§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.17 a.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
One of the criticisms of this Bill is that it is of the nature of piecemeal legislation. Perhaps I have been lucky in the sense that in the past four years I have been fortunate enough to draw a place in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills. I should like to deal with this criticism by saying that, since the evidence of the Royal Commission on Betting and Gaming, two Measures which may well be described as piecemeal have been successfully passed through this House. I refer to the Pool Betting Act, 1954, and the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, which the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) was able to pilot through in 1957, I having had the privilege of giving it a dummy run in 1956.
While it is obvious that there are certain matters connected with betting which must be done by Government legislation, I notice with interest and a degree of satisfaction that the Secretary of State last night indicated that that was one of the points which had high priority. I sincerely hope that if the Labour Party are fortunate enough to become the Government of the country they will place on this matter a similar sense of urgency.
Nevertheless, as a private Member, I do not think I should be inhibited from trying to gain acceptance by the House of what I venture to suggest might well be a very useful Measure. It might be useful for a number of reasons which I shall give to the House, not necessarily in order of importance. The first is that it would bring the functions of the Racecourse Betting Control Board up to date. The Board was created in 1928, and there has been only a small Amendment, in the 1934 Betting and Lotteries Act, of the situation. Clearly during that lapse of thirty-one years many problems, perhaps small but nevertheless important, have arisen in the working of the Board.
The second reason why I suggest that this is a useful Bill is that, in the event of its being passed into law, it would 1619 bring into effect some of the less controversial recommendations of the Royal Commission. Thirdly, it aims at giving a copyright to the Racecourse Betting Control Board in the prices which are ascertained and derived out of the expensive machinery—expensive both in machines and in manpower—which is necessary to arrive at the prices of the return from the totalisator.
It also aims at increasing the amount of money which can be ploughed back into horse breeding and horse racing. Although some bookmakers may be opposed to the Bill, I should have thought that, looking at it from the long-term point of view, it would have appealed even to them. It seems to me that we cannot have good betting and lots of it, or good attendances, if we have bad horses and small fields. I suppose that almost every hon. Member has at some time or another left after the fourth race because he knew that the fifth and sixth races would have only two or three runners of indifferent calibre. What is perhaps a little more extraordinary, I have even seen the bookmakers pack their bags and leave in those circumstances.
It would not be inappropriate if I reminded the House of the history of the Racecourse Betting Control Board. By the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, the Board was authorised to set up and keep a tote. The Board was created of one chairman, whose appointment was by the Home Secretary, and eleven other members—one appointed by the Home Secretary, one by the Secretary of State for Scotland, one by the Minister of Agriculture, one by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, three by the Jockey Club, two by the National Hunt Committee, one by the Race Course Association and one by that well-known institution, Tattersalls. I can hardly imagine a more respectable collection of gentlemen to administer the affairs of this semi-public board.
The 1928 Act further provided that a totalisator fund should be established and that, after the payment of expenses, schemes should be prepared by the Board and approved by the Home Secretary. The matter was therefore not left in any sense entirely and absolutely to the Board 1620 but was subject to the general control of the Home Secretary. The basis on which these payments were to be made was that they werefor purposes conducive to the improvement of breeds of horses or the sport of horse racing.Certain small Amendments were made in the 1934 Act, but substantially the position today is the same as under the 1928 Act. It is not unimportant for me to mention that from 1930, which was the start of the payments made for those general purposes, to 1957, £7¼ million has been made available. I need not weary the House with the details, although they are all given in the document which it is provided shall be sent every year to the Home Secretary and which is debatable in the House. Between 1930 and 1957 £7¼ million was made available for those purposes.
During the war the position was difficult and there were some years in which no money could be made available for the benefit of racing and horse breeding. It is interesting to note, however, that from 1945 to 1957 £6½ million, or an average of slightly over £500,000 a year, was made available by the operations of the totalisator for these purposes, the value of which is extremely great. No doubt there are other hon. Members who know much more than I about bloodstock and racing. I can speak only from my experience of attending race courses, when I am able to do so, and struggling through masses of half-eaten pies in order to obtain a drink under conditions in which it is almost impossible to hold a glass in one's hand. Those conditions differ very much from conditions on some of the race courses in other countries.
Perhaps I may try to give a relative picture of the turnover, although in respect of the bookmakers the figure can be only a rough approximation. The turnover of the Racecourse Betting Control Board for the year 1957 was £27 million. This is much less than the turnover of other sources. On page 162 of its Report the Royal Commission said that it thought that the gross takings were probably between £255 million and £280 million, although it did not arrive at that figure with any degree of confidence. The Royal Commission took the view that the gross profit of starting price 1621 offices was slightly less than 10 per cent. and on-course betting somewhere between 6 and 7 per cent.
I do not pretend that those figures are very accurate, because they are difficult to obtain. What I have just said indicates in very general terms the sort of relationship between the totalisator and other methods of betting.
There are certain things which the Bill does not do. The details have not had very great publicity. It is important that I should say what the Bill does not do as well as in a moment to tell the House what it does. The Bill does not seek a monopoly. It seeks, first, a copyright in the prices obtained through its operation. There has been a suggestion in a number of cases that this is a monopoly Bill, with a view to driving the bookmaker out of business. I may be a bit of a muggins, but one would not be such a muggins as to introduce a Bill of that character.
Secondly, the Bill expressly prohibits the Board from opening betting shops. I do not pretend that I think that there will be any form of unanimity in regard to betting shops operated by the totalisator. There is no intention of allowing it. In the Bill it is expressly prohibited.
Finally, the Bill is not the thin end of the wedge of any deep, dark, secret development that anybody has in mind by which to get at other people engaged in the betting industry. There is no attempt of any kind to fake starting prices or on-course betting. The Bill deals only with the totalisator. Other betting is left entirely alone, and I think that it properly should be left alone, because obviously a decision will have to come from the Government on some of the recommendations which deal with those much wider matters.
Clause 1 (1) of the Bill is a general Clause defining the powers of the Board. The 1928 Act is inadequate, because it relates only to certain definite matters. It states, in effect, that it shall be lawful for the Board to bet with those who desire to bet with it on the Tote. The matter came to a head as the result of certain cases in which the Income Tax authorities were concerned with the Board on the question whether certain expenses should or should not be allowed. I hope that the, statement in Clause 1 (1) is quite clear and forthright. I do not think it does 1622 anything more than allow the Board to carry on its business on normal commercial lines. It does not ask for anything more than the ordinary commercial trading right. The Inland Revenue, in a case I have in mind, treated it on the same lines as a trading body. That is the object of Clause 1 (1). The Board should not be in a worse position than any other trading body.
Clause 1 (2) deals with the cases, which are entirely exceptional cases, where it is necessary to pay out winners at Tote odds when the bets have not had time or the opportunity of going into the Tote pool. A typical example of that is bets accepted at a branch office and then, due to some interruption of communications, not transferred to the Board. There also might be a case where there was a discrepancy of timing as to the start of the race and the windows, through some accident or other, were not closed at the time that the runners were off. Clause 1 (2) deals with that. Otherwise people who put their money on in good faith might find themselves without the winnings which they deemed in equity they should be entitled to.
Clause 1 (3) provides that bets on the totalisator may be made by credit and also may be received by post. In this connection, I think that I should call the attention of the House to paragraph 225 of the Report of the Royal Commission:We are unable to agree with the view of the Churches' Committee that the legalisation of postal cash betting would be sufficient to provide facilities for this form of betting, and that, if this were the only legal form of cash betting, illegal betting could he suppressed. The question is discussed at some length in paragraphs 301–311 of the last Royal Commission's Final Report and we do not think it necessary to state the arguments in detail. It seems to us clear that this system is not well suited to the needs of the person who bets in small amounts and that its inconvenience is such that it would not in fact replace other existing forms of illegal betting. It is not without significance that the postal cash betting which is at present carried on illegally and virtually with impunity, as it is particularly difficult to suppress, has never achieved sufficient popularity to make the provision of other illegal facilities unnecessary. We share the view of the last Royal Commission that postal cash betting should be made legal, but we are unanimously of the opinion expressed by the majority of their Members that the legalisation of postal cash betting will not be sufficient to enable other illegal forms of betting to be suppressed.1623 The recommendation in 271 (viii) is:Postal cash betting off the course should no longer be prohibited.There may be difficulty, in postal betting, in getting the bets in the pool. I must be very careful what I say, as I know nothing about the merits or demerits of what is known as "overnight declaration of runners". I understand that the Jockey Club is considering that, and if the decision is favourable it will, perhaps, go some distance, at any rate, towards providing for those who desire to make postal bets—although, in a minute or two, I shall explain why I think that there is no great likelihood of a tremendous amount of postal trade.
There must, of course, be a limitation on this form of betting. I am told that there are such things as coups, and were the rules to contain no limitation the totalisator might have to pay out a large sum of money on something that was not represented by anything like the same amount in the pool.
The rules of Tote Investors Ltd. provide for a limitation on the amount to be taken by its late service, which might apply in some cases to these postal bets. There is a limit on investment of £2 to win and/or for a place, and a limit on the dividend representing odds of 33–1, and of 8¼–1 for a place, where there are eight or more runners. I mention that because this is something that must be dealt with by detailed rule, but I see no reason at all why rules should not be formulated that are satisfactory to the limited number of people who would like to bet by post.
As I say, I do not think that there would be a very great demand for this form of betting. I am informed that Tote Investors Ltd. has about 50 offices throughout the country, and it tells me that 90 per cent. of the population can get in touch with one or other of those offices by spending 4d. on a telephone call. That, of course, would apply to the creditworthy clients of Tote Investors. The less credit-worthy people might prefer postal betting, when they could, of course, send their cash with their bets.
