HL Deb 08 February 1956 vol 195 cc803-44

2.49 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to call attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming (Cmd. 8190); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I think the House will probably agree that it is appropriate that at long last attention should be drawn to the Report to which this Motion refers. The Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming were appointed in April, 1949, and their Final Report was presented to Parliament in March, 1951, or some two years later. The Commission held forty-two meetings, heard oral evidence from 141 witnesses and, in addition, received a vast amount of evidence from a large number of witnesses and from organisations, including the religious authorities, the Judiciary, the police, the organisations controlling various forms of sport and entertainment, as well as those concerned with the provision of betting facilities. They visited the Republic of Ireland on two occasions and they received reports of the practice in many other countries.

The Chairman of the Royal Commission was Mr. Willink, a distinguished public servant, who had been Minister of Health, who is to-day the Head of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and was, I think, at the time of this Report, or at any rate during some portion of it, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. He had to assist him eleven distinguished men and women who had reached high positions in various walks of life and who gave of their time during those two years without measure or stint. The Report which they produced was unanimous. I have no doubt that each of them—or perhaps they have collectively—has received a letter of thanks from Her Majesty's Government for the great services rendered; but, so far as I know, that is all that has happened in the five years since they reported. The Report was buried in decent or indecent obscurity; it has gathered dust and, so far as I know, it has remained unread and unnoticed, and would have remained so but for the fact that the Chairman of the Royal Commission, Mr. Willink, felt, after nearly five years, that it was time something was done or said, or that the Government gave some evidence that they had at least looked at the Report, and he wrote a letter to The Times. It is as a result of that that we have this debate to-day. I might mention, in passing, that the cost of this Report was £11,695 18s., and but for the fact that Mr. Willink, as a former Minister, felt that it was time that the Government made up their mind, this money would have been spent and to no purpose at all. I hope that as a result of this debate it may be possible for the Government to give us some assurance that they will take the trouble to read the Report; and they may even be able to give us some indication of the way in which their mind is working on this subject—if, indeed, that happens to be the case.

This is not an unimportant subject and it has been the subject matter of a number of Commissions and Royal Commissions in the past 150 years. The question of gambling has troubled the community roughly every twenty or thirty years, and Commissions or Royal Commissions have been set up. It is interesting to note that a Royal Commission on Gaming was set up in 1844, with Lord Palmerston as the Chairman. I do not know whether he had to wait this unconscionable time before any action was taken; it may well be that he was Prime Minister by that time and it became necessary to take action and something was done. Then there was also a Royal Commission in 1932, and that, at any rate, did result in the Gaming Act, 1934. I think this Report is well worth reading, and I would commend it to the Government. It gives a great many facts about gaming, and it tells us something which I believe many people who discuss this question have not got clearly in their minds—namely, the extent to which gambling is prevalent in this country. I suppose if one asked casually what is the extent of gambling one would get all sorts of answers from different people, according to their degree of interest in or aversion to gambling. By no means the least of the services which this Royal Commission have rendered is to give us factual information about the extent to which gambling is prevalent in this country.

If your Lordships will bear with me, I propose to give a few of the figures which the Royal Commission have elicited and set out in their Report. For the purpose of my speech I propose to discuss only horse racing, dog racing and football pools. There is, of course, e wide field of gambling outside those: there are lotteries, gaming-houses, gaming-machines and a variety of types of gambling, but they have, to some extent, been tackled by Private Members in another place, and a certain amount of legislation has been passed. Though I do not disregard those forms of gambling, and would not for a moment say that they are unimportant, I think your Lordships will probably agree that the bulk of gambling comes under the three headings I have mentioned. First of all, there is horse racing. There are 4 million people in this country who bet regularly off the course on horse racing, and there are 2½ million who attend horse racing. I would not presume to add the two figures together, but let me, for the sake of the discussion, assume that it is 4 million people who devote a considerable part of their (shall I say?) leisure time to betting in connection with horse racing. As regards dog racing, the annual attendance is about 32 million, and there are regular attenders of about 350.000 who go at least once a week to dog racing. As to football pools, there are about 14 million people who more or less regularly send in their football coupons every week. So your Lordships will see, even if I do not add up those figures to make them cumulative, that a large proportion of the people in this country are interested in, and spend an appreciable amount of their time and money on, gambling in one form or another.

If we take the amount of money spent on gambling, again it is quite appreciable. The annual amount staked is stated to be about £750 million; but a certain amount of this—it is quite impossible to say how much—is returned in the form of winnings to those who stake their money. I am inclined to think that the bulk of the money is spent without much return, and that the winnings are perhaps considerable, but are not very widespread. There is also a substantial sum taken in taxation and expenses. The Commission—and this is one of the few matters on which I do not see altogether eye to eye with them—have come to the conclusion that the net personal expenditure on gambling is about £70 million a year. They compare this with about £700 million a year spent on alcoholic beverages, and about £750 million a year on tobacco. I should have thought that the three figures were almost strictly comparable, because in these cases a large amount of the money spent is recovered to the benefit of the public in the form of taxation; and no doubt if people did not spend large sums on tobacco they would have to meet the taxation in some other form. However, we may say that the amount of money spent on betting, tobacco and alcoholic beverages, taken together, represents an appreciable percentage of the total income of this country.

The Commission estimate also that about 100,000 people are engaged whole-time in connection with gambling. They leave out of account the number of people who are engaged indirectly—professional people, accountants and people engaged in the building of dog-racing tracks. About half of those 100,000 people are employed by football pool promoters. From this fact the Commission conclude that gambling, on the scale on which it is indulged in at the present time, cannot be regarded as imposing a serious strain on our national resources of manpower, and they see no justification, in normal economic circumstances, for imposing special restrictions on gambling on the grounds of the employment of labour. It would be interesting to know the views of Her Majesty's Government on this point, now that we can no longer be said to be going through a period of normal economic conditions. A total of 100,000 people directly employed on this nonproductive type of activity in a period of over-employment would, I imagine, be of very great significance.

It is no part of my purpose to discuss the particular recommendations which the Royal Commission have made. I think it is useful for the House to discuss this question quite generally, and to try to elicit from the Government their views as to what should be done about gambling generally, and about the particular evils to which the attention of the Royal Commission was drawn. First of all, one must make up one's mind whether gambling on the sort of scalp on which it exists in this country is or is not an evil. And that, of course, is a matter on which opinion is strongly divided. There were people who gave evidence, particularly the representatives of the Churches, who took the strong view that all gambling was bad and should be, so far as possible, prohibited: they were against any form of gambling or any form of contact with gambling. On the other hand, there was the view of the Commission that, on the scale on which it exists at the present time, it is not a serious evil, either moral or economic, and that it calls for no particular action to be taken other than regularising such questions as street betting, about which I will say a few words later on.

Speaking in a debate of this kind one gives one's own view. I had to say this yesterday, in connection with dentistry, and on this matter, too, I would repeat that I cannot pretend that I am expressing any view but my own. I feel that, to a large extent, the question of the morality or the desirability of gambling to-day, in view of the large numbers of people who participate in it, is largely academic. We have to face the fact that something between one-half and one-third of the population regularly indulge in one form or other of betting, and that we must do the best we can to regulate it and control it and see that this propensity for gambling is not carried to excess. I feel, therefore, that the Commission, having largely accepted that viewpoint, have probably come to the right conclusion. But I can see that this is a matter which may present serious difficulties for any Government, and I could understand a short delay during which the Government would find it necessary to make up their minds on the subject. The problem, however, does not disappear as time goes on. It either remains as it is or increases, and there is no reason to hope that next year the task of Her Majesty's Government in dealing with this problem will be any easier than it is this year or was last year. Therefore, I would ask the Government to take the plunge, make up their minds and tell the country what they propose doing about it, and do it.

