HL Deb 01 June 1954 vol 187 cc1036-44

2.49 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Burden.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clauses 1 to 9 agreed to.

Clause 10:

Legalisation of ready money pool betting carried on by post

10.—(1) The Ready Money Football Betting Act, 1920, shall cease to have effect as respects any pool betting business carried on by post by a registered pool promoter.

(2) Section one of the Betting Act, 1853, so far as it relates to the opening, keeping or using of houses, offices, rooms or other places for the receipt of money, shall not apply in relation to pool betting business carried on by post by a registered pool promoter.

LORD AMMON moved to leave out Clause 10. The noble Lord said: I am sorry to interfere in the smooth running of things, but the Amendment which I submit to your Lordships was to have been moved in another place and owing to some confusion with regard to Standing Orders, it got overlooked. That is why I now put it forward here. I am not going to touch upon what might be termed the moral and economic aspects of betting. What I am going to contend is that this clause is bad in law. I submit that to introduce a new legal principle as a secondary issue in a Bill dealing with another aspect of gambling practice is to bring the law into contempt. That is what happens in this instance. Under the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, there are certain exemptions in what would be regarded as an offence under the Act. Section 23 stipulates that small lotteries held in connection with bazaars, sales of work and fêtes in connection with institutions and organisations should be exempt. The section says: The entertainments to which this section applies are bazaars, sales of work, fêtes and other entertainments of a similar character, whether limited to one day or extending over two or more days. Section 24 of the same Act exempts private lotteries restricted to members of one society established and conducted for purposes not connected with gaming, wagering or lotteries; or persons all of whom work on the same premises; or persons all of whom reside on the same premises. It was not long before it was shown that it was impossible to enforce that Act. Since the war, advantage has been taken of Section 24 of the Act to organise lotteries that have ignored the conditions laid down in the section, with the result that the number and size of lotteries have far outrun the provision made in the Bill for these organisations, to the extent that it is estimated that £1 million a week is contributed to such lotteries.

Your Lordships cannot be unaware of the considerable correspondence that has taken place in The Times and other news, papers concerning the evasion of the law and the contempt into which it is being brought in this respect. Among the contributors was a specialist printer who stated that he prints no fewer than 90 million lottery and other tickets a year far supporters' and other clubs. That shows that the holding of these lotteries has outrun the limited number of people embraced by the organisations to which the Act applies. That correspondence brought the chief constables into action, and they started to take action against those who had broken the law in this respect. So nation-wide did their action become, that counteraction was taken by the organisations affected. The Chief Constable of Shropshire found himself in difficulties because he took action with regard to a supporters' club running a lottery, with the result that the club, which had a membership of 115,000, had radically to revise its constitution in order to come within the provisions of the Betting and Lotteries Act; and its membership fell to something like 6,000. All this brought the accusation that the chief constables had entered into some kind of conspiracy. This was indignantly denied by the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, who said: There is no truth whatever in the suggestion that the Chief Constables have a plan of this kind. We are bound by the 1934 Betting and Lotteries Act. In The Times of March 13 of this year there was an editorial entitled "The law is a gamble." In reply to that editorial the Chief Constable of Shropshire pointed out that he was simply carrying out the law, and therefore was discharging his proper duty. It should be noted that the Daily Telegraph also gave prominence to correspondence on this question.

I submit this Amendment to your Lordships because I think that Clause 10 is altogether wrong. It is at variance with other Acts, and if this question is to be dealt with, it must be dealt with by a revision of the whole Betting and Lotteries Act and not hidden in this manner in this Bill. This will open the door to the abuses that have already arisen under the 1934 Act. It will lead to possibilities of ready money betting in small pools and lotteries. In view of the nationwide extension of these lotteries and the necessity of strengthening the hands of magistrates and chief constables attempting to interpret and execute the law, I submit that it is unwise to introduce into this Bill a clause which may weaken rather than strengthen their hands. We have already had sufficient proof that their hands have been weakened in the fact that the chief constables have been forced into print to explain the difficulties they are in. This clause will increase their difficulties. If it remains in the Bill, it will spoil what is otherwise a useful piece of legislation.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 10.—(Lord Ammon.)