Clause 1 (4) is important, but it is only fair to point out that it is contrary to the Commission's recommendations. It provides that with the exception of an 1624 approved racecourse no place can be provided for persons resorting thereto for betting—in other words, no betting shop. As the House will remember, the Commission came down very much in favour of betting shops. I shall not argue that, but will merely content myself by saying that this provision is adequate to prevent betting shops being opened by the totalisator.
There is, however, a saving provision in the Clause, which reads:Save as aforesaid, the powers of the Board under this section may be exercised at such places as the Board think fit, whether on approved racecourses or elsewhere.That may seem a little difficult to understand and to contradict to some degree the earlier provisions of the Clause. That is not really so. In these days of great development of automation the Board might desire to have a central place where all the information necessary to complete its pool could be worked out automatically rather than, as at present, on each racecourse. Those words would enable that to be done.
I believe that an objection was raised by the owners of the Aintree Racecourse that on a tricast pool on the Grand National the Racecourse Betting Control Board sent all its letters c/o the Aintree Racecourse. That did not please the owners of the course, and, indeed, it is not a very desirable practice. I must repeat that it is abundantly clear that there would be no question of anybody resorting to these premises. That saving provision is inserted for reasons of technical administration.
I am informed that Clause 1 (5) is necessary because it would not be lawful to take bets even on an approved racecourse, and prosecution might be possible under the Betting Act, 1853, and the Gaming Houses Act, 1854. Obviously, that should be prevented.
Clause 2 is in line, again, with the recommendations of the Commission. Paragraph 280 of the Report states:Although we see no objection on social grounds to the present conduct of totalisator betting off the course by agents of the Racecourse Betting Control Board, we cannot think that this system has any advantages over the direct conduct of off-the-course betting by the Board. As was pointed out in the Board's evidence, the principle of the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, which legalised the operation of the totalisator on horse-racecourses, was that no private profit should be derived 1625 from its operation, and this principle is equally applicable to off-the-course totalisator betting. Owing to the excellent relations between the Board and Tote Investors Ltd., the element of private profit in the conduct of off-the-course betting has in fact been severely limited. It is clear, however, that so long as the Board is not empowered to conduct off-the-course betting, it may be obliged to agree to terms for its conduct by agents, which would not control adequately the element of private profit. In order to avoid this danger we recommend that the Board should he empowered to conduct off-the-course totalisator betting on horse-racing and that no other person should be permitted to conduct this form of betting, except with the authority of the Board and under the Board's supervision.Paragraph 281 deals with the question of betting shops, which is not relevant to cur discussion today. Paragraph 282 reads:One result of the recommendation made in paragraph 280 would be that no bookmaker would be allowed to conduct pool betting on horse-racing except with the Board's authority aid under the Board's supervision. We are satisfied that this is necessary in order to ensure that the conduct of this form of betting is properly controlled. We do not regard it as desirable that bookmakers should be permitted to conduct pool betting on horse-racing without any detailed supervision, and we do not consider that any other method of control would he effective, owing to the large number of bookmakers who might wish to provide facilities for this form of betting.There is no doubt about that last remark. I have a circular sent even to me indicating that one bookmaker would be delighted to pay Tote odds, plus 10 per cent., plus a 10 per cent. bonus, so that there is no question of their desire to provide facilities.
If I may refer to the Clause in the light of that fact, I would point out that it has three separate paragraphs in subsection (1). The first prohibits all pool betting on any horse race without authority; the second contains a prohibition of the employment of an agent in connection with totalisator betting on horse-races; and the third is a prohibition of betting at Tote odds, not necessarily by way of a pool. Under the provisions made at the end of the Clause, this does not apply to the charitable pools, and, thank goodness, it does not apply to the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act pools.
It was thought that this prohibition, if the matter was left as it stands at this stage, would be an absolute prohibition, and I take the view, and the Bill is so drafted, that some method of granting authority to these people who are desirous of using 1626 Tote odds should be achieved. In the case covered by subsection (1, a), the Racecourse Betting Control Board would be prepared to be paid for the facility of granting this authorisation the sum of 5 per cent. on the gross turnover. Under this provision, I do not know how much that facility would be used, because it would be subject to the 30 per cent. pool betting duty.
Under subsection (1, b), though the Board would be prepared to pay to its authorised agents, who place the money upon the totalisator, the sum of 5 per cent., that is a payment unlike the others, not to the Board, but from the Board for business.
§ Sir E. Errington
The amount is in the Bill, and I am coming to the method of authorisation in a moment.
The third case is that, dealt with in subsection (1, c), of the bookmaker who is prepared to stand the bet himself. He does all the work in connection with it, and does not put it on the totalisator. In that case, authority would be given on the basis that the Board should receive from the bookmaker 2½ or 3 per cent. For the purpose of this argument, perhaps one need not stress the effect of that, but the effect of paragraphs (a) and (b) is, in the one case, that the bookmaker will receive from the Board and, in the other case, would pay to the Board. The effect of that is that adequate books would have to be kept. It is not easy to say what the effect of this would be as to the amount, but at any rate it would seem to be a basis which is, if anything, generous to those who desire authority to use the totalisator machinery for their odds.
I ought now to deal with the purpose of Clause 2 (2), which, as it is drafted, imposes upon the Secretary of State not only a general supervision, but also requires him to make—such conditions as to payment and otherwise as the Secretary of State may from time to time determine.It has been pointed out to me that that may well place the Secretary of State in a position in which he would be almost a commercial arbitrator, and, in these circumstances, I have evolved a proposed 1627 Clause which, if this Bill goes to Committee, I would desire to substitute. I think that if I read the proposed Clause that would probably be the most satisfactory way. It is as follows:It shall be the duty of the Board to prepare from time to time rules and conditions as to the granting of authorisations under subsection (1) of this section, and such rules and conditions shall have effect if and when approved by the Secretary of State and subject to any amendment made by him.The effect of that will be that the Secretary of State will not be dragged into discussions or negotiations in each case where an authority is to be given, but, in fact, will approve the rules, and, having satisfied himself and having made any amendments which he thinks fit, they will become the effective rules of the Board. I hope that that will avoid any question of the Secretary of State being too much involved.
Rules are a matter of detail and, quite obviously, are not a matter that one would discuss in full on Second Reading. However, I think it proper to say that the Board, in framing its rules, would expect to have two matters in mind. The first is the necessity of reserving the right to have inspection, where required, of the books of authorised agents relating to tote transactions. That inspection should, of course, be carried out by an independent firm of chartered accountants so that there would be no suggestion of anybody obtaining the names and addresses of clients.
Following the usual bookmakers' rules, the Board would have—I think this is reasonable—the right to refuse or withdraw any authorisation without assigning any reason and in the exercise of its absolute discretion.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
Who is going to pay for the inspection of the books by the chartered accountants? Will it be the Government's responsibility, or will the bookmakers pay?
§ Sir E. Errington
I suspect that if it were necessary to investigate the books, then the person whose books were investigated would pay. The effect of that, I think, would be very good so far as enforceability of these rules is concerned, coupled with the fact that incorporated in the Bill are the penalties set out in Section 30 (1) of the 1934 Act. Those 1628 penalties are quite substantial and, I would have thought, quite adequate to ensure a reasonable enforcement of these arrangements.
Clause 2 (3) requires that people shall not hold themselves out as willing to enter into any transaction which would involve a wilful contravention of the provisions. The essence of that subsection is, of course, the word "wilful". It would apply to a bookmaker who took a tote bet, but it would not apply to a punter who did not know what the position was.
The object of Clause 3 is to empower the Board to engage in outside activities connected with the fulfilment of its statutory functions.
§ Mr. McAdden
Before my hon. Friend passes from Clause 2, will he give the House the benefit of his advice regarding the penalties under subsection (4)? I think we ought to know that.
§ Sir E. Errington
Certainly. I was seeking to save time. I have the penalties here. In the case of a first conviction, summarily, the fine would be £100. In a second and subsequent convictions, on summary basis, there would be a fine of £500 or three months' imprisonment, or both, and on indictment there would be a fine of £500 for the first offence, and for the second offence on indictment a fine of £750 or twelve months' imprisonment, or both.
As I was saying, Clause 3 gives power to the Board to engage in outside activities connected with the fulfilment of its statutory obligation. It is not visualised —I understand that there is no particular reason for this at the moment, but there was at one time—that the responsibility for running the National Stud should be undertaken by the Board. The Clause only gives power to the Board to take over the running of those things to which it so largely contributes. The object is to save further legislation.
Clause 4 gives power to the Board to borrow and to lend. Subsection (3, d) sets out the basis on which the disposal of the surplus should in future take place. Having made provision for the payment of debts and for its ordinary functions, the Clause states that the Board shall makesuch payments as they think fit for charitable purposes … in accordance with schemes from time to time prepared by the Board and 1629 approved by the Secretary of State for purposes conducive to the improvement of breeds of horses or the sport of horse racing (whether by the reduction of charges to the public for admission to horse racecourses or otherwise howsoever as the Board shall think fit) or the advancement and encouragement of veterinary science and education.It is on that basis that the surplus is disposed of.
In Clause 6 there is a more satisfactory definition of a totalisator, but I do not think that I need read it to the House.
I must apologise for the length of time that I have taken, but in view of the somewhat complicated nature of the Bill it is probably desirable that I should have taken a little time. The scheme, as I see it, gives to the Board control of the tote, of its working and of its results. A fair arrangement is made for those bookmakers who desire to use the totalisator. This scheme, I submit, is reasonably likely to be enforceable.
Finally, I think it is likely to produce, perhaps not immediately but in the not too distant future, more money for the breeding of good horses and for the improvement of horse racing facilities.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I beg to second the Motion.
