§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming; welcomes the Commission's exposition of the anomalies which exist in the present laws; and invites the Government to consider introducing comprehensive legislation which will enable betting to be correctly and fairly conducted without discrimination between one sport and another in the interest of the British public and the sports concerned.I am sure hon. Members will agree that it is appropriate that at long last the attention of the House of Commons should be drawn to the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming. The Royal Commission, which was appointed in April, 1949, published its Report in March, 1951. It did a remarkable amount of hard work. It held no fewer than 42 meetings, heard oral evidence from 141 witnesses, and received an enormous amount of evidence from various interested persons and organisations, including the religious authorities, the judiciary, the police, and those who are engaged in controlling the various types of sport and entertainment. I believe I can speak for the whole House when I say that the Royal Commission is deserving of the very highest praise for the excellent manner in which it has carried out its difficult task.
The Royal Commission was under the chairmanship of Mr. Willink, Q.C., a most distinguished and respected public servant, who served with very great distinction in this House, attaining—perhaps my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will bear me out in this—the very high office of Minister of Health. At present he is head of Magdalene College, Cambridge. In paying tribute to him today, it is 2488 fitting that we should express the hope that he will have many happy returns of last Wednesday, which was his sixty-seventh birthday. We congratulate him personally on his work, and in so doing we pay tribute through him to the eleven distinguished men and women who served under his chairmanship on the Royal Commission.
It is right and proper that after five years this very lengthy Report should be discussed in the House. I believe it is right that we should ask the Government to express their opinion and give us some idea of their views about the suggestions and recommendations made in the Report.
I want, first, to make my own position clear by saying that I have no other objective in raising the matter than to try to get this very difficult and complicated subject debated with a view to clearing up the obvious and admitted anomalies at present existing in the law. I also want to draw attention to the very unfair discrimination which at present exists between one type of sport and another and between one type of person and another, whether they happen to follow various sports for the sake of the sport or for the gambling involved.
I know that there is a great difference of opinion in the House—and perhaps more so outside—about the whole topic of gaming, betting and lotteries in its widest sense. I want to make my position clear. I am neither diametrically opposed to nor completely in favour of betting. I am not one who spends all his time watching horse racing or dog racing, or going to card parties. The only gambling, if one can call it such, in which I have consistently taken part is the Ballot which we regularly hold in the House for the introduction of Private Members' Motions and Private Members' Bills. I may say that, after continually taking part in the ballot for 11 years, this is the first occasion on which I have been sufficiently fortunate to win. I will therefore confess that my private interest is following the Ballots in the House of Commons. Whether those ballots are strictly legal, I should not here like to say, because the law is very involved and difficult to follow, as I hope to show.
I am neither strongly for nor against gambling, but it is true that there are hon. Members on both sides of the 2489 House and men and women throughout the country who hold very strong views one way or the other. All I want to do is to state that which is factual. That is that undoubtedly gambling in all its various aspects certainly has a very great hold upon the people. One may not like it, but there it is. A fact which is agreed even by those who are most strongly against gambling is that it cannot be prohibited by legislation. I shudder to think of the difficulties which would confront any Minister trying to introduce legislation to prohibit gambling. It would make the position far worse and might perhaps lead us to days similar to those of the prohibition of drinking in America.
There is, of course, the voluntary method of controlling gambling. That does work up to a point, but only up to a point. Hence it is inevitable that there must be some form of legislation. That form of legislation must be to control gambling and to see that it is done as fairly, properly and decently as can be under the difficult circumstances which I shall mention. Above all, in view of the great traditions of the House, traditions which have been handed down from generation to generation, there must be no discrimination between rich and poor, between the working man and the company director, between the man who wants to go to horse racing, greyhound racing, football, boxing, or whatever it may be. Whatever is done must be done fairly and properly so that each and every one of Her Majesty's subjects is, as far as possible, treated in exactly the same way.
It will, of course, be impossible for me to deal with the Report in detail, because I should most certainly bore you, Mr. Speaker, and certainly lose what support I may have among hon. Members, because the Report covers about 200 closely typed pages, contains about 30 chapters and 460 paragraphs, and even its summarised list of recommendations, which are before the Government, total 35. Of course, it deals with all aspects of betting, lotteries and gaming and gives some very interesting facts and figures, especially on the question of who takes part—those who are what one might term regular supporters.
2490 The Report bears out what I said at the beginning, that whatever view we may take, gambling undoubtedly has a strong hold on the people. In paragraph 58 on page 15, the Report says:…4 out of 5 adults…have taken part…in some form of gambling…It may of course be on the Stock Exchange, but that is not generally done by the average working man—not that I am suggesting that he should or should not. There is the sort of gambling which goes on at greyhound and horse racing and the one which I mentioned in which we regularly take part in the House, and there are what are termed card parties or gaming parties in various parts of the country, and particularly within the vicinity of Westminster.
On page 49 the Report says that rather less than £70 million per annum is in fact spent on gambling. That is the first point which should be emphasised. I have read fantastic statements from various bodies—and I must confess that generally speaking they come from those violently opposed to gambling—of figures in the region of £500 million, £600 million, or £700 million a year. After examining all the evidence—and I must reiterate that the Commission took evidence from every section of the population—it came to the conclusion that the figure was rather less than £70 million.
The Commission also proved beyond any shadow of doubt that the present position is completely unsatisfactory. If there is one thing which all who have read the Report can agree—whether for or against gambling, whether treating it as a great moral issue and of the opinion that it should be controlled, prohibited, or not—it is that the present position is completely unsatisfactory and, in fact, unworkable.
One can perhaps summarise the general types of gambling under four main headings. There is betting on horse racing, in its various forms. Then there is betting on greyhound racing. In West Ham there is a greyhound race track. The working man calls the sport dog racing, but he means greyhound racing. There is, of course, betting on football pools, a subject in which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) is especially interested, as we 2491 know from the grand job he did in his 1954 Act.
Then there are the lotteries run from time to time, and here dare I say that even within some of the greatest church organisations lotteries and competitions are organised at bazaars, and so on. I am not passing any comment either for or against, but in fact it does happen.
Then there are the competitions run by newspapers. They are supposed to be quite legal because a degree of skill is involvd. How one can say that one bathing beauty, with or without costume, is more beautiful than another, I do not know; but provided a man fills in the form, pays his 1d., 2d. or 6d. and puts the bathing beauties in the right order, that competition is quite legal because there is a degree of skill involved. I do not know what skill there is.
Lastly, there is the gaming which takes place. There are gaming parties, both with dice and cards, as well as other forms. I must also mention something which may not be generally known by hon. Members opposite. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) knows of it, as do all who represent working-class areas. We might call it the gaming that goes on in the pubs, quite illegally of course. The darts experts, with great degrees of skill, will play darts for a pint or two of beer.
For the purpose of my contribution to the debate, I wish to deal mainly with the first two forms of gambling—betting on horse racing and greyhound racing. No doubt other hon. Members will discuss the types of gambling in which they may be interested. The present legal position is absolutely ridiculous and ludicrous. There are about 35 Acts of Parliament, dating back to 1541, most of which are evaded, ignored or treated with complete contempt. That is a terrible thing to have to say in this honourable House. We who are responsible for legislation know that many Acts of Parliament are being deliberately violated. That is known and accepted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) pointed out when he introduced his very fine Bill, which is now an Act—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I apologise. I was not sure whether it had passed through its 2492 final stages. It is a very fine Bill which deals with small lotteries, and when he introduced it my hon. Friend pointed out how ridiculous some of these laws were. He must have studied them in the Library, for he found something to the effect that it is illegal to carry on certain gaming parties because they might interfere with the training of those who take part in bow and arrow warfare. That law is still technically in effect. It is rather strange that in this atomic and nuclear age we should still have a law which prevents people taking part in gaming because they may as a result fail to develop their skill with the bow and arrow.
It is true that the rules, regulations and laws relating to betting on various types of sport are completely out of date. I want to deal with the major recommendation of the Commission. The Commission says that the various laws are being continuously and deliberately broken and brought into disrepute and that there is an overwhelming case for the consolidation of the law.
I suggest that the Government should go further than the Commission, which recommended that:The law relating to betting, gaming and lotteries should, so far as possible, be included in a single statute. In any event all statutes other than the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, and the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, should be repealed.I go further and say that we should repeal the lot. Let us start afresh and have one comprehensive Act dealing with the whole position. If, as I sincerely hope, the Government agree to deal with this admittedly difficult and most controversial subject, I strongly urge that in any legislation which I hope they will submit they will take every step to see that there is no discrimination.
That is the point I want to emphasise. There must be no discrimination between the various types of sport, as there is today. There is gross discrimination, and the Commission has admitted that it exists. Here, having paid a warm and sincere tribute to the Commission for all the good work it has done, and of which I do not retract one word, I want now to pass a little adverse comment against it. The Report shows that the Commission knows of the discrimination but then, strangely, it makes proposals 2493 which not only would continue the discrimination but, in many instances, would make it far worse.
If quite a few of the thirty-five recommendations were carried out in their entirety, especially the proposals about taxation and the administrative expenses of those who operate the betting on greyhound racing and horse racing, this discrimination would continue.
Let me emphasise that I am neither for nor against the one or the other. I am not in any way attacking one type of sport against another, and, whatever I may say on this subject, I am not suggesting that greyhound racing should have better treatment than horse racing. I am sure that no hon. Members, whether supporters of one sport or another, would like to see legislation' promoted to give special rights and privileges to what has been called the sport of kings—horse racing—at the expense or to the detriment of greyhound racing. I think the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor), who is very interested in horse racing, will agree that he would not wish to see the sport in which he is particularly interested flourishing at the expense of any other type of sport.
I want to explain how it is that at the present time there is this wide differentiation. I want also to emphasise that I am perhaps more in favour of greyhound racing because most of my constituents follow that sport. We have a very fine greyhound track in West Ham, and many of my constituents go there. The same sort of thing is true in other parts of the country, and I have always regarded it as more or less a working man's sport. The Commission in fact states in part that the great majority of the patrons of dog tracks are not drawn from the wealthier sections of the community. That is quite true, and yet hon. Members may be amazed to hear that, although it is the working man's sport, which is supported by the less wealthy sections of the community, its patrons have to pay a special 10 per cent. tax on the bets which they make on the totalisator at these tracks.
The Commission's Report admits that if a working man goes to a greyhound racing track and places a bet on the totalisator he pays a 10 per cent. tax, while the wealthier and perhaps more aristocratic type of person who goes to Hurst Park, Ascot or wherever he will, 2494 may place the same bet with the same type of totalisator and pay no tax at all. I think that is grossly unfair.
Let us take an example of what actually happens. In my constituency, there are many good, hard-working dockers, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey knows well. I believe that they are grand people. Rightly or wrongly, if a docker has a pound to spare at the end of the week, after giving most of his wages to his wife, as any good docker should, and he happens to go to West Ham greyhound track and place a £1 bet with the totalisator, he immediately loses 10 per cent. of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "He loses it all."] No, because many of them win. I agree that many may lose, but I am saying that when he places his bet and pays that 10 per cent. the docker knows that he takes the risk of losing it. It is true that he hopes to win, but he certainly knows that he will lose the 10 per cent. Perhaps there are hon. Members in this House and certainly a good many people outside who do not know that that man loses 10 per cent. of his bet immediately.
Let us now take a different type of docker. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sir Bernard Docker."] The hon. Gentleman can see where my thoughts are leading, because I was just going to mention him. Sir Bernard Docker is very interested in cutting down Government expenditure by one per cent., though he spends a lot of his time in touring on the Riviera and sailing the seven seas in his yacht. I think he has come back recently, or it may be that he has gone away again. We do not know whether he is here or there. [Interruption.] I now understand that he has gone sailing again.
This type of docker, Sir Bernard Docker, might perhaps go slumming one evening, and might find himself in the vicinity of the West Ham greyhound track. He might be prepared to bet, not £1, but £100 or even £1,000, although he might cut down from £1,000 to £100 in the interests of curtailing expenditure. He invests the money on the same type of tote and does not lose anything by way of tax at all.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Has not my hon. Friend missed the point? First, he said that if his docker went to the greyhound race track and invested his 2495 money on the totalisator he would lose 10 per cent., but if the great Sir Bernard Docker made the same type of bet with a bookmaker without going to West Ham, he would not have to pay any tax at all.
§ Mr. Lewis
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right, but he has gone a little too far for me. He is a little too advanced in this race, because he knows better than myself, but I have not yet got to the stage of the differentiation between bookmakers on and off the course. I am only dealing with the iniquitous position regarding the 10 per cent. tax, and not with street corner bookmakers and credit betting.
I. was going on to give an exact comparison between operations on the same type of tote—in most cases installed and run by the same people—concerning this 10 per cent. There are many people in this country who, while supporting horse racing, for some reason or other frown upon and will have nothing to do with greyhound racing, which they regard as being a bit lower. I am certain that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton is not in that category, but there are some who feel that greyhound racing should either be abolished or taxed out of existence.
I do not know whether that is also the Treasury outlook, but certainly one might say that if they carry on as they are doing they will, in fact, so penalise this type of sport as to tax it out of existence. I think that that would be quite wrong, because, with great respect to those who follow horse racing, I believe that greyhound racing has done more for sport generally than any other type of sport. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) on the Front Bench is smiling, but that is true; the facts are there.
We could not have had the Olympic Games in this country without greyhound racing, because the financial support for those games was given almost solely by Wembley Stadium. I hope that if either of the hon. Members for Wembley is able to speak in the debate, we may have some facts and figures about that. Most countries, in fact, I think all the other countries concerned in the Olympic Games have had to meet, if not the whole, at 2496 any rate some of the cost of the Olympic Games there out of the resources of their respective Treasuries, but that was not the case with regard to the Olympic Games held in this country. Wembley Stadium was able to assist and put money into the fund out of the profits that came from greyhound racing. Even in Australia, where the next Games are to be held, the Treasury is having to find money to help to pay for them. Again my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale smiles, but—
§ Mr. Lewis
This is a very tragic day for me, because I had hoped that the great West Ham football team would have beaten the Spurs yesterday. I am in an unfortunate position, because although I live in Tottenham I represent West Ham. Whichever side won yesterday, I was on a good thing, but I naturally would have preferred West Ham to win. I was hoping that they would have gone to Wembley.
Everyone in this country knows of Wembley; in fact, in almost every country in the world Wembley Stadium is known of and accepted as one of the greatest football arenas. Can anybody here imagine that whoever runs Wembley Stadium could do so if they relied merely upon one football match a year—even though 90,000 or 100,000 people might go to see it? They could not afford to run it just for the Cup Final. They could not afford it even if they also staged the four or five international matches a year. It is obvious that Wembley Stadium must be subsidised from the money which is drawn in week in and week out from greyhound racing.
All those good football supporters who are anxious to see their team reach the Cup Final, and all hon. Members who hope to get tickets for the Cup Final, should bear in mind that Wembley exists, and the Cup Final is able to be held there largely because greyhound racing is also held there.
The same could be said with regard to the White City and Harringay. I see that the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) is here. I hope he can supply some more detailed facts and figures upon this aspect of the matter. Everyone decries greyhound 2497 racing—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Not in the House but in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It appears that we have a unanimous opinion in the House, and that is very good. I hope that there will be a unanimous opinion in the country that greyhound racing is doing and has done much good work for sport generally.
It is right that we should pay tribute to the glory which has been brought to this country by those great athletes, Roger Bannister and Chris Chataway. They have done an amazing amount of good for the international prestige of athletics generally by the records which they have brought to this country. They could not have done so had it not been at least in part for the fact that these great athletic shows and entertainments are put on at the White City. I am sure that the authorities there could not simply run athletic meetings and make enough profits out of them to keep the White City going, even if they got Chris Chataway and Roger Bannister to run there every night of the week. They can continue to run the stadium only because they make a profit from another sport, which helps to subsidise athletics.
I now come to the international sport of show jumping. I must confess that I am not very interested in that sport, but I have a very charming daughter, aged fourteen, who cannot leave the television set when show jumping is on. Her great heroine is Pat Smythe. There is no one like Pat Smythe to my daughter. Again, show jumping takes place at White City. I am sure that it could not continue to put on those shows merely with the revenue it derives from the followers of that sport.
The same thing applies to boxing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr Summerskill) is not here this morning. She believes that boxing is wrong. Whether one holds her opinion, or the opinion of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) that there is nothing inherently wrong in boxing, the fact is that our boxing prestige—low as it may be at the moment—could not have developed at all had it not been for the help and support given it by Harringay Stadium.
I want very quickly to touch upon another aspect of this matter. These great tracks are used for yet other purposes. 2498 West Ham Stadium voluntarily lets out its track for various other sporting events—particularly school sports. It lets its track out for various charitable events, but it is able to do that only because the Stadium is kept going by greyhound racing. There are also the great ice spectacles which are put on at Wembley for the children. They are really magnificent shows. Then there are the great circuses which are staged at Harringay. Other hon. Members can probably give similar illustrations from their own constituencies. All these things are possible only because revenue is derived from greyhound racing.
If the stupidity of the Treasury continues, however, it will kill this type of entertainment. The Treasury is now losing the revenue which it originally obtained from this pernicious, immoral and quite unfair discriminatory tax against greyhound racing. It is quite true that when the tax was imposed in 1947 the totalisator turnover was about £130 million a year. It has now dropped to about £50 million.