Although there are some thirty-odd recommendations, the main recommendation relates to the problem of street betting. That is, I think, the real problem we have to face, once we accept the fact that gambling, in one form or another, is something we cannot stop, even if we desire to do so, and that the only thing to do is to regulate it in such a way that is does not injure the community. Everyone knows that although street betting is illegal it is, nevertheless, carried on on a large scale. The police are, of course, aware of it, and sometimes they have even been known to connive at it. There is an interesting and amusing story in the Report of a policeman standing beside a street bookmaker or a bookmaker's runner, and a man coming up and saying to the policeman, "Please go away for a minute. I want to leave a bet with this chap before I go back to work." The policeman obliged; the bet was duly made, and the policeman came back. If an illegal occupation is being dealt with in that spirit, it is far better that we should recognise the position and do something which will not bring the law into disrepute. There have been. I understand, some 2,000 or 3,000 prosecutions a year of street bookmakers, but that is like the prosecution of prostitutes in the West End: the profession goes on as a matter of form. There is an occasional victim, but the victim just goes back. The principal—in this case the bookmaker—pays the fine and everything goes on as before. Normally, such a person expects to have immunity for perhaps a month or two before he is prosecuted again. Therefore it is not surprising that the Royal Commission applied their minds to some alternative, if only to regularise what was actually taking place.

They recommend that bookmaking and betting off the course should be made legal, provided it is carried out with a registered bookmaker, who would have to apply to, they suggest, a petty sessional court annually for a licence, and provided the betting itself is carried on in an office which has been licensed and approved by the same licensing authorities. They laid down a number of conditions which should apply: that there should be no continuous betting; that betting should be restricted to people over eighteen years of age, and that there should be no loitering in the premises. That is a matter on which Her Majesty's Government will have to make up their minds. There is the advantage that this type of betting, which is, on the figures I have given, prevalent, would be recognised, and that people carrying on this type of betting would not be breaking the law.

On the other hand, I cannot help feeling that it would tend to make betting a little easier, and particularly in the case of married women. As yet, it is not common, so far as I know, for married women to hang around with slips which they hand to bookmakers in the streets; but once it was regularised and betting took place in an office, it might well be that we should see a substantial increase in betting by married women. And, of course, making betting respectable and giving it the appearance of an occupation which is permitted by law, licensed and regularised, will tend to encourage betting and may have the effect of inducing more people to go in for betting than do at the present time under existing conditions. That is a matter which the Government will have to consider and about which they will have to make up their minds. I do not pretend that it will be easy.

Then the Royal Commission deal with the question of dog-racing tracks. There, they recommend that dog racing should be permitted on four days a week. I imagine no one, even the most enthusiastic dog-racer, would pretend that the main function of dog racing was not for the purpose of betting. There is no particular sport, so far as I can see, in watching a dog follow a mechanical hare. It is the betting aspect of it which appeals to the 350,000 people who regularly attend dog-racing tracks. The question which Her Majesty's Government will have to consider is whether it is desirable or necessary to impose such limitations on dog racing as to restrict these tracks to four days a week. My own view is that it does not matter very much whether it is four days or six days a week. Four is two-thirds of six, but I cannot believe that, by restricting the use of these tracks to four days a week one would reduce the amount of betting on these courses by one-third. I should not have thought so for a moment. And it gives the impression of an injustice, because there is no such restriction suggested in the case of horse racing, although, of course, it is well known that horse racing does not take place as frequently as even four days a week on any particular race-course.


Would the noble Lord allow me to say this? I am not quite sure that "four days a week" gives the right impression. It is 104 days in the year on which racing is allowed.


Yes. The noble Viscount no doubt knows much more about this subject than I do, but I was looking at Recommendation No. (20). I think the noble Viscount will find that there is a reference there to four days a week.


It is 104 days in the year.


I can assure the noble Viscount that, if he goes back to the paragraph, he will find a reference to "four days a week". I have had the advantage of a letter from the Greyhound Racing Association, who certainly are under the impression that racing will be restricted to four days a week. One hundred and four days a year represents the two days a week when I think they are expected to close down. However, this is a question of fact. Your Lordships can easily ascertain what is the true position. It will have the advantage of inducing members to read the Report. I have achieved my purpose in introducing this subject. I hope I shall elicit some reply from Her Majesty's Government.

I have not attempted to give Her Majesty's Government much of a lead. It is a matter upon which we can all have different views. It may well be that my views are coloured by the fact that I intensely dislike gambling in any shape or form, but I think I have tried to face the facts. I want to end as I began, and that is by saying to the Government, most seriously, that it is most unhealthy for public affairs that people should be asked to make this sacrifice of time, labour and effort over a long period—in this case two years—without even having the satisfaction of knowing that the Government will give some thought and attention to the matter, still less of being informed what action the Government will take. I say this all the more feelingly because the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and I happen to be at the present time members of such a Commission who are devoting a good deal of time to their work. I am sure that, however much he and I disagree, we should agree on this: that we should hate to feel that at the end of five years nothing would have happened to the immense amount of thought that we are giving to the subject under review, and that it would be necessary for some noble Lord in live years' time to come along and call attention to our Report in order to get some sort of statement from Her Majesty's Government. I beg to move for Papers.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who moved this Motion has said that at last, after a long time, attention is now to be given to this Report; but surely, when this Report was issued there was a Socialist Administration, and there was plenty of time before they went out of office to have debated it.


I think it is a pity, but if the noble Lord wants that sort of discussion he can have it. We had about one week, and the Party of which the noble Lord is a distinguished ornament has had about five years.


I still think that there would have been time for the Socialist Administration certainly to have raised this matter on the Floor of the House; but I do not propose to continue that discussion any further. I also think that most of your Lordships will agree that the laws on betting, lotteries and gaming should be clarified. There is no doubt that the Report of the Royal Commission has been produced with admirable fairness, and I think the evidence is such that public opinion can really formulate its views upon it. It is true to say that the gaming laws are largely obscure, illogical and difficult to enforce—in fact, I believe that there are still in force some Acts which date right back to the bow and arrow age. One law, I believe, dates from Henry VIII—in fact, it was passed to protect his subjects against distraction from archery. As your Lordships know, in addition to those Acts we have the Betting Act, 1853, the Street Betting Act, 1906, the Ready Money Football Betting Act, 1920, the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, and finally, the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934. Surely it is high time that all these Acts were consolidated into a single Statute, as is recommended by the Report of the Royal Commission.

I am certainly not one of those people who believe that all gambling is immoral, and I endorse the views of the Commission that whilst gambling, like any other indulgence, such as drink or tobacco, should be kept within reasonable bounds, there is nothing inherently wrong with it. It is also interesting to note that the Commission agrees that gambling is not the direct cause of serious crime and is of little importance in leading to minor dishonesty. I know it has been said in some quarters, and I think by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to-day, that an enormous number of people are employed in the gambling business. I think he mentioned a figure of 100,000. My figure is very much lower than that; my figure is round about 40,000. That is made clear in the Report of the Commission at page 165, where it gives the figure for men as being 12,430, and for women, 27,880. I think those figures are correct, unless I have been misled. The Commission put the total personal expenditure at that time, in 1951, on gambling, including taxation, at about £69 million—a figure which I think was agreed to by the noble Lord—which is only one half of one per cent. of the national resources. I do not think that is a very serious figure.

It appears that the Royal Commission are somewhat diffident about the institution of national lotteries, no doubt because, as we all know, it is a most controversial matter. But I cannot help feeling that if these lotteries were properly controlled they might be one good answer to inflation: they would syphen off a great deal of money which is now pressing on goods and services, and they might, at the same time, give the Government a "rake-off" too.


For the purpose of the record, may I say that if the noble Lord will look at paragraph 167 of the Report, he will see these words: it could not, in our view, be said that gambling provides whole-time employment for the equivalent of as many as 100,000 persons. I have taken 100,000 persons as a round figure. That was in 1948 or 1949, and I assume that 100,000 is about right.


Well, there is no doubt that on page 165 the figure is given as 40,000. I will certainly take note of what the noble Lord has said and will see how the figures marry up. At the moment, I would say that the figure is 40,000. But, as I was saying in regard to State lotteries, I think the Commission went so far as to say that a lottery would increase the total volume of gambling far less than is supposed. I think it is a pity that they did not go a little further and come out in favour of it.

I hope that Her Majesty's Government will seriously consider the establishment of licensed betting offices. There is no doubt that the present laws have led to a mockery of justice and, on a small scale, are like the attempt to enforce prohibition in America. The fact is that resorting to a street bookmaker and betting in other diverse ways is certainly not regarded by millions of law-abiding citizens as a wrongful act when betting can be done with perfect legality on the racecourse itself. I am quite sure that prosecutions will never stop it. I hope that this state of affairs will be regularised in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, also mentioned the number of people who attended dog racing. There I would duller from him. My records are that only about 350,000 to 400,000 are regular attenders at dog racing.