I wish, at the outset, to congratulate the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) on having won a place in the Ballot which enabled him to introduce a Bill and on having elected to introduce this one. When one is fortunate enough, Mr. Speaker, to draw a place in the Ballot and when one enters what might be called "Mr. Speaker's Stakes" for Private Members' Bills one has to be pretty discriminatory as to which horse one enters. If one is fortunate enough to clear the Becher's Brook of Second Reading, there is a fairly good chance of passing the winning post. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Aldershot has this morning proved a good jockey. He has explained at some length, which was no doubt necessary, and in some detail, the purposes of the Bill.
The procedure for Private Members' Bills has always seemed to me to be subject to various limitations. In the first place, a Private Member's Bill must deal with a comparatively simple matter where reform of the law is required. It must not be too controversial, certainly not controversial in the party political sense.
1630 Inasmuch as this Bill has the support of hon. Members on both sides, and since it deals with only a very small aspect of the needed reforms of the betting and gaming laws, it meets those requirements.
It is clearly beyond the Private Member's Bill procedure to reform the complex hotchpotch of ancient, hypocritical and contradictory betting and gaming laws, which are as anachronistic today in this atomic age as is the bow and arrow, to protect which the first Acts were introduced in the time of Henry VIII. It is because of the failure of Governments—I speak not of any particular Government—to introduce adequate reforms that it has fallen upon the private Member of Parliament to do what he can in his small way.
The Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, which reported in 1951, made it clear that it considered that it was necessary to have a complete clarification, codification and reform of the Statutes dealing with betting, gaming and lotteries. Since no action has been taken by the Government, this is the third of successive steps taken by private Members of the House with the purpose of giving effect to a few of the minor recommendations of the Royal Commission.
In the first place, there was the Pool Betting Act, 1954, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley). Then, because I saw how ludicrous was the law in relation to lotteries, I introduced, during the 1955–56 Session, what is now the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act, 1956, which the House was good enough to enact. This third Measure arising out of the work of the Royal Commission goes only a very short further distance, as the hon. Member for Aldershot pointed out, in enabling the Racecourse Betting Control Board to operate totalisators off the course and accept cash bets. Those are the main purposes of the Bill.
In 1956, it appeared that, at long last, the Government of the day were going to do something about the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who was then the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, stated on 9th March, 1956:I wish to make it quite clear that it is the Government's intention to deal with this matter"—1631 that is to say, legislation designed to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission—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 practical opportunity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 2555.]This pledge was repeated in another place two months later. The following year, the Home Secretary himself, on 28th February, said:It is hoped to introduce legislation on these matters as soon as Parliamentary time permits".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1957; Vol. 565, c. 1392.]Unfortunately, the Home Secretary found it necessary to "welsh" and we did not have the legislation which he promised. It seems to me that he is having second thoughts now. I notice that, yesterday, he returned to the ring at the Political Centre of the Conservative Party and started shouting that he had a horse. According to The Times this morning, he stated that plans for legislation dealing with betting and gaming were well advanced. This is a little late in the day, and, on past form and results, I am afraid that I cannot put my money on the chance of the Home Secretary introducing legislation during the current Parliament. I do not regard him as one of the best tipsters in that respect.
I am not a punter myself; betting is not one of my vices. My researches into the ancient Statutes, when I was piloting the Small Lotteries and Gaming Bill through the House, led me to be shocked at the ridiculous state of the law and the harmful effect it had on the public attitude to the law in general. When the public considers that a law "is an ass" and knows that it is quite unenforceable, and when people are unsympathetic towards the law, then the law comes into disrepute. It is held in contempt. There is a very bad effect on the morale of police officers who find that they cannot enforce something because the public is out of sympathy with them. This situation certainly prevails still in regard to the whole matter of betting, with a small part of which the Bill is designed to deal.
It may be that this situation is Gilbertian, that it is like something in "Alice in Wonderland", and is, there- 1632 fore, amusing. Unfortunately, however, it is far more serious than that. The reform of the betting laws is long overdue and it is regrettable that no time has yet been found in Parliament to deal with it adequately.
One of the main aspects calling for reform is the unfair incidence of the betting laws on different sections of the community. A man who has credit can telephone to his bookmaker and put any amount of money on, to the limit the bookmaker is willing to accept, without any difficulty whatever. He is free to bet off the course to the extent he wishes. The man who does not enjoy credit and who prefers to put a "bob" or similar amounts each way on a horse can do so, in the normal way, only by breaking the law.
This leads to a situation in which a whole complex of illegal activities has been developed to enable the public so carry on the cash betting it wishes to do and which, in the long run, it will do come what may. An elaborate system has been established, often, of course, with the full knowledge of the police forces, who are tolerant and flexible, as they have to be on occasion, and who, at other times, are quite unable to deal with the problems which may be created. It would be less than honest to suggest that police officers are not, as a consequence, open to temptation. They are bound to be open to temptation when there is such a widespread network of illegal operations as there is in betting.
When my Small Lotteries and Gaming Bill was before the House, one or two bookmakers called upon me and explained the situation. One man—I think I have given this example in the House before—informed me that, for twenty-three years, his mother had conducted a cash betting business in the north of London. It was a very large business, the largest in the area, and she had continued in it, as I say, for twenty-three years. She employed a score of runners and touts who took the slips to her office in cars.
During this period of twenty-three years she was fined no less than £5,000. She was prosecuted many times and was subjected to these penalties, but her business never stopped, it was never interrupted and she continued in that 1633 business until she retired, when she handed over to her son, who was the bookmaker who came to see me. Such a situation is absurd and ridiculous, but it is still continuing. This state of affairs is possible only because general sympathy is with the bookie and against the law. The public neither favours this enforcement, nor helps its enforcement. Until cash betting is legalised the touts, runners and street corner bookies will continue to operate, will continue to pay their fines when "run in", but will continue in business none the less.
I am aware that the Bill in no way attempts to deal with street betting as such. As I said, that is far beyond the ability of a private Member. Such a Measure would not get through the House if introduced by a private Member. The purpose of the Bill is very limited, but even so if it permits off-the-course totalisators and the acceptance of cash bets by the Racecourse Betting Control Board, then it may well siphon off some of this illegal street betting, and to the extent that it does that the Bill is highly desirable.
The present law leaves the door wide open to the dishonest and unscrupulous punter and bookie alike—those who have no intention of settling their losses. Against such people there is no redress. Also, cash betting bookies can often plead the Gaming Act. This does not apply to the totalisator, which is statutorily enforceable both ways, so that there is always that advantage in dealing with it. Therefore, if this Measure increases the amount of betting which flows through the totalisator and decreases the other form of betting it will be all to the good. At present, for this reason and others, competition is on an unfair basis. Bookies can take bets at Tote odds, as the hon. Member for Aldershot has said, while the Tote is prohibited from accepting bets at starting prices, which means that there is an inequality there which is not fair to the Racecourse Betting Control Board.
The Bill is very limited in its scope, but I cannot see how objection can be raised to it, except by the bookies themselves. The bookmakers would admittedly lose some business if the Bill were enacted, but in view of the very large stake which they already have in starting price betting, in which, after all, 1634 they have a monopoly, and because of their very large credit betting business, far and away the major share of betting as a whole would definitely remain with the bookies. They would lose a little, but not a great deal. At present, I think that 75 per cent. of the total of off-course betting is in the hands of the bookmakers.
The opposition to extending the Board's powers to receive cash bets by post and to run off-course totalisators may come from those who obstruct any clarification of the present confused laws —those who benefit from them and abuse the present situation. On the other hand, quite honest and sincere opposition can come from those who fear that any clarification may lead to an increase in betting and gambling and may encourage rather than discourage it by making it more legal or making the legal aspects of it clearer. By the fate of this accident, one gets almost a sinister or tin-holy alliance between the Churches on the one hand and bookies on the other, both of whom oppose any alteration to the law. They are strange bedfellows indeed.
The Churches, understandably, oppose anything which would facilitate betting and thereby, in my view, refuse to face the facts of human frailty. Since the public will bet come what come may, legally or illegally, it would be better to control it, and to control betting means that the law must be reformed to make it enforceable. The bookies object to any change because the present absurdities enable them to carry on their business without responsibility, without control, without being subject to licensing and, equally important, without any effective taxation of their gains. The present situation is intolerable. As the Royal Commission concluded:The present law in regard to off-the-course betting operates evils at least as great as those it tries to check.In my view, this crazy situation should be remedied. To find one's way through this complexity of laws, as I have found in studying them over the last few years, is as difficult as getting through Hampton Court Maze. This complexity of laws certainly needs clearing up.
The Bill does nothing to encourage betting, but if it destroys in the slightest measure any of the hypocrisy which permeates the betting laws, then it will be well worth while to get it on the Statute 1635 Book. I therefore hope that when the Joint Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate he will indicate that the Government are willing to assist the progress of the Measure during its subsequent stages. I suggested earlier that the Home Secretary had rather "welshed" by not proceeding with the reform of the law which he promised. This Bill gives him the opportunity to make amends. He can now repent, pay up and then we shall make an honest Dick of him.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)
I am very glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) at a time when I can agree with so much of what he has said. There have been occasions in this House in the past when we have had disagreements, especially on transport questions. In particular, I should like to reiterate what he said about the state of the law. We should like to see a general reform of the law. I, too, am very pleased that the Home Secretary has now committed himself to considering the law and bringing about a general reform.
The law is undoubtedly very complex, and it is never a good thing when the law is in general disrepute. The betting law undoubtedly is in general disrepute at present. A Private Member's Bill can attempt to put matters right only to a limited extent, and it seems to me that this is the effect of the Bill. It goes as far as one can expect it to go, although it perhaps seems to lean rather on the side of the totalisator against the bookies. If they too had been given the opportunity for off-course postal betting legally, the position might have seemed a little more fairly balanced all round. Nevertheless, I believe that on the whole this is the right approach. Among the major reforms that are advocated, the question of off-course cash bets is particularly important, and this will do a lot of good. I believe that on the patenting of the Tote odds as well there is a strong case to be made.