What happened as a result of that? Seeing that it was losing this money, the Treasury investigated the matter and found that the money was going to the bookmakers on the greyhound tracks, so it introduced a tax upon bookmakers on the course. But the bookmakers were wise. It was not very long before the revenue from that tax dropped to about half what it was when it was imposed. What happens now is that the wise person—whether he be Sir Bernard Docker or someone else—makes his bet with an off-the-course bookmaker, who does not pay tax.
An even more pernicious discrimination arises from the fact that if my dockworker wants to put 2s. on a horse and he goes to his street corner bookie he is liable to be penalised immediately, because that is illegal. He knows that he is doing something illegal, but he has no alternative. If, however, Sir Bernard Docker wants to put some money upon the same horse, in the same race, he just picks up the telephone and rings up his bookmaker, with whom he has a credit account, and places his bet. In that case he is doing nothing illegal or wrong.
I will concede the point that neither of them pay any tax at all. I am sure 2499 that even the Treasury—even the Treasury—can see that my docker is not going to put his money on the totalisator and immediately lose 10 per cent. of it in tax when he can place his bet with a street bookmaker and have nothing taken off or, if he has a credit account, can telephone one of the big well-known bookmakers.
My argument has been that greyhound racing has done a lot for sport, and I want here to pay a tribute to two gentlemen who have done as much as or more than any for the development of sport in general—Sir Arthur Elvin and Mr. Francis Gentle. This idea of trying to tax greyhound racing out of existence is wrong. Not enough credit has been given to it for the money that has flowed from it for the development of sport, and all forms of sport and athletics should be further developed for reasons of our international prestige.
The Eastern countries are making great progress in sport because they are assisted financially by their Governments. The money is just poured out. The Governments of the Iron Curtain countries do not take money from sport but put large sums in, with the result that the international sporting prestige of those countries is probably far higher than that of any other. Every schoolboy knows of the Moscow Dynamos and of the Hungarian footballers. The Governments of those countries give liberal help to sport. Although I think that there is a case for it, I do not ask the Treasury to provide financial assistance, but I do say that it should at least avoid action which penalises the development of legitimate sport in this country.
I turn to another anomaly which will be aggravated if the Government implement in full the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Personally, I think the Commission is biassed—it is certainly biassed against greyhound racing. For some unknown reason it suggests that the differential treatment of the totalisator takings as between greyhound racing and horse racing shall continue. I do not attack horse racing, but the fact remains that, by law, the administrators of greyhound race tracks are not entitled to deduct more than 6 per cent. for administration costs.
2500 That law was enacted in 1934. The Royal Commission suggests that that percentage should be scaled down. If 6 per cent. was right in 1934, then, after 20 years of both Tory and Labour Governments, when the cost of living has gone up and the value of the £ has depreciated, it is wrong that that percentage should be lowered. If anything, it should be increased. I would make no objection if the Commission recommended that the reduction should be generally applicable, but horse-racing interests are allowed 10 per cent. on their totalisator takings.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton will probably deal with the breeding and export aspects of horse racing, but the same arguments could be applied to greyhound racing. The Irish have developed a big export business in greyhounds. It would be pernicious and immoral of the Government to scale down one percentage and not the other. A reasonable suggestion might be to split the difference, or to equalise them by adding 4 per cent. to the present greyhound administrative percentage. To do so would be fair and might encourage money now being placed with off-course bookmakers to return to the course, and the Treasury would benefit as a result.
Another suggestion made in the Report is that betting shops should be legalised, the reason given being that the present position is fantastic. A man cannot legally bet with a street bookmaker but can gamble as much as he likes if he has a credit account. I am not enraptured with the idea of betting shops, although I can see some reasons for the suggestion. If their establishment is to be permitted, then the bookmakers running them should be treated in exactly the same way as are those operating on the track. Personally, I should like to see encouragement given for all betting to take place on the track, as it could then be properly controlled. I know that that is not possible, but if taxation on betting is to be maintained, I see no reason why the betting shop wager should not be taxed in the same way as the bet placed elsewhere.
I must return to the aspect of discrimination and unfairness. The Royal Commission suggests that greyhound racing shall be banned on Tuesdays and Fridays. Why, I do not know. It would apply only to greyhound racing—not 2501 horse racing, of course, or boxing, or gaming, or dice or anything like that. The suggestion is that only greyhound racing should be banned on those days of the week.
This amounts to saying to Her Majesty's loyal subjects, "You can bet on a horse on a Tuesday or a Friday but you must not dare go to a greyhound track on those days. We will shut the greyhound tracks on Tuesdays and Fridays and limit the number of days on which it will be possible for you to attend. You may go to Hurst Park or Ascot or any other horse-racing track, but we will limit the number of days on which you can go to a greyhound track. In addition, we will limit the times at which you can go."
As a result of this, the shift worker, who may not be able to go to the track in the evening, is prevented from attending at all; he may want to go in the afternoon, but it is suggested that a limit should be placed on the hours as well as a limit on the number of days of racing in the week. No one will dispute that racing should be barred on Sundays and other Holy days. By all means we accept that. We do not expect to see racing extended to those days. There is no logical reason, however, for stopping one type of sport and not another.
I have said enough to show that the present position is anomalous and that the Government ought to give us some idea of their views on it. Perhaps in consultation with the Opposition through the usual channels, they ought to provide some Measure which will tidy up the present position. Whatever is proposed, I hope we may be given an assurance by the Minister that it will be done in such a way as to abolish discrimination and to treat all men and women alike, so as to put our laws on a fair, proper and workable basis.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I beg to second the Motion.
The Motion was moved with great sincerity by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) and it is a good thing that an hon. Member from this side of the House should second it, because the whole question of gambling and sport cuts across party loyalties. I cannot make out whether it is above or below party 2502 loyalty; that depends on how we handicap party loyalty.
I associate myself with the hon. Member's opening remarks in praising the excellence of the Royal Commission Report. Prior to the Report there was a mass of misinformation about betting, gambling and sport, and credit must be given to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), whose name appears on page 4 of the Report and who, I understand, convened the Commission, if that is the right word.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
I do not want to claim responsibility for that. That is one of the duties which falls on a Home Secretary in connection with all Royal Commissions, whether he likes them or not.
§ Mr. Astor
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says.
I want to deal with four aspects of the problem. First of all, we must be clear in our minds that what we are talking about is the amount of people and money involved. Secondly, we must consider the social effect of gambling on the family, the community and the individual; thirdly, we must consider not only the present state of the law but also what we can expect a Government to do; and lastly, I want to touch on the whole question of the sports which promote the medium for gambling.
In this I declare an interest, since I have for some years been associated with the breeding, training, exporting and racing of race horses. My information and the basis of my argument come from the Report or from personal knowledge.
I will take the very conservative figure quoted in the Report on the extent of gambling in this country. It seems that 40 to 45 per cent. of our adult population—15 million people—bet regularly and they appear to spend 1 per cent. of their personal expenditure on gambling. The figure of £70 million a year, which is £5 each a year, has been given in the Report. The figure of between½per cent. and 1 per cent. of the national resources has also been given, but this excellent Report is somewhat confusing because it discriminates between personal expenditure and family expenditure, the two figures in question being £70 million and £150 million.
2503 Figures mean very little, but I ask the House to consider how these figures compare with the money spent on drink and on smoking. In 1949, £649 million more was spent on drink than on gambling and in the same year £694 million more was spent on tobacco than on gambling. That was a typical year and I chose it merely because the figures were comparatively easy to remember.
I conclude from these figures that the pattern of gambling is that many millions of people are each regularly risking a small amount of money. The bulk of the information seems to point that way.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
Are not the figures better than the hon. Member suggests, because is not the amount said to be spent on gambling in fact the amount turned over in the evenings? In other words, a man may bet £1 on each of seven or eight races and that may be shown as £7 or £8, whereas in fact it may be only £1.
§ Mr. Astor
I appreciate the point, but the Report says that the turnover is about £225 million a year. That is nothing like the figure of £1,000 million which has been mentioned; the higher figure is nonsense. The turnover figure is £225 million, but the personal expenditure figure, which was confirmed by the late editor of the Economist, is about £70 million.
What is the social effect of gambling? I am sure that no one here will attempt to say whether it is morally good or morally bad. We are not concerned with that, and I do not think we are asked to discuss it. What we are asked to discuss is whether it is socially beneficial or socially a liability. We should be clear in our minds that we are talking about the moderate gambler. Immoderate or excessive gambling is bad, but, equally, immoderate eating, immoderate sleeping and immoderate talking are bad. The weight of the evidence goes to show that most people who bet in fact bet moderately. We are dealing with the moderate gambler.
The Report went with great thoroughness into the effects of gambling on the character, on the family, and on the community; it considered the social effect and the economic effect on the family. Members of the Commission tried to trace some association between crime, 2504 juvenile delinquency and gambling, and in the end their deliberations showed, as can be seen from paragraph 159 of the Report, that there was no evidence that moderate gambling had a bad effect on the character, on family life or on the community as a whole. They could trace no direct association between crime, juvenile delinquency and gambling. It is sometimes argued that a high proportion of people in prison bet, but what is not said is that a high proportion of people out of prison also bet. We must not be fooled by that argument.
I ask the House, if it takes the view of the Royal Commission that by and large gambling is a form of amusement, a form of indulgence, a form of entertainment, to turn its mind back to the war years. I did not know the late Mr. Ernest Bevin. He was not a particularly keen racegoer, but I think it true to say that he took the view during the war years that if there were one or two days horse racing a week, that was not a bad thing. It was not for the person who went racing generally, because the precaution was taken of having racing in such out-of-the-way places as the top of Salisbury Downs. or at Newmarket. Mr. Bevin considered it a proper form of entertainment for many millions of people. I think that is worth remembering.
§ Mr. Astor
This form of indulgence or amusement is not, in fact, a social evil and has no bad effect on the community, but is enjoyed by so many millions that I believe no Government can be happy unless the laws relating to it are both just and enforceable.
I shall not weary the House by going into the details of the laws. I think it is common ground to everyone that the laws are not satisfactory. I would remind the House that the Report said that they are:obscure, illogical and difficult to enforce.In a recent debate in another place, a noble Lord referred to them as "an ungodly jumble."
§ Mr. Astor
Yes, the noble Lord was speaking for the Government when he referred to the laws as "an ungodly jumble."
2505 I wish to underline three aspects of this matter. In my opinion, any Government who support the laws are, in fact, supporting the greatest means of corrupting the police forces. Whether we like it or not, each day, under the noses of the police, millions of pounds are gambled illegally. Everyone knows that the police know, and anyone who supports the laws must be clear in his mind that virtually they are turning a blind eye at the greatest opportunity for corrupting the police. On that ground alone I feel that the law should be changed. My hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate on behalf of the Home Office, and hon. Members on both sides of the House who have had experience in the Home Office, cannot seriously deny that that is a fact. It lays the police open to tremendous temptations.
In my opinion, it is complete humbug and socially unjust that a man can have a bet by telephone on credit, but cannot take part in cash betting. Each year from 1946 to 1951, in the Metropolitan police area alone, more than 3,500 people were arrested for cash betting, but during that time there were many more than 3,500 doing exactly the same over the telephone and they were not arrested. That seems an extremely good reason for altering the law.
Another point is that the present position makes our country look as if we are complete humbugs. Everyone knows that wherever the British have gone, one of the first things they did was to establish racecourses. They have done so all over the Empire, and no one can say that the British were ever disliked because they established racecourses. They may have been disliked because they did not allow local inhabitants in the members' enclosures, but it was certainly not because they established racecourses.
We make ourselves look absurd and quite rightly our critics say as regards gambling that this is another case in which, for herself, Britain waives the rules. I have great difficulty in explaining this situation to foreigners. I meet a certain number of them when they come over here to races. They look at one in amazement, and one realises that they think we are complete humbugs in this matter. I think they are right and 2506 that we are complete and hideous humbugs over our betting laws.
To be practical, what can we expect the Government to do? That is much the most serious question. It is probably common ground that neither party is going to enjoy the enormous majorities which were enjoyed before the war.
§ Mr. Astor
That is a very good point and I thank the hon. Member for reminding me of something I should like to mention. I do not bet very much—in fact very little—but I have no objection to bookmakers, other than that they probably are better judges of form than I am. Taking the political aspect of the matter, many of the marginal seats, such as mine, are in the West Country, where there is a strong element of non-conformism which has to be catered for. Everyone appreciates that, and that no Government wants to stir up any sort of opposition if it will affect the marginal seats. I speak with a certain amount of experience on this question because mine is a marginal seat. I am entirely dependent on the Liberal and chapel votes. I have made myself perfectly clear on this in my constituency since I came here. I suggest to the Government that all the evidence is that this great fear is, in fact, shadow and not substance.
I suggest that since the advent of football pools a very large majority of nonconformists have taken part in those pools. Whichever Government introduces common-sense legislation I believe will find an amazing response from every quarter and in some quarters from which people would hardly expect it to came. I ask the Government, in supporting this Motion, to try to find time for legislation. I appreciate that this sort of thing is secondary compared with Budgets, or Parliamentary time for foreign affairs debates, and so forth, but I ask the Government that in the next Session, or at least in the lifetime of this Parliament, they should deal with this problem along the lines of the Royal Commission's Report.
I do not profess to know enough about it to say that all the recommendations of the Report are right. It is an extremely complicated matter, butProcrastination is the thief of time.2507 The Government can find time if they do not continue to procrastinate on this subject. Judging by their performance, Governments of both parties seem very fond of trying to solve problems which, in fact, are quite insoluble. Here is a problem which is soluble; here is a muddle which is adjustable. I sincerely hope that the Government will be able to give an assurance today that they will try to find time to deal with it, and, indeed, will find the necessary time.
If that is so, I trust that it is not too much to ask that at the right time, through the usual channels, the Opposition should be asked to give some indication that at least it would allow the question to go through on a free vote. I do not necessarily ask for an assurance today.
I want now to deal with the general association of sport and gambling. I am sure everyone will agree that as the sports—greyhound racing, boxing, football and horse racing—provide the medium for gambling, they should be allowed enough money back into their sport to keep it healthy. That is all that is asked for. The hon. Member suggested that horse racing was an aristocratic pastime compared with greyhound racing. It is said that on and under the turf all men are equal. I do not think that is true in respect of "on the turf," judging by the amenities which some of the less wealthy have to endure on our race courses.
Racing provides the medium for many millions of people to bet every day. Some 70 per cent. of the money is gambled off the course—I am not talking about the tote—and this does not find its way back and help racing in any way. Much of it cannot be taxed because it is illegal money. The turnover on horse racing alone is about £225 million a year.
If we take the view that racing is a public entertainment, we must cater for the public. Those who go racing want to find on the race courses amenities comparable with those in France, Ireland and America which are our chief rivals. The off-course punter wants a lot of triers racing for the prize, and the prize must be worth winning. He does not want a few horses racing not to beat each other, but occasionally to beat the handicapper and the bookmaker. In addition, the country, just as it expects us occasionally to win our test matches, expects us occa- 2508 sionally to win our classic races. I suggest that the Government are interested in the aspect of exports which amount to £1½ million to £2 million per year, largely to the dollar area. Also, I think that the Government ought to be interested in the race courses which they tax being healthy ones.
All authoritative opinion—that of the Breeders' Association, the Jockey Club, the Racecourse Association and the Owners' and Trainers' Association—is that unless something is done to put more money into racing, the present pattern will not last. The pattern was built up largely on the finance of a few wealthy people who are now no longer wealthy. What I am suggesting is that a proportion of the money betted on racing should, if legislation is introduced, go back into racing in some form or other just to keep it healthy.
I would point out that race-horse breeders are selling to America stallions and mares which should be the basis of our exports in the next few years. In 1949, 785 horses were sold abroad, and in 1954 the figure was 1,428. It is as if the shipping industry had to sell the dockyards instead of the ships. We are sabotaging the future. I would emphasise that it is informed opinion that if the public is to have the amenities that it wants, more of the money spent on betting will have to be put back into the industry.
To sum up, the evidence seems to be that there are so many people who have a small amount in their personal expenditure each week which they can risk that the Government cannot ignore the fact that the present laws are both unjust and unenforceable. I hope we shall have some assurance that the Government take the matter seriously and will provide fairer laws for the public and improve the financial position of the sports concerned.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) upon drawing a win in the Ballot. I thought he took full advantage of his good luck.
I would also congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) on his admirable speech. I congratulate him not only on its wit, but 2509 also on its brevity. I also congratulate him on his political acumen. He said that he has a marginal constituency. He will probably think that the next General Election is two or three years off. If in that year he wins the Derby, that may well have a great effect on his majority.
§ Mr. Wigg
I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton will have noted what my right hon. Friend has said.
There has been a certain amount of special pleading this morning. I was not much struck by the argument of the hon. Member about the value of our blood-stock exports. He carefully did not mention the value of the imports.
§ Mr. Astor
Those associated with the industry put the exports at £1½ million to £2 million a year. The President of the Board of Trade gave some figures which, as I said yesterday, made no sense at all, because when we send a mare to Ireland or France as an export, it returns a few weeks later in foal. Both are counted as imports, which is not the case.
§ Mr. Wigg
I will leave the hon. Member to argue that with the President of the Board of Trade. All I would say is that the case for accepting the excellent Report does not depend on the value of bloodstock imports or exports.