My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships unduly, but I should like to associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Ammon. I want particularly to put on record that the Churches' Committee on Gambling are very apprehensive about the inclusion of this clause in the Bill. Their feeling is that it may be creating a precedent for ready money betting. Legislation on gambling in Great Britain has been based on the general principle that gambling is not in the national interest and should be discouraged, rather than encouraged, by the Government of the day. In the financial crisis following the First World War, in 1919, Sir Austen Chamberlain warned the nation of the gambling habit and mentality. He said: At a time when the one lesson that we need to teach everybody is that there is no salvation except by work, we are teaching people to expect salvation by luck. It is because this clause, which the noble Lord seeks to delete, further opens the door and lessens the restraints on the gambling mentality, especially if a new precedent is set, that I believe it to be undesirable. I confess that I am not at all sanguine that at this late stage we shall secure the deletion of this clause, especially in view of what transpired in another place. However, I feel it essential, because of the objection felt to this thin edge of the wedge and the fear that this clause may be quoted as a precedent for a general introduction of ready money betting, that we should make our protest here on this occasion.

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it may be convenient to the House if I give the Government's view on this issue at an early stage in the debate. In moving his Amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, tied the whole of his argument to the question of illegal lotteries. I think that is totally irrelevant to the matter we are considering.


I did not tie my case to that. I indicated that the evasion of the law on lotteries was an indication of what would happen under this clause.


So far as I can see, and I have taken the best advice I could, there is no connection whatsoever between the question of pool betting and that of illegal lotteries. The number and size of illegal lotteries has been growing for some years, and the fact that action by the police in various parts of the country has coincided with the consideration of the Pool Betting Bill is a pure coincidence. Nor are these lotteries relevant in a discussion of the legality or otherwise of cash betting. The noble Lord must be aware that all lotteries must by law be conducted on a cash basis. Section 24 (2) (e) of the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, specifically provides, as one of the conditions of a lawful private lottery, that, no ticket or chance shall be issued or allotted by the promoters except by way of sale and upon receipt of the full price thereof … So far as that is concerned, the noble Lord has, I feel, been confusing the issue.

I turn now to the question of pool betting and what this Bill will do. I do not know whether your Lordships are conversant with the way in which the pools are run. I do not know whether the noble Lord permutates the treble chance, or goes in for the various other permutations—I do not myself. However, I understand that, owing to the fact that betting off the course is illegal, competitors on football pools are enjoined not to send their stakes with their coupon, but to pay their debts later. The usual practice is for money staked on a coupon to be sent with the next week's coupon, and the great majority of those who take part in football pools do send their money week by week. I submit to your Lordships that, in practice—and, after all, we are concerned with what happens in practice—the result is virtually indistinguish- able from cash betting. It may not be cash betting legally; if you wish to split hairs, of course, it is not cash betting; but in its practical effect it is much the same thing as cash betting. There is nothing in this clause, therefore, which is particularly revolutionary. The noble Lord talked about contempt of the law. I submit to him that, in one sense, this clause will put the law on all fours with the actual position.

I am not quite clear what is the noble Lord's objection to the clause. I do not know whether he shares the view of his noble friend, and objects to all betting on principle, and to betting on football pools in particular. If that is his objection, then I think he has stated it at the wrong moment. He should have put down an Amendment prohibiting the use of the post for this form of betting, and this would have meant the abolition of foot-ball pools, because there is no other means by which they could be conducted. However, I do not think that is what the noble Lord wants. Is his objection to the clause that, if it becomes law, it will be legal to bet in cash by post on pools, but not at fixed odds? The noble Lord did not mention that, but it is a point that has been raised by various people, and it is a valid point. But this Bill is confined to pool betting and I do not think the anomaly created is an objection to the clause or to the Bill as a whole. However, unless that point is developed at greater length—and in that event I shall have an opportunity of speaking further on it—I will not go into it now.

The real objection which the noble Lord seems to have in mind is that he, together with the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, feels that if this form of cash betting by post is legalised it may be regarded as a precedent for the establishment of licensed betting offices, to which persons would be permitted to resort for the purpose of betting in cash. He feels that to agree to cash betting by post would mean that you would throw open the door to cash betting in all its forms. But I must emphasise the words "by post"; there is a great difference in betting by post and betting in a betting office. The Government do not accept that this clause would be a precedent, and this was made clear in another place by my honourable friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. Our view is that if cash betting by post on pools becomes legal, this decision could not be regarded as in any way committing the Government or Parliament to legislation on cash betting at licensed betting houses. That is a matter which raises different issues, because it would undoubtedly involve the creation of new facilities for betting. The present clause raises no such issue, but is confined to the question of pool betting—the main thing we have in mind is, of course, betting on football pools.

This clause does not afford any new facility for betting; in fact, I feel that it may well be that it will reduce the amount of betting on the football pools, rather than increase it. My reason for saying that is that, under the present system, a pool bettor must tend to get into the habit of sending the same stake week by week, in order to avoid making a mistake as to how much he owes. In this way you get chain betting, which is very much like chain smoking. If cash betting is legalised, there is no reason why he should stake more than he stakes at present, and, on the whole, it is unlikely that he will send in a coupon if he finds on any particular week that he is short of money. I should have thought that the effect of this clause would have been almost precisely the opposite of what the noble Lord fears.

There is one other point that I feel I must make. The noble Lord, Lord Ammon, said that this Bill would be quite unaffected if this clause were removed. With great respect to the noble Lord, I cannot accept that at all. As those of your Lordships who have studied the Bill will have seen, it lays upon the promoters of football pools a number of obligations in regard to accounting, giving figures to the public, and so on. Although it might conceivably be possible to make the Bill work on a credit system, it is obvious that the possibility of bad debts, and the fact that the cash included with each coupon does not relate to that coupon, but to some previous entry, would make the whole burden on the football pool promoters, in satisfying the other obligations imposed on them by the Bill, excessively onerous, if not impossible. Therefore, on that practical ground alone I could not advise your Lordships to accept this Amendment. This matter was fully discussed in another place, and the clause was sustained, after a proposal to delete it, by 69 votes to 6. I do not think it would be wise for your Lordships to excise this clause from the Bill. I cannot share the apprehensions of the noble Lord, and I am certain that the removal of this clause would make the whole working of the Bill, which is in every other way a good Bill, extremely difficult, if not impossible.

3.8 p.m.


I agree with the noble Lords who have spoken, that there is a vast amount of betting to-day; and, in my view, too much betting. It is not a vice in which I indulge, and therefore I must be charitable in judging other people's vices. I think the apprehension which the noble Lords feel shows into what a chaotic state our betting laws have got—everybody knows that. It is a big job to get the whole thing right. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd: I do not see how it will be any worse if you send your money with your coupon than if you send your coupon one week and your money for that coupon the following week. But it does show that we ought to try to get our betting laws into some order. Not long ago, we had a Committee presided over by Mr. Willinck, but I do not think anything has been done about the matter. I do not blame the Government for that; I know from my own time in office what a thorny topic this is. However, I do ask the noble Lord to use his great authority with the Government to try to get them to bring in some legislation to clean up this Augean stable, and I hope he will be successful in those representations.


After the very full explanation by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, there is little with which I need trouble your Lordships. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Ammon for bringing this clause to the attention of your Lordships, because I think it is as well that we should realise its implications and not have any misapprehension as to the extent of its operation. I would submit to my noble friend Lord Ammon, with great respect, that, as the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, has said, most, if not all, his arguments were quite irrelevant to the clause. So far as the point made by my noble friend Lord Rochester, respecting the Church Commission on Gambling, is concerned, may I say that I had the honour to be a Church Commissioner for five years, and I am still connected with organisations in the Church of England. I have not received one single communication from the Anglican Church in regard to this particular clause. I venture to doubt whether there is any committee of the Anglican Church which, as a committee, has pronounced against this particular clause.

I think I should tell your Lordships that I have received one communication pressing for the abolition of this particular clause. Curiously enough, it is from a firm of credit bookmakers which calls itself "The Friendly Firm." It calls its document, which it was kind enough to send me, an "investment form." From my limited knowledge of these things, I gather that the gentleman who invested on this particular form got 13s. 6d. back for his 5s. That is the only communication I have received in connection with this clause. I would emphasise the point that while the Bill would probably be workable without this clause it would be with very great difficulty indeed that the purposes of the Bill could be achieved if this particular clause were deleted. It is a clause for the protection of the public and to bring the pools under a measure of control in the interest both of the pools and of those who "invest their money"—I believe that is the phrase for it.

There is a good deal in what my noble and learned Leader, Lord Jowitt, has said in regard to the chaotic state of our betting laws, but we need not develop that at the moment. I am certain that this clause will not in any way increase or foster pool betting, but may have a deterrent effect, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd. My final words are these. In another place, as good an Anglican as Mr. Attlee and as good a Nonconformist as Mr. Chuter Ede were in favour of the clause, and so signified their approval. I must not omit, of course, the members of the Government Front Bench, who were also in favour of the clause. In those circumstances, I hope that my noble friend, having put his point to the House, will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.