I confess that I do not have the same specialised knowledge on these subjects as some of my hon. Friends. My interest in the matter is largely because of a fairly newly-acquired interest in horse racing and particularly in horse breeding. 1636 I believe that the Bill will help to a limited extent both horse breeding and horse racing.
We are frequently told that abroad, in France and Eire, where the Tote monopoly exists, racing has benefited a great deal. In the Report of the Royal Commission, which is now no less than eight years old, we find that the Commission took considerable trouble to visit Ireland to study conditions there and to see what happens when there is a Tote monopoly and there are betting offices. There is probably quite a lot to be learned from the Commission's evidence in that respect.
In its Report, which seems to me to be fairly balanced, the Royal Commission goes in great detail into the question of the morals of betting and the morals of gambling. I thought that the Commission demolished completely the case for legal action against gambling of all kinds. Betting on horse racing is not entirely a matter of chance. In the mind of the average punter, there is also, presumably, the idea that he has a certain amount of skill and that he knows a certain amount about it. Yet there can be few Members of this House who, when they visit their constituencies, have never indulged in the gamble of buying a ticket in a raffle. That is pure chance. Any hon. Member who has succeeded in never buying a ticket in a raffle certainly has my congratulations.
There is, undoubtedly, one respect in which the bookmaker has an advantage over the totalisator in that he can offer fixed odds in advance. He is always likely to have an advantage there, because there will always be many punters who prefer to bet in that way. Secondly, the bookmaker tends to offer the public a good service in the way of public relations. I could not at present make quite the same claim concerning the totalisator, although, perhaps, the young ladies who operate the Tote Investors have more charm than one usually attributes to the average bookie.
One fundamental feature in the Report is that the Royal Commission came down in favour of betting shops. This is an issue which sooner or later the Government must face. Clearly, in the view of the Commission, this matter will never be satisfactorily dealt with until the idea of betting shops has been properly 1637 approached. This is probably a more difficult question today than when the Royal Commission considered the matter eight years ago owing to the increasing use of television and the fact that more races are shown on television today than were shown at that time.
There are also considerable difficulties in the suggestions of the Royal Commission. One of them is in regard to the licensing authority. The Royal Commission made certain suggestions as to who a suitable licensing authority would be; but whoever is appointed, there is a danger that some people who at present operate as bookies might have difficulty in obtaining a licence. It would certainly be a rather invidious task to know to whom licences should be given and to whom they should be refused.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
May I pose two questions to my hon. Friend? Surely, the question of licensing, as to whether a person is a proper and respectable person, has from time immemorial been the right and proper decision of the justices. Is my hon. Friend arguing that the recommendations of the Royal Commission that there should be cash betting both through the bookmakers and the Tote is wrong and that there should now be a Tote monopoly?
§ Mr. Wingfield Digby
No, I am certainly not arguing in favour of Tote monopoly. I am surprised that my hon. Friend imagined I was. He will, no doubt, be familiar with the suggestions of the Royal Commission concerning licensing. I am merely saying that I do not necessarily come down in favour of the Commission's suggestions, because I believe it to be a difficult matter, as, indeed, I believe the regulation of these places to be. The Commission did, however, find on investigation in Ireland that no particular difficulties of regulation were presented.
Let me return to the question of off-course betting. I believe that the credit system, whereby a person can bet legally off-course by credit only is unfair. It is unfair as between the richer and the poorer. As was pointed out by the former Lord Chief Justice, it even tends to extravagance in betting as there is a minimum amount which one can bet by credit. I believe, however, that under the present system, the bookies have an 1638 unnatural advantage in that they have cash postal betting off-course although not legal, whereas the totalisator have not. I notice from the figures that the Tote's share in off-course betting is only about one-twentieth as against its share of one-third of all betting on the course and off the course. There seems to be a case to be made here. The reason is quite obvious, that the Tote Investors have only a limited number of branches, whereas there are bookies in the great majority of towns.
I feel, therefore, that there is a special reason why the balance should be redressed and the totalisator given an opportunity for off-course cash betting. It may not be very much at present, but I believe that it will be of greater importance later, certainly if overnight declarations of runners come in. A further point is that at the moment Tote Investors are handling one-half of all the money which is put on the totalisator. On all of this money, a commission—not a big one it is true; it is only 3.6 per cent.—is being paid out and thus diverted from the purposes for which the Tote was set up. It seems to me to be a matter of equity to give the Tote a monopoly of its own odds, as the totalisator people alone have gone to the expense of calculating these odds. Copyright in them is only a logical sequence.
I am glad that the Bill will set out clearly the purposes to which the Tote can devote its profits and that it will be made even clearer that they can be devoted to the causes of breeding, the improvement of the sport and veterinary research.
The British bloodstock industry is one of those industries in which we undoubtedly lead the world, and therefore, although small, it is worthy of attention and it is worthy of help. We are a little apt to take for granted industries of this kind, and, indeed, our superiority in it is being challenged from abroad. I therefore think that any help which can go back to the industry from racing is most desirable, and as things are at present that help comes to a very large extent from the totalisator.
I believe that this Bill, although it achieves only a limited amount, is a step forward. I very much hope that when the Joint Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate he will not just say that he 1639 cannot support it and that he has to wait for the main Measure on betting reform for which we have already been waiting for the last eight years. It seems to me that there is no time to be lost. I commend the Bill and hope it will receive a Second Reading.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
I have observed that the Members who have supported this Bill so far have constantly stressed that in principle they support the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming. I think it is inescapable that the Royal Commission made it clear when it made its various proposals that it did not desire piecemeal legislation and that it wanted consolidation of the law, that it wanted a comprehensive review and that it wanted to put an end to all the paradoxes and anomalies which are associated with the betting and gambling laws. Therefore, if it is to be urged that there is a special case here, I think that we have the right to examine what has taken place in the past under piecemeal legislation.
We have had two instances of this. As has been pointed out, we have had the Pool Betting Act and the Small Lotteries and Gaming Act. It is particularly important that we should examine what has been the effect of the Pool Betting Act, because this Bill in one respect would amend that piece of legislation which was passed so recently, for this Bill is taking away from the pool promoters the right to run a pool upon horse racing. Therefore, I should like to take just two recommendations which were made by the Royal Commission, and which were proposed to be implemented in the Pool Betting Act, to see whether the present piecemeal legislation should receive the support of the House.
It will be recalled that the Royal Commission wholly condemned a practice which it had discovered amongst pool promoters, the creation of artificial prizes. The Royal Commission pointed out that large prizes were being created by pool promoters. In effect, when competitors gave their contributions in one pool upon a coupon, deductions by way of commission and expenses were being taken by the pool promoters from another pool, with the result that the public were being seriously misled to believe that it was possible to obtain regularly large prizes 1640 in one pool which were not really obtainable.
In order to deal with this situation, the Royal Commission recommended that this practice should cease, and the Act which was passed subsequently partially implemented some of the Royal Commission's recommendations, but because again it was piecemeal legislation, and because the whole of the recommendation of the Commission was not supported, what is the result today of this important recommendation?
This football season prizes have been given which are unprecedented. We have seen that Littlewood's Pools has on two occasions during this football season given prizes which are higher than £300,000. If one examines the returns which were made by Littlewood's in respect of the week of 29th November, 1958, we see they show that in that week the figure deducted by way of commission and expenses was the extraordinarily low figure of 17 per cent., and yet the figures in the previous seven weeks were shown to be respectively 24.9 per cent., 24.9 per cent., 24.6 per cent., 24.7 per cent., 24.6 per cent., 24.7 per cent., 24.9 per cent. There appears to be no explanation—
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
On a point of order. I hesitate to raise it, Mr. Speaker, but I wonder to what extent football pools are relevant to the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
I was a little puzzled about that myself, but I thought that the hon. Member would probably develop an argument about the Bill from those facts.
§ Mr. Abse
That is my intention, particularly since the Bill is, in effect, taking away the right which football pools promoters have at the moment to run such pools upon any sporting event. In fact they do run pools regularly upon racing. I think that the evidence of the manner in which football pools are conducted is related to the question of pools on horse racing and a right which is being taken away by this Bill.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
On a point of order. I find it difficult to follow this argument. If my hon. Friend thinks there is anything wrong with the present situation and with the right which he says the 1641 Bill is taking away, I cannot see how he can complain because the anomaly or injustice of which he complains is being taken away by the Bill.
§ Mr. Abse
It may be that the ineptitude of a junior Member is leading him to take a long time to come to the point, but if the House will indulge me, I think it will see the relevance of my argument, if I may be permitted to develop my theme.
I am pointing out that there would appear to be no explanation why the deduction of commission and expenses should suddenly drop so dramatically in the week of 29th November other than that a huge prize was being artificially created. I do not want to go into it in too great detail, but I would point out that exactly the same thing occurred when on 31st January, 1959, a huge prize was given by Littlewood's of £300,000 and when a deduction by way of expenses and commission of 15.8 per cent. was made, although in the previous seven weeks the deduction was of about the figure of 24.0 per cent.
Since we have had a recommendation in the Royal Commission's Report which sought to put an end to practices of this kind whereby the public could be so seriously misled, I am now asking why it is believed that this piecemeal legislation here which is going to take away this right from the pool promoters will improve things.
The second point which was made by the Royal Commission when it was dealing with the question of pools was that it assumed there would be proper supervision of the pool promoters' accounts and the auditing of them. Yet the position in Liverpool today is—and I hope that the House will bear with me for a few moments to examine it—that the auditor who has to be and is appointed by the local authority is the auditor who is in fact Littlewood's auditor. I think it was intended that there should be independent accountants. That was the recommendation of the Royal Commission. As the Daily Telegraph has pointed out in an article this week, the manner in which the accountants have been appointed by the local authority is not the one recommended by the Commission.