That is what I said.


I beg the noble Lord's pardon.


For once, we agree with one another.


My Lords, I do not wish to belabour this point, but I should again like to say how much I have appreciated reading the Report of the Royal Commission. I hope that the main recommendations will be adopted, and that time will be found for the necessary legislation.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, speaking from this Bench, I should like to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for bringing this subject before the House. It seems to me regrettable that a Report which, as he has said, is so thorough in its examination of this complex subject, so timely in its appearance, and so judicious and temperate in its conclusions and recommendations, should have had so little consideration up to date. I should like to support the request that this Report and its contents should be taken most seriously.

As I read it, its main recommendation is that the time is ripe and the need urgent for the consolidation of the law, so far as possible, in one Statute. Up to now, all we have had is piecemeal legislation about this or that department of the subject. In another place a Private Member's Bill is being discussed which deals again with one small part of the subject and, as far as I have studied it, it does not follow very closely the recommendations of the Report. There can, I think, be no question, after reading the Report, that the amount of gambling and betting, the prolific number of lotteries and sweepstakes and the propaganda and pressure on people to take part in them, is constituting a menacing social evil, and one which has been extending, I believe, in recent years. I venture to think that if the gentlemen who, at such great expense of time and thought, drew up this Report, had been doing it now, they would not have underestimated the evil, as I rather feel they did.

Before I say more on that subject I wish to disengage myself from those who argue that because an evil is great, therefore every minor indulgence is wrong, and also from those who persuade themselves that because minor indulgence in something is fairly harmless it cannot be a great social evil. I do not consider either of those points of view is sound. As we know, there are, in the Churches and outside, ethical purists who would consider one of your Lordships lacking in principle if he were to wager sixpence. I cannot with reason follow that argument, though I ant bound to admit that emotionally, perhaps because of vestigial Puritanism or something of the kind, I strongly dislike throwing money about in that way. Logic and ethical common sense do not always march together in these things. Some practices and habits become serious evils by reason of their frequency and scale or quantity. As an analogy, I would point out that if I leave a tap dripping in my room in the morning it is not a very serious matter; but if the whole nation adopted the practice it would become serious. Small peccadilloes become morally objectionable only if they directly injure another person or breed a bad habit.

Having said that, one must, in all honesty, add that, as things are, that can very easily happen when opportunities and pressures are so numerous. In my experience, chronic gamblers are very rarely good citizens, good workers or good parents. The habit, when it becomes chronic, loosens a man's moral fibres, and his children are greatly to be pitied. I remember that in the East End of London twenty-five years ago one could be certain that those children who came to school badly dressed and obviously underfed were probably from the homes of gamblers.

I would ask your Lordships to look at the subject in a rather wider context. It seems to me (and I hope I can persuade you to the same view) that gambling is one expression of a more pervasive evil—the irresponsible and wasteful use of money. I remember hearing a discerning man say, "I kiss my daughter because I love her and the kiss makes me love her more." A man who is always gambling, even in small sums, is liable to become obsessed with the desire to get something for nothing, so that, through this habit, he becomes possessed of a venial love of money which is the root of a great deal of evil to-day. On the shop floors of industry, for example, there is no escape from the day-to-day pressure to join in sweepstakes and things of that kind. There is tremendously hard pressure upon a boy as soon as he gets his first wage-packet. Gaming and similar things result in time lost, work being less well done and money wasted; and in the more private purlieus where the management meet and work I have no doubt that something of a similar kind may be going on. The evil lies not so much in the actual transactions as in the climate of moral irresponsibility and the wrong attitude to work which it engenders in the individual and the community.

We are told in the Report that the economic loss to the nation is possibly 1 per cent. of the national income. But we must measure the loss in terms of the moral flabbiness, the wrong attitude to earning and spending and family responsibility which it produces. The more elderly of your Lordships may remember seeing in the Tate Gallery years ago a picture by G. M. Watts which represented Mammon as a bloated monster crushing the symbolic faces of the poor and the young. Since then Mammon has greatly improved his figure. Now he would feature possibly as a dapper pay clerk, handing out fat pay-packets on a Friday; or an accountant entering up large hotel bills in expenses accounts; or, perhaps, as the seductive advertiser of some gambling racket—possibly, sometimes, even as a man of God trying to persuade us to buy a ticket and urging that the end is so good that the means are thereby rendered harmless. I do not believe it. All this enfeeblement and impoverishment of the nation's life adds up to a great loss of effort and a poor quality of living.

Its cure depends on many influences, including better education and the better use of leisure; and, so far as we are considering the subject this afternoon, it is a question of better legislation. I agree with the Report that we have to be realists. Whether we like it or not, the gambling instinct is strong in imperfect man, far too strong to be legalised out of existence. As the Report argues so excellently, it should therefore be governed and controlled, curbed if necessary, by good laws, well conceived and embodying a coherent policy. This nation should firmly protect its children and its youth from a habit which can easily become vicious and from a mental attitude to life and work which can become most anti-social. I should like to see a bottom-level age limit on all this lottery business. It is dangerously wrong to allow youth clubs to finance themselves by lotteries and similar means. For that reason, I should like, so far as possible, to disallow them from doing so and to reduce the frequency with which one institution can run lotteries.

The second point which should concern us is that in the history of voluntary social services in this country—a very distinguished history—charities and other causes have depended on direct giving by people who really believed in what they were supporting. I am certain that in the long run such support is vital to the activities of society. How short-sighted, therefore, if they are so organised to be tempted, as they are to-day, to depend on the money of those who do not mind risking half-a-crown in the hope that they may get a good many more in its place! The Report also is surely right in thinking that the excessively high prizes for pools are a most unwholesome influence in our public life, an influence which affects individual character and should be limited.

I should like to end my remarks, by expressing my agreement with the recommendation that, if betting there must be, it surely is desirable that it should be open and above board, regulated and legal, rather than the hole-and-corner business it is at present—to which reference has been made by both noble Lords who have spoken. But I strongly share the fear of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that if you press that point too hard, you may greatly increase an evil which is already far too large. There I must leave the subject, only coming to the same conclusion to which Lord Silkin came: to urge Her Majesty's Government to give very careful consideration to this whole subject and to deal with the matter comprehensively, making a Statute, if possible so to do, not so restrictive as to provoke evasion, and not so lenient and flaccid that it encourages wrong values in the community and habits injurious to society, to families and to individuals. And let us have it before things get any worse.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to make it clear that in what I am about to say I am in no way associated with any other noble Lord or any of my colleagues: I am speaking for myself and for certain interests, which I shall declare to the House. I am a director of Wembley and, accordingly, am declaring an interest in the subject before the House to-day even though no legislation is involved.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has done a public service in moving this Motion. In the course of his remarks he urged that the Government should take action on the Report of the Royal Commission, although he made it clear that he did not propose to deal at length with any of the recommendations contained in the Report. On the other hand, I think this is a convenient opportunity for those of us who may wish to make some observations, critical though they may be, about the Report to do so, in order that Her Majesty's Government, or any other Government in the future, if they decide to base legislation on this Report, should be aware of the objections which may be raised from this and that quarter to certain of the recommendations. On page 49 of the Report, in recommendation 169, the Commissioners say—and this extract has already been quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin: We conclude that gambling, on the scale which it is indulged in at the present time, cannot be regarded as imposing a serious strain on our national resources or manpower, and we see no justification, in normal economic circumstances, for imposing special restrictions on gambling on these grounds. I suggest that that eminently sensible statement is a complete answer to those who cry out that gambling, in any form, whether it be on the Stock Exchange, or football, or horse racing, or greyhound racing, is anti-social.