My hon. Friend overstated his case far too much. He would have us believe that in spite of Pat Smythe, boxing, athletics and the Cup Final, all the good in the world depends on greyhound racing. If my hon. Friend is even only a quarter right, I am in favour of abolishing greyhound racing over night, because far too much money is there put into too few hands. If Sir Arthur Elvin and Mr. Gentle are putting more into it than they have taken out, greyhound racing may have some qualifications for being called a sport.
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not want to drag my hon. Friend too far from his lair. He was as weak on the argument about equity as on the argument about the body from which all blessings flow, the Greyhound Racing Association. I do not accept for a moment what he said. I know there are lots of people who go greyhound racing and enjoy it, and I do not want to interfere with their liberty. However, my hon. Friend should not come here and suggest that the persons to whom he referred are merely public benefactors. They are in it for what they can draw out of it. Far too many people are going into racing also for what they can get out of it.
I will not attempt to define sport. I remember an argument in a barrack room in India about what constituted sport. Somebody said, "When you go to chase a tiger, that is sport. If the tiger chases you, it is not sport." Even if it be said that our main national characteristic is humbug, we in the House of Commons ought to try and get some of the humbug out of our minds. I think that the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming does just that. In paragraph 159, it says:We are left with the impression that it is extremely difficult to establish by abstract arguments that all gambling is inherently immoral, without adopting views as to the nature of good and evil which would not find general acceptance among moralists.That seems to be a beautifully sound, circuitous argument. The paragraph later says:It would be out of place to discuss here the abstract arguments, but from our general observation and from the evidence which we have heard we can find no support for the belief that gambling, provided that it is kept within reasonable bounds, does serious harm either to the character of those who take part in it, or to their family circle and the community generally.I think that is a conclusion which most hon. Members in the House and most people in the country would accept.
2511 What matters is the overdoing of gambling, or overdoing anything else. One can overdo many things. One can even work too hard. I have been driving a motor car for thirty-seven years, and I have had only one accident, but in that accident I smashed up my wife. Many times have I thought of the circumstances which led to that accident. I am convinced that when it occurred I was overtired. Accidents do happen because people are overtired. At that time I was no more alert than if I had been drinking too much. I was overtired from having been overworking. Overworking, inducing overtiredness, can be as dangerous as too much frivolity, or too much gambling, too much of going to the "flicks," and so on. It is excess which is harmful.
I have in mind a question about the bookmakers. There are bookmakers in small towns who are respected members of their communities. I read only this week of a member of my own party who is a bookmaker—I am wrong: successful bookmakers, of course, belong to the Conservative Party—who is the mayor-elect of Peterborough. He is a bookmaker, is he not? He is a most respected man, and doubtless renders a service to the community in which he lives.
There are other sorts of bookmaker. There are the great advertising bookmakers who attempt to build betting empires, and they may be a source of danger. They were in the United States. There was a gambling empire in the United States which had to be broken. That is one of the reasons why I am a little cautious about the question of betting shops, although I recognise and entirely accept the argument of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton that there is a case for them.
One of the dangers in removing the illegality from ready-money bookmaking is that we may thus open the way to greater abuse, because the bookmaking firms can advertise, and they could put the small men out of business, and thus the big bookmakers could establish an empire of such immense economic power that it might affect us in several harmful ways. So I am all in favour of moderation.
I have not the slightest belief that any Government, be it Labour or Conserva- 2512 tive, will ever at any time do anything about betting and gambling. Any Government can always produce absolutely 100 per cent. convincing reasons for not doing anything about it, such as pressure on Parliamentary time and many reasons but the real reason, which is that they have not the guts. They will not touch it. After all, it is a requirement in a successful gambler that he should be a successful prophet, and I will prophesy that this Government will not touch this matter with a barge pole.
If the Government will not tackle the matter, we should follow the excellent example set by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and have recourse to Private Members' Bills for tackling these subjects which, of their very nature, are non-political. If they were political, Bills concerning them would not stand much chance of getting through.
§ Mr. Wigg
There is a number of things which Private Members' Bills could well tackle. An advantage of a Private Member's Bill is that it goes just as far as public opinion will allow, which is a matter mentioned in the Report of the Royal Commission, which comes down very heavily with advice not to try to press the matter too hard, for if we try to press it too hard we shall not make the progress we otherwise can make.
Let us by all means have debates of this kind on these matters. Let us by all means try to build up a healthy public opinion about them. Perhaps I am a pessimist, or perhaps I am over-cynical, but I do not believe that this Administration will 'tackle the matter, and I do not believe that the next Administration, if it should be a Labour one, will tackle it either. I just do not think so, although I readily agree that something ought to be done.
One of the things that ought to be done is that the governing organisations of the sports, such as the National Hunt Committee and the Greyhound Racing Association, should put their own houses in order. One of the reasons why difficulties have arisen in greyhound racing 2513 is that too many people came into it in its early days, in the greyhound racing boom, and did a lot of damage. All sorts of undesirable people came in. The result was that greyhound racing was not regarded as being very respectable; not because of its working-class origin, but because of the kind of people in it in its early stages.
The Jockey Club is, I think, a terrible organisation.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
My hon. Friend says that the organisation responsible for greyhound racing should put its own house in order. Does he not agree that it has cleaned up a good many things since the early days?
§ Mr. Wigg
I hope so. It had plenty to get on with. I hope it succeeded. I do not know.
I was considering the Jockey Club. There is a number of things happening in connection with the turf day by day and month by month that cry out for examination. It is perfectly clear that the Jockey Club could do something about them. For instance, it could tackle the problem of the concentration of courses. There are far too many racecourses in this country, just as there are far too many greyhound racing tracks. There is too much racing for the number of horses available.
These sports governing bodies cannot expect the House of Commons to do their jobs for them. There is a great deal that could be done by the Jockey Club and by the National Hunt Committee and by the governing bodies of other sports to put their own organisations and their own sports in order. There is much they could do if they would.
I turn to another question which I think very important. It is clear that a major cause of corruption amongst the police is street betting. Here is a very serious problem indeed, which reaches far beyond the question of the respective merits or demerits of betting on credit OT of betting not on credit, or the question of the exports of livestock.
The discipline of the police and the integrity of the police are essential to the security of the State. There is much talk about this. If it is true that the police are suborned by street bookmakers or prostitutes and the like, then 2514 it seems to me that that is a question which the Government must tackle, whether they want to or not. It is their duty. If the Secretary of State accepts that street bookmaking is a cancer—and it is a social cancer—and if it is true that there is bribing of the police, bribery which it is said week by week pays their wages, and if that is widespread, then the Government, whether it is politically expedient or not, must tackle it. We shall be in deep waters, but it is the duty of the House to see that steps are taken to put that right.
I conclude by asking the Joint Under-Secretary of State to excuse me if I am not able to wait to hear his reply to the debate.
§ 12.39 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
It is not my intention, if the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) will forgive me, to follow his remarks closely, although I would say at once that they raised some very important matters, and that there was much in them with which I agree. However, I wish to take him up later on one point concerning greyhound racing.
At the outset, I would congratulate the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) on his good fortune in the Ballot and on choosing this subject for debate. I do not claim to be a betting man, but because of the reasonableness of his arguments and the way he presented his case, I should think there is a five to one chance that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will accept his Motion.
I intervene because I want to comment on the reference in the Motion to discrimination between one sport and another. It has been my privilege during the past four years to be chairman of an all-party group which meets regularly to discuss this question of discrimination against betting on greyhound racing. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have attended our regular meetings, and we have been insistent in putting before the Chancellor of the Exchequer the discriminatory nature of the tax on greyhound racing. It is true to say that all Chancellors of the Exchequer have accepted that the tax is discriminatory, but they have not done anything about it. Therefore, it is necessary for our group. of which the hon. Member for West Ham, North is the 2515 energetic secretary, to pursue its work and try to get this tax removed.
It is well-known to the House that the tax was instituted in 1948. In that year it produced £8,730,640, and it is true to say that in each succeeding year the tax has brought in less and less, so that the latest figures which I have available, for 1954, show that the yield from the tax has fallen from £8 million to £5,208,457. In fairness, I should say that I believe the 1955 figures have been published and that they are very slightly in excess of that figure of £5 million. The indications are that probably rock-bottom has been touched, but unless the discriminatory tax is taken off the figure is likely to remain very low. If the tax was reduced to the same level as the tax on horse-racing—
§ Wing Commander Bullus
If we get rid of this discriminatory tax, more people will be attracted back to greyhound racing. In an attempt to prevent racegoers ignoring the tote, a bookmaker's licence duty was imposed on bookmakers on the course. That duty is graded according to the part of the course on which the bookmaker operates, but the responsibility of collecting it is placed upon the stadium authorities. At Wembley the cost to the bookmaker per meeting is £48 in one part of the course, £18 in another and £6 in a third. Here is further discrimination, because those bookmakers who are not on the course are not subject to the tax. Therefore, the number of bookmakers attending courses is now considerably less than it was before the tax was imposed. This tax is specifically directed against greyhound racing.
Why are we so concerned about greyhound racing? I am not concerned personally. I have been to a greyhound racing meeting only once in my life. That was many years before the war, when I went by invitation to Elland Road Stadium, Leeds, to see how the totalisator works. Therefore, I have no axe to grind, except that I am chairman of the group that I have mentioned and that, as the 2516 House knows, there is a great stadium at Wembley.
§ Mr. Mellish
I agree with almost all that the hon. Member has said, but is not all this irrelevant to the Motion, since it is a matter which can only be dealt with by the Government in a Budget?
§ Wing Commander Bullus
I do not think that it is irrelevant, because the Motion mentions particularly discrimination against various sports. Undoubtedly there is discrimination against greyhound racing betting, and we want that put right. I agree with the hon. Member that there is no need to wait for a betting Bill to get rid of it, but this is a suitable peg on which to hang the argument about discrimination.
Despite what the hon. Member for Dudley said about greyhound racing, we owe the fact that in some of our large stadiums we are able to promote other sports to the fact that greyhound racing has been so successful and profitable in the past. This is certainly the case with Wembley, for if there were no greyhound racing there I doubt whether—without Government or municipal subsidy—cup finals, international matches and other international sports events could be held. I have the authority of the managing director, Sir Arthur Elvin, for saying that.
Many countries throughout the world subsidise their international sports stadiums. Wembley receives no subsidy of any kind, but the stadium authorities contribute a great deal to national and local exchequers. In 1955 at Wembley the totalisator tax and the bookmakers' licence duty produced £289,550, Entertainments Duty produced £118,799, local rates £25,584, Income Tax and Profits Tax £21,816, making a total of taxation for the year of £455,749. Against that, the net profit after taxation, which would include the payment of any dividends that could be paid, amounted to only £15,433. In other words, the stadium made a profit of a little over £15,000 against the payment of over £455,000 in taxation and rates.
I hope that the House will forgive my giving so many figures, but it is interesting to note that over the past eight years totalisator tax and bookmakers' licence duty at Wembley amounted to £2,946,608. Entertainments Duty amounted to over £1 million, local rates came to £281,000, and 2517 Income Tax and Profits Tax to £341,000, making a grand total paid in taxes and rates over the eight years of £4,644,178. That is a colossal figure when one considers that the profits over the same period were less than £250,000. That is little enough for the shareholders of a company, the capital issue of which amounts to £330,000. In the face of those figures it must be seen that taxation is crippling against certain types of sport. There is discrimination here, because cricket and amateur tennis get off scot-free.
Because greyhound racing is the backbone of Wembley finances, it was possible to hold the Olympic Games there. It was the first and only occasion, I believe, on which the Games were held in any stadium in the world provided out of the funds of a private company. The Wembley Stadium authorities did not go to the nation or to the local authorities for any contribution towards the holding of the Games.
It cost the Stadium authorities, in addition to initial finances for the games, over £200,000 for improvements to property; this included £75,000 for the building of the Olympic Way, the road up to the Stadium, and £50,000 for increased dressing-room accommodation. All this was provided from the reserves which had been built up in the more prosperous years of greyhound racing. That is the answer to the hon. Member for Dudley who said that people go into greyhound racing for what they can get out of it. No one would dispute that, but it is because greyhound racing has been successful that we are able to promote and help in sports other than greyhound racing.
In conclusion, I realise that this is probably somewhat outside the scope of the betting Report, but various opinions have been expressed as to whether we shall eventually get a betting Bill. If we do not, at least let us get rid of this discriminatory tax; and that would have made this debate worth the holding.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) has just made a special plea about the discriminatory tax which he alleges is imposed against greyhound racing. I am 2518 much more concerned with the present discriminatory enforcement of the law in regard to betting, gaming and lotteries, because the law is such that it cannot be enforced. Therefore it falls upon the police to attempt to discriminate as to when it shall be enforced or in what respects it shall be enforced. For the reason given by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in his very pertinent remarks, this imposes upon the police a burden which it is difficult for them to assume and to carry out with reasonable correctness and, of course, opens the way for some corruption.
First I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) on having raised this matter today. It should have been discussed by the House long ago following the appearance of the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming. Unfortunately time has not been found, and therefore the mover and the seconder of this Motion are to be congratulated on having chosen this subject and given us the opportunity of airing our views.
My hon. Friend made some kind references to the Small Lotteries and Gaming Bill which I introduced into the House and which comes up for its Report stage and, I hope, Third Reading on 13th April. However, in spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley said, I am sure that after the experience I have had it may be better that private Members should not dabble in these matters. I have found them a little too complicated and controversial to keep me out of trouble. In fact, looking into the Statutes, I have found them more confused and complicated and even a grosser muddle of inconsistencies and contradictions than any sane layman can apprehend. Compared with trying to find one's way through them, the maze at Hampton Court is child's play.
To my great surprise I have received more condemnation from those who carry on these illegal practices today on a minor scale than I have had commendation for trying to make the law enforceable; that is to say, many protests have come from the most respectable quarters, from people who are engaged in conducting lotteries and running professional card games which, to my mind, are 2519 harmless enough but are outside the law at present, and would still remain outside it even if my Bill gets on to the Statute Book. It is because the law is so complicated and because there are often border-line cases that I think these matters can only go to a certain length if handled by private Members, and that the time has come for the Government to introduce a comprehensive Measure to cover all these out-of-date laws which cannot now be satisfactorily sorted out, or cannot be satisfactorily enforced.
Take the question of lotteries. The basis on which the line is drawn today between legal and illegal lotteries is absurd. Under the 1934 Act it is permissible to run lotteries if tickets are sold only to members of an organisation or only to those people living on the same premises or working on the same premises. My Bill simply enables tickets to be sold to non-members in addition to members, and strict limitations are imposed so that no lottery can exceed £500 in total, so that half of the profits must be distributed in prizes, so that there is a limit on the prizes and a limit on the expenses.
Outside the 1934 Act, my Bill, if it becomes law, all other lotteries remain illegal, but it is ridiculous that certain competitions, and even the pools, remain legal when they are nothing but lotteries. The competitions run by the newspapers cannot be interpreted as anything but lotteries. In view of this debate, I turned up several newspapers and found how lacking in originality they are. At the moment fashions are the vogue, and in various newspapers the competitor has to choose between different suits or blouses or costumes and to put them in a certain order.
For instance, in the News of the World there are photographs of models wearing nine different suits. The readers are told:Study them well and make up your mind which you like best, then arrange them in order of merit. Enter up the first six.…Every coupon will be examined carefully and a skilled fashion expert will choose that on which the suits have in his opinion been arranged in the best order. This will be the winning coupon.…Can one believe for a moment that a newspaper like the News of the World, with a circulation of millions, will not 2520 receive hundreds and thousands of coupons putting these suits in a certain order and that they can possibly examine each one and choose the most skilfully worded to be awarded the £1,500 prize? If ever there was a lottery, that is a lottery. Yet, because there is supposed to be skill involved in choosing the order, and the prizes go to the most skilful choice, this is considered legal. [An HON. MEMBER: "Humbug."]
I say the same concerning the pools. How many people really exercise skill in entering for the treble chance? I read in one newspaper how a certain Mr. McBain recently won £33,000 on the pools. It states that he has always followed the same lines in choosing the teams: that he has always followed the same pattern, such as choosing the childrens' birthdays, as a basis.
I was somewhat surprised to find that the paper which happens to be partly supported by the political party to which I belong, the Daily Herald, introduces each week a treasure chart which tells people how to fill up the football pools. If anything discloses the nature of the pools as being a gigantic lottery, it is this Treasure Chart. This is what it states:Here we go with another Treasure Chart—the Daily Herald pools idea that gives YOU one line on the treble chance. And it could win you a fortune. This is how it works: First, look down the index column for the group which contains the first three letters of your first name. Alongside, in the column headed first 2 matches, are two numbers to mark on your coupon. Next, look for the group containing the first three letters of your surname. Alongside, in the column headed Next three matches' are your next three numbers. Lastly, find the group containing the first three letters of your town, village or suburb. In the column headed Last three matches ' you will find the numbers to complete your line.So here are these various combinations of letters, and here are the numbers to enter on the coupon. It states:The index group may at first puzzle you.Then, it gives this very pertinent instruction:Write and tell the sports editor…when you win.and it addsDon't send us your postal orders. These must go to your pools firm.2521 If anybody follows the instructions of the Daily Herald Treasure Chart and happens to win his £33,000, £75,000 or whatever it may be, what has he done except enter for a gigantic national lottery, especially if the entrant fills in his coupon on that basis?