§ Mr. McAdden
Will the hon. Member take it from me that when this matter was going through Committee and was debated on the Floor of the House and was decided, Parliament came to the conclusion that one could rely upon the professional honour of chartered accountants not to act in a manner detrimental to the interests of Parliament? Consequently, if these are reputable people appointed by a local authority, it is a slur upon them to suggest that they did not act properly.
§ Mr. Abse
I was chairman of a watch committee in Cardiff which acts as a licensing body to the pools fund there. We took the view that it was always intended that there should be separate independent accountants, apart from those employed by the pools who could supervise the accounts. Liverpool should follow Cardiff's example.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
On a point of order. How does this question of football come within the terms of the Bill?
§ Mr. Speaker
I confess that I should feel somewhat happier if I heard the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), in addressing the House, occasionally mention horse racing, which seems to me to be the main point here.
§ Mr. Abse
If I may take your admonition, Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the Bill takes away a right from the pool promoters to run a pool on horse racing. It is quite clear that if the recommendation of the Royal Commission were implemented and independent accountants were to be appointed by the local authority there would be adequate supervision of a pool on horse racing. At present in Liverpool there is inadequate supervision, but if the arrangements which now apply in Cardiff existed generally, I cannot see why such a pool could not be adequately controlled.
If a pool is run on horse racing it attracts a tax of 30 per cent. The Bill requires the Government to give up that right to taxation. But the pool promoters could be adequately supervised if existing powers were properly implemented and it would be possible to collect that 30 per cent. tax from them. Whilst I appreciate the unselfish motivations of the promoters 1643 of the Bill, in the interest of stock-breeding, a question of priorities is involved. We are entitled to ask whether we should take away this form of taxation in order to subsidise something which should not have priority.
If we seek to set up something which is not described as a monopoly but in fact creates one, we shall be taking away from the bookmaker the right to offer tote odds. I may be naïve, but I cannot understand why the totalisator cannot be adequately protected even if the bookmaker gives odds which are referable to the Tote, because in that case the bookmaker cannot indulge in any malpractice. The Bill seeks to establish a monopoly for Tote pools and to exclude the bookmakers in a way which I cannot understand, for I am sure that all of us take the view that, unless there is an overriding need, a monopoly is bound to be repugnant.
Under the terms of the Bill, anyone who receives or gives wilfully Tote odds is subject to penalty. We already have enough unenforceable laws. We know that the betting and gaming laws cannot be enforced, and I cannot imagine that anyone who has had anything to do with those laws can lightly approve the imposition of penalties which cannot be enforced by any police force. I think it lamentable that another instalment of piecemeal legislation should be introduced, instead of our accepting in their entirety the recommendations of the Royal Commission.
It is for those reasons that I oppose a Bill which I believe will lead to confusion worse confounded, and which will create unnecessarily a monopoly and deprive the country of a source of taxation. It would be far better to take up the Home Secretary's promise to introduce comprehensive legislation rather than let the Bill go through.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Stanley (North Fylde)
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), but I am afraid that I did not understand what he was talking about. I could not understand how the proposed pool would do any damage to the football pools. The hon. Member thinks that the Bill should not receive a Second Reading because the Government or my hon. 1644 Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) should have brought in a Bill dealing with all the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The hon. Member was flattering private Members in suggesting that a back-bencher would be able to get such a Bill through the House. The suggestion is absolutely impossible and impracticable.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot for introducing the Bill. By means of it he is moving forward only slightly. It is a small Bill, but it attempts to show the public how much we realise that the present betting laws are archaic. We must change them, and I believe that even the smallest step forward is a good thing. We know that it is difficult for any Government, but in the last three years we have been promised that this matter would be looked into. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will be an extra spur to the Government.
As I have said, this is a small Measure. Therefore, I am rather surprised at the opposition to it which the bookmakers have organised. I do not believe that if the Bill becomes law even one bookmaker will lose the price of a large whisky each week. We do not want to take away from the bookmaker what he now receives, but we want to enable those who are responsible for totalisator betting to run a pool on horse racing. If we lose the Bill it is the small man who wants to put a bob or two on a horse who will have lost.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) spoke about a system of cash betting for everyone. The man who wants to put a bob or two on a horse will choose a terrific outsider and hope to pick a 100–1 winner, but it will be found that, except for the very big bookmakers, all bookmakers restrict Tote odds to 20–1, so the small chap would always lose on Tote odds compared with the ordinary bookmaker's odds. Off-course betting of the type indulged in by this small bettor is quite a strain if he has to make up his mind the day before the race what he has to bet on. If anyone has sufficient energy to do that, we should grant him every facility, because those who indulge in credit betting have only to ring up and put on any sum they like. I do not think that will harm the bookmakers.
1645 Now I come to the question of building pool betting. It is my belief that if the tricast betting, one, two, three, in the big races, can be built up, the general public would like it. We know by the football pools how much the public likes going in for this betting. It gives the small investor an interest in gambling and a chance to get a big return on the money he invests. I believe we can build this and that it will mean that a lot of money will go back into horse racing.
Someone may ask, why should the punter put money into racing? In my view, he gets a lot of fun out of it; therefore, why should he not give back a little to it? Mention has been made of penalising the bookmakers. Since the majority are off-the-course bookmakers, I feel strongly that they should put money back into a sport out of which they make a lot of money. If they do not do so, they must be very bad bookmakers. We have all heard of friends giving up betting because they have lost too much, but I have never heard of a bookmaker doing so.
I do not believe it is correct to say that if we get more resources for horse racing, an owner of a racehorse will be able to get much more prize money for his horse if it wins. People interested in racing would like to give more amenities to those attending race meetings. At present it is expensive to go into even the second or third ring at a meeting, and more so if people take their wives. It is more than likely they will not be able to sit down all day and will be lucky to get one rather hot drink and no food. I believe that racecourses should be made more comfortable and pleasant places for those who visit them.
Again, we would like to have up-to-date machinery on racecourses so that the public could have a fairer return for their money. I have in mind particularly the question of cameras. There is one on every flat racecourse but not on jumping courses. Therefore, the judge must make the decision and, though an honest man, he like anyone else can make a mistake. If he does so, the turn-over of people winning or losing bets on the race can be between £100,000 or £200,000. Therefore, it is desirable that there should be modern machinery on racecourses, but 1646 this can only be bought with money, so I think that those who bet should put something back into racing. My hon. Friend mentioned that the Bill would help to improve bloodstock. This would be a great advantage, because there would then be money with which to compete against the Americans in buying good horses.
I may be thought to be selfish since I am interested in racing, I have a race horse, and I breed race horses. Since I am speaking for myself, that may be so, but those hon. Members who are against gambling should remember the vast numbers of people in this country who are employed in the racing industry. I do not know the figures since they are difficult to work out, but they are colossal.
§ Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)
Would not it be far more useful if they were engaged in production for the country?
§ Mr. Stanley
In the last war the late Ernest Bevin told the Government that he particularly wanted racing to go on. He said that if it were stopped, he thought it would be much more difficult for the workers, and all the trade unions asked for it to go on. Therefore, racing performs a service. If it is said that there are "spivs" among those engaged in racing, who ought to do some work, that may he so, but we do not want to create unemployment at this time.
§ Mr. Stanley
But the hon. Gentleman seems to want to get all these people out of business. Racing is a big business in this country and since the Bill would definitely help it, I hope hon. Members will support it.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
This is a good Bill and I think we should all want it to become law.
I am intervening only for the shortest of recorded speeches, to say that the best friends of a Bill of this kind are the people who either do not speak at all or who say the least.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Hendrie Oakshott (Bebington)
I will take the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) because I want to keep the House only for a few minutes. If one looks round these benches one sees faces which are not normally here on a Friday, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I am one of them. Normally one would expect to see them in the paddock of Sandown Park rather than on the benches of the House of Commons. I welcome this Bill warmly because I am sure it is a step in the right direction. My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) referred to some of the improvements and amenities we would like to see on race courses. He mentioned the lack of cameras on some of the jumping courses. I have to judge a point-to-point tomorrow, and I only hope I shall get the results right.
There is a great deal to be said for this Bill. In seconding the Motion, the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) appeared to argue that the bookmakers would lose business through the Bill. I do not think that is so. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) can tell me the figure, but I understand that the bookmaker who returns his bets to the Tote will be treated in much the same manner as are Tote Investors Ltd. now and will receive a commission. Could my hon. Friend tell me what the rate is likely to be?
§ Mr. Oakshott
Five per cent. is an enormous commission, and if they get that back I do not think they will lose any business, but will probably benefit as time goes on. The important thing, as my hon. Friend said, is to try to build a pool which will get more money back into racing, into the breeding of thoroughbreds and so on.
I speak not with an interest any longer, alas, but as a former very small owner of horses which ran in the winter time over obstacles. The owner interested in that sport, which attracts great support all over the country and gives great pleasure to many people, is at a disadvantage because the cost of entry fees, travelling in the winter time and so on, are expensive. Speaking rather selfishly, 1648 I hope very much that one of the results of this Bill will be to get more money available to reduce the cost of entries, travelling expenses and so on, and to encourage a sport which gives pleasure to so many people.
There are two small, perhaps Committee, points which I would like to ask my hon. Friend. Reference is made in Clause 1 (4) to approved racecourses. I realise the intention of the phrase. It is to exclude what we used to call "flapping" meetings, Isle of Man rules, and so on. But who is to approve the racecourse?
§ Mr. Oakshott
My second point is that my hon. Friend forecasts an Amendment to Clause 2 (2). As it stands, this is a complicated subsection and would place difficulties in the way of the Secretary of State. It is important that if there are to be rules governing authorisations for the giving of credit and the amount that can be sent by post, although obviously one does not want rules embodied in the Bill, there should be reference in it to their existence. I understand that my hon. Friend has foreshadowed that there will be reference to this point in the Bill.
