention, the circularisation of persons to induce them to enter into betting transactions, that is, credit betting, is not, as the law stands now, illegal. If the circulars referred to what in itself was illegal betting—and a good deal of betting is illegal—then they would be themselves illegal, but as the matter now stands as far as I have made myself familiar with the law, and I have tried to do so, I do not think the circularisation in connection with credit betting is illegal at the present moment unless the question of minors comes in. If the betting were illegal, of course a different consideration would arise.

That being so, I sympathise, and the Government sympathise, with the desire of the noble Lord that circularisation of this kind should be stopped, if it can be stopped, and I can say on their behalf, and most strongly on my own behalf, that I think betting is a source of grave immorality in many directions, and particularly in the direction to which the noble Lord has referred. I may say that His Majesty's Government will certainly consider the advisability of preventing the issue of such circulars—that is, circulars which have reference to credit betting which is not illegal—and making applicable the law relating to circulars by moneylenders. Whether the law relating to circulars by moneylenders would in its present terms be exactly applicable to the case the noble Lord has in mind, I am not prepared to say, but that would be a matter for subsequent consideration.

The noble Lord has reminded the House of the attitude he took up on the question of moneylending and I should like to refer to that. There was a Bill introduced into this House for which he and the noble Lord, Lord Darling, were particularly responsible. That Bill passed the Second Reading, and then I think it was sent to a Select Committee of both Houses, where the matter was considered with the greatest care under the Chairmanship of Lord Darling. Evidence was brought before that Committee which raised the whole matter and stated all the difficulties. After the proposed Bill had been reformed by the Select Committee of both Houses, it went to the Home Office, which deals with questions of this kind. I had rather hoped to see the noble Lord, Lord Desborough, in his place, for he represented the Home Office at that time, when there was considerable discussion in this House, but I do not think he is here this afternoon. The Bill as it came from the Select Committee of the two Houses was in turn revised and put into a form which the Home Office thought was right. I do not say that all the Home Office conditions were accepted, but some were, and in the result there was what I may call an agreed Bill, which, after having been discussed in a most thorough manner, passed both Houses and became law.


May I remind the noble Lord that he is not quite accurate? As he said, I had a great deal to do with that Bill. The Select Committee reported, the Bill as passed by the Select Committee was considered by this House, and, as the noble Lord said, most of the matters put forward by the Home Office were accepted. It then went to the House of Commons, but it was not passed. It was brought in again the following year. Then, in the House of Commons, another and an entirely different Bill was brought in. A number of provisions were inserted in the House of Commons which took away a great deal from the original Bill as it was considered in this House, and the Bill as eventually passed had very little to do with the first Bill of the Select Committee.


I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I have not had time to look into all these details, but what he has told us shows the great care with which the matter was considered before there was legislation in this Rouse. There was consideration in the Select Committee and by the Home Office, then there was another Bill introduced in the House of Commons, and ultimately the legislation was passed dealing with moneylenders to which the noble Lord has referred. That is the Bill I think on which he relies when he speaks about the advisability of preventing the issue of such circulars and making applicable to bookmakers the law relating to circulars by moneylenders. The law relating to circulars by moneylenders is contained in the Bill as it ultimately passed after the greatest care had been given to it, reinforced, if I may say so, by the facts which the noble Lord has added to the statement which I made.

What I want to say is this. If the noble Lord would introduce a Bill for discussion in this House, the Home Office would do all that it could—I will not say to accept the terms, but to work with the noble Lord in order to secure the passing into law of a Bill of this character. I think, however, the first step would be that the noble Lord should himself put down in a concrete form—he will appreciate this—what it is exactly that he desires to alter in the existing law. No one, of course, could do that more adequately than the noble Lord, Lord Carson. I can only say, on behalf of the Home Office at the present time, that when we see the terms of that Bill, unless it is something very different from what we appreciate to be the view of the noble Lord, he would have our assistance both as regards framing the Bill and also in its subsequent stages. That does not mean that we would undertake to attempt to pass a Bill of that character into law in the present Session. He would not expect that. But it would not be dropped, and if the noble Lord could bring the matter forward in this Session and go through some of the steps which I have suggested, I am perfectly sure he would find that the Home Office are willing to help him, and that they realise, as he does, many of the evils that result from this credit betting.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I do not think I could expect anything more sympathetic. It is quite fair to say that I ought to put my proposals in concrete form in the shape of a Bill, which I shall certainly be prepared to do. Then, if they meet with the approval of the Home Office, or, subject to alteration, meet with the approval of the Home Office, we may hope that something can be done in a matter which, I think, is of considerable public importance.