§ Mr. Mellish
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Royal Commission Report points out that to enter for the treble chance pool with any certainty of winning, one would require to have 782 million entries?
§ Mr. Davies
I thank my hon. Friend for supporting me in that respect.
I am not suggesting that the newspaper competitions or football pools should be banned, but what I do suggest is that this hypocrisy should come to an end and that we should endeavour to draw the line at what we consider to be socially desirable and socially undesirable. The fact that such newspaper competitions and football pools are within the law but that lotteries run on a far smaller scale are without the law, seems to me to be sufficient argument for scrapping the existing law concerning lotteries, competitions and the like and introducing statutes more in keeping with modern ideas and practice.
When something that the community regards as socially harmless is banned by statute, the statute is ignored and cannot be enforced. The inevitable result is that the law also cannot be enforced in regard to that part of the statute that it is desirable should be enforced, and so undesirable practices persist.
The police cannot at present possibly enforce the law, and so it is left to them to decide where to draw the line. That is a burden which should not be imposed upon the police. I hope, therefore, that the Parliamentary Secretary will this afternoon indicate that serious consideration is being given to introducing legislation, and not in the distant future, as appeared likely from the reply given in the House of Lords. I hope we will be told that this matter will be considered at the earliest possible opportunity.
I want to say a few words concerning gaming and betting. Regarding gaming, I have been surprised to find that although in my Small Lotteries and Gaming Bill I have attempted to legalise the playing of small card games not for profit, with, again, strict limitations to 2522 total prizes of £20 and no stake greater than 5s. during the whole day, a very large number of professional games which appear to be socially harmless and which occupy the leisure of elderly people, under the existing law are illegal, and would continue to be illegal if my Bill becomes law.
I have been sent a copy of an advertisement for a South London whist drive, at which the top prize was £150 and the admission charge 8s. I am not saying whether it is desirable that these professional whist drives should continue. What I do say is that they are at present outside the law, although the police in their wisdom ignore these professional whist drives, as they ignore a great number of other games which equally are illegal. But the police use their discrimination, and if one happens to play a poker game for money on a professional basis, such as in the case of the whist drives, the police would certainly take action. Why they should discriminate between bridge and whist, on the one hand, and poker and other games, on the other hand, I do not know.
§ Mr. Davies
I am well aware of that. What I suggest is that it should not be in the power—I am not certain to what extent it is in his power—of the Home Secretary to instruct or suggest to the police that they should not take action to enforce certain laws and should take action to enforce others.
§ Mr. Davies
If the law is not enforced, the police are being asked to do something which is quite contrary to what my right hon. Friend has suggested. In the Royal Commission Report, suggestions were made by Queen's Counsel Gilbert Beyfus regarding gaming. While the Royal Commission did not itself recommend that his suggestions should be carried out, it did say that if any action 2523 should be taken they formed the basis on which it could be done. I commend those suggestions to the Government, for they offer the possibility of bringing the matter of illegal gaming, which, as has so often been stated in this House, dates back to the time of Henry VIII, on to a more rational basis.
The question of reforming the betting laws is far too controversial and complex for private Members to attempt to do through Private Members' Bills. As a result of the publication of my Bill, a bookmaker called upon me, not to tout for business, because I do not bet, but to tell me his story. He was formerly a jockey. When he became overweight, he went into his mother's business. At that time she was running a cash betting business. During 23 years she had succeeded in continuing this cash betting business, which was much the largest in North London. She had employed more than a score of bookmakers on the streets, and the slips which were collected from them were taken back in cars to her office.
During those 23 years, that woman paid £5,000 in fines as a result of her cash betting business, but she continued in the business until she retired. Then, the bookmaker who called upon me had carried on his mother's business for a while, but he got tired of being hounded by the police and of having, as he said, to hand out money to them from time to time. He began to loathe carrying on this illegal business, and he went in for credit betting.
His complaint to me is that credit betting is today no longer profitable because of the widespread practice of cash betting on the streets, and also because it is not possible to enforce the law concerning cash betting on the streets, on the one hand, and it is not possible, on the other hand, for bookmakers who engage in the legitimate profession of credit betting to collect from their defaulters. My informant insists that there are today a very large number of defaulters and that there is no redress against them. He suggested that the bookmakers have a black list, and I was shocked to hear that on that black list are a number of clergy and some Members of this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] He did not say what their political allegiances were.
2524 The greatest opponents of the reform of the law and of the legalisation of cash betting are, of course, those who are carrying it on on a large scale. They are opposed to it because they are able to avoid taxation and to operate without restrictions. The Bookmakers' Protection Association itself is opposed to the legalisation of cash betting, although it is very much concerned with it.
In conclusion, if gaming, betting and lotteries were legalised, they could be controlled, regulated and properly taxed, and it is better all round that that should be done. In my view, the Royal Commission has pointed the way. Its recommendations need not be carried out in toto, but they offer a basis on which legislation could be introduced and, I hope, discussed in the way that this Motion has been discussed today, on non-party lines, and decided by a free vote.
Betting, gaming and lotteries should be made legal, or should be made legal up to a point beyond which it would be considered that they would be socially harmful, when they would have to be restricted or banned. There can be no compromise between what is legal and illegal, as is attempted today under the present law, with the consequence that the law is not observed. I therefore hope that we will have an indication, after this long delay during which the Home Office must have had time thoroughly to digest the Report, that this confused muddle, which should be brought to an end, will be cleared up.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril W. Black (Wimbledon)
It is not without significance that it is exactly five years to the month since the Royal Commission's recommendations on this matter were presented to the House. Bearing in mind the fact that five years have passed since that time, I should like to join with other hon. Members in expressing appreciation to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) for having given an opportunity today for a wide-ranging debate on this matter. I have no doubt that all Members, whatever views they may hold on the recommendations of the Royal Commission, feel that it is a subject long overdue for debate and attention by the Government.
I certainly join with those who hope that we may get some indication from the 2525 Joint Under-Secretary for the Home Department of the Government's intentions in the matter. I do not want to address the House at any great length, but I want to indicate a few general principles and considerations which the Government and the House should have in mind when legislative attention is given to this important topic. I do not agree with those hon. Members who have suggested that there is no serious economic or social evil in betting and gambling, as at present practised.
I submit that betting and gambling have in recent years developed to such an extent as to constitute a quite serious economic and social evil. I was not able entirely to follow the figures of the hon. Member for West Ham, North and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) about the amount of money involved in transactions of this kind. Both hon. Members mentioned the figure of £70 million, which is the figure to which the Report refers. However, that is not, of course, the gross turnover involved in betting and gambling transactions. It is a net figure after deducting the very substantial taxation involved and the sums which are returned in the form of prize money to those who take part in the transactions.
Therefore, whatever view one may take about the correct figures on which one ought to base a judgment of the economic impact of betting and gambling, it must be quite wrong to make the kind of comparison which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton, made when he compared the net figure of betting and gambling transactions with the gross figure of money expended in the course of a year on intoxicating liquor. One ought to compare like with like, which is the only way one can get a fair comparison.
Taking the gross figures, for 1955 a gross figure of about £530 million was involved in the turnover of betting and gambling transactions of one kind or another, a figure which does not fall very far short of the gross expenditure involved on intoxicating liquor. A gross expenditure of £530 million, particularly in the context of the present economic position of the country, is certainly something which calls for serious consideration.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
I am sure that my hon. Friend is anxious to compare like with like. Surely there is no comparison between an investment in gambling, where for the one stake one may have eight bets, and the price of drink. I can assure my hon. Friend, who does not, I know, indulge in drink, that one cannot get eight drinks for the price of one.
§ Mr. Black
No doubt my hon. Friend is an expert in these matters and I am not strongly inclined to quarrel with his arithmetic. However, I am talking about gross turnover. The gross turnover involved in betting and gambling transactions for 1955 is not £70 million, but, according to the best estimates that can be made, about £530 million. I readily appreciate that one cannot, of course, say that there is an exact comparison, because the types of transaction are not the same in the two cases. Of course, I recognise that and I am dealing simply with the gross turnover in the two industries.
It is more or less common ground that directly and indirectly about 100,000 people are employed one way or another in connection with the betting and gambling business. At a time when useful industries are short-staffed and are crying out for additional labour, that calls at any rate for consideration by the House and by the Government, if the time comes to legislate. To permit betting and gambling on the scale of a turnover of £530 million a year, with the employment directly and indirectly of 100,000 people, is really not a good use of national resources.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Does the hon. Member realise that a large number of those people are pensioners, people who have spare time and people who work in the evenings? He must not be confused by the large numbers involved.
§ Mr. Black
I have no doubt that is true, and it is also true that pensioners and part-time workers are employed in other forms of industry. The hon. Member is quite fair in making the point that the figure of 100,000 people may have to be somewhat reduced on account of the considerations he mentioned, but I am sure that he will agree that that does 2527 not invalidate the fact that there is subtantial employment in these businesses of many people who might be employed in very much more productive ways.
§ Mr. Black
I do not dispute that either, but it does not seem to me that that in any way invalidates the point I am making. I content myself by making the point that economically and socially, betting and gambling on the scale on which they are taking place today are evils, and that fact ought to be recognised.
Perhaps I may pass on to less controversial ground. I can certainly join fully with those who have expressed the view that the time has come—in fact the time is much overdue—for the introduction of a reasonably comprehensive Measure to eradicate anomalies from the existing law. The form that that legislation should take must be very much a matter for consideration and debate. It is a matter on which different people will probably reach different conclusions.
It is certainly no part of my case, and I do not believe that there is any substantial volume of opinion in this House or outside to support the maintenance of the obvious anomalies that exist. Therefore, a comprehensive approach to this matter by the Government ought to be undertaken. I agree with those who have said that certain aspects of the present law are not capable of being effectively enforced and to an extent—although not perhaps to quite the extent that has sometimes been represented—the law is brought into disrepute by reason of the fact that it is not capable of being enforced.
Having said that, I should like to emphasise that in my judgment comprehensive legislation to remove anomalies should not take the form of removing existing necessary safeguards which have a limiting effect upon betting and gambling. The aim of legislation should be to reduce the volume and, in some cases, the apparent attractiveness of betting and gambling transactions, and not to create new opportunities and new 2528 temptations over and above those which exist now.
I was very glad to find that the hon. Member for West Ham, North had very considerable mental reservations about the desirability of the introduction of betting shops, and those are mental reservations which I share. I agree that the situation is a difficult one. There is a good deal to be said on each side, but at the moment I am far from convinced that that is the best way to overcome the anomalies and difficulties which I think we all agree exist.
The next point I wish to make has already been made and I do not wish to labour it unduly. I fully share the view that such taxation and restrictions as may be imposed upon betting and gambling transactions ought to be fair and reasonable as between one sport and another and as between one section of the community and another. I think that hon. Members will understand that I am not personally interested in the kind of sports which usually attract the betting and gambling fraternity, but there is in my constituency a greyhound track, and from the correspondence that I receive it would appear that a very large number of my constituents are very interested in what takes place at that track.
I find that there is very widespread complaint and dissatisfaction, which I must say seem to me to be well based, at what they regard as the unfair treatment which betting on greyhound racing receives at the hands of the Treasury compared, for instance, with betting on horse racing. I do not want to involve myself in the intricacies of these matters. In any case, I doubt whether I am capable of doing so with correctness. However, I think it is common ground that people who indulge in greyhound racing betting are treated more hardly at the hands of the Exchequer than those who bet upon horse racing. Many of my constituents advance the view, with which I must confess I have great sympathy, that generally speaking it is the less well-to-do people who are interested in greyhound racing and in betting upon it while there are many more well-to-do people who may be interested in horse racing and betting upon that. Whether that be so or not it seems to me that this is a form of discrimination which is unjustifiable.
§ Mr. Black
If we assume that they are people of similar means who indulge in the two types of betting, though I am far from satisfied that that is so, that does not constitute any ground for discrimination against one section compared with the other. I am not arguing that those who bet on horses should be treated more hardly than those who bet on greyhounds. There should be equality of treatment between the two. Whatever the fate of legislation on betting and gambling may be, I hope that this is a matter to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give attention in his next Budget as something which is long overdue.
§ Mr. Black
I should imagine, although I may perhaps be getting a little wide of the mark, that the Chancellor would probably say that out of the two sports he had to maintain the present rate of inflow of money to the Treasury. That, I take it, would be done by bringing down a little bit the taxation on betting on greyhound racing and bringing up a little bit the taxation on betting on horse racing, and finding a uniform rate of tax applicable to the two sports which would bring in the amount of money which the Chancellor is receiving now. I am concerned not so much about what the level of taxation should be as that there should be parity of treatment between the two sports. I am sure that there is a burning sense of injustice, which is justified and should be dealt with by the Treasury.
The last point I want to make has not been mentioned so far, and I hope that on this I am able to carry all hon. 2530 Members with me. I suggest that in any legislative changes which may be effected everything possible should be done to discourage, or prevent children and young people from engaging in betting and gambling and, on the positive side, that sound education on the subject should be provided and encouraged. I was rather shocked recently to receive a letter from the secretary of an organisation concerned with the welfare of youth, in which he wrote:At a recent meeting of this organisation the enclosed programme of a school sports meeting was discussed"—He included with the letter a copy of the programme—As you will notice, the function was held in the school grounds, and the proceeds were for school funds. We were particularly concerned with the raffle for which prizes were given. It appears that tickets were sold at the sports, and that scholars of the school were among the sellers.Whatever view one may take about betting and gambling as indulged in by adults, hon. Members will agree that in a local education authority school maintained out of public funds it is highly undesirable that these kind of activities should take place on school premises and that children in the schools should be encouraged to take part in the sale of tickets.
I have good reason for believing that this case is not by any means an isolated case, and that this kind of thing is taking place in different schools up and down the country. It is interesting to note that the Royal Commission came out quite strongly on this matter, for its conclusion was as follows:Young persons should, so far as possible, be prohibited from taking part in any form of organised gambling. For the unformed character gambling has special dangers, and the financial inducements appear even more attractive than to the adult. The formation of the gambling habit in the years of adolescence is undesirable from a social point of view, and the State is fully justified in taking steps to prevent it.These wise words of the Royal Commission, as I regard them, will, I hope, be borne in mind if and when the time comes for legislation to be promoted on this matter. We are all agreed, however, that legislation is of only limited usefulness in a matter of this kind.
I would myself hope that the Minister of Education might give some serious 2531 consideration as to what could be done along positive lines in encouraging teaching and instruction in this matter both in the day schools of the land and also in the many youth clubs and organisations of one kind and another with which the Ministry is concerned. I am quite certain that, whatever changes in the law are ultimately made, we shall do well in this matter to have regard to the special position of children and young persons.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) and myself have crossed swords on this subject before in this House. and I am sure that he will not mind if I do not follow the many interesting points he made. I should like, however, to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the observations he made concerning equality of tax as between different sports, and to offer the suggestion that if he would accompany me to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to plead that the football pools tax of 30 per cent. should be reduced, because it is by far the heaviest, I should be very happy to go with him.
§ Mr. Mulley
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps we can get together and put our proposals before the Chancellor in due course. I should also like to say, although perhaps the hon. Gentleman will not go with me this far, that it would be much better and easier to tax bookmakers, who play no part in promoting sport, if cash betting and betting shops were possible; but I will come to that point later in my speech.
I join with all hon. Members who have spoken so far who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) on his good fortune in the Ballot, and on bringing for the first time after five years the Report of the Royal Commission to the Floor of this House. I should also like to congratulate him on being doubly fortunate in lotteries, because I see from the Order Paper that my hon. Friend has also been successful in the ballot for the Adjournment Motion tonight. Should he ever contemplate 2532 going into football pools in a big way, I shall be very happy to join him, because it would appear that his luck seems to have turned, after eleven years.
I think the House was very much impressed with the very thoughtful and courageous speech from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) who seconded the Motion. It is true that, for a Member in a marginal constituency, there is a lot to be lost by taking a bold view one way or the other on this matter, but I reflected while he was speaking that if a Parliamentary candidate was in a position to forecast with certainty the result of a race on the following day, he would have no difficulty in filling his election meetings, which is one of the problems which the rest of us have to face at election times.
I should also like to pay my tribute, which I did on a previous occasion when I was able to make some reference to it, to the Report of the Royal Commission, and to express our thanks to it and to its secretary for the work which it did in this connection.
In a debate in another place, the Joint Under-Secretary of State said that the Government's copy of the Report was well thumbed. So was my own copy, which was almost my sole reading for many weeks when the Bill which I promoted was going through the House. I hope this "well thumbing" on the part of the Government spokesman responsible will produce some really interesting and constructive remarks from the Joint Under-Secretary when he comes to contribute to the debate later today.
I think there is a general consensus of opinion in this House that the first recommendation of the Royal Commission ought to be implemented as soon as possible; that is, that the law needs revision and consolidation. It has been mentioned that, in the field of gaming, we are still dependent on statutes passed in the time of Henry VIII, and to any hon. Member who has not already done so and who would like both entertainment and enlightenment, I would recommend a reading of the evidence given by Mr. Gilbert Beyfus, Q.C., to the Royal Commission on the subject of gaming.
