HL Deb 13 March 1967 vol 281 cc30-9

3.55 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, on his excellent maiden speech. I heard every word he said, which I think counts for a lot; and what he said he said well: there were no "ers", and he addressed every part of the House. He did not "windmill" with his hands; nor did he do what I do, clutch the front of the Bench so that Members do not know whether I am trying to make a speech or ride a bicycle. He spoke exceedingly well, and I hope that we shall hear him again. Congratulations!

I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, on introducing this Bill, which I heartily support, because I strongly favour the view that all private ideas, whatever category they come under, should not be pirated. As a bit of an inventor myself, and for other reasons, I hold that view strongly. This goes on over the process of fighting against piracy which I think was originated by Charles Dickens. In Charles Dickens' time his books were best-sellers in America, and he never received one cent for them to support his wife, his children or his girl friend. From that date we have been struggling, not only in the writings, which have got as far as victory with the libraries, but in the musical profession, and in all professions—and, of course, among inventors, too—to have some recognition of the ideas and organisations of private people, so that they cannot be pirated.

But I would say to the noble Lord (and as it comes from me, he need not take it too strongly) that I have had the honour of sitting as a Back Bencher on the Cross Benches for some time, and I have heard some quite brilliant speeches made in this House by some of the best brains in this country. Unfortunately, the general public are not Hansard-minded, or Hansard-conscious. I have noted these excellent speeches hitting these beautiful Victorian cartoons we have and bounding back against the Members' clothes and into the carpet, and no more has been heard of them. But, if by any chance, someone should say anything which can stir up the views of a minority movement, it is all over the place. We in this country have many minority movements, all of them dedicated and apt to pick up things in a long ear. And, of course, it makes us a great country if we have these things, because it makes a real democracy. But these people have a way of picking up anything quite quickly, even if it is a whisper, and it is all over the place.

To come back to this Bill, a great many laws have been passed (the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would be able to tell us, off the cuff, just how many) about gambling. From the earliest times there has been a great war against the street bookmaker, carried on with a certain amount of savagery and heavy fines; and I think that the intention of all these laws, the background and the savagery against street bookmaker, is to show that bookmaking and gambling are an evil. I say, with all deference to the noble Lord, that people might think that the Bill he is introducing recognises what they con- sider to be the evil practice of gambling as we might recognise the baker, the butcher and the lollypop-stick maker. It makes it into an ordinary business. People may take that view, but, on the other hand, they may not.

For my part I believe that gambling is inevitable. Gambling has always gone on for as long as we have been a country. In the old days Parliament used to cast lots on quite important questions, even as to whether or not they would go to war—and, after all, that is a far better system than a Division, and much quicker. Gambling has always been popular. The soldiers played knucklebones at the foot of the Cross. We are all gamblers. As the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, described me, I am a gambler. I am gambling now with a view to taking over a museum-piece railway. We work out the odds, and look in our private newspapers to see "the form" of every proposition we take on.

Everybody is a gambler. A clergyman is a gambler, though he might preach against betting in the street. One day he gets a chance of a better living, and he looks through his sermons, just as an ordinary punter looks through his tips and form books, and thinks, "This one will win" and preaches that sermon to the congregation. At the end he goes through all the things just as an ordinary gambler does. If he does not get the living, he says to himself, "I wish I had preached on sin. That would have 'got' them!" If he gets it, he is like every other gambler, he says, "Alone I did it. How clever I was, instead of preaching the old sermon about sin, to preach about the wages of gin or debt. It went over very well." Such a man is a gambler, as we all are. In fact, my Lords, life is a gamble. We gamble the whole way through life. We never give in. Even in old age we all gamble. We gamble with doctors hoping that they can keep us alive; we gamble with surgeons, hoping that they cut out the right bits. But there is one thing about gambling: whether we are bookmakers or punters, we all lose in the end. I would say that gambling is life, you cannot get away from it. What I am anxious to know for any future purposes of this Bill is whether a General Election is sporting or unsporting.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I may have the indulgence of your Lordships to intervene, although my name is not on the list of speakers. I promise to be brief. There are three points that arise from the Bill which have not so far been mentioned, but which I feel I should like to make to your Lordships. At the outset, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, on his maiden speech, to which I listened with great interest and delight and much enjoyed.