I desire, however, to draw attention to some of the inconsistencies, anomalies and discriminations contained in this Report, and in doing so I should like to make it clear that my remarks are designed to cover only greyhound racing interests which may be affected; they are in no sense intended as a criticism of horse racing. These are two sports which travel along very happily together, even though, in some cases, legislation may be to the disadvantage of one or the other. This Report, as I read it, seeks, on the one hand, to increase betting facilities, and, on the other, to limit them. I desire to stress the point that while increased facilities are recommended for betting on horse racing, there are recommendations for drastically curtailing opportunities for betting upon greyhound racecourses, which are already closely controlled by Act of Parliament. Such fresh discrimination cannot, I suggest, be based on fair dealing or justice. It denies the ostensible spirit of the Commission's Report which says in paragraph 186, on page 55: We therefore consider that the object of gambling legislation should be to interfere as little as possible with individual liberty to take part in the various forms of gambling, but to impose such restrictions as are desirable and practicable to discourage or prevent excess. But nowhere, so far as I have been able to discover, does the Commission's Report claim that there is excess. Indeed, since the Report was published statements have been made by such authorities as the Churches' Committee on Gambling that betting has decreased.

I should like now for a few moments to draw attention to some of the discriminations contained in the recommendations of the Report. It seems to me that the more one studies it the more it appears to be a measure to popularise betting on horses while discouraging betting on greyhounds. There is one cardinal difference between betting on horses and betting on greyhounds. If there is a race meeting at, say, Kempton Park, Ascot or Doncaster, bets for that meeting are placed all over the country. The betting is national, and millions of pounds and millions of people are involved. On the other hand, if a greyhound race is run at a course in, say, London, Edinburgh or Manchester, the betting is purely local. The man in Edinburgh does not bother himself about what is happening at Manchester, and neither the man in Edinburgh nor the man in Manchester could care less what is happening in London. Therefore, there is a far smaller volume of off-the-course betting in greyhound racing than there is in horse racing. If the object of the Commission is to stop excessive gambling off the course, the recommendation fails signally in its object. It makes no attempt at all to stem the flow of bets to off-the-course bookmakers: but, by recommending the licensing and legalising of betting shops, it encourages the belief that, in some way or another, a man is helping the State if he backs horses. The greyhound race-goer, on the other hand, is told that he must bet only when the local authority says he may.

Here I deal with the point on which I took the liberty of interrupting the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. Not only does the recommendation limit the days on which a man can go greyhound racing, but it lays down the time. He may be a shift-worker, who can go greyhound racing only in the afternoon but the Commission would prohibit him from doing this. They would encourage him, however, to have his bet on horses, and help him out by seeing that some agent is licensed to collect his bet. On page 106 of the Report paragraph 350 states: The only practicable method of imposing a general restriction on the number of days in the week on which betting may be permitted would be to provide, by statute, that betting at any track should be permitted only on certain specified days in the week. The existing restrictions on the number of betting days in the year allowed at any track and the requirement that the permitted days should be the same for all tracks in the same licensing area would remain unaltered. The number of days allowed under the Act is 104 for each track—and this was the point at issue between the noble Lord and myself. It may, and does, happen that where the areas of licensing authorities overlap, there may be four days a week on which tracks could be visited by the same people. I think that that was the point which the noble Lord and I endeavoured to make from different angles.

Halfway down, paragraph 350 goes on: It is probable that the prohibition of betting on Fridays and on either Mondays or Tuesdays would cause the least interference with the provision of reasonable facilities, but it may well be that in certain areas, owing to local half-holidays and other reasons, there might be good grounds for allowing the provision of betting facilities on these particular days. Owing to the fact that those who gave evidence on behalf of the proprietors of dog-tracks adhered firmly to the view that there was no case for imposing any further restriction on the opportunities for betting at dog-tracks than is provided by the 1934 Act. we have been unable to investigate fully the possible effects on the conduct of dog-racing of the restriction on betting to four specified days in the week, … One would have supposed that the Commission, having made that statement, and not having the facts at their disposal, would not have made a recommendation. Yet, in paragraph 352, they say: … we attach such importance to the need for reducing the present opportunities for betting on licensed tracks that we feel justified in recommending that, if the first method is not regarded as practicable, the second should he adopted. The methods are those under which the Secretary of State would compel licensing authorities to form a joint committee for the purpose of exercising their function in regard to the fixing of betting days. But even the Commission see an objection to that, for a little lower down they say: The objection we see to this method, apart from its complexity, is that it entails the intervention of Parliament in matters of local concern. Of course, it does. It would be a further interference with the liberty of the subject in matters of greyhound racing, even though the Commission themselves say on page 56, in the chapter headed "The Principles of Gambling Legislation" that the law should apply fairly to all sections of the community. Horse racing can run in the morning, in the afternoon and under flood-lights in the evening, and there is no suggestion whatsoever in the recommendations of the Report that the hours of horse racing should be restricted. Surely the greyhound racegoer is entitled to as much right and liberty of choice in this matter as is the horse racegoer, in accordance with the principle enunciated in the Report which I have just quoted.

I hope that in any future legislation and, I may add, in any future schemes of taxation, two of the other matters arising out of the Report will be considered. First, the Commission avoid making any reference to the inequitable 10 per cent. pool betting duty which is placed en greyhound racing totalisators but not on horse racing totalisators. Secondly, greyhound tracks, by Statute, can deduct only 6 per cent. to cover expenses—and the Commission suggest that even this should be reduced—whereas the horse-racing totalisator is allowed by Statute to fix its own deduction for expenses. Is that discrimination fair? Is it just or equitable? After looking through this Report and studying it to the best of my ability, I would say that the Commission's recommendations do not appear to contain one single point in favour of greyhound racing. They seek to limit the number of racing days and to limit the profits—and this despite their pronunciamento that "the law should apply fairly to all sections of the community." In any future legislation or, indeed, in any scheme of taxation, what the greyhound racing public demand is fair treatment. They ask for no more, but they claim that no less should he meted out to them.

4 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the thanks that have been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for bringing the subject of this Report so vividly and clearly before your Lordships, because I am sure that we are here dealing with a problem that necessitates the fairest consideration that fair-minded men can give to it in the interests of our whole country at the present moment. I am afraid I cannot offer any sympathy or commiseration to the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, for his fears in regard to the future of greyhound racing—but that is beside the point. My interest in this Report is derived not from an intimate knowledge of the practice of gambling, but from an observance of the consequences of gambling in the common life of our people over a period of more than thirty years. It was my privilege to serve in an industrial northern district, then in the West Country and then for eleven years in East London, and no one could be in touch with the ordinary life of men and women in those industrial areas without seeing something of the consequences of gambling upon home and community and economic life.

All these years I have been increasingly interested in trying to discover how we can allow what is a deep instinct in tie hearts of the people of our land, and yet keep it in such control that it will not seriously impair our common life. I agree with the Report that gambling is not intrinsically evil—-my mind compels me to agree with that—but often I have longed to call that a lie when I have been faced with a bit of broken humanity as a result of gambling. However, we can never allow our hearts to run away with our heads to that extent, and I start from the assumption that gambling is not intrinsically evil. Yet I would hasten to add that, as the practice of gambling grows, it soon becomes a great evil, both on the level of economics and in social matters.

One of my disagreements with the Report is that, in my opinion, it underestimates both the economic and the social effects of gambling. I find it hard to believe that the employment of 100,000 people in a non-productive industry, which draws on an average 6s. a week per man, woman and child from the people of England, can fail to have an effect upon the economic life of the country. You cannot estimate its economic effect by dwelling merely on figures, for the habit produces a certain restlessness, noticeable at special times, and a certain detachment from the rightful pursuits in which the people are engaged; and that restlessness and concentration upon the slight hope of gain can have a far-reaching effect upon the amount of work done in factory or in office over a period of time. Therefore, I am not impressed by the estimate of the economic effect of gambling.