The unsatisfactory state of the law of lotteries has been explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), and indeed his Bill goes 2533 some way towards putting it right. What we have to remember is that, since the Royal Commission Report, the law of lotteries has been made much more difficult and devious by a number of judicial decisions. I suppose that it may well be asked, in view of the many statutes on this subject and their unsatisfactory overlapping, why, when I was successful in the Ballot, I placed an additional one on the Statute Book. I can only plead that at least I knocked one off, because my Pool Betting Act, 1954, repealed the Ready Money Football Betting Act, 1920.
On that occasion, it was urged both in this House and outside—and particularly outside by Sir Alan Herbert, whom many hon. Members will recall, who tried for many years to get this House seriously interested in betting legislation—that it was wrong to attempt to tackle the problem of betting legislation piecemeal. I took the view that pool betting, because of its character, was a separate category, and, in any case, I did not feel that a private Member, having drawn 14th place in the Ballot, had any great chance of getting through a comprehensive Measure. In fact, I was very greatly surprised to get so far with the modest Measure which I brought forward.
I tried in that Bill to attempt to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission, as far as they went on the subject of pool betting, with two exceptions. One was important, and the other. I think, was of no great significance. The two recommendations which were not implemented were, first, the recommendation that there should be a statutory fixed limit to the prizes to be paid by the pools, and, secondly, that no permutations or abbreviated entries should be permitted. The second one is not very important. It is true that the practice of using permutations probably induces people to have larger stakes than they would otherwise have, but, of course, nothing would stop those who wished to write out the entries in full from doing so, and I did not think that there was any great merit in that recommendation.
I would myself have liked to have a fixed statutory limit lower than the voluntary £75,000 limit now imposed, because that £75,000 maximum is paid out only one or two times in a season, and in practice many pools are unable to pay out that sum. The practical difficulty is that between Thursday, when the entries 2534 for the pools are posted, and 5 o'clock on Saturday, everyone who has entered the pools sees himself or herself as a potential winner of £75,000. I submit that any suggestion of lowering that maximum to £50,000 or £20,000 would be regarded by those persons as an attempt to take the money out of their pockets between the Thursday when they post their forecasts and five o'clock on Saturday, when, no doubt, like myself, they find that they have been again unsuccessful.
I am satisfied that my Act is working satisfactorily, but I hope that the Government will permit amendments to it if there is a demand for them, because I do not claim that it is the last word upon the legislation required to control pool betting. Although it is not a matter for this House, I have heard that some local authorities are charging rather high fees—as is permitted in the Act—in respect of small pools who were not originally intended to be covered by the Act but were brought into it by police action on the matter of lotteries.
It may be that pool betting, especially with its lure of £75,000, is the new opium of the people, but in approaching this subject we must recognise the fact that people want to bet and that they will not be reformed by the passing of a new law. In our free society there is every scope for those who oppose gambling to try to persuade people to refrain from it, and if their moral arguments do not prevail I see no reason why they should look to this House to impose legal sanctions in order to achieve what they have failed to do by moral reasoning.
I believe that the evil effect of gambling, and the talk of families being ruined as a result of it, is greatly exaggerated. The Lord Bishop of Sheffield, in the debate in another place, said that it is largely a matter of degree, and I agree with him. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton said, this is really a question of moderation. In a prisoner-of-war camp I was associated with a great number of Australians, who were quite prepared to bet upon any possible contingency. In fact, at a time when there was a desperate shortage of cigarettes, and we were all longing for a smoke, a considerable number of cigarettes, in the form of currency, were preserved as stakes in respect of a curious game called 2535 "Two-up." They were prepared to give up smoking in those rather difficult circumstances in order to have the wherewithal to participate in what seems to be their national pastime.
If someone really wants to bet he will bet no matter what the law is, in the same way that people who are drug addicts or participate in any vice beyond a certain level of moderation will find ways of continuing with it no matter what the law may be. In reviewing the law, we should approach the matter from the point of view of those who participate in gambling only to a moderate and reasonable extent.
The crux of the Commission's Report is its recommendations upon cash betting. I do not think that today is the time to go into a technical argument upon the merits of one way of licensing or controlling cash betting as opposed to another, but I believe that the recommendations of the Commission on this subject have frightened the Government and have prevented them, during the last five years, from allowing the House even to debate the Report. The reason why they are fearful—and I think that any Government are bound to be a little fearful on the subject of cash betting—is that there is a strongly organised, active and sincere minority which opposes any form of cash betting; a minority which tends to have as its spokesman the Churches' Committee on Gambling.
That Committee opposed the Clause in my Bill which permitted cash betting on pools by post. When that Bill was going through the House I argued that this Clause would reduce and not increase the volume of pool betting. That was not my prime objective in moving the Clause, but I could see that it was a consequence which would not be unwelcome to the Churches' Committee. Although the Committee opposed it on that occasion, it has been good enough, in its recently published annual report, to note that there has been a substantial reduction in the volume of cash betting on football pools as a result of this Measure.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am sympathetic to the point of view of the hon. Member, but does not he agree that there is a distinction between cash betting by post—which may act as a deterrent in the sense that 2536 people must queue up to obtain postal orders—and cash betting in betting shops? There is a difference between the two.
§ Mr. Mulley
There is a distinction, but if the hon. Member casts his memory back—and he played a prominent part in our discussions upon my Measure—he will remember that one reason put forward against cash betting on pools was that it would increase rather than reduce the volume of cash betting. Since postal orders have to be obtained for postal betting, whether or not it is cash or credit, one still has to queue up in order to obtain a postal order.
My point is that people may tend to overbet if they do not have to send the cash with their bet, but they tend not to do so if credit betting is not allowed. In that way I suggest that the provisions in my Measure have reduced the outlay. I would not claim that this was the only reason, but it is significant that in 1955, the one year in which this cash provision has operated, there has been an 8 per cent. decline in the total amount of money staked on football pools, as compared with a 2 per cent. increase in the turnover of greyhound racing totalisators, which, as we have heard, are not exactly in a prosperous condition. This sharp decline, which is contrary to the general trend of betting upon football pools since they began, is possibly due to the introduction of cash betting.
The House really must make up its mind either to make betting illegal or to permit it to be conducted upon a logical basis, and without distinction as between one section of the community and another. Some of my hon. Friends may deal with the rôle of the police in this matter. I have no knowledge whether or not some police are corrupt, but I say that prima facie there is a danger of corruption as a result of the present state of our betting laws. A policeman who connives at illegal cash betting may find himself unable to report a much more serious breach of the law because of the possibility of complaints being made against him for having overlooked the earlier much more harmless breach of the law. All hon. Members would probably agree that, at a time when it is difficult to recruit sufficient police—a matter for which the Home Office has a special 2537 responsibility—there are many more important jobs for the police to do than to see that people do not have a bob each way and pass over cash with a betting slip.
The tragedy is that the whole of our law may be brought into contempt because one section of it is disregarded. In a nation which prides itself upon its adherence to the rule of law, any field of its legislation which cannot be justified tends to restrict the respect which its people wish to pay to the law in general. Apart from a small minority of people, I am sure that public opinion is not in favour of enforcing the present law against cash betting. I hope, therefore, that the Government will take some courage and introduce legislation upon this subject at a fairly early date. I imagine that at least the Second Reading debate would conclude with a free vote.
It may well be that the officials of the Home Office who advise upon these matters will throw their minds back to the difficult time of 1934, when 20 or 30 days of the House's business was spent upon what became the Betting and Lotteries Act. There has been a great change in public opinion in the last 20 years. Backing is given to that view by the fact that the cash betting Clause in my own Bill went through Committee without even a discussion; that when it was challenged on Report there was a very large majority in favour, and that the Lotteries Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield. East was given a Second Reading without a Division.
A Bill to deal with this subject is much too difficult for a private Member to pilot through the House without some Government assistance. If the Government will not introduce such a Bill, they should at least give drafting and other facilities to a private Member who would take on the job if he were fortunate enough to get an early place in the Ballot. The Government seem to prefer to deal with capital punishment by a Private Member's Bill and if they gave facilities to a private Member I am sure that he would be prepared to pilot such a Measure. The time has come for comprehensive legislation on this matter.
A practical advantage of cleaning up the law which might appeal to the Financial Secretary, who listened to the 2538 earlier part of the debate, is that if we had cash betting and licensed bookmakers it might be possible to tax the turnover of the bookmakers. As it is, I believe that the imposition of a 30 per cent. tax on football pools without a corresponding levy on other forms of gambling is very unfair.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East spoke about the treble chance. Those hon. Members who have tried their skill in the treble chance recognise, I am sure, that it is only an ingenious form of lottery. To cover eight selections out of 52 matches needs 752 million entries, which means the expenditure of an amount vastly in excess of any possible return one could hope to get. To win, one has to select eight drawn matches, and week after week this season there have been fewer than eight matches ending in that result. Last week, I believe, there were only five or six.
If the treble chance or some similar pool—a jack pot or whatever it may be called—were taken to the High Court, I am fairly sure the decision would be that it was a lottery, but I am equally sure that if the treble chance were declared an illegal lottery the Government of the day, of whatever party, would have to introduce emergency legislation. When my Bill was going through the House, its opponents said that the trouble was that it was too reasonable. Some 20 years ago an hon. Member tried to ban pool betting, but any Government which today attempted to interfere with or restrict pool betting would be swept out of office. I say that as a matter of fact, and not because I have any strong views one way or the other.
As it seems that a great number of the public like lotteries in one form or another, I have never quite understood why we do not have some form of national lottery to raise money for sport, perhaps, or for the Olympic Games, for scientific research or for other causes, as is done in Germany and the Scandinavian and other countries. I do not, of course, suggest that for that purpose a further levy should be made on football pools. If 30 per cent. is already taken for revenue purposes, the football pools cannot be expected to finance other things as well. I would suggest that less be taken for revenue purposes and that more 2539 of the proceeds of the levy should be devoted to the furtherance of sport generally.
It is really time that the Government grasped the nettle of cash betting. I am sure that they would not find the sting nearly as sharp as they fear. If we could get over that particular problem there would be no great controversy in dealing with the great number of other anomalies existing in our betting laws. The crux of the present problem is the Royal Commission's recommendation concerning cash betting. Since the Government seem rather ill-informed as to the possible outcome of free votes, I would say that in my opinion, for what it is worth, if there were a free vote on the recommendations of the Royal Commission there would be a substantial majority in support of a Bill drafted on the lines suggested by the Royal Commission.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I fully support and follow the general thesis of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), but I am unable to follow the detail of some of his arguments, he having had the privilege—and perhaps the difficulty—of piloting his own Bill on to the Statute Book. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) is now also pursuing that difficult course.
Those of us who represent Scottish constituencies and by habit and from duty normally travel to the North on the early hours of Friday morning miss a great deal by not being able to attend more frequently the Friday debates. I believe that the House is then often at its best and in its most logical frame of mind. I was impressed by the scope of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), and I was delighted by the lucidity and by the complete grasp of his subject displayed by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor).
I am delighted to be present when the House is in such complete agreement. I must confess to a certain amount of surprise that the agreement has been almost unanimous, although the approach to the subject has been made from different angles. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) surprised me 2540 somewhat by the moderation of his speech, and by his agreement with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park that they should together approach the Treasury on a matter about which one might have thought there could be such difference of opinion between them.
The points I want to make are small and perhaps lack the wide scope of the Motion.
The argument put forward by the hon. Member for West Ham, North was in relation to the great stadium at Wembley and the other big places where greyhound racing takes place. I wish to put forward the point of view of the very small tracks, where dog racing is engaged in from one end of the country to the other, but on a scale, of course, not to be compared with that at Wembley or any of the great dog tracks. In particular, I have in mind the burgh of Hawick—which lies in one of the three counties which I have the honour to represent—where there is a very small track. That track has no amenity whatever, but I can guarantee that it affords as much pleasure to those who attend to watch the dogs race as any of the great establishments which have been built up in the South afford to so many people here.
I want to draw attention to the difficulty of those who operate these very small tracks which afford an amenity to the community in the more remote areas and small burghs and villages. It seems strange that people who provide a reasonable facility and much pleasure to their friends and neighbours should be placed in this difficult financial position. I have been in touch with a gentleman who has to do with this track at Hawick, seeking his opinions on various topics. For brevity, and in order to allow others to take part in the debate, I will give his opinions from a letter which I have received. I hope they will be taken into consideration by both the Home Office and the Treasury.
I asked this gentleman various questions, and I think his reactions are similar to those of all the small track operators throughout the country. He said:I think it is quite wrong that we should be allowed to collect from bookmakers only five times the admission charge paid by the public.2541 That is a very sore point with the small track operators. He said:The entrance fee at Hawick is 1s. 6d. so that the bookmaker pays 7s. 6d. for the right to be there.I understand, and certainly believe it to be true, that most bookmakers would be quite willing to pay more.
The operator of a small track such as this pays a licence fee of £50 a year, and this gentleman says that he thinks this is too much in comparison with what is paid by the large tracks. Anyone who has seen the small tracks and compared them with the large tracks will agree that this seems a curious anomaly. The large tracks have roomy stands, bars and all the other facilities which people like when they intend to have a good evening's entertainment, whereas the little tracks have no facilities at all. The track of which I speak has a small lean-to shelter for use in inclement weather.
Another point which causes a great deal of annoyance is the licensing of the tracks themselves. It is the responsibility of the track operator who has a licence running for seven years to make sure that he applies for its renewal. The operator of this track was in a difficulty a little while ago when he neglected to apply for his licence and was subjected to being out of business and unable to run the track for six weeks merely because he had overlooked making the application. Those who collect the revenue, such as the local authority, might well have placed upon them some responsibility to let people know when they ought to pay their licensing fee.
Reference has already been made to the prohibition of greyhound or other dog racing on certain days. No one to whom I have spoken in the House, and none of those who follow that form of sport, can see any rhyme or reason in suggesting that there should be this limit and that there should be a differentiation between dog racing and other forms of sport.
In Scotland most of the public holidays are planned, if at all possible, to fall on Mondays. Certainly that is so in Hawick. If it were made impossible to operate the dog track on a Monday, that would cause a great deal of annoyance to people who like the facility available to them on Monday 2542 when the Spring holiday is held and on the other public holidays which are planned to take place in Scotland on Mondays. I draw these points to my hon. Friend's attention as details and I do not expect him to give a detailed reply today.
I want, finally, to put an important point which affects the small track owner very much—taxation. My constituent writes, in answer to a question which I put to him: "We have no tote in Hawick." Nevertheless, he with others who operate small tracks, deplores the 10 per cent. tax imposed, which goes back to 1947–48. They think that the tax is wrong. They are in the business and ought to know all the ins and outs of the business. They also deplore the punitive tax levied on bookmakers operating on tracks—and this affects them at Hawick. I do not wish to pursue that, but it is an observation made by my constituent to which my hon. Friend should have access.
I support the general theme of the debate that it is high time we rid ourselves of the involved position in relation to the laws on betting and the taxation of betting. It has been said that we are hypocritical in this matter, and I believe that to be so; and a little cleansing is highly desirable. I trust that my right hon. and hon. Friends will see that action is taken.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
The hon. and gallant Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Commander Donaldson) I think spoke for all of us in thanking the hon. Members for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) and Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor) for having brought this subject before us today. Both those hon. Members spoke with admirable good humour and clarity, and we are grateful to them.
To my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North, I would say that I shall never be able to put out of my mind the picture he painted of the greyhound racing promoters as the greatest public benefactors this country has known perhaps since the days of Lord Shaftesbury. To the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton, I would say how interested we were to find that the vestigial puritanism which we associate with his family's doings in the House is 2543 confined to the liquor trade and does not extend to gambling.
Both hon. Members should also have earned the gratitude of the Conservative Party, because at the 74th Annual Conference of the Conservative Party in 1954 a resolution was carried unanimously calling upon the Government to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission. In the following year, with mounting impatience, the conference requested the Government to take immediate action on the resolution which had been passed unanimously the year before. The resolution last year was passed with only 20 delegates to the conference voting against it. Not only is the House grateful to the two hon. Members who have brought the subject before us, therefore, but no doubt the Conservative Party also will find some way of showing its appreciation, at any rate to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I think they might give my hon. Friend an unopposed return and thereby save everybody a lot of unnecessary trouble through opposing him at the next General Election.
I very much hope that in consequence of the debate the Government will find it possible to announce the conclusions which they have at last reached upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission, even though all of us will not be able to accept the decision which they have reached. As hon. Members have said, it is reasonable enough, after five years of consideration, to expect that the Government should be able to make up their minds. It is not only a little discourteous to people like Mr. Willink and his colleagues of the Royal Commission that it has taken five years before this admirable Report has been debated in either House of Parliament, but there is also the long-term consideration which we should bear in mind of the effects which dilatory conduct of this kind will have upon the work of Royal Commissions in the future.
I do not think any of us were surprised to see Mr. Willink writing to The Times along those lines and saying thatWhat has happened with regard to this Report will be very discouraging both to those 2544 who are invited to serve on Royal Corn-missions and to those who are asked to prepare evidence for such inquiries. I myself, at any rate, shall never again be able to assure the cynical that a commission would not have been appointed unless there were a serious intention to remedy such evils as were brought to light.When we remember that there have been nine Royal Commissions which have reported since the end of the war and that the recommendations of only four of them have been implemented to any substantial extent, it makes us a little apprehensive about the future effectiveness of Royal Commissions and of the ability of the Government to get distinguished men and women voluntarily to give their time towards serving on them.