The first Report of the Sports Council, published last November, shows how necessary it is to find increased finance for sport at a time when leisure is often talked about as a "problem"; and talked about as a problem because, among other things, there are insufficient sporting facilities. Like other speakers who have spoken on the noble Lord's Bill, I feel a strong sympathy with the main reason which lies behind its promotion, but I feel some reservations about whether the means the noble Lord is proposing will in fact have the desired effect, or may have side effects which could be harmful. In the first place, I doubt whether the Bill would be likely to raise money for events for which it is most needed. I should have thought that major professional boxing events would be likely to benefit much more than, for instance, amateur athletics. If dependence upon funds derived from betting increases, there may be a tendency to promote events in such a manner as to attract betting rather than the promotion of the sport, as it were, in its own right. That tendency could show itself by the promoters giving special prominence to personalities and the chance of individuals, rather than the appeal being made to the character of the event as such. It might be said that not much harm would be done, but I think that this could have, and would have, an influence, and not a particularly happy one, on the way in which sports—and I am thinking particularly of amateur sports—were promoted and came to be regarded.

The next point which occurred to me in considering Lord Blyton's Bill is that it looks as if it would open a fairly wide area of infringement which would be very difficult to stop. Some promoters would no doubt attempt on occasion to prevent betting on a particular event in case heavy betting could influence one competitor to rig the result for financial gain. If a promoter were to take this line, betting might still go on but it could be done only under the counter, and would be an infringement of the law and so bring the law into disrepute. The object of the Bill is not to promote or extend betting as such, but I should have thought that the Bill, if passed, would incite sports promoters to encourage betting on the particular events they promote in order that they could get good fees for the sale of the betting rights. These are some of the reasons why I feel we ought to be cautious before we approve a Bill on the terms which the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, has given us.

I believe by far the strongest reason to be that which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, and by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in the effects that this would have in extending the kingdom, if you like, of the big battalions of the betting world. I do not want to go through the arguments of the debate on the Motion which my right reverend friend the Bishop of Chester introduced in the House in May, but in summing up that debate the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, spoke of gambling as "a mounting social problem". I do not think any of your Lordships would challenge that description, or indeed the description of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, this afternoon, in describing it as "a national disease". If the effect of the Bill will be—although it is certainly not intended to be—to minister to the ills that gambling do, then I think it would be an inappropriate act for Her Majesty's Government to sponsor it, even if some sports would stand to gain thereby.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, it is customary for noble Lords in this House to declare an interest, but I feel that perhaps this afternoon I should declare some qualification for speaking on this matter. Some of my colleagues on my own Front Bench asked me a little facetiously, "What do you know about betting?". The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has suggested that while I have charm perhaps I have not much knowledge, but I will tell him for his own interest that at one stage in my very varied career I was actually employed by a commission agent. I learned such terms as "accumulator', "an up and a downer", how to calculate rapidly, how to watch "the tape", and how to watch out for the gentleman who might slip in a bet three minutes after the race had started. For the noble Lord's interest, I would say that I learned that there were very large sums of money which did not on the whole go into the pockets of the people who put the money there as punters. In other words, it taught me that gambling was not a very wise thing to undertake. So if, as the noble Lord envisages, we have a Minister to operate the Tote, perhaps the Prime Minister will consider me as eligible for that office.

Since animal descriptions seem to be fashionable, I hope that I shall be considered to be "a filly" rather than "an old nag". I have listened with great interest to what noble Lords have said in this debate. In fact I might say that I listened with great delight, because I feel that we have had some fascinating speeches, particularly from the noble Lords, Lord Strange, Lord Mancroft, and Lord Willis, as well as a delightful maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. I feel he need not apologise for not having been with us, for if he is going to make such delightful speeches in future he will more than make good his absences in the past. He will be particularly popular, of course, if he is always so concise and so much to the point that we enjoy his interventions. I believe that there is an old phrase in the theatre, which he will know, that you always come off when the customers want more of you. I think he can definitely claim to have done that to-day. I am, of course, with him particularly in agreeing that your Lordships' House provides the greatest show on earth. I am always very sad when I hear people in the queue outside saying, "Oh, if we cannot get in the Commons we will go in the Lords". If only we could reverse the practice, I think it would be marvellous.

Having said that, I should like to express great admiration for the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill to-day. He did it so concisely and he spoke with great sincerity, as did other noble Lords who supported him. He was clearly guided by the best intentions, in seeking to enable those who promote sport of one kind or another to have the opportunity to benefit financially from the operations of other parties who conduct betting in one of its many forms on the sporting events in question. If the problem were as simple as this one could sympathise with the aims of those who are sponsoring the Bill, but as several noble Lords have pointed out it is not so simple. The Bill is similar to other measures which have been introduced, or which have been sought to be introduced, in another place during the last two years or so. Her Majesty's Government have felt compelled to oppose these measures and I shall be asking your Lordships to-day not to give this Bill a Second Reading.