I welcome the Bill and hope it will get a Second Reading and that it will pass quickly on its way and get on to the Statute Book successfully.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
I will try to follow the example of the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Oakshott) and be brief. I approach this subject without personal bias or prejudice at all. I am one of the lucky individuals from whom no bookmaker has ever taken a farthing; nor have I, on the other hand, ever taken a farthing from a bookmaker or from anybody else in the betting world.
This small Bill has prompted me to go back to the Report of the Royal Commission of 1950–51. I cannot understand why this ridiculous piece of legislation 1649 has been submitted to us. I hope the House will forgive the expression if I say that the Report of the Royal Commission has left an unhappy taste in my mouth, and it did not deepen my confidence in the Racecourse Betting Control Board. We cannot, for example, ignore the evidence given by one of the principal officials, a very experienced man who was secretary for some years of the Board, Major Chambers. Among other things, he told us that there should be much stricter control over the Board's expenditure. I have not heard a word about that today. Speeches have taken for granted that what the Board does is absolutely correct, straightforward and above board.
I have made inquiries to see whether there has been any change in the work of the Board's conduct since that damning evidence by Major Chambers. He said, among other things, that the object for which grants should be made as laid down in the constitution of the Boardought to be restricted to those more directly related to the improvement of breeding and the control of the sport of horse racing.He most strongly criticised the policy of the Board. I am informed that there has been no change at all in the Board's policy in relation to grants for racecourse management and to owners of horses, as a subsidy towards the cost of racing. That was never intended in the conditions laid down to govern the activities of the Racecourse Betting Control Board.
He also went on to say that in recent years these grants which I have mentioned took no less than 80 per cent. of the amount distributed by the Board. Why have not the supporters of the Bill tried to give us some satisfaction that the activities of the Board are above board and that the moneys are distributed in the manner that would give rise to no suspicion? Is it not correct to say that of the amount distributed by the Board only about 10 per cent. went to the objects laid down in the constitution that brought the Board into existence?
§ Sir E. Errington
I can give full particulars to the hon. Member of the payment out of the total since the start of the Board's operation, that is, for horse racing, horse breeding, veterinary attendance and so on. Another figure I can give is that last year 2 per cent. of the 1650 turnover—not of the profits—more than £½ million, was given in grants of various kinds. If the hon. Gentleman wants the details he can have them.
§ Mr. Davies
I have relied upon the details submitted to the Royal Commission and the examination of those details by the Royal Commission. These figures were there.
§ Mr. Davies
It is surprising that we have had no evidence this morning by a supporter of the Bill that the conduct of the Board has been radically changed since the Royal Commission made its Report. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that we should not give in a piecemeal manner additional powers to a body which is apparently more concerned with transforming itself into its own beneficiary than with clearing up the business of racing and betting in this country.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
I have never before heard the allegation made against the Tote Board which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) has just made. I have only heard that it has not been active enough in extending the scope of its business. I expect that the hon. Gentleman does not understand that horse racing and breeding are one and the same industry, and that by subsidising running we help the breed, which is one of the objects of the 1928 Act.
Debates on gambling seem to have a recurring pattern. Hon. Members make the same speeches on it year in and year out, and nothing very much seems to happen. I will try to direct the attention of hon. Members to the fact that the conditions which have prevented legislation on gambling are changing and that it is just possible that legislation is slightly nearer than some of us think. I would ask hon. Members to judge the Bill not on its own but in relation to the possible or probable pattern of future legislation.
There are three distinct questions in gambling law. People's minds can become very confused unless they can get clear on these three points. One is the 1651 impact of gambling legislation on the individual, involving social justice or injustice. Next is the impact on the Government, when asked to support new laws. The third is the effect on the sport concerned. I have an interest in this subject. Unless hon. Members can satisfy themselves that legislation deals satisfactorily with these three aspects, we should not support the Bill.
I shall not dwell on the present state of the gambling laws for long, except to say that they are unfair and unsatisfactory to the public, to the Government and to the sport concerned. All this has been said enough times before. I suggest that the reasons which have made the Government rather timid and hesitant to grasp the nettle are these: there is the latent fear that there are no votes in gambling legislation. I have suggested before, and suggest again, that the facts are that the millions of people who bet would respect a Government which did something about these laws. Those who do not bet do not bother with the question anyway.
The idea that there are votes to be lost because a small minority of people are against betting on moral grounds is really shadow, not substance. I, personally, believe that both parties are beginning to realise that. I have had a certain amount of experience of the Nonconformist vote. My constituency is full of Nonconformists. I sincerely believe that the Nonconformist vote against betting is somewhat dwindling.
There is also the question of Home Office time. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has been such an avid reformer that I am inclined to think that if this Government are returned again he will find himself with much more time for betting legislation than he has had so far, because to date he has had other priorities. The aspect of not having sufficient Home Office time to put forward gambling legislation may not occur again. There is also the recurring evidence that the present laws allow the police to be corrupted.
The Government should feel ashamed —probably they do—that distinguished and busy people sat on this Commission and gave many hours to its work and then nothing has been done. That makes a slight mockery of the whole thing, and it will be increasingly hard to get serious people to sit on Commissions in future.
1652 The most difficult aspect is the method of licensing. This will always remain a difficulty, but it is not insurmountable. My appreciation of the situation is that comprehensive legislation is probably nearer than most people think. We could possibly argue that it is even money that this Government will win the next Election. That probably is about the right odds.
§ Mr. Astor
I do not think it would be in order to take that across the Floor of the House, but no doubt we shall meet outside.
If, on the other hand, the party opposite were to win the election, I think it would find that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has done such a lot of reforming in the Home Office that it would be left with comparatively little to do in that sphere and there is a good chance of it having the courage to do something about this. If I am able to persuade hon. Members that this small and modest Bill is in line with the ultimate pattern of gambling laws, I have to hazard a few guesses of what those laws will be.
My view is that the Government, when forced to jump, will jump in the direction of offering the public facilities to bet on and off the course, cash and credit—one cannot differentiate between cash and credit, or if one does there is tremendous social injustice—with bookmakers and the Tote. I think they will come down to betting shops, I suspect that the final pattern will be that some betting shops may be the agents of both the Tote and bookmakers. I think that is the only possible way of doing it.
On the question of licensing, it might be possible not to register runners. The question of runners has always upset Governments. I do not think we need necessarily do anything much about runners. If bookmakers had to get licences, and the Government would be very liberal in the issue of licences, they 1653 would know their bad colleagues and I am not sure that we would have to licence runners. If my guesses are correct, the forces which want a monopoly for the Tote will not have their way. When this Bill was printed, that very reputable paper, the Sporting Life, printed a report by a certain well-known and distinguished bookmaker to the effect that there were sinister elements supporting the Bill who wanted a Tote monopoly. I do not know who that gentleman had in mind, but I for one would make it perfectly clear that I do not think the public want a Tote monopoly. I do not think the House would stand for it and I do not think it is "on" at all.
§ Mr. Astor
Ultimately, of course, we do.
I wish to dwell for a moment on this. If the pattern of possible legislation I have suggested is correct, it would be fair to the public and would give them a variety of choice. It would be fair to the Government and also it would increase their revenue. It would be fair to the bookmakers. Some pretty rough things are said about bookmakers. No doubt there are some pretty rough bookmakers, but the dilemma they are in is that, while so many of their activities remain illegal, the responsible elements among them are not able to control and have arty sanction over the irresponsible members of the profession. Certainly some of the responsible members of the profession have come forward through the amenity fund and tried to help racing in this way. If they are legalised, the responsible members will have much more control over the slightly less responsible members of the profession. I think, therefore, that this legislation should appeal to them.
It should also give opportunity to the Tote to expand its business and would help the sport of racing. There is a view that racing should be helped by writing into some comprehensive legislation a Clause whereby off-course bookmaking money must go back to racing. I have never been able to find any evidence to suggest that either party would be able to do that. I do not see how it could be done. It would initiate so many difficulties that it just would not be done. The 1654 best way of helping the sport is to expand the scope of the Tote. If the Tote were offering cash and credit facilities on and off the course, perhaps quadrupling the turnover from £27 million to £100 million, that would help the sport tremendously. Hon. Members might ask why the sport needs help. The case has been made, and I shall not dwell on it for long. I would remind hon. Members that the interests of the public and those who promote racing are identical. Unless the public went racing the whole thing would collapse.
The point my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) made about better amenities to the public is genuine. There is a feeling that the British will stand anything in the way of travel, dirty trains and so forth, and they do not mind however uncomfortable racing and public races are. That is a very bad thing and something ought to be done about it. I suspect that hon. Members who do not go racing have little idea of the uncomfortable conditions in which most of the public are asked to survive on racecourses.
It is no use pretending that, money-wise, breeding is a large factor in our exports, because it probably brings in about £1½ million a year, which is nothing compared with the exports from heavy industry. It is not, however, possible to keep the level of racing high if we do find it necessary to export all our best horses. The difficulty is that the wealth of America is able to buy our best pictures, our best horses, our best performers, our best "stars." While I do not suggest that we can do very much about this, we can do a certain amount, by ploughing back much more money into racing, to prevent the best of our stock from being sold abroad. Indicative of the situation is the fact that two of our young top stallions are in this country purely out of the generosity of Americans. One American gave a very distinguished horse to the National Stud and another allowed a stallion to remain here on probably worse terms than would have been obtained in America. This has enabled us to retain these two horses, but it is not a working basis on which to run an industry.