Nor can I be content with the estimate of the Committee on the social effects of gambling. Again and again in the course of my experience—and I am not foolish enough to think that the experience of one person justifies him in drawing too general conclusions—I have been faced with serious evil social consequences of gambling; so much so that, though I cannot say it is wrong, I will never allow gambling to be used as a means of raising money for any good cause, whether it be religious or social, over which I have control. I have some grounds in my own experience for taking that attitude. I can see at this time the face of a mother in tears as she came to tell me about her son being sent to prison. He was sent to prison for theft, and the theft could easily be traceable to his gambling. He had been given a tip, and he thought he would get gain easily. He lost. He then had to borrow money—and that is the first stage: borrowing, not stealing. He still hoped to gain, but failed, and eventually he had to plunge deeper and deeper until his whole life and his whole career were ruined. That woman said to me: "Sir, the worst thing for me about the whole thing is that he first learned the practice in a parish hall." I therefore registered in my mind—again, one has to be governed a little by one's heart—that I would always turn my face against that method of raising money, where people are brought into a hall and are tempted to think that, because it is for a good cause, therefore there are no risks or dangers inherent in it. To go back to the point in the Report, I would emphasise that I do not believe that it gives a full account of the social effects of gambling

But I should like to take this subject on to a higher plane altogether, so that we may see it in the setting of our national life. We are engaging in our land in a great social experiment. It is a young experiment still, and I believe that, as an experiment, it represents the implementation of a great ideal. But I think that experiment can succeed only if there is an increasing sense of social responsibility on the part of our people, from the youngest to the oldest. I give it as my opinion, formed over a long period of years, that there are few things that cut so sharply at the root of social responsibility as the habit and practice of engaging in gambling for the pursuit of getting gain without making any effort or putting anything into the corporate and social or industrial life of the nation. It is on that level that I would ask your Lordships to view this Report and the whole practice of gambling as it exists on such a wide scale in our land at this time.

In conclusion, I come to the recommendations. There are one or two things I should like to emphasise as well worth consideration. The first is that the laws of this land regarding betting and gambling are so chaotic that the time has come for a radical investigation and reformation of them. They are so chaotic that I believe it will be the height of folly to engage in any more patchwork legislation. Patchwork legislation will only confuse more and more the existing conditions; and, therefore, I would urge that serious thought should be given to this Report before any further legislation is allowed to confuse still more the chaos that at present exists. In order to say something definite and practical, I want to suggest that, when legislation is contemplated, the aim in the Report is clear and is an aim with which I think most of us can fully agree. But the aim will not be secured unless careful consideration is given to keeping down the value of prizes, for these are still a tremendous incentive; in order to check the growth of gambling, I believe that is a prime consideration.

The second thing I should like to say is that there should not be an increase in credit betting, for that is a far bigger temptation to many people than cash betting. Very often, if people had to put down the money first they would not be tempted to bet at all. Credit betting should be carefully watched. Consideration should then be given to cash betting. Let us try to get rid of this underground world of semi-legalised street betting, which brings the law into disrepute and which is unworthy of a great nation. Whatever may be the means, if we must have betting and gambling, let us regulate it. If we do not feel that it ought to be prohibited, some way must be found whereby cash betting may be as respectable and as legal as ally other form of betting. Having said that, I am fearful of what the consequences of cash betting may be upon the whole problem. I believe that this problem should not in any way be treated on a Party political basis, but the present should be regarded as the time when the nation as a whole should try to deal with it in a serious, fair and effective way.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Silkin for the way in which he has brought this matter forward and has resurrected this Report from the pigeon-hole into which it seems to have been put some considerable time ago. Like other Members of your Lordships' House to-day, I am speaking entirely for myself. I am glad to have the opportunity of putting in a word that has not been spoken. I am taking an attitude somewhat different from that taken by all noble Lords who lave spoken to-day: I am quite opposed to gambling in any form and, looking at this Report, I am somewhat concerned about the rather kindly and gentle way in which the whole business is looked at. I will illustrate what I think by reading one or two portions of the Report.

In paragraph 184, for example, it says: It does not follow that gambling in moderation is an amusement to which any great value should be attached. Let it be accepted that it has certain positive qualities; for instance, many of its forms involve some mental activity, and it has a social value as a general topic of conversation: but it frequently has characteristics which may reasonably he condemned. Of these the most important is its appeal to cupidity, but it may also justly be described as a self-regarding and essentially uncreative activity. Any judgment of the comparative value of various form of amusement must rest on an assessment of cultural and ethical values and is therefore likely to he the object of considerable disagreement, but we do not think it could he denied that there are many amusements which, if they took the place of gambling. Would leave the gambler both a happier and a better man. I think that is a masterpiece of understatement. Let me quote the beginning and end of paragraph 185. The beginning says: It is with this part of the evidence in favour of further restrictions on gambling that we have most sympathy; no sensible man could but wish that gambling played a less Prominent part in the life of this country than it does. The end of the paragraph says: The remedy lies not in restrictive legislation but in education and the provision of facilities for more healthy recreation. I agree entirely with that comment.

May I turn to Chapter V, "The Principles of Gambling Legislation." Paragraph 189 (a) says that there should be a strict control over the provision on a commercial basis of all major forms of gambling facility, including the licensing or registration of all those who provide such facilities. That is one of the recommendations. Then paragraph 190 says: The first of these principles is in our view the most important. Without this form of control there is no reliable method of preventing undesirable persons from entering the business or of measuring the extent of gambling. Abuses of all kinds can without difficulty be concealed and the influence of healthy public opinion is ineffective. I continue to paragraph 191, which says: Two different objections have in the past been raised to this proposal, the first that it implies State approval of gambling, and the second that it is an unwarrantable interference with the liberties of those who provide gambling facilities. We do not consider that the imposition of control implies State approval in the sense that the State regards gambling as an activity which is to be encouraged, any more than the liquor licensing laws imply that the State wishes to encourage the drinking or alcoholic liquor. In either case it would be more accurate to say that tie State recognises the activity as one in which its citizens may properly indulge in moderation, but that it also recognises that there are grave dangers in uncontrolled indulgence. Then, at the end of that paragraph 191, come these words: The attitude of public opinion towards excessive drinking has greatly changed, and a drunken man is no longer a joke but an object of disapproval. We see no reason why the application of the same principle to the problem of gambling should not have equally satisfactory results. I say that these paragraphs and indeed the whole atmosphere of the Report are quite mild with regard to gambling, and yet what I have read clearly shows that we should recognise the seriousness of the position. I look upon the gambling industry as parasitical and harmful.

There is a statement in the Report that there are engaged in the industry, fulltime, 50,000 persons and, part-time, 30,000, a total of 80.000; but, if others who are required for the working of the means by which gambling is carried on are included, the number rises to some where in the region of 100,000. That has a serious impact on industrial activity. These people are uneconomically employed, from the point of view of the national interest. Then there is the expenditure involved. Personal expenditure is estimated at £70 million net. I understand that that is £150 million, less £80 million returned to the so-called "investor," the gambler. These figures are certainly much less than the expenditures on tobacco or alcoholic liquor, but the three forms of expenditure are frequently incurred by the same people, making a very big inroad into the household standard of those who are indulging in the gambling practice and in the other expenditures I have indicated.

I may be looked upon as being entirely without experience in this matter but it so happens that I was brought forcibly and emphatically to consider the question of gambling many years ago when, in an office (let me say to the right reverend Prelate who has just sat down that it was in the city of Carlisle), one of the young assistants I had in a room there asked me whether he could go out for a few minutes. I said: "Yes, certainly. What are you after to-day?"—not with any great curiosity but just as a matter of conversation. He said: "I have got money from nearly every fellow in the office to put on nearly every horse in this race that is being run to-day, and there is only one that is going to win." I asked: "What is this horse which is going to win?" He replied: "Oh, Soranus will win." It was the Lincoln Handicap. If any of your Lordships cares to make a research as to when Soranus won the Lincoln, he will find the date of the incident about which I am talking. I thought: "Well, he is very certain," and I gave him 2s., saying: "Put a 'bob' each way on it for me." And he did so. Two days afterwards, he came to me and handed me 43s. Soranus had won at 33 to I, and my winning shilling had brought me 33s.


Each way.


And the place money had brought me another 8s. and then I got my 2s. back; so I had made 41s. I had the good sense to share the money with the lad, but I cannot say that the money brought me any good. I cannot remember what happened to it—clearly showing that that which is lightly got is little valued. That cured me of gambling. Getting cured so quickly leaves me in the position—I think, the minority position—of those who have benefited by gambling. That is the position.

I could not regard that money as being provided by a bookmaker. I was greatly perturbed about it. I could only think of that money being provided and given to me as the result of some stupid bet on the part of some fellow—perhaps some married man who should have given it to his wife and children. As I say, that feeling completely cured me of gambling and I have not gambled again, except that there were a few weeks—this was a good number of years later—when I filled up a line in a coupon and paid, I think, 2d. or 3d. The coupon was being filled up in the office. We kept a note of how we filled up the coupon that went round the office. I reached the point of becoming apprehensive. I was doing so well that I was really apprehensive that I should become a winner. I said to the other fellows in the office: "You must leave me out of this. I cannot run the risk of winning anything in this way." I was back to my thoughts about where the money came from in that bet of many years before.

That is my own personal experience with regard to betting. I have had an opportunity of seeing gambling at its highest—at the Mecca of gambling, I think it might be called—at Monte Carlo. I was on a committee that was meeting in Monte Carlo, and those of us who were there were given free access to the casino as a gesture of good will by the casino authorities. I went in each evening after dinner and watched the gambling taking place. A "dafter" way of finding recreation I never witnessed in my life. There was not a smile on the faces of the people there. They were completely absorbed in what was happening on the tables. They were going in for big stakes; many thousands of francs were passing, but I thought it absolute nonsense to think of that as enjoyment. I have seen the same thing in casinos on the Belgian coast in the summer time. Outside there has been a glorious summer day, but inside the blinds have been down and the lights on over the tables. I am glad to say that I had the good sense never to run any risk of winning anything in those circumstances.

What is the object of those who go in for gambling, a matter to which I am so much opposed? They want big money; they talk about it in conversation, although when one discusses it with them, getting down to it closely with them and arguing it out, they admit that it is a "mug's game." That is how they put it to me. Almost invariably they agree that gambling is a "mug's game." I think it is a "mug's game," and it is certainly not good enough for me to indulge in. What would they get with their big winnings? They would probably win enough money to buy a house. I tell them, however, that they would make more certain progress in that direction by depositing in a building society and putting themselves in a position to buy a house in the usual way; that is a more certain way of winning than going in for gambling. I know of many ways in which people gamble. There are the small things that happen. Lightheartedly, they will give what they look upon merely as a subscription to something, and it is encouraging for them to think that they might possibly get something out of it. That takes it away from being an absolutely immoral thing to gamble, because these people have no regard for what they might get. I concede the point that there is a certain amount of amusement to be obtained if it is kept strictly in its place. But, like other things, such as drink, against which I have spoken in this House from time to time, it is a dangerous thing. A habit may grow until it becomes a serious one; and tragedy can follow.

All this is a question of personal values. So far as the money that we have at our disposal is concerned, I look upon it as a question of stewardship. Someone made reference to the irresponsible use of money. I say that it is tie irresponsible use of money to gamble with it; and I say too, going even beyond that, and beyond our ordinary ideas of whether it is right or wrong, that I think we have to measure these things, if we are really in earnest about them, in the light of the Divine plan and purpose. I am certain that the Divine plan and purpose does not admit of gambling, and therefore, so far as being entirely opposed to gambling is concerned, I am an absolutist. I deplore it; I deplore the hold that it has on many people. For me, it is quite impossible that I should go back to the time when I thought so lightly of it and made any bets that I have made with such carelessness. I could not do it. I have to think of the possibility of my action being copied by others who might take their cue from me; and I do not want to take that responsibility.

My conclusion, therefore, is that this practice is morally dangerous and industrially harmful. There is much time wasted in connection with it; there is much mental effort expended in studying form in order to make these bets. I am sure that a lot of time is wasted that could be more usefully used for the benefit of the individual. Socially, it is quite undesirable, especially for the young. I hope that the Government will not make gambling more attractive; I would rather endure the present unsatisfactory position than add to the harm done by gambling by making it respectable or attractive in any way. That is my definite feeling about this Report and about the whole question of gambling of any kind.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make two remarks and a suggestion. But I may say, first of all, that I find myself a little embarrassed by my noble friend's speech, because he has spoiled a point that I was going to make owing to his own peculiar reaction to winning. Most of your Lordships this afternoon have drawn a moral from the disastrous effects of losing; the noble Lord has pointed out the admirable and excellent effects of winning. I personally was inclined to question those effects. I thought that some noble Lords who spoke this afternoon tended to stress too much the disadvantages only of losing, because I believe it to be a fact that the disadvantages of winning, of obtaining money in this particular way, are probably as bad and as unhealthy as are the disadvantages of losing. Indeed, I found myself in almost complete agreement with the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Carlisle—although on one point I did not, because he said that he and the Report considered that gambling had nothing inherently wrong in it. There I disagree with him, because I believe that there is an inherent ill in gambling.

The habit of gambling has been compared by other speakers to the drinking of alcohol. Gambling has not even the convivial results of alcohol. However much we may regret excessive indulgence in drink, none the less a mild or moderate indulgence in alcohol undoubtedly has a social value—even a utility value. That is a personal view, although it may be the common experience of a number of your Lordships. I believe, therefore, that gambling is totally and absolutely a bad thing. Y our Lordships may therefore be somewhat surprised if I do not follow my noble friend Lord Mathers in preferring the present unsatisfactory forms of impediment which are put in the way of the gambler; on the contrary, I believe that these forms of impediment in fact offend against two penological principles. To start with, they have not the backing of the community; they have not even the backing of any substantial or effective minority in the community—in other words, the vast majority of our people do not consider that gambling is a crime, much less do they consider it a vice. They will, all of them, say to you that of course gambling in excess is disastrous—as the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, said, it is a "mug's game"—but they continue to do it themselves, and, if they do not do it themselves, they tolerate it in others. To legislate against a practice to which the community has that attitude seems to me to be totally erroneous.

In addition, it has been shown to be impossible to enforce the law. I suggest that that is another offence against all penological theory, because as your Lordships, and certainly the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, are aware, nothing can be more disastrous than a law which it is impossible to enforce. I believe, therefore, that street betting should be made respectable.

On the other hand, if we look at the history of alcoholism in this country over the last 100 or 150 years, we shall all be very much struck by the remarkable decrease in drunkenness in this country. How has that been brought about? I suggest by two methods: education and taxation. The raising of the price of alcoholic liquors has combined with an improvement in education (and, therefore, the emergence of occupations for the educated) to reduce the amount of drunkenness to a remarkable extent. My suggestion is that, having made gambling respectable, you should then tax it. I believe that the two largest sources of income to the Treasury at present are alcohol and tobacco. There are those who would maintain (though I am not one of them) that alcohol is no less deleterious than gambling. It might even be argued that since the connection of tobacco with cancer of the lungs has been so clearly shown, tobacco is every bit as deleterious as alcohol. I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that, if and when they come to legislate on this very urgent problem of gambling, they should also consider whether it is not also a method of extracting money—I would not say painlessly, but with little pain—from a taxpayer who, after all, need not pay the tax if he does not wish to do so. Not only could gambling be made a source of substantial revenue to the Exchequer but, by raising the cost of gambling, and as the right reverend Prelate said, by reducing the rewards, gambling might be made less attractive.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I share the view of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle that gambling is not intrinsically evil, in spite of the enchanting stories of the gambling debauches of the noble Lord, Lord Mathers. I am not going to argue at any length the question of morality. I believe that gambling is not intrinsically evil, though obviously excessive indulgence in gambling may be very evil. In that respect it resembles, perhaps, what is so absurdly called alcoholic liquor, which seems to me a most indecent expression for wine; but just as wine is clearly a very good thing—one of the great gifts that mankind is allowed to enjoy—it nevertheless can cause great evil if indulged in to excess. That may well be so with gambling, though I am not, of course, suggesting that gambling is obviously good as wine is. I know that even there I may not be carrying the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, with me. In passing, I would say how much I object to the use by teetotallers of the expression "temperance" to describe their own attitude to life. It seems to me quite wrong, because after all the teetotaller shares with the habitual drunkard the common characteristic of being unable to indulge in wine in moderation.

I agree with some remarks made by the last speaker, though not, of course, with his main premise that gambling is intrinsically wrong. I agree that the law must be made less absurd and also that the views of the public must not be disregarded. There is one point I wish to emphasise in speaking this afternoon. I wish to strengthen the plea made in many of the speeches, and certainly in the speech of the noble Lord to whom we owe this debate, that some notice should be taken of the unanimous conclusions of a Royal Commission presided over by the eminent gentleman who is a friend of so many of us. I do not believe that this or any Government are ever under an obligation to accept the conclusions of a Royal Commission; but, when distinguished men have spent a great deal of time hearing evidence and have set down their considered conclusions, there is an obligation upon Governments to study those conclusions and either to accept or reject them, or to state where they stand in regard to them. In the long run, I do not believe that eminent men will be found to devote so much of their time to consider matters which have been referred to them unless rather more notice is taken of their Report when it appears. There was a good deal of force in the letter to The Times from my friend Mr. Henry Willink. I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend who is to reply to this debate and who shares no responsibility for the fact that there has been this delay; but I hope that this debate may possibly be the occasion of the noble Lord saying something on the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to this question and in any case saying something to indicate that in the view of the Government these eminent gentlemen have not wasted all their time.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I join other noble Lords who have spoken in this interesting debate in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for giving us this opportunity of discussing the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming. This Report, as your Lordships are now well aware, has not hitherto been discussed in either House of Parliament, but let me hasten to assure the House and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that it has been most carefully and closely examined by Her Majesty's Government. There is no dust on my copy of the Report. It is dog-eared and well thumbed, and not all the thumb marks are my own. As the House knows, an important part of the Report dealing with the control of pool betting has already been implemented by a Private Member's Bill, and another Private Member's Bill on the subject of lotteries is now going through Parliament and will reach your Lordships' House in due course. The Government have aided as best they could the passage of both these Private Members' Bills; but the accusation, levelled at the Government this afternoon by practically every speaker, which I must try to deal with, is that the Report has been in print an uncommonly long time. At the moment I can only say "peccavi" or "touché" or whatever foreign expression one uses to disguise the fact that one has a slightly guilty conscience.

Admittedly the Report has been a long time in print: but I would draw attention to the crowded state of the legislative programme as a first reason for the length of the delay. Your Lordships are very familiar with the expressions "arduous and urgent affairs" and "difficulty of the said affairs and dangers impending." There are a large number of matters a little more important than betting, lotteries and gaming with which Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's previous Administration have had to deal. It is an aspect of the time-table and priorities, and I must first plead that the reason why it has not hitherto been possible to deal with this matter is that not only is gambling itself a controversial subject—as has been adequately demonstrated this afternoon—but so is legislation which may arise from it. We have had, I think, nine speeches this afternoon and they have differed in almost every respect. In the speeches there has been a complete lack of unanimity. Noble Lords who have spoken have shown radically divergent views on different aspects of the subject. Even the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, and the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, who came to the same conclusion differed essentially in their approach.

There are Members of your Lordships' House who were in another place and remember the passage in that place of the 1934 Betting and Lotteries Act. I asked them if they remembered its progress through that House. They blanched and changed the subject. And well they might do. That particular Act occupied over twenty Parliamentary days, and many of those days were actually nights. One clause alone took seven days in passing through Standing Committee. So your Lordships will realise the controversial and lengthy nature of proceedings concerned with any legislation on this subject. That was a view which I held before I listened to this debate and it is a view in which I have been greatly reinforced by reason of the divergence in the opinions that have been put forward to-day. With a crowded legislative programme before Parliament, with a large number of important topics to be dealt with, I ask your Lordships' sympathetic consideration of the difficulty of fitting in a topic such as this.

Nevertheless, few of us will dissent from the Commission's conclusions that most of the present law upon this subject is basically illogical and difficult to enforce. Let me put this quite plainly: Her Majesty's Government recognise that the present state of the law is an ungodly jumble. And it is the Government's intention to try to find some way to remedy it. Inability to find the time at the moment does not reflect on the value which we attach to this Report. I join with other noble Lords in thanking warmly the distinguished body of ladies and gentlemen who sat under Mr. Henry Willink's chairmanship and produced this admirable, useful and unusually readable Report. I sympathise warmly with Mr. Willink's letter to The Times newspaper a month or two ago. I can assure the House that while we appreciate his concern, it is the difficulties of a crowded time-table, and not any lack of respect for the Commission or gratitude for this Report, which has caused the delay. I want to make it clear that the Report has not in any way been shelved. For that reason, the Government welcomes the opportunity provided by this debate of listening to informed discussion from all sides of the House.

I noticed one point of great interest in listening to the nine speeches which have been made so far in the debate. Nearly all the speakers came down heavily against gambling. I wonder whether, if one took nine other informed and sober-minded persons from any other walk of life or place, that opinion would be so unanimously and strongly reflected. I emphasise this only to underline the controversy and the divergence which this subject draws out. I was grateful to hear the views expressed by the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Carlisle, in what, if I may be allowed to say so, I thought a most cogent and telling speech, when he pleaded for the divorce of this topic from Party politics. Of course this is a matter outside Party politics. Many of the noble Lords who have spoken have dissociated themselves from any Party feeling and have made it clear that with them this is very much a matter of conscience. As we saw full well when we debated performing animals and circus training last week, questions of conscience divide us very sharply, and they are not easy of resolution. The fact that we have so far left legislation on this subject to Private Members does not mean that the Government are trying to shuffle off their responsibility: the Government recognise that they have a responsibility in the matter.

The remaining parts of the Report—which are of course the major parts—raise issues which are much too large and too complex to be tackled by a Private Member, with the limited time and limited resources at his disposal. A moment ago I mentioned the question of conscience. Let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, that I warmly respect his conscientious objections. He put his case before the House, as he always does, simply, sincerely and frankly. I was pleased to hear that there was one occasion in the noble Lord's past when temptation raised its head but that the noble Lord resisted it in a manner which was most satisfactory to him, and, I am sure, to us all. His relation of that episode certainly gave all your Lordships much pleasure. He asked me if I remembered Soranus winning the Lincoln Handicap. The year was 1921 and, if my memory serves me aright, Soranus was a four-year-old carrying 8 stone 4 lb., and was ridden by Carslake and owned, I believe, by Solly Joel. Apart from those facts, my memory in that connection fails—it was all a little before my time.

As I was saying, this is a matter of conscience, and I want to make it clear that, as the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, pointed out, Parliament cannot legislate for standards of public behaviour unless there is some clear social need. We cannot have Parliament enforcing a code of behaviour which has no general support. That produces widespread disregard and contempt for the law. So, however much one may deplore the existence of gambling, one has to acknowledge that a very large number of our fellow-citizens indulge in it to a certain degree, and, come what may, they are going to continue indulging in it. That is the position which we have to face. I think the Royal Commission realise this fact when they say, as they do in paragraph 160 of their Report, which I should like to read to your Lordships: In our view the State should not interfere with private gambling between individuals, but is concerned with the facilities for organised gambling. Stated broadly we think the general aim of the State in dealing with facilities for organised or professional gambling should be to prohibit or place restrictions upon such facilities, and such facilities only, as can be shown to have serious social consequences it not checked.… Not more prohibitions should be made than are absolutely necessary.… As a general principle the criminal law must not be lightly invoked; and the evils which result from any prohibitions, however desirable the object aimed at, must be set in the balance against the evil which it is sought to diminish. That seems to me to be an admirable exposition of the main difficulty which has been before us in our debate.

The social consequences of gambling are much more debatable. I must confess that I have some sympathy with the views put forward by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Sheffield. When I first came to read the Report I was surprised at the moderation of the views put forward—I think in paragraph 186—concerning the social evils of gambling. I came to it with a comparatively fresh mind. This is not a subject that I had studied in great detail. I should have thought that the social consequences would have been deeper and would have struck the Commission as being more far-reaching than they suggest in their Report. I think that one or two others of your Lordships have also arrived at that conclusion. I hasten to say that I put that forward purely as a personal opinion. This only serves to show how strongly opinions do differ, and how controversial this subject is.