The fundamental objection to the Bill is that it would give to private bodies statutory and monopoly powers to demand, for their own purposes, from other citizens what would amount to a levy or tax. I think this was expressed better by the right reverend Prelate and, of course, by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. But this is a prerogative of Government, and Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to share that right with any body of citizens. This objection is even stronger in the present field, the field of betting, where the Exchequer itself looks for a substantial amount of revenue. It has been suggested that there is an analogy between what is proposed in the Bill and the provisions of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, which gives certain monopoly powers to the Totalisator Board. I suggest that there is no true analogy here, if only for the fact that the profits of the Totalisator Board are channelled into the horserace betting levy, the distribution of which is subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, a feature that is absent from this Bill.

Apart from this fundamental obstacle, Her Majesty's Government see other objections. The Bill provides no public control over the uses to which the proceeds received by the promoters of sporting events would be put; and this point has been amplified by several noble Lords. While the obstensible reason behind the Bill is the benefit which sport would receive, the Bill contains no provisions designed to secure this end, or any machinery to ensure such a result. The promoter of a sporting event could differentiate between the terms he would charge to different operators, and could, indeed, exclude an operator from participation. There is no provision in the Bill to ensure that the public interest—that is, interests other than those of the promoters and of the betting concerns—would be safeguarded.

I hope that I have shown your Lordships, as have several noble Lords who have spoken against the Bill, that, however altruistic may be the motives of those who have brought it before your Lordships' House—and these none of us would doubt—it would be wrong to allow any invasion of the Government's prerogative of raising revenue from betting of any kind, and in regard to the uses to which it is put, and that, even if this position did not exist, the Bill is not well founded on other grounds. Before concluding, I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who has in his usual skilful way taken the opportunity to bring forward the points which he raised so ably in the previous debate, that Her Majesty's Government are, of course, having a very thorough-going look at the general question of the gaming laws.

I should also like to assure my noble friend Lord Blyton that the off-course tax is another point which is liable to be considered very carefully in the immediate future. I appreciate and sympathise with the feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, about the development of sport. If I thought that the Welsh Rugby Union would benefit directly, perhaps I should not stand here and make this point. But for the reason which I have given, the fact that the safeguards are not there, I must ask your Lordships to decline to proceed with the Second Reading of this Bill.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, but I could not understand why he brought the Mafia into our debate, because the Mafia are not dealt with in the Bill. The Mafia and gaming clubs and bookmakers' protection are not matters for me to raise in this Bill. That is something entirely for the Home Office, and I fail to understand why it was brought in. Perhaps it was a red herring to take people away from the embodiment of what I was after. I state, again, that my Bill is only to see that bookmakers contribute to sport.

I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, on his maiden speech and I hope to hear him again. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. He is the first Liberal I have heard for years argue for nationalisation.


What did the noble Lord call me?


My Lords, the whole of my life has been taken up with fighting the Liberals on the question of nationalisation. I want to nationalise all industry, if I can. But we have had some terrible opposition, and I think there will be big opposition on bookmaking. But I would support the noble Lord on the question of the nationalisation of bookmaking, if he will introduce a Bill. I do not feel that at this present time I should bring in a Bill to nationalise bookmaking, because there are other industries which we want to nationalise before we tackle that one. I understand that there is gambling on elections. Sometimes the bookmakers are right and sometimes they are wrong, but I cannot see how at an election you can make the country into a race track.

I am not here to stop gambling. But I think it has reached fantastic heights in this country, and it has raised some queer problems. My only desire is that there shall be fair play for those who organise events, and who see bookmakers making good profits from the events and contributing nothing to the sport which has created and promoted them. Therefore, I feel that this Bill is one which ought to be accepted—if not now, at some future date. Nevertheless, I recognise the argument of the noble Baroness on the Front Bench about the lack of public control, of provisions to ensure the use of the money for sport, and the question of public interest. But I think that this principle will have to be faced by the Government some day, even if bookmaking is nationalised, and there will come a day when all these sports must have their fair rake-off of the money now spent in gambling, which amounts to nearly £850 million a year. Since the feeling of the House is that it would like me to have another look at the Bill, I shall most certainly do that, and I now beg to withdraw the Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.