I can, of course, understand the reluctance of right hon. Gentlemen who form the Government, and also hon. Members in all parts of the House, to tackle this highly controversial question. It is, as hon. Members have said, a subject which is extremely difficult in many constituencies, and I also admit that it is a subject upon which it is almost impossible for any of us to be really objective.
I am bound to confess that in what I say today my general conclusions may well be influenced by the fact—although I have tried to keep that out of consideration—that I dislike betting and gambling intensely. If I felt that I could legislate it out of existence tomorrow I would be happy to join in an attempt to do so, but I do not believe that is possible. I do not disguise my dislike for the fact that there are a great many people who believe it is possible—and indeed advisable—to get something for themselves without any effort on their part. Having declared my lack of interest in the subject, I go on to say that there are two points which I think all of us should be prepared to accept.
The first I shall try to put as non-controversially as I can. It is that gambling today is a great social problem—I use the word "problem" advisedly, because I do not want to be too contentious and use the word "evil," which has been used by some hon. Members in the debate. Also, it is a problem the size of which is growing. We have been interested in the figures produced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, 2545 Park (Mr. Mulley) about the fluctuation of the amount of money involved. Nevertheless, I think that over the last twenty years or so we have seen a spread of the gambling habit.
Whether or not the Royal Commission underestimated the undesirable social effects of gambling is a matter upon which all of us have to make up our individual minds, but many of us will have been impressed, I think, by the comments of the George V Jubilee Trust. In its recent report on the Citizens of Tomorrow, the Trust referred to the atmosphere in which so many young people are growing up in which gambling is an accepted part of everyday life.
We have discussed today the extent of the problem, and there seems to be general agreement that we use something between ½ per cent. and 1 per cent. of our national resources upon gambling, that personal expenditure is somewhere between £70 million and £100 million a year, and that the turnover is a great deal more. Many hon. Members, however, would want more evidence that the assessment given by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) was right when he said that the figure is £535 million a year. The Royal Commission has accepted that 14 million of our fellow citizens take part regularly in football pools, that 500,000 go to dog tracks, that 2½ million bet on horse racecourses and that 4 million regularly bet on horses off the track. So the habit, whatever one may think of it, is obviously widespread and deep rooted, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North said in his introductory remarks.
If we accept that the problem is so widespread as that, I think we would probably all agree that there is a duty which rests upon every one of us to make that problem as little widespread as possible, to discourage gambling and to replace it by a sense of responsibility which will avoid such excesses as there may be at present.
That brings me to the second general point I wish to make. I am in complete agreement with what many hon. Members have said upon this subject. If this is to be betting and gambling they must be under adequate control, that the laws should apply equally to all classes of the population, and possibly to all forms of sport and—not least important—they 2546 should be capable of effective enforcement.
Nobody this afternoon has seriously questioned that the present law is in many respects obsolete, is uneven in its application, and extremely difficult of enforcement. I wish to emphasise particularly the point which was made by the hon. Member for Sutton, Plymouth and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) about the difficulty of the police in enforcing the law and to emphasise what was said in paragraph 221 of the Royal Commission's Report: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.The Report went on to say later in the paragraph that the Commissioners hadseen many cases reported of runners who have been convicted a dozen or more times of offences and one of our witnesses, with personal experience as a bookmaker's runner, told us that he had forgotten the number of his convictions.As hon. Members have said, that state of affairs is very serious because of the contempt into which the law of the land is being brought. It is important that the law should be respected by the community and that the community should be convinced that the laws we have are capable of enforcement.
Those were the general problems to which the members of the Royal Commission directed their minds. We may not accept all their conclusions, but those conclusions are at least entitled to the courtesy of our consideration. I submit that it is for the Government to give a lead in that respect. I would remind the Government that when the Royal Commission reported the Press was almost unanimously favourable to the recommendations which were made. The only notable editorial criticism was in the Manchester Guardian.
There was criticism of the general proposals from the Chairman of the Churches Committee on Gambling, from the Department of Christian Citizenship of the Methodist Church, and there was some criticism from the Assembly of the Baptist Union and also strong opposition on a number of specific proposals which were made—one of which has been 2547 touched upon this afternoon, the establishment of betting shops. It is not un-amusing to note that criticism of that proposal came from the Chairman of the Churches Committee on Gambling, Mr. Alfred Cope, the vice-chairman of the National Bookmakers' Protection Society and also Mr. Douglas Stuart who, in a happy cliche, I am sure needs no introduction to hon. Members of this House.
The recommendations of the Royal Commission no doubt are not the last word. Many of us have got many criticisms which we would like to put forward about them, but all these matters must really be left to the individual judgment of hon. Members. At the same time the Government must take the lead in putting their proposals before the House so that we may have the opportunity of making up our minds about them. When the Government do bring forward legislation. I hope they will remember that they are not only legislating for people who have the betting habit at present, but that they are also legislating for future generations who, one hopes, will grow up in a different climate of opinion from that which is prevalent today.
One hon. Member suggested that when legislation is introduced, it should be left to a free vote of the House. That is certainly a point of view I warmly endorse. I do not believe that this is the kind of thing about which any party would want to have a party line, and I would hope that if legislation were introduced every party would be prepared to leave it to the individual judgment of its Members as to whether that legislation should become the law of the land.
I do not think we can wait very much longer for action on this subject. Two of my hon. Friends—I will not try to assess the success which they have achieved—have attempted to implement parts of the Report. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park. There is, I am sure, little scope for further private Members' legislation on this subject. It is much too complicated, and it is really time that the Government gave a lead. I hope that the Under-Secretary this afternoon will be able to give the House an indication of the lines along which the Government's mind is now working.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)
I should like to begin by adding my congratulations to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) on his good fortune in the Ballot. As I anticipated, he has no quarrel with the rules governing that lottery. After eleven years he has, as it were, hit the jack-pot.
§ Mr. Deedes
No one who has attended today's proceedings will have any complaint about the way in which the hon. Member has spent his winnings. Certainly we have none.
This is a subject which raises issues of personal conscience and, therefore, it is particularly appropriate for discussion on Friday, when conscience rides on a rather freer rein than on some other days of the week. I am aware also that the hon. Member has gone to some pains to couch his Motion in generally acceptable terms. I acknowledge that. With one reservation, of which I shall speak later, we accept the terms of the Motion, and I hope that, broadly, my contribution will be as acceptable to the hon. Member as his was to us.
In his temperate and helpful speech, the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) referred to the letter which Mr. Willink, the Chairman of the Royal Commission, wrote to The Times on 6th December expressing concern that the Report had been ignored. Certain of the Chairman's misgivings should by now have been allayed. Since his letter appeared there have been debates in both Houses, and today we have had well deserved tributes to the work of the Royal Commission, which I am glad most warmly to endorse.
I expect that most hon. Members will by now have read the proceedings in another place when this subject was debated a week or two ago. In that connection, I want to stress two conclusions which might fairly be drawn from the discussion there. Great diversity of opinion was shown on the moral issues involved. All, however, agreed that the present law on betting is bad and needs amendment on lines indicated by the Royal Commission.
2549 There is no aspect of this subject on which national opinion is quite unanimous but we come nearest to general agreement on the proposition that as betting cannot be stopped, it should be controlled in a sensible and effective way, and that the present law, as all hon. Members have been at pains today to point out, manifestly fails to do. As my noble Friend—whom in this context I might perhaps describe as my stable companion at the Home Office—made clear on an earlier occasion, having studied the Royal Commission's Report very carefully, we agree fully with its conclusion that the present state of the law is unsatisfactory.
In that direction, private Members have already shown initiative. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) was responsible for introducing the Bill to which he referred, which has become the Pool Betting Act—a Measure which, I should add and, I think, the House will note with satisfaction, seems to be working very well. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has introduced the Small Lotteries and Gaming Bill, which is still before the House. But as both hon. Members, who have practical experience of introducing private Members' legislation, rightly suggest, most of the Royal Commission's Report raises issues too large and complex for private Members' legislation with limited time and resources. I accept that.
I shall certainly not, as no other hon. Member has done, attempt a comprehensive review of the Report—that would keep me at this Box far longer than is fitting or proper on a private Members' day; but, as most hon. Members have done, I want to concentrate my remarks, before I come to the question of legislation, on the two major topics of off-the-course betting and gaming.
Most of the speeches which have been made today have dealt with both those subjects. On both topics, I think that what the Royal Commission had to say in paragraph 186, in its final words on the issue about the social effects of gambling, supplies an appropriate text. The Commission said: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 2550 and practicable to discourage or prevent excess.We accept that as a fair statement of what the aims of gambling legislation should be.
Further, we accept the three basic principles for legislation which the Corn-mission set out in paragraph 189. What the Commission there said bears direct quotation:
I say we accept that, but that does not mean that we think it would be universally acceptable. We are fully aware—the hon. Member for Rossendale referred to it and most hon. Members, I think, are aware of it—of the controversy which is inherent in this subject. Legislation founded even on the principles to which I have (just referred would not necessarily meet with general approval. It would arouse strong opposition in some quarters, which should not be too quickly dismissed as an insignificant minority.
- "(a) 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.
- (b) That the law should apply fairly to all sections of the community; and
- (c) That as much information as is practicable should be made available to the public about the extent of gambling, and, wherever possible, the conduct of the various forms of gambling."
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor), whose speech we all enjoyed, referred to that aspect of the problem. I can only say that I have been associated all my life with a part of England where the Nonconformist conscience is strong. It is well at least to recognise, even if one disagrees with, the tenacity and sincerity with which such views are held by some on the subject of gambling. Those views cannot be lightly set aside. At any rate, against the background which I have quoted, the Royal Commission examined in detail off-the-course betting and gaming, both of which, in one way or another, illustrate the extreme silliness of the present law. The Royal Commission gave its opinion about this in quite unmistakable terms.
As to off-the-course betting, the Royal Commission gave good grounds for concluding that the present law creates evils at least as serious as those it tries to check. The illegal betting practices 2551 which have grown up are now notorious, and so are the consequences. Almost every speech that we have heard today has alluded to those consequences. One is this, as I had occasion to say in another connection earlier this week, that when the law falls into contempt those trying to enforce it are, at best, open to the charge of complicity; at worst, of corruption.
The Commission saw great objections to leaving the present law unchanged. At the same time, it could see no object in amending the law unless it enabled the extent of illegal betting greatly to be reduced. After looking most carefully at all the alternatives and taking into account foreign experience as well as experience here, the Commission came to the clear opinion that if the law was to be amended the only practical course was to make lawful the establishment of locally-licensed betting offices to which members of the public could go openly to place their cash bets instead of doing it surreptitiously at street corners in defiance of the law.
That conclusion goes to the heart of the matter, and I can now say the Government accept it. We are satisfied that the alternative methods which the Commission explored and rejected would not be satisfactory. A simple increase, for example, in penalties, with a limited extension of permitted forms of betting—such as making cash bets by post—would not prevent the present illegal betting which goes on.
It is quite clear that a major change of this kind would have to be subject to a most comprehensive system of control not leaving out of consideration the point made by—I think it was—my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) in respect of young persons and children. The Commission went into such a system of control very thoroughly, and what it envisaged involves the registration of bookmakers, the legalising of off-the-course cash betting by post, the establishment of licensed betting offices, sterner penalties against receiving cash bets off the course in any other way than by post or at licensed betting offices.
This is a bold solution. To many it will seem drastic. To the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who said he would be able to be here no longer today, but who put his shirt on nothing being done 2552 at all, it may be astonishing, but the Government accept that nothing less is likely to be effective.
Our concern must be, I think, with the social problem which off-the-course betting raises. We do not think that it is the task of Government to be the conscience of the nation or to prescribe in the Statute Book how people should behave. What we have to do now is to work out legislation to meet a situation which obviously needs controlling but which, as obviously, cannot be dispelled.
Before I turn to the question of legislation, I want to say something about gaming. Here the law is in a state of confusion which could hardly be surpassed. It is enshrined—perhaps I should say it is mummified—in fourteen separate statutes dating from 1541 onwards. I think that the House should be in possession of these facts.
It is a matter of history that the part of the Unlawful Games Act, 1541, referred to in the Preamble to a later Act asa good and profitable statute,and which declaresbowling, coyting, cloysh-cayls, half-bowl, tennis, dicing and cardingto be unlawful games, has been repealed. But there is still on the Statute Book an Act of 1738 which declaresace of hearts, pharaoh, basset and hazardto be lotteries and, therefore, illegal. In addition, an Act of 1739 declarespassage and any game with dice or a device of like nature—with the honourable exception of backgammon—to be illegal; and an Act of 1744 brings "roulet otherwise roly-poly" within the scope of those earlier Acts. I think these facts require no embellishment.
Again the Royal Commission's remedy is a drastic one—to cut through the thicket of these now nonsensical legal provisions and to start again with legislation designed to bring the law into line with present practice and opinion. A difficulty here is that a good many of the fourteen statutes to which I have referred have been introduced to remedy particular social evils at a particular time, and this ad hoc legislation has brought us to the point where we are in danger of losing sight of the main object which the law on gaming should seek to achieve. 2553 The Royal Commission puts this object in one sentence in paragraph 412:…to prevent persons being induced to play for high stakes for the profit of the promoter.I think that that will be accepted by nearly everybody as sound.
Unhappily, it is not easy to find ways in which to restrict the conduct of commercially organised gaming without interfering unduly with private gaming such as bridge parties and whist drives. The Government accept the major recommendation that the present law should be replaced by an entirely new code more in accordance with modern practice, and I do not think that anyone who has had anything to do with the present law, as most hon. Members have in connection with local lotteries and sweep-stakes and so on, will be sorry to see it go.
What we have now to do is to provide laws which will legalise those forms of gaming which are in practice tolerated despite their illegality, and at the same time prohibit the conduct of commercially organised gaming. The Royal Commission recognised that that would not be easy. Its solution involves departing from the traditional distinction between games of chance and games of skill, and from the emphasis which is placed on places where gaming occurs—that is, common gaming houses. I do not, for obvious reasons, want to go into the details of this now. We accept its objects as right, and its intention as sound. The legal formulation of those intentions may not be easy.
There is one other matter to which I must refer. It occupied a great part of the speech of the hon. Member for West Ham, North. That is the reference made to discrimination made against greyhound racing as distinct from horse racing. It brings me to the one reservation about the Motion which I made when I began my speech. If we accept the Motion exactly as it stands, the House may be led to think that any legislation we introduce would meet the words in the Motion—without discrimination between one sport and another.…I want to be quite straight with the House about this. Such differential treatment as exists, and the hon. Gentleman very fully described, lies not within the law which we are discussing today, but 2554 in Finance Acts. I think he will accept that. I do not want to go into the history—it is irrelevant to our discussion today—of how it came to be in the Finance Acts, although I am prepared to do so if necessary, but it is a Budgetary matter primarily and, therefore, not for the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed that my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was sitting on this bench throughout his remarks, and what has been said today will, of course, be passed to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor; but none of us at this season can speak for him, or would wish to do so.
I turn, finally, to the question of legislation. Hon. Members will see that a Measure to implement these radical changes in the present law would be substantial and the practical details would need a great deal of working out and would, when the time came, involve us in considerable discussion. Betting and gaming are not simple subjects about which to legislate. Fundamental difficulties occur in any issue of personal morals and behaviour in which it is hard to decide the point at which the conduct of the individual becomes a matter of social concern to the community.
We have the advantage in anything that we do of the very clear and considered views expressed by the Royal Commission on the principles which we should follow and the practical changes which we should seek to effect, but I do not think that any hon. Member will differ with me when I say that preparing the legislation will not be altogether a simple task. Possibly the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) alone among those of us who are present today will remember what happened when the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, was passed through Parliament. It had one day on Second Reading in the House and then went to a Standing Committee which spent seven days dealing with one Clause only. It was then recommitted to a Committee of the whole House, a quite unprecedented step, I am told, which was to save the Bill's life, threatened by the approaching end, of the Session.
The Bill occupied in Committee on the Floor of the House three days ending at 11.19 p.m., 12.14 a.m. and 3.18 a.m. Report and Third Reading took two days, one ending at 5.6 a.m. and 2555 the other after midnight. The total in both Houses was twenty days spent on that one Bill, which I think hon. Members will agree is not altogether an attractive programme for August, or indeed for any other month in the year.
The real difficulty is that, though none would dispute the social importance of the subject, the Parliamentary time it can devour is apt to be disproportionate to that importance. This pressure on Parliamentary time has been the main consideration in the past. There are always pressing claims on the time which the House can devote to major items of legislation. But I wish to make it quite clear that it is the Government's intention to deal with this matter as soon as opportunity presents itself by introducing a Bill to implement the main lines of the Royal Commission's recommendations. I cannot give today any undertaking as to when legislation will be introduced. It is being prepared for introduction at the earliest practicable opportunity. I hope that in saying that I have gone some way at least towards satisfying those on both sides of the House who pave so long felt deep concern about the unsatisfactory state of our betting and gambling laws.
§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has placed the House under a great debt to him for the clarity with which he has dealt with these most complicated subjects and for the interesting details about the past and the present which he has given. The curious thing is that the objects of gambling vary from age to age. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, one of the things that threatened the continued existence of cricket was the heavy gambling that took place on it.