If the future pattern of betting which I have outlined is in any way correct, 1655 then the Bill goes a very little way along that road. I very much doubt whether postal betting will have much effect, although I hope that through it the Tote could build up weekly tri-cast pools whereby people would bet on one race a week. I hope that the Tote could build up a clientele in this way. A certain amount of money would also come from the bookmakers who were authorised to offer Tote odds and who would be paid 5 per cent. commission by the Tote, as has been indicated. It will not make much difference to racing but it is a step in the right direction.
I hope that hon. Members, in either supporting or opposing the Bill, will consider it in relation to what may happen in the future, and I hope that if they take the view that it is in step with possible future legislation, they will support it.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)
I have been accustomed to meeting the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) in connection with other matters and I must apologise for not having heard all his speech today.
I have tried to discover the substance of the Bill and it seems to me that, stripped of all verbiage, it is a Bill to provide more bookmakers. It seeks to allow more people to enter bookmaking. I do not indulge much in gambling, although I sometimes go to greyhound racing, take 32s. with me, put 4s. on each race and expect to lose it. It seems to me that the Bill proposes to allow another authority to enter into betting and bookmaking.
Clause 3 refers to the improvement of the sport of horse racing. I believe that that is an umbrella under which to hide certain other aspects. The stories about the workman who is interested in watching better horse racing and about preventing the Americans from taking the best blood-stock from this country are a cover for people who, legitimately, are interested in breeding horses and watching them run. I have never been opposed to the individual taking part in any sport which he likes, but I suggest that the arguments advanced for the Bill are a lot of camouflage. I should have thought that it was undesirable in this country to create conditions in which people who normally 1656 should be engaged in industrial production were enticed away to watch this sport.
The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) said that Mr. Ernest Bevin had to take steps during the war to provide the workers with recreation. I remember that during the First World War Mr. Lloyd George had to make beer available to the people. Surely, in these days of difficulty the public feels no need to have betting extended.
The Bill is supported on both sides of the House and I cannot blame the Government for the proposals which it contains. Indeed, we do not know what the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will say about the Bill. In view of conditions in this country and of the apprehensions which people feel about such matters as unemployment, the possibility of difficulties in Africa and elsewhere throughout the world, for us to be spending our time discussing how far we can extend the facilities for betting is quite wrong.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
As I understand it, the proposal of the Bill is not to extend betting but to make provision that off-course pool betting may take place under the control of the Board. Has my hon. Friend any objection to that?
§ Mr. Butler
I have no objection to any bookmaker setting up in business, but I object to a Bill introduced ostensibly for the improvement of horse breeding and horse racing and for advancing veterinary science and education when all it does is attempt to set up some respectable bookmaking organisations.
§ Sir E. Errington
I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House when I gave some remarkable figures, including the figure of £6½ million as the sum which was given towards the various improvements on racecourses and in horse breeding between 1945 and the end of 1957.
§ Sir E. Errington
For the benefit of the country generally. The exports of brood mares and stallions are of great value.
§ Sir E. Errington
I had an opportunity of visiting South America and seeing horses which had been exported from this country. A substantial business is done in these exports. I suggest that this is a little more important than some hon. Members opposite appear to think.
§ Mr. Edwards
Will the hon. Member explain who receives the money when these horses are exported? Is it not the person who owns them?
§ Sir E. Errington
The hon. Member should recall that if it is a Crazy Gang conversation it was started from his side of the House.
§ Mr. Butler
Unfortunately the hon. Member for Aldershot was not here when I began my few remarks. At the beginning I apologised for not being present when he introduced the Bill. I suggest that it is not necessary for the advancement of veterinary science and education or for the improvement of horse racing and horse breeding to introduce a Bill which is an excuse for setting people up as bookmakers. If it is necessary for the country to have scientific research, surely the resources of the country are available in order that this can be carried out.
My complaint is not against betting. It is against gentlemen who attend at race meetings and probably enjoy themselves and the parades and champagne parties that take place at Ascot. I am not very often a participant, but I am always open to invitation.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
Will the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) pair me at Ascot next year?
§ Mr. Butler
I am sorry. I remember that one hon. Member was so fond of pairing as to go to Africa. That is extraneous to the matter under discussion.
I wind up my few disjointed remarks—they have been disjointed because of the interruptions—by saying that the House would be ill-advised, under the pretexts in Clause 3 of the Bill, to allow some new bookmaking organisation, which probably may be a little more respectable than the fellow who takes 2s. each way, to set up 1658 an office in Fleet Street. It would be inadvisable for the House to pass the Bill.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
In the discussion of a subject on which many of us hold different views, there is at least one aspect on which I am sure that we all agree. The present gambling laws of the country are in such a mess that something should be done about them to bring about a more sensible position.
I have listened to the speeches made by my hon. Friends who are sponsors of the Bill. The most convincing arguments for rejecting the Bill were advanced by them. I listened most carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington). He said that he understands that 90 per cent. of the people in this country who want to bet can bet already. Tote Investors Ltd. have offices all over the country.
§ Mr. McAdden
That is exactly what I was about to say. Ninety per cent. of those who want to bet can bet already with Tote Investors Ltd. without the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot then went on to say, "if they are creditworthy". If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, the object of introducing the Bill is to provide betting facilities for the 10 per cent. of the population who are not creditworthy. To ask Members on both sides of the House to support legislation so that people who are not creditworthy should make themselves even less creditworthy by gambling on horse racing is illogical. It is a most fantastic argument.
Then we were told by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) that when the law is unenforceable it brings it into contempt. If there were something in the legislation which my hon. Friend is now advancing which was likely to improve the situation, I could understand him introducing it. Does anybody seriously imagine that it would be possible to enforce the law if it were implemented in the way in which my hon. Friend suggests? Does he contend with any seriousness that it will be possible for the police to be at the elbow of every street corner bookmaker? Does he suggest that policemen will be lying 1659 in wait for anybody who, with malice aforethought, wilfully decides to have a shilling each way on the Tote? Does my hon. Friend suggest that, if the Bill became law, it would be rigorously enforced? Does not he agree that it makes nonsense of the law to pretend that it can be enforced in this way? That argument advanced by the hon. Member for Enfield, East makes nonsense of the Bill.
Then we heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. J. J. Astor), for whose views I hold a great respect and whose sincerity I in no way impute. I am sure that he is passionately devoted to the subject. He gave yet another reason why we should not give the Bill a Second Reading. He said that he is absolutely certain that immediately the next General Election is over there will be much more time in the next Parliament to devote to this question, but he hopes—in fact, he is reasonably sure—that the enlightened and progressive Home Secretary at present in office has had it very much at the forefront of his mind to introduce comprehensive legislation on this subject. If the General Election is not so very far away, if my hon. Friend is as confident as I am of the result of the General Election and if the Home Secretary is so progressive and enlightened and has betting legislation so well advanced, is it not a little ungenerous to try to complicate the situation by introducing a Private Member's Bill of this character?
I found some difficulty in understanding some of the arguments advanced by the sponsors of the Bill. I can find no reason whatever why any Member on the opposite side of the House should show the slightest interest in the Bill, because I have always understood from them that they are interested in the small man, the chap who cannot afford to bet with credit, the chap who finds some difficulty in placing his bets. If there were some evidence that the Racecourse Betting Control Board had set itself out to look after the little chap and to enable him to have his bet, I should begin to think that perhaps they were worth supporting. The Racecourse Betting Control Board has done away with the minimum stake of 2s. It has made the minimum stake 4s. Therefore, an each-way bet on the totalisator cannot be less than 4s. each way. That is a little unkind.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
On a point of order. This is a question of simple fact. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden), who bets in thousands, would not know this. One can have 2s. each way on the tote.
§ Mr. McAdden
With respect to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who said that I bet in thousands, I wish that I had just £1,000 to my name. Then perhaps I should be able to follow his example and go from racecourse to racecourse. Unfortunately, I am not so privileged. Neither do I have the benefit of free admission to racecourses which comes his way. Perhaps in those circumstances he will take pity on a less fortunate Member of the House.
A large number of people prefer to bet in very small sums. Whilst my hon. Friend is quite right in saying that large sums of money are invested in betting in various forms, I do not think that it is entirely fair to overlook that the Government have probably the largest stake in gambling. The State takes a considerable rake-off from gambling. The 30 per cent. Pool Betting Duty brings in a very considerable revenue to Her Majesty's Government. It is not without significance that the fortunes of the Post Office have in many ways been increased as the result of the introduction of pool betting by cash through the post. These facts lead me to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the State has a very considerable interest in gambling.
The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) quite rightly drew attention to some of the difficulties which arise as the result of piecemeal legislation. I do not accept some of his arguments. Nevertheless, I agree that piecemeal legislation should not be pursued in the House, and indeed a former Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has publicly stated that we have reached the limit of Private Members' legislation upon this difficult and complicated subject. Therefore, I am surprised that this legislation should come forward again, especially as it was brought forward fairly recently and did not attract a very great deal of interest.
1661 I seek to discover from the promoters whether the object of the Bill is to attract to the totalisator a large sum of money which is at present not going to it. I have considerable difficulty in finding out from my hon. Friends just what is to happen. I am told by some that this will not make any difference at all, and by others that it will mean that more money will become available for the improvement of race horses and so on.
My hon. Friends must make up their minds just where they stand. This Measure will either attract a lot of money—or so they hope—or it will not attract anything at all. If it will not attract anything at all worth talking about, there is not much point in wasting the time of the House of Commons in discussing it. If the object of the exercise is to attract to the totalisator a very large sum of money that does not now come its way, it will only be as a result of those people who want to place bets, placing them by post with the totalisator.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot said, quite rightly, that the Bill gives the Board power to do all kinds of things, hut we have not been told, nor are we likely to be told, what rules will be introduced by the Board so that we may judge for ourselves whether or not they are fair. We are asked to give the Board a blank cheque on how to run the totalisator, and what rules are to apply, but anybody who knows anything at all about horse racing—and here I how willingly to the hon. Member for Dudley—knows that most people make up their minds only on the day of the race which horse to back.
I do not think that anybody will dispute that the vast majority of people, if they choose a horse on the day of the race and want to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Bill, would place their bets on the totalisator by post. They would buy the postal order and post it on the day of the race to the offices of the Board. Those bets would be received at the Board's office after the race was over. If, therefore, a large sum of money is to be diverted from present sources into the totalisator, it will inevitably mean that a sum of money greater than was in the original pool upon which the dividend is declared will be received after the result of the race, 1662 in which case the totalisator becomes a bookmaker, betting at Tote odds in very considerable sums—
§ Sir E. Errington
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I do not think that it is quite fair to say that the Board becomes a bookmaker betting at Tote odds in very considerable sums. I indicated most carefully that in the event of postal betting developing, the rule that I quoted from Tote Investors Ltd. puts a limitation on the stake, and also on the odds.
§ Mr. McAdden
My hon. Friend is perfectly accurate in saying that under -existing legislation it is necessary for Tote Investors Limited—as agents for the totalisator, and acting on behalf of its clients who bet on credit—to transmit to the totalisator the vast majority of the sums it receives. That is credit betting and, therefore, it can be transferred to the totalisator, and included in the pool before the dividend is declared.
The quandary in which my hon. Friends are placed is that one will either attract to the totalisator a large volume of cash postal bets put on by people on the day of the race, or one will need some rule that the bet must be made on the day before the race. In that case, it could be laid down that unless the bet was received in the offices of the totalisator before the race took place it would be regarded as invalid. That would mean that the bet had to be placed on the day before the race.
There has been much criticism and, I think, fair criticism—of successive Governments for having failed to take proper action to deal with the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That charge can be fairly levelled at successive Governments. On the other hand, a certain amount of criticism can also be levelled at those responsible for controlling horse racing. We have been told that, perhaps, regulations will be laid down in future stipulating that there must be overnight declaration of runners. To my certain knowledge, that has been talked of for donkey's years—but nothing has yet been done about it.
If there is this willingness on the part of those responsible for controlling racing to try to run it more satisfactorily, I can only say that it is a pity that they have not already acted. They could then have 1663 told this House that they had made it possible for people to know on the day before the race just which horses were running, and so enable the bets to be placed on the day before the race. They could then have claimed to have made the scheme work satisfactorily. So far they have not done that, and I submit that the House would be most unwise to implement legislation merely in the hope that those responsible for racing will organise themselves better in the future than they have done in the past.
As my hon. Friend has said, there is a perfectly good opportunity for comprehensive legislation to be introduced early in the life of the next Parliament, by which time I hope that those responsible for racing will have taken the steps necessary to put their house in order—
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
My hon. Friend has spoken strongly and passionately against the Second Reading of the Bill, but, as he wants something to be done about betting in a general and comprehensive way, will he tell the House whether he would be prepared to withdraw his opposition if the House took the view that the whole subject should go to a Select Committee? That Committee could consider betting generally in all its aspects, with wider and more flexible operation; report to the House, and enable the Government to take subsequent action? In those circumstances, and if the promoter agreed to such a course, would my hon. Friend withdraw his opposition?
§ Mr. McAdden
Most certainly. I think it an eminently sensible suggestion and one to which anybody interested in putting the betting laws right would agree. In those circumstances, I would most certainly and willingly withdraw such opposition as I have—
§ Mr. McAdden
It can be done only in the hope of giving an opportunity for a Select Committee to study the up-to-date betting position. The Royal Commission's Report is now a little out of 1664 date. After all, the Commission sat and reported some time ago and, as the hon. Member will readily concede, there have since been developments in all forms of gambling that have made some of its recommendations a little outmoded. The Commission did not visualise some of the forms of gambling that now exist. Therefore, a Select Committee would serve a useful purpose in supplementing the information derived from the Royal Commission, which, as the hon. Gentleman quite fairly says, has been largely ignored.
It has been suggested that this Measure is not being promoted just to attract to the totalisator the ordinary straightforward bets that are made on the day of, or the day before, the race. As I have said, that would mean that a large sum of money would arrive after the declaration of the dividend, and the totalisator would then be taking up bookmaking at Tote odds. If it is to be just a small amount, this Bill is not worth bothering about.
On the other hand, it has been suggested to me by some that what they have in mind is to obtain powers, not so much to enable the totalisator to indulge in straightforward betting—win or lose—on a particular horse in a particular race, but some kind of forecast betting, such as a tricast on the Grand National, the Lincoln or some other race. That is what they hope to popularise, to advertise and to extend, and they feel that this Bill will give them greater facilities than they have at present.
We have heard something from my hon. Friends about how important it is that copyright should be preserved in Tote odds. There are those—I do not say that I necessarily agree with them—who hold some views about copyright on their own racecourses, and it will not have escaped the attention of some hon. Members that, in the case of one particular racecourse—Aintree—where this tricast national pool is hoped to be such a success, Topham's Limited, the owners of the Aintree racecourse, take the strongest possible exception to this Bill.
It is not true, as some hon. Gentlemen have sought to suggest, that the only people who dislike this Bill are the bookmakers. People who are generally concerned with the whole question of gambling in this country, and who do 1665 not want to see it further complicated by piecemeal legislation of this kind—and it is not only the racecourse owners themselves—consider that the Racecourse Betting Control Board does not get very much of a show. Indeed, those hon. Members who have already read the letter from Mrs. Topham will have come to the conclusion that she states her case pretty soundly when she says that, in fact, although she provides the facilities for staging the Grand National, she does rot get any share out of the profits made by the Racecourse Betting Control Board.
§ Mr. Paget
Will the hon. Gentleman permit me? Of course, she does. There is an agreement between them on the basis of a percentage. Everybody agrees that Mrs. Topham always thinks that she ought to have a bit more. She did the same with the B.B.C. The hon. Gentleman must not say it is the racecourses, because it is just Mrs. Topham. It has never been anybody else but Mrs. Topham, who always wants a bit more.
§ Mr. McAdden
It may well be that, in the view of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), Mrs. Topham is being very awkward and disagreeable, but, nevertheless, she is entitled to express what she thinks on the subject, and in this letter she says:We, for instance, will not be allowed to operate a pool on our own Grand National. The Tote Board are running a pool on the 1059 Grand National, and it may be typical of their attitude that they have refused point blank to give us any share of the profits. When we run a pool for our motor racing, our arrangements with the other party operating the mechanics of the pool gave us a 50 per cent. share of profits—reasonable business arrangement.
§ Mr. Paget
What Mrs. Topham is asking for is not more from the Racecourse Betting Control Board. This is the point. She is asking more from the other racecourse owners. She is simply saying, as the Grand National is run there, "Although I want a share in all their races, they should not have a share in mine."
§ Mr. McAdden
That argument I could follow, but the point I am putting to the hon. and learned Gentleman is that the Racecourse Betting Control Board is saying that the totalisator, as a result 1666 of the money flowing through it, is able to declare a dividend, and that dividend having been declared, no possible further expense can then he incurred, once it is declared, but that nobody else should have the copyright to use something which the Board cannot use once it is accomplished. I am not sure that we can say that that is unreasonable on the part of Mrs. Topham.
I have tried to point out to the House that the Bill which my hon. Friend commends to it, and which has been supported by some hon. Members, does in fact rely for its success upon rules which have yet to be agreed and of which this House is without any real knowledge, but we know that they will confer some considerable powers. The Bill gives power to operate totalisators on horse races anywhere and at any time —not only on racecourses, but anywhere at any time. This is a pretty large departure from the arguments advanced when special facilities were given for the operation of the totalisator, and which still obtain in the sense that this particular form of pool betting through a machine avoids the payment of the 30 per cent. Pool Betting Duty which is to be paid by anybody else who runs a pool without the Tote on a racecourse. That is a pretty substantial extension of the power.
Secondly, it would forbid betting at Tote odds with anybody else except the Racecourse Betting Control Board. It seems to me that one should bear in mind that if people choose to bet on Tote odds, that is a matter of their own individual choice. If they wanted to bet with Tote Investors Ltd., they would; if they wanted to bet on the course with the Tote, they would. If as a matter of convenience they find it more convenient to bet with a bookmaker, why in the world should we pass legislation to prevent them from so doing?
I do not think that any hon. Member would deny that there has been an enhanced interest in racing for a vastly different public as a result of the televising of racing which is undertaken both by the British Broadcasting Corporation and by the commercial companies. Horse racing, being associated with gambling, was thought to be a rather unpleasant thing, but it is now enjoying an enhanced 1667 status through television in the homes of the people. People may find it convenient to phone a bookmaker and have a bet at possibly even lower prices than they are able to get with the Racecourse Betting Control Board, where, as I say, the minimum stake with the Board is 4s. Therefore, they may prefer to put their 4s. through a bookmaker in that way. Why on earth should they be prevented from doing so, and why, indeed, if they do anything of the sort and the bookmaker accepts a bet on the Tote should they be subjected to some of the penalties embodied in this Bill?
§ Mr. E. Johnson
Would my hon Friend object to the Racecourse Betting Control Board being allowed to run alternative pools at starting prices?
§ Mr. Johnson
My hon. Friend objects to the Racecourse Betting Control Board being given a monopoly on Tote odds. All I was asking him was if he would object to the Racecourse Betting Control Board being allowed to run an alternative pool and to offer to its customers the privilege of participating in a pool which offers starting prices or Tote odds?
§ Mr. McAdden
My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that that is a contradiction in terms, because we cannot have a pool operated by the Tote itself at starting price odds. If it is a pool, and so conducted anywhere else than on a racecourse, it would be subject to the 30 per cent. Pool Betting Duty. It is nonsense to talk about a pool on starting price odds, because it would not be a pool at all.
Now I want to say a word or two about penalties. I noticed that my hon. Friend, