HL Deb 06 July 1964 vol 259 cc906-12

6.20 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Private Member's Bill was introduced in another place by my right honourable friend the Member for the Division of Pentlands, Edinburgh, who, but for the limit of time following the recent honour bestowed on him, would have had the opportunity and honour of himself introducing and explaining this Bill to your Lordships' House as well. This would have created, I am sure, a unique precedent.

The Bill is short but important, and its purpose is to amend the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1963, as to the provision in that Act of amusements with prizes—the expression used to describe a minor form of gaming in which a small sum not exceeding 1s. in cash may be paid and a small prize of money not exceeding 1s. may be offered. Under the 1963 Act, two safeguards were laid down to prevent abuse as to the provision of amusements with prizes. First, with the exception of travelling fairs, such amusements could be carried out only under a permit issued by the local authority; and, secondly, conditions under Section 49, subsection (3), of the Act were laid down to prevent the element of gaming becoming anything but small. Both these two safeguards have, in practice, I fear, been outflanked. The local authorities have found that, due to the wording of Section 49, subsection (1), paragraph (a), of the Act, and also due to the interpretation by the Courts, they have been obliged to issue permits to premises such as public houses and cafés, which were never intended, either by Parliament or by the local authorities, to be eligible.

Furthermore, a serious abuse of the value of prizes has arisen. The 1963 Act, although limiting the value of money prizes to 1s., did not put a limit on the value of prizes in kind. It has been found that very substantial prizes in kind have been offered to induce the public to use these amusement machines. To-day, machines offering tokens that can be exchanged for valuable prizes have proved more numerous than machines that offer only small money prizes. The result of the outflanking of or the loophole in the two safeguards in the 1963 Act is that machines offering considerable prizes in kind, and thus forming an element of gaming, have been established in premises not considered suitable by those who drafted the 1963 Act, or by the local authorities.

To turn briefly to the provisions of the Bill, Clause 1 applies both to "amusement places" as defined in the Bill under Section 2, subsection (5), and to other premises, such as public houses. This clause endorses the conditions laid down under Section 49, subsection (3), as regards the limit of prizes that may be offered and won, and adds the important condition as regards prizes in kind. The limit of such a prize must not exceed the value of 5s. for any single stake or game. Subsection (3) of this clause further ensures that there can be no lawful arrangement by any proprietor to evade the limits on prizes in kind. The clause reaffirms that the maximum value of a money prize for any one stake is to remain at 1s.

The purpose of Clause 2, subsection (1), is to strengthen the original intention of Parliament. This was to give the local authorities clear power, if they so wished, to refuse a permit for any premises which they considered undesirable for amusements with prizes—such premises as public houses and cafés. This subsection does not apply to such premises defined as "amusement places". Any of the three following reasons for refusing a permit is valid: first, the purposes for which the premises may be used; secondly, the circumstances for which the premises may be used; and, lastly, the persons who may use the premises. The effect of this, as has been said, will be that in future local authorities may refuse—I emphasise the word "may"—new applications for permits or the renewal of an existing permit when the period of the current permit has expired. It must be pointed out that local authorities are only having their discretion of refusal strengthened, and that they may still grant permits for such premises as cafés if they deem them socially desirable. Also, there is still the right, under Schedule VI to the 1963 Act, to appeal to quarter sessions.

Clause 2, subsection (2), gives the local authority the important power to impose certain conditions when granting a new permit, or renewing an existing one, to any premises except "amusement places". Recently, a High Court Judge, in the case of Hewison v. Skegness Urban District Council, ruled that such a power did not exist under present legislation. These conditions include limiting the amusement to machines as described in Clause 1, and specifying the number of such machines to be allowed in any one set of premises. Under paragraph (b) of this subsection a right of appeal is granted against conditions attached to a permit, which the Court may revoke completely or vary. However, any breach of condition will attract the same penalties as a breach of the conditions set out in Section 49, subsection (3), of the 1963 Act. Clause 2, subsection (3), provides that the Court, on convicting the holder of a permit of an offence under Section 49, subsection (2), of the Act, may order the forfeiture of the permit. This order will not take effect until after the appeal has been heard or after the period during which the appeal may have been lodged has expired. This procedure is governed by Section 2, subsections (2) and (3), of the 1963 Act. I shall have to check that later. Clause 2, subsection (4), is designed to allow only to premises defined as "amusement places" the protection of paragraph 3 of Schedule 6 of the 1963 Act. This will mean, in practice, that amusement arcades and funfairs can be refused a renewal of a permit only on the grounds laid down by Schedule 6, paragraph 3, to the 1963 Act. Clause 2, subsection (5), defines the term "amusement place" as used in this Bill, and I feel it needs no explaining.

Clause 3, subsection (3), proposes that Clause 1 of the Bill shall not come into effect until October 31, 1965. The purpose of this is to avoid financial hardship to owners and hirers of existing machines. It is felt that the effect of limiting the value of prizes in kind will reduce the incentive to use the machines. The time limit under the Bill grants a further summer season to allow such owners to recoup some of their investment. It must be remembered that these expensive machines can cost between £400 and £500, and have been installed to give high-value prizes in kind on a perfectly legitimate basis as the law now stands. Finally, my Lords, I should like to add that this Bill has the support both of the local authorities and of Her Majesty's Government, and I trust it will also have the support of this House. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Kinnoull.)

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the noble Earl for the clarity of his explanation of this small but somewhat difficult Bill. It is not an easy Bill to follow—one has to relate it, of course, to the previous Act of 1963—but the noble Earl has I think covered adequately all the points that arise from this Bill which he has presented to the House. Of course, I expected this from him. I remember his excellent speech on ejector seats, in which he received tremendous support from the House, and the excellence of his exposition of that.

I agree with the noble Earl about the importance of this Bill. The Act of 1960, as codified and, to some extent, consolidated in the Act of 1963, has been found not to express clearly the intention of Parliament at that time. This has been revealed, as the noble Earl has told us, by decisions in the Courts which have had the effect of making the control of the placing of these machines by local authorities very difficult indeed. As I understand the noble Earl, this Bill will put that right; and, of course, we welcome the fact that it will give the local authority the control which clearly was the intention of Parliament both in 1960 and in 1963.

The previous Act has also proved to be deficient in its attempt to limit the prizes which can be won from these machines in amusement arcades and the other places to which the public has free access. I think the noble Earl told us that this will not apply to the clubs and to those places where the membership is limited, but only to places to which the public has free access; and the limitation is the limitation that was clearly intended by the Act of 1963. But, of course, clever operators have found a way round the Act of 1963.

There are always clever operators where money is concerned and particularly where gambling is concerned. If I read the newspapers rightly, last week some clever operators might have got away with £10 million, but they did not. But there is always somebody seeking to find a way round; and it is Parliament's job from time to time to stop up these little gaps in legislation as they arc found. Indeed, we do this annually in the Finance Bill. As the clever operators in respect of tax avoidance find the little holes, so it is Parliament's job to stop them up. On this occasion, we are closing one of the little gaps that clever operators have found in the previous Act, and it is right that we should do so. I am not sure that this will be the end of it; we might need to have another Bill to stop another hole. But if Parliament is to carry out what the 1963 Act intended, we must be very vigilant, and we must thank and support those who will be prepared to take Private Members' time for this purpose. I am sure that we, on this side, support this Bill.

6.34 p.m.


My Lords, the question of the Government's attitude to this Bill is not, I think, a matter on which I need detain your Lordships very long. I would at the outset congratulate my noble friend on the manner in which he introduced the Bill. This, I think, is the first occasion on which he has introduced a Bill in your Lordships' House. The careful and lucid exposition he gave of the purpose and objects of the Bill will leave your Lordships with little doubt that it commends itself to the Government. Your Lordships may find it helpful, however, if I say a word or two more in amplification of that brief welcome to the Bill.

The existing statutory provisions are based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming 1949–1951. The object of the recommendations was to provide for a licensing control over the installation of these amusements, and to ensure that the element of gaming in these amusements should remain trivial. In fact, as your Lordships have heard both from my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, provisions have in some cases not worked very well; and this has given rise to difficulties for local authorities and others concerned in their operation. It has transpired that because of doubts and difficulties which have arisen over the interpretation of the provisions, the local authorities' discretion in the grant of permits has been unduly restricted; and because of a particular defect in the Act the limit on the value of prizes has been open to evasion. To the extent that the Bill seeks to remedy these shortcomings your Lordships will realise that it has the Government's support.

The other main object of the Bill arises from comments by Mr. Justice Salmon in his judgment in the case of Hewison v. Skegness Urban District Council. In that judgment the criticism was made that it seemed unsatisfactory that a local authority had no power to attach to a permit conditions as to the number and type of amusement machines which may be provided on the premises. It seems reasonable and desirable that the local authority should have this kind of discretion, and for their part the Government readily approve the inclusion in the Bill of the particular provision.

Since the Bill was first introduced as a Private Members' measure in another place, the Government have been closely connected with it and have examined its detailed provisions, and I can say that the Government are satisfied that the provisions of the Bill are suitable to achieve its objects. In short, therefore, the Government are well content that this Bill, which they regard as a worthy and opportune measure, should reach the Statute Book; and accordingly I trust it will have the approval of the House.


My Lords, I should like to thank briefly both the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for the warm words and the points he made, and my noble friend who speaks on behalf of the Government, for their support of the Bill. As I have said, this is an important amendment to the 1963 Act.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.