It was customary for sides to play for a thousand guineas, and at one stage a prominent member of the M.C.C. encountered very considerable hostility for securing the banning from the game of one of the greatest professionals of the day. Then a rule was passed that no bets should be more than £10. Apparently, if one was prepared to gamble nine and a half guineas that was all right, but anything above £10 was reprehensible. For some reason or other 2556 gambling has completely vanished from cricket, and such bets as may be made now at matches are on a small scale and no professionalism is involved.
The Joint Under-Secretary has had to deal with a very difficult subject. I think that he has been helped by the way in which the debate was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor), but I cannot go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) went in his observations to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton, because the Puritans were very interested in horses. Let there be no doubt about that. The fact that we are sitting here today on reasonable terms with the monarchy is due to the fact that on the back benches there sat a man whom historians now agree was the finest judge of horse flesh who ever held office in an Army.
§ Mr. Ede
I would not put it past him. He was a brewer.
Cromwell's knowledge of how much one could get out of a horse played no small part in the victory of the Puritan Parliament. There was one great occasion when Lord Manchester told him after the Battle of Newbury to do more than one could expect horses to do. Cromwell replied that if the Lord General wanted the horses he would have their skins and nothing more.
I want to congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary and the Government on their courage in coming down on the side of the betting shop. I will not pretend that I like the betting shop as an addition to the commercial houses of the country but, when the Commission's Report was first presented, having had to consider that answer to the problem of the street bookmaker, I came to the conclusion that there was no other way of dealing with the matter. If we are going to make the position such that the ordinary working man and working woman practically cannot get their money on, we shall still have all sorts of subterfuges by which they will secure what they want. Speaking for myself alone, I say quite emphatically that the betting shop has to be accepted 2557 unless we want to go on with the existing corruption in the police force.
The hon. Gentleman said that we have complicity and corruption alleged, but we also have persecution alleged, and the suggestion that this particular chief constable is a kill-joy while the man in the adjoining county or county borough is a human being. Because in some way or another his constables never see a street bookmaker, he is an intelligent sort of person, whereas the man who is carrying out the law and whose constables discharge their oaths is a person going against, if not public interest, at any rate the popular desire.
For those reasons, I welcome the decision. The most difficult time I had during the six years in which I was Home Secretary was when I had to investigate the extent to which a powerful bookmaker had virtually gained control over a county police force, unknown to the chief constable. High-ranking officers below the rank of chief constable and deputy chief constable were the recipients of favours, and virtually the close personal friends, to an undesirable degree, of one of the leading bookmakers operating in that part of the country. If we can get rid of that kind of thing I am certain we shall do something to restore the confidence of the public in the impartiality of the police force in these matters.
I was also glad to hear what the hon. Gentleman said about gaming, although I am not sure how far the Government mean to go. In 1921 I was chairman of Epsom Urban Council. I went on to the Hill because that was in the days before the Grandstand Association thought of inviting me into the grandstand. I was standing there with my wife and behind me were two uniformed police constables from one of the London divisions. Behind them was a woman who had laid out a piece of linoleum on which the general public were invited to back the squares. It seems to me that to be able to throw a penny on to a piece of linoleum which is on a slight slope on Epsom Downs, and so to place the penny that no line on the pattern of linoleum cuts it, is an undoubted work of skill. In the eyes of the law it is gambling.
I was standing there watching this with some interest and an Epsom police constable went by in plain clothes. I heard 2558 him say to these two constables, "He is a beak." They turned round and hustled this woman off. I dare not quote in this House what she said to them, but I gather she believed that they were vermin-infested sons of bachelors. After making that claim she said, "Didn't I pay you 7s. 6d. for three-quarters of an hour's run?"
That is only a minor piece of corruption, but I hope it will be made clear what kinds of gaming will be allowed. When I have been sitting on the bench at Epsom I have had men brought before me charged with gaming on Epsom Downs, but what does anybody go there for but that on race days? I have had that charge made in respect of "housey-housey," and once a policeman swore to me that he did not know that the game was played in the Army, although he had been in the Army. That shook my belief in the credibility of the rest of his evidence.
There are these minor forms of amusement on which no great sums are either lost or won, but the fact that the law on occasions seems to drop on them makes a large number of people feel that the law is not something which they can respect, and that is the worst frame of mind that the citizens of a democratic country can get into.
The Joint Under-Secretary said that betting legislation is likely to take up a good deal of time in this House. I make him this fair offer: if he will let us name the Bills to which the House should not give attention, we will undertake to provide plenty of time in which this more desirable Measure can go through.
As one who had some heavy responsibilities in the matter immediately after this Report was presented, I want to say that I think the statement which the hon. Gentleman has made is a bold and courageous one for any Government to make—and those are the last qualities that I have hitherto discerned in this Government. I hope that, if this legislation is produced not later than the next Session of this Parliament, it will be introduced in a way that will enable hon. Members on both sides of the House freely to record their votes. I also hope that, if it were felt advisable to have consultations as to its exact form and scope before introducing the legislation, such an approach by the Government would not be turned down by any other party in the House. I say that because I am 2559 certain that if this Measure is to have respect in the country it will have to be a House of Commons Measure as opposed to a Measure over which there has been a dog-fight between the Government and any substantial number of hon. Members in opposition.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North will feel that the discussion he has originated today has been well worth while, and I congratulate him on being able to get so emphatic a declaration from the Government.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I am pushing at an open door in rising so late to support the Motion moved by the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), but it is a great pleasure to me to add my congratulations to him in making such good use of this opportunity. I want to add my congratulations also to the Government and, in particular, to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for what he has told us the Government propose to do. What was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) about the courageous action of the Government serves to show that these Friday debates sometimes bring out our best qualities, and I hope the Government will take notice of his wise suggestion that there should be consultation between the two parties before legislation is introduced.
§ Mr. Johnson
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I will follow on what he said by making another suggestion to him. I hope that on the next occasion the right hon. Gentleman visits Epsom Racecourse I may have the pleasure of accompanying him to the Hill, because I feel there might be better opportunities out there for making a little money than are to be found in Tattersall's ring. I will not argue about whether Oliver Cromwell was a good judge of a horse, but it seems to me that Charles II certainly finished more strongly.
2560 There remains little to be said about the Motion. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) criticised the Government for being so slow, and I agree that it has been slow, but I believe that those who expect urgent and immediate action as the result of Reports of Royal Commissions are almost as optimistic as those who expect to get a comfortable weekly income from following the methods advocated, according to the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), by the Daily Herald for making money out of the football pools. This only shows that some advice given by that newspaper ought to be taken with a certain degree of caution.
As has been said many times, whether we like it or not the fact remains that gambling is carried out in this country in a variety of forms and on a very wide scale. Whatever we might think of the rights or wrongs of it, I am sure that we all agree, as we have agreed this afternoon, that something must be done to put right the legislation on the subject, which is out of date, unpopular and unfair. If there were ever a striking example of one law for the rich and another for the poor, it is to be found in our laws on betting.
For my part, I have no hesitation in saying that not only should gambling be recognised but that it should be regulated in a proper form. It is no good simply saying that it exists and that we must recognise the fact. I believe that wagering on events of all kinds is a perfectly natural human instinct and I see nothing wrong with it unless it is carried to excess. Only the individual can decide when gambling becomes harmful. What the State has to do is to introduce a set of laws whereby the habit can to some extent be controlled and which can be operated so that fraud is discouraged and prevented.
I go further—and this is my reason for venturing to speak so late in the debate: I think the State is entitled to cash in on this form of self-indulgence—and it is self-indulgence—through the medium of taxation. I do not think anybody can complain if gambling is taxed more highly. No one can suggest that a tax on gambling affects the cost of living. If we can afford to gamble we can afford to pay a higher tax on gambling. If gambling is taxed, we can 2561 divert the extra resources into channels where they can be more usefully employed.
We have been told for many years by a number of Chancellors of the Exchequer that we are spending too much and we have been exhorted over and over again to save our money. Fortunately, many thrifty people have taken that advice, through the fine work done by the National Savings Movement, but unfortunately there are a great many people in the country who are not moved by those appeals to be thrifty. They go on drinking, smoking and gambling. The smokers and the drinkers pay very heavily for the privilege of doing so, but it seems to me that the gamblers get off much more lightly and far too lightly.
The State ought to take more, I believe, in taxation on all forms of gambling, and in return it ought to put the laws on a sensible basis on which they could be fairly regulated and administered. Some of the results of the taxation could also be ploughed back into the sport which provides the medium for the gambling. In this matter I am thinking mainly of horse racing, because that is the sport with which I am more familiar, but I do not in any way discriminate against greyhound racing when I say that, for I agree with the hon. Member for West Ham, North, that it has made a considerable contribution to providing facilities for other sports.
When we come to statistics, we immediately find ourselves in extremely deep water because of the ways they have been given to us this afternoon. The hon. Member for West Ham, North and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Astor) both referred to the personal expenditure of £70 million. The figures I have tried to collect relate to the total amount staked and are more in line with those given by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black). We have a definite set of statistics for football pools, because in answer to a Question I put down as recently as the first of this month, I was told by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that in round figures the total stakes on which Pool Betting Duty was paid last year were £71 million and that the receipts from the duty were £21 million.
2562 That is a straightforward figure. It is right to compare the total amount staked on pools with that in other forms of betting, where the figures are very much harder to get. We can get accurate figures for totalisators on greyhound tracks and for licenced betting by bookmakers on greyhound tracks, and for the amount on the totalisators operated by racecourses; but it is very difficult indeed to get any sort of calculation about the amount staked with bookmakers and, even more difficult, to estimate the profits which bookmakers make.
However, to make a very rough calculation—indeed it is a guess rather than a calculation—from the figures which the Royal Commission gives in its Report, those produced by the Jockey Club and from the last figures of the Churches' Committee on gambling, it seems that, apart from the amount staked in the personal expenditure on football pools, the amount actually staked in betting on races of all kinds is about £350 million a year.
Again making a very rough guess, it seems to me that the State benefits from this, either from direct duties, or through Income Tax—and there, of course, the guess is the wildest possible—to the extent of about £16½ million. The Churches' Committee estimated revenue at £42 million, but I should not have thought that it was so high. About £1 million goes back into the sports where the betting takes place. The clear picture is that the State takes about £21 million out of £71 million bet on football pools, but gets only about £17½ million out of the total amount staked in the turnover on racing and dog racing. The extra turnover in racing is certainly not going into the racecourse company. Racecourse companies are doing very badly indeed and are not getting great profits.
The gist of what I am saying is that so much money is going into betting and that the State is not getting enough out of it. Some people say that to recognise this fact and to put it on a proper basis and tax betting is legalising an evil. All that has been said on both sides of the House this afternoon would show that not all hon. Members feel that to be so. I see no reason for not getting a revenue out of betting on a much larger scale than at present.
2563 Reference was made to the amount spent on drinking and smoking. If we are to be consistent, when we say that we ought not to get a revenue out of betting, we should say that we ought not to get a revenue out of drinking. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would be very unhappy if he were told that he could derive no revenue from the use of tobacco and alcohol, which some people think are as evil as betting on racing.
I do not want to go through all the anomalies which exist under the present law. The hon. Member for West Ham, North and other speakers have referred to them. I would say that the most absurd one of all is that which makes cash betting through the street bookmaker illegal, but makes it perfectly legal to pick up a telephone and make what bet one likes. The far greater evil is the one which is legal. The real danger where one gets into a mess is in betting on credit. If a man has to take the money out of his pocket and buy a postal order or hand it over to the bookmaker on a course he thinks a great deal longer, and the time comes where there is nothing left in his pocket and he has nothing more to hand over. Then he can set off and walk home, but if he has credit he can pick up the phone and say, "Five hundred to four" on so and so, and the bookmaker hopes that at least the client will pay him something on the following Monday.
§ Mr. Mellish
And if the man does not pay and he is sued, he can plead the gambling laws and the bookmaker does not get anything.
§ Mr. Johnson
If the man is a regular racegoer the bookmaker can cause certain difficulties in connection with his future attendance.
I do not want to pursue the question of the totalisator on the dog tracks having to pay a bigger cut than the one on the race course. From the dog track totalisator 10 per cent. goes to the State and 6 per cent. to the track, and on the horse racecourse totalisator 10 per cent. only is taken. There is a definite discrimination to the extent of 6 per cent., and the result is that 6 per cent. less goes to the punter in the end.
Though we have made a lot of that, and on the principle of equality I entirely 2564 agree, I do not think that extra tax makes quite as much difference as some hon. Members have suggested. We must try to use this gambling to make a greater contribution not only to the Exchequer but to sport itself. The bookmaker who visits a track has to pay for his licence and, if he goes to the horse races, he has to pay for a bookmaker's badge, for his runner, his tic-tac man and so on. In one way and another, and also by paying Entertainments Duty on his admission fee, he makes a considerable contribution to racing; but the starting-price bookmaker who sits in his office and who gets the cream of the business makes no contribution at all.
It was estimated by the Commission that the turnover of the starting-price bookmakers was between £140 million and £170 million a year, compared with £50 million for the bookmakers at the horse racecourse and £60 million for those at the dog track. The starting price bookmaker makes no contribution. I should like to see him brought into the picture. I suggest that bookmakers ought to make a larger contribution than they do. We must devise some way to get a revenue from all this off-course betting.
I was very glad to hear the right hon Gentleman the Member for South Shields congratulate the Government and say that he supported them in the action they have taken about betting. At first sight, when considering how to control betting, one would say that the most simple way is to have totalisator betting and nothing else. We could bar any other form of betting and let the State take a straight cut of 20 per cent., give so much to the sport, and so on. That would abolish the bookmaker; but I should be against that, for two main reasons. First, it would create yet another State monopoly and I should prefer not to create this even if it is in betting. Secondly, it would do away with a great many bookmakers. I know many bookmakers and I have many among my friends, and, quite apart from anything else, I think that it would be entirely unjust to do away with their means of livelihood by legislation such as that.
We might overcome the argument about monopoly by saying that each course should run its own totalisator, take so much for itself and pay so much to the State. We can deal with the bookmakers 2565 on the horse racing tracks by means of the licence, as they are now licensed on dog tracks, but if the bookmaker pays more for his licence the amount that he will pay to the punter will be less than it is now. We may say that if we only increase the amount for the tote on the horse racing tracks and let the bookmakers go, that will drive the money from the tote to the bookmakers. That may well be so, although I think that the present practice on the dog tracks is reasonably fair. It seems to me that the ratio of receipts from the bookmakers, who pay quite large licence fees, and the tote, which pays 6 per cent., has remained more or less similar for the last five years, as far as I can make out.
I should like to see something of this kind done with horse racing, because I think the bookmakers on the horse racing tracks—and I know that I shall annoy a good many of my friends or former friends in saying this—could stand a good deal more than they are paying at present, because they are getting a good deal more money in proportion to the total amount in comparison with the man on the dog tracks.
The hon. Member for West Ham, North made some comparisons and rather suggested that there was some discrimination against greyhound racing in favour of horse racing. One thing that we must remember is that in the case of bookmakers, the numbers operating on each type of course are almost identical. What we have to remember is that there are about 190,000 races on dog tracks in a year, as compared with only 4,000 races on horse race courses, and that is a considerable difference. I am not saying that we should say to the dog tracks that they must not race on Fridays or Tuesdays. Indeed, I am far from agreeing with that, but there could be fewer greyhound races and they could still go on taking a great deal more money than is taken in horse racing.
I have mentioned the suggestion that if we had a larger licence fee for bookmakers or for the tote, or both, we might defeat our own object, and my purpose is frankly to get revenue as well as to improve present legislation, though we do not want to drive away revenue by imposing taxes which are too high. Personally, I do not think it will. I had 2566 the good fortune to go to the same school as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gaitskell) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), both of whom are acknowledged on both sides of the House to be very expert in economic matters, so that it will be understood that at a very early age I myself learned never to take odds of 13–8 about a 7–4 chance. There are others who are rather less acute, and perhaps some of those who sit in this House, and I do not think that the average backer would know anything about it if we took another 10 per cent, from the tote.
§ Mr. Lewis
if the hon. Gentleman-looks up the facts, he will see that, prior to the introduction of the 10 per cent. on the greyhound track tote, in 1947 £131 million was paid on the greyhound tracks totes, whereas last year it was only £59 million. The amount had dropped from £131 million to £59 million, but at the same time, the figures for the totes on horse racing tracks have remained almost static, whereas those for the off-the-course bookmakers have gone up.
§ Mr. Johnson
I quite agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I do not think that that is entirely due to the tax. In regard to the horse racing figures, I suggest that horse racing is a much older sport and has had a much more constant and regular flow of customers. There is also the reason that people who spend less on the tote spend more on a good many other things, which were not available in the years immediately after the war—such things as television sets and things of that kind. I personally do not agree that it is en-entirely due to the tax; I think it is due to spending money on other things. That is as may be, but if anyone thinks that the backer is discriminating about the odds he receives from the bookmakers, I can only suggest that he pays a visit to a point-to-point or a small race meeting on Easter Monday. He will then see what the bookmakers get away with in the matter of odds.
I welcome the Government's decision about betting offices off the course. I do not think that we need be worried about their possible ill effects. In Ireland these betting offices were legalised and the authorities then found that they were 2567 faced with the problem of people loitering round betting shops and queuing up to bet, but by introducing Amendments to their Acts they have now put the whole business upon a sound basis.
I want to say a few words about the cost of racing, because there is no doubt that horse racing, at any rate, is in very considerable financial difficulties. It may not be widely appreciated that 40 per cent. of these valuable stakes which we read of as being won by various owners are put up by the owners themselves. That cannot go on indefinitely. Conditions are becoming very difficult for people who keep racehorses. The position of trainers—and I speak as one who has had to deal with that side of horse racing more than the other—is becoming extremely acute. Costs have risen by between 350 per cent. or 380 per cent. and the fees which trainers are getting back from owners are not enough to enable them to make both ends meet.
Something must be done to put racing upon a sounder basis, so that better prizes may be given and costs reduced. If we cannot reduce these costs it is a waste of time talking about amending the betting laws. If we kill off all the gentlemen who provide these golden eggs we shall not have any betting because there will not be any races. That is what will happen if we go on as we are now.
This situation can be remedied in two ways. There can either be a wholesale reduction of Entertainments Duty—a matter which is entirely outside the scope of this Motion—or much bigger contributions from betting. I believe that we should adopt the latter course. That is the method by which the United States, France and Ireland have dealt with the situation and have enabled owners to carry on.
We have had a very valuable debate, and there has been a very welcome decision on the part of Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation to deal with this matter at the earliest possible moment. Having succeeded at least in kicking the door open, all hon. Members who believe in the wisdom of the Motion which had been moved by the hon. Member for West Ham, North should do their best to see that the door stays open, and that we introduce legislation in a very short time.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
There is not much left to say now, this debate having begun as long ago as 11 o'clock, but I humbly congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State upon what I regarded as his remarkable statement that the Government intend, at some early date, to bring in legislation to legalise gambling. I was not expecting such an announcement. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was on a winning bet.
§ Mr. Mellish
We shall see. If I understand the position correctly, legislation is already under way. At a given moment I suppose that discussions will be carried on through the usual channels, and a Bill introduced. If I understood the Under-Secretary of State's announcement correctly, this will mean that gambling will be legalised and bookmakers will be licensed. No one will be allowed to operate as a bookmaker unless he has a State licence. For the first time the State will be giving official recognition to what some people regard as a very evil thing. I say at once that I have held these views about the legalisation of gambling for a very long time. I am on record as having spoken in this House on that very matter in 1948.
It may be that I am a little prejudiced. My first experience of betting on a horse was in 1934 when I was associated with the dock industry. At that time we had on the managerial side the son of a racehorse owner. We had heard of racehorse owners but had never met one, and here amongst us was a racehorse owner's son. He tipped a horse called Caymanus. I thought that that information was secret to me, but every dock worker heard of it and hundreds backed the horse. I confess that I put on a bob each way. The horse won at 33 to 1 but when we went to collect our money we found that the bookmaker had vanished. To me, at that early age, that seemed to be an appalling thing, but when I made inquiries I found that it was not uncommon and that we were just unlucky. Incidentally, that is the only time I have ever had information that came up.
2569 That, of course, is only part of a much bigger story. Many people operate as bookmakers solely to fleece the public. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will know, all sorts of people have a right to set up a stand on the hill at Epsom. They take what money they can, and if the book works out all right the public get paid—otherwise they have "had it." It is up to the police to catch such people if they can, but the poor public still take very many hard knocks.
I remember that just before the war some people put up a tent on the hill at Epsom and stated that those backing horses there would be helping St. Dunstan's. Everyone started getting sentimental about it and thought it right and proper to bet on the Derby with those running the tent, but when the winners arrived to be paid out they found that those running the tent had disappeared. That is just another example of what has gone on in racing throughout its history—it has been exploited by the sort of spiv who has tried to get what money he could from it. One important feature of legalised betting is that the public will know the licence number of the man—or the woman for that matter—who is running the book, and so will have some form of protection.
Having said that, I should like to join with those who have said earlier that if it were possible to introduce legislation to abolish gambling I think the vast majority of us would wish to do so. I come from an area in which I have seen the misery caused to a minority by gambling.
As we cannot introduce legislation to abolish gambling we have to recognise that protection must be provided. Whether betting shops are the answer I do not know—I am not qualified to argue. I think that there will have to be a lot of control as to how many shops there should be and in what districts they should be established. There would be many snags, but that is something for the Government to worry about.
I think it is correct that to those who sincerely believe that gambling should be abolished we should say that it is not practicable so to do. I ought to add that I have noticed that those who want gambling abolished refer only to gambling on horses and dogs and so on. They 2570 never refer to gambling on the Stock Exchange. Millions of pounds are invested there and great unhappiness is caused to people who lose small fortunes on the Stock Exchange. We must be realistic about this. Gambling is here; most of us like a bet. I expect that most hon. Members bet on the Derby. Certainly I do; it is the only time in the year I can afford a bet, in view of the high cost of living, and I never win, so that I always reckon it to be a flutter to take an interest in the race.
Another aspect which is important—and here I must declare an interest, since I have relatives and friends in the police force—is that the proposed changes will help the police considerably. There are, I suppose, a number of unlicensed bookmakers in the district with which I am associated, although I do not know how many. I know of two, who are decent, genuine citizens, who will welcome the fact that their business—for it is business with them—will be legalised. They hate the system whereby they have to go round corners and avoid the police.
The police have a big job to do here, And I am glad that the Report paid tribute to them. This ought to be put on record, since no one has referred to it. After taking evidence on the question of attempts to corrupt the police by street bookmakers, the Commission said that:There is no doubt that such attempts are occasionally made, but the number of police officers who succumb to them is small.It went on to say:We were told by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis that in the last 15 years there have been in the Metropolitan Police 47 proved cases of corruption in connection with street betting.That is a tremendous tribute to the integrity of the police. I speak only for the London area, but I am sure that the police generally have an almost impossible task here. They cannot overcome the problem of street bookmaking. I do not believe that there is corruption, except occasionally with the odd policeman, and he would be corrupted in another way if he were not corrupted by the street bookmaker. The majority of the police leave well alone. They know that they cannot stop it, and accordingly they keep away. In paragraph 219, a representative of the Police Federation, giving evidence, said:If a man in uniform stands near the bookmaker's pitch, a punter will come up 2571 and say: 'For goodness sake go away, I want to get a bet on before I go back to work'.That is a ludicrous state of affairs, but I can well imagine it occurring. For that reason alone I think the Government statement will be welcomed.
Gambling is odious and evil in many respects from the point of view of family life, but the sort of person who loses large sums of money on gambling would lose it another way if it were not gambling. I know that some men in some industries will lose a whole week's wages on the throwing of a dice and will take a chance on what the position is when they get home. No law will ever stop that type of person. He has no sense of responsibility and nothing we do in the House, and no prayer ever uttered in a church, will stop him. We must face that.
The people who create this unhappiness are in a tiny minority, and I should like to pay tribute to those who are associated with gambling officially, such as the authorities concerned with horse racing and dog racing, who have tried to do good work in cleaning up what a few years ago was a very bad state of affairs. I do not know these people, but I pay tribute to the National Greyhound Association, which has done a good job in this respect. If a bookmaker on the course does anything wrong, he is barred. Such authorities try to see that the public get a square deal. The Jockey Club does its best, within the limits existing, to ensure that if it finds a crooked jockey or trainer, he is barred.
All that is going on in a sport which, officially, is not recognised by the Government as such, because no one goes racing merely to look at two horses running. Who would care twopence which won if one did not have a bet? The best example of that was when I saw a film of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) showing tremendous excitement at a horse race. I was told afterwards that the reason he was so thrilled was that there was £200 to win on the race. That is how we would all feel in a similar situation.
For the first time, a statement has been made on behalf of the Government of the day recognising that this is a problem which must be dealt with and saying that 2572 they are to deal with it in an effective way. I wish the Under-Secretary of State well. I think that he has shown great courage. This is a non-party matter. I hope that the legislation will be introduced soon and that we shall resist the approaches which, no doubt, will be made to us not to support it.
On both sides of the House there are hon. Members who will say that by legalising this sort of gambling we shall encourage it. I do not believe that. A nation which is already spending as a minimum, so far as we can judge, £500 million on gambling does not need any encouragement to do that. To say that this will make it easier to take part in betting is to forget that one can get a bet on anywhere. Even people who are opposed to gambling know that it is the easiest thing in the world to get a bet on in the street or by telephone. I join with the rest of my hon. Friends in saying well done to the Under-Secretary of State. It was the best speech he has made. I hope that we shall have legislation soon to deal with this urgent question.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am sure we shall all agree with the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) in his closing remarks with reference to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. The Government today have made a courageous, bold and a sensible statement, and it was one with which all of us who have taken part in the debate will broadly agree.
In the very few moments which remain, I wish to offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), not only on his good fortune in being successful in the Ballot, but also on his selection of a topic. I think he should also be congratulated on the excellent statement he has drawn from the Government. In my view, it is quite right that this House should have had the opportunity to consider the Report of the Royal Commission. That the hon. Member should have seized this occasion to provide such an opportunity seems to be a very sensible use of Private Members' time.
Although we are not considering legislation today, I wish to make it quite clear to the House that in taking part in this debate I have an interest to declare. I am a director of the Greyhound Racing 2573 Association and of the White City Stadium. Although the activities of these companies and the others with which I am associated in the Group go far beyond the scope and terms of this Report, it is, I think, only right that I should make my position quite plain. To that I would add only this. What I am saying today I say for myself, and I do not necessarily represent the views of the interests with which I am associated.
No one knowing even a little of the task which confronted the Royal Commission when it set about its work in 1949 could fail to admire the job which it has done. Tribute has been paid to that work by the Under-Secretary. The Commission has produced a remarkable Report. I witnessed something of the work of that body, and I saw examples of the effort which was made by individual members of the Commission, not least by the chairman, to grasp the complications and the intricacies of a subject which very few people in this country can fully comprehend. For my part, although I cannot agree with all the recommendations which are made, I am very glad to be able to pay my tribute to the result of the Commission's work.
I come now to the first of the three points I wish briefly to make. When the Government are preparing this legislation, I hope that a real effort will be made to make the Bill equitable, comprehensive and without discrimination between one sport and another. The hon. Member for West Ham, North and others have drawn attention to the anomalies in the existing law, and I do not want to go over the same ground; but if we are now to be given the chance, let us try once and for all to end any justification for the criticism that there is one law for the rich gambler and another for the poor.
I was much impressed some years ago by some words I saw used by the late Sir Herbert Dunnico when he was a Metropolitan magistrate. Speaking in Stratford police court on 8th September, 1948, he said:I can sit here and fine a man £20 or more for taking a few betting slips and a few shillings and then I can go upstairs in this very court, pick up the telephone and put £50 on a horse. The whole thing is wicked and unfair.2574 Let us, therefore, try to frame the new legislation in such a way that it is equitable. Let us also endeavour, if we can, to make it really comprehensive. I say that with all respect to the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), whose Measures, I am sure, we all support. I do not believe it is right to introduce any more piecemeal legislation in this regard. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary and others are quite right in saying that any future legislation should be introduced by the Government and that it should be comprehensive.
I admit that I may be prejudiced; but I cannot help sensing from the Report that the Commission has perhaps been a little bit harder on greyhound racing than the facts really justify. It is an impression I have gained, and perhaps one or two other hon. Members, judging from what they have said today, have gained the same impression. Certainly a reference was made to this in the recent debate in another place. And so I say we should try to ensure that when new legislation is being framed, there shall be no question of favouring or penalising one sport or another.
My second point is a short, but not, perhaps, a very obvious one. I hope that in drawing up the Bill the Government will first take the opportunity of having full consultations with the interests concerned, whether it be horse racing or greyhound racing, the pool promoters or anyone else. This is a highly complicated subject which, to say the least, is extremely difficult to understand. I believe that discussions of this character would be beneficial and they might well save hours of argument later on. If that is so, they would be well worth while.
In particular, I have in mind the recommendations of the Commission in regard both to the restrictions on the days of racing for greyhound racing—my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Commander Donaldson) made a similar reference—and also to the percentage deduction which promoters are by law permitted to make. These raise serious considerations which go to the very heart of the sport, and it is important, I think, that there should be early discussions upon them, particularly as the Report 2575 leaves unanswered many of the questions which are raised.
I come finally to my third and last point—and here I follow the hon. Member for Bermondsey—which concerns cash betting and the proposal to establish betting offices. The idea of setting up betting shops up and down the country is one which I personally find distasteful. It is difficult to explain but it seems to me somehow to conflict with our customs and our way of life. Licensed betting offices may indeed, as many hon. Members think and as the Royal Commission certainly thought, prove to be the only answer to the problem of ready-money betting; but I, personally, shall need to be much more convinced than I am now that this is the best way out of the difficulty. Of one thing I am quite sure, that unless in new legislation we legalise cash betting, register and license bookmakers, and make their debts recoverable by law, we shall see only the continuation of the irregularities and the practices which today make such a mockery of the law.
Sir, there are two simple questions we shall have to apply to the Bill when it is introduced. First, is it fair? Second, will it work? If the answers broadly are "Yes," let us have it. But if there is any doubt in our minds, then I say, let us leave it alone.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The time has long since gone by for either tedious reminiscence or prolonged moralisation on this subject. We have had a fair slice of both in some of the preceding speeches. What we have to concentrate on now is exactly what the Joint Under-Secretary of State has said. Hon. Members have assumed that the Government have pledged themselves to introduce legislation at an early date. That is a complete misunderstanding of what the hon. Gentleman said. What he said was that the Government will introduce legislation as soon as an opportunity presents itself. That is all he said, nothing less, nothing more, and we should be foolish to read into that carefully prepared statement more than he actually said. Therefore, while we are grateful to him for having said that, we must not create in the public mind the impression that something is going to be 2576 done about this matter in the immediate future. People have been put off with one excuse or another for such a long time that if the phrase were appropriate, I should say that they will now look a gift horse in the mouth. We shall have to await, with as much patience as we have, what it is that the Government are going to do.
§ Mr. Mellish
In fairness to the Joint Under-Secretary of State, I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that he said—and it is very important—that the Home Office is now preparing legislation.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
Oh, yes, I quite agree. I was just going on to say that. I was going on to say it is quite true that the Home Secretary, or the Home Office, has legislation in preparation. Government offices in Whitehall are stuffed with drafts of legislation prepared by Parliamentary draftsmen for introduction by various Governments. I have no doubt that there is still quite a lot of intended legislation which was drafted in the time of the first post-war Labour Government and which is still cluttering up the pigeonholes of the Home Office and other Government Departments.
The fact that something is in draft is, of course, interesting but not, in my opinion, completely convincing. Nevertheless, we are gradually reaching the stage in which the cloud of humbug is being somewhat dissipated. People are much more realistic than they were in 1934 when the Betting and Lotteries Act occupied 20 days of Parliamentary time. I honestly do not think that if the Government introduced legislation of the kind envisaged by the Joint Under-Secretary it should take twenty days of Parliamentary time in this year of grace 1956.
The number of people who gamble on a small scale but in an organised way has vastly increased. Millions of people bet on football coupons who did not bet in that way in 1934. The climate of public opinion has changed since then, and the Joint Under-Secretary must not try to frighten us with the prospect that twenty days of Parliamentary time would be taken up if something practical and fair were introduced to deal with this problem.
By way of describing the contents of the proposed legislation, the hon. Gentleman said that the Government have decided that licensed betting offices are 2577 the right thing to have and that they will get us away from the problems arising from street bookmaking as we know them today. It was not possible for the hon. Gentleman to say what the Government's intentions are about gaming, but I am so used to these Friday discussions that I am thankful to the Government for anything that they offer, even if the time within which the promise will be implemented is not specifically stated. In those circumstances, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) has rendered a useful public service in bringing forward this Motion.
I hope that I am not doing the Government an injustice when I say that it may well be that if my hon. Friend had not been lucky in the Ballot we should not have obtained an expression of the Government's intentions in this matter even yet. But my hon. Friend having been lucky in the Ballot and having had the opportunity of developing the subject, the Government have been induced to apply their minds to the problem and to give the Joint Under-Secretary the appropriate instructions.
We know that there is a diversity of views on the moral issues involved, and we also know that the climate of public opinion has changed. There is nothing like the gross drunkenness that there used to be many years ago and not the same dissipation and the same wild betting of a generation or two back. The ultimate answer to all these problems is more education and higher social standards. No one can deny that in the last fifty years there has been a very substantial improvement in these respects. We need not, therefore, fear the consquences of embarking upon legislation which looks like coming along some time or another.
All that we on this side of the House can hope for is that the Government will not create new urgencies in other spheres 2578 which will divert their minds from this problem, because if this or any other Government get themselves into a mess over all kinds of other problems, those problems will naturally take precedence over the subject which we are now discussing. Let us hope that the Government extricate themselves from some of the difficulties in which they now find themselves so that they can approach this problem with a clearer mind and, at long last, alter what in the opinion of most people is a completely ridiculous state of affairs that can no longer be justified.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the leave of the House, may I say most sincerely on behalf of everyone who has taken part in the debate how much we appreciate both the content and the tone of the reply of the Minister?
We congratulate the hon. Gentleman because this is a difficult and controversial subject. We only hope that the Bill, when it is presented, will not take twenty days to go through the House, and that the Minister will have the opportunity of presenting it in the not too distant future.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming; welcomes the Commission's exposition of the anomalies which exist in the present laws; and invites the Government to consider introducing comprehensive legislation which will enable betting to be correctly and fairly conducted without discrimination between one sport and another in the interest of the British public and the sports concerned.