Now may we leave controversy for a moment and come to something rather different? I should like to lay before your Lordships what I believe to be the principles of gambling legislation. I think they are borne out by this Report. The Government believe that a satisfactory basis for legislation on this vexed subject of gambling would be roughly along these lines: first, there should be a strict control over the provision, on a commercial basis, of all major forms of gambling facilities, including the licensing or registration of all those who provide such facilities: secondly, the law should apply fairly to all sections of the community. Obviously, that is a major point—we are all well aware of the question of street betting. Thirdly, as much information as is practicable should be made available to the public about the extent of gambling and, wherever possible, about the conduct of the various forms of gambling. These seem to me to be a satisfactory basis for tackling this question of legislation. Incidentally, they have already been given expression in the Pool Betting Act, 1954. The principles I have expressed were incorporated in that Act and I am informed that, so far, they are working successfully. There have been remarkably few complaints from either side.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, raised the interesting point that further legalisation of gambling might give it a spurious air 01' respectability and thereby encourage it. That does not seem to be so in the case of the 1954 Pool Betting Act. There has been a sharp falling off in pools stakes. I do not know why. I have never understood football pools and should not like to express an opinion. I tried to fill up forms once, with the assistance of one of the attendants in your Lordships' House, but he has row retired, so I have had to abandon football pools. The figures show a decline from £64½ million in 1954 to less than £59¼ million last year. That may be due to the fact that people do not risk so much when they pay cash as they do when they have to obtain credit, but the figures add weight to the theory advanced by noble Lords that if betting cannot be abolished, it had better be properly controlled. It is in that application of these principles, particularly in relation to off-the-course betting, that the Royal Commission's recommendations are likely to arouse most controversy.

The Government are particularly concerned about the undesirable consequences flowing from the unenforceability of the present laws. The point taken quite fairly by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is emphasised in paragraph 221 of the Report—it is so important that perhaps I might read it to your Lordships: To the police the enforcement of the present law is a task which they perform to the extent which their resources will allow and in the knowledge that their action has little or no effect in restricting the facilities available for cash betting. It is no exaggeration to say that the enforcement of the law has become little more than a formality. That is a point to which nearly every speaker has drawn attention and drawn the obvious conclusion that it is undesirable. It is undesirable because it encourages disrespect for the law. It is even more undesirable in the administration of justice because it endangers the integrity of the police. I place great weight on that. It is necessary to legislate without unfairness. There should not be one law for the rich gambler who obtains credit from a bookmaker and another for the poor gambler who has to deal with the street bookmaker.

If we accept this point—and I hope your Lordships will march some way with me—how is the law to be amended? Many possibilities have been examined by the Commission, including the legalisation of street betting; but the Commission concluded that the only effective method was to permit cash betting at authorised licensed betting offices, organised under strict control and supervision. This method has been tried abroad. Noble Lords may have seen it at work in Southern Ireland. Apparently, this system works well and without much abuse. I myself have seen these betting shops in Southern Ireland. They are neither attractive nor unattractive; they are as negative places as one can imagine, but apparently they work well. The Commission's findings on this subject have been supported by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, who expressed himself in language which I think was in the mind of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Sheffield when he spoke earlier this afternoon. The most reverend Primate said that he was inclined to support the Commission's recommendation myself, though very reluctantly and subject to more safeguards and restrictions than the Royal Commission suggests. There is an unanswerable case for a change in the present law, which is unjust as between rich and poor and which cannot be enforced. The cure offered by the betting office may prove worse than the disease, but it seems to me worth trying, subject to very strict controls. The detailed proposals which would be necessary to put that into law would require careful examination and discussion, but this would be useless unless we were all widely agreed on the need for amending the existing law. The legal facilities for strictly controlled off-the-course cash betting and the registration of bookmakers are two things which obviously spring to mind, and there are many more. This debate has been useful to the Government in giving some indication of the feelings of people who have thought carefully about this difficult matter. It is clear to me that if people of good will of all political Parties are willing to co-operate in finding a solution to this difficult problem, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle suggested, the task of the Government will be very much eased.

In regard to greyhound racing, the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, has made it difficult for me to reply, because I have not studied that portion of the Report as carefully as I might have done. The noble Viscount is an expert and I am an amateur. I have tried it once and did not like it and vowed never to go again. I would not readily express an opinion on greyhound racing and on one or two other smaller points raised in the debate.

The next most important point is the radical reconstruction needed in the law about gaming. That, again, is in a sorry state of confusion. It is a hotch-potch of hypocrisy. The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, referred to the Act of Henry VIII which was designed to keep the King's liege subjects away from gambling so that they could practise archery. That law is still in existence. So if any noble Lord goes home this evening and plays "Racing Demons" in the nursery for pennies, or perhaps the more topical "Tiddlywinks," he will be all right, but if he does that three nights running he will probably find himself liable to be charged with keeping a common gaming-house. That is neither logical nor sensible and brings the law into disrepute. That points to another kind of illogicality and another difficulty in tightening up this branch of the law. The Government agree generally with the object of the Commission's proposals, which is to legalise those forms of gaming which are in practice tolerated despite their illegality, while continuing to prohibit the conduct of commercially organised gaming. The Commission recognised these difficulties and so do the Government.

I hope I have succeeded in giving your Lordships some general indication of the views of the Government on this subject. I have suggested roughly what might be a suitable basis for legislation. I think the Commission have proved beyond doubt that the present state of the law is highly unsatisfactory, and with this view the Government wholeheartedly agree. I repeat that our main difficulty has been the pressure on Parliamentary time. Of course, we should not reed much time if we could sweep away all existing law and put nothing in its place, but we are all agreed that some control is necessary.

I agree with practically every speaker in this debate. There is no sensible man who could but wish hat gambling played a less prominent part in the life of this country than it does, but we must face the facts as they exist and not as we should like them to exist. I hope I have expressed the views of the Government in general as clearly as I possibly can. I cannot stand at this Dispatch Box and give an undertaking that legislation will be introduced to-morrow. I can only repeat as firmly as possible that the Government have no intention of neglecting this Report. I promise the House that the strong and carefully expressed feelings that have been put forward in this debate will be taken into account by the Government. This is a problem that has to be tackled; the Government means to tackle it; and I cannot say more than that.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, this debate has certainly served a valuable purpose in eliciting not only some kind of assurance as to the intentions of the Government from the noble Lord, but also the admirable speeches that we have heard from the two right reverend Prelates and from the noble Lord, Lord Mathers and Lord Faringdon. I do not want to hit a man when he is down, but obviously the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, was in some difficulty in explaining away the neglect of the Government in not dealing with this subject for five years. I listened carefully to what he said about the views of the Government on this matter, and really there was nothing that could not have been said four years ago with equal ease. I have no particular complaint as to the conclusion at which the Government have arrived, but there is nothing very startling or revolutionary in it. As I understand it, they merely intend, at some time, to implement certain parts of the Report; and that could have been said a long time ago, even if time had not permitted of the introduction of legislation—which I do not accept. However, we do now know the mind of the Government.

I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, rather over-emphasised the amount of controversy that would be involved in implementing a policy such as he stated. I agree that different speakers in this debate have talked about gambling with different emphasis, but I am sure that, when the noble Lord comes to consider this debate again, he will be interested to reflect that every speaker, except my noble friend Lord Mathers, came down on the side of the conclusions of the Royal Commission. Some, I agree, displayed more reluctance than others, but everybody, except my noble friend, agreed that it was necessary to recognise what was taking place, and that some form of regulation and licensing was the right solution. Of course, I am apprehensive about the increase in facilities in connection with off-the-course betting, and I was interested to hear that the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury has the same kind of apprehension—I suppose that most of us must have it. However, I am prepared to accept it as the lesser of a number of evils, and I believe that most noble Lords who have spoken accept it in the same spirit.

We now have some idea as to the views of the Government on the subject. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that it would be unreasonable to expect them to introduce a Bill to-morrow, or even this Session—I will let him off this Session—but I do wish to press for an early implementation of this Report and the removal of all the anomalies that exist. I am satisfied that the removal of these anomalies, carried out in a sensible way, would not, on the whole, have the harmful effects which their continuance would have.

Finally, I would emphasise the need for bringing some order into the law. I agree with the noble Lord that there are on the Statute Book Acts passed in the sixteenth century, although I do not agree with him that if we played "Tiddlywinks" at home for three nights in succession we should probably be prosecuted. However, if it is a possibility, and I did indulge and were prosecuted, I should unhesitatingly come to the noble Lord and ask him to do his best to help me out; and I am sure he would. All the same, it is wrong that that sort of law should be still on the Statute Book. I am sure that what is necessary is that order should be restored out of all this chaos and that we should know exactly where we are. I feel that the debate has at any rate elicited the intentions of the Government, and I shall certainly keep them up to the mark from time to time. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past five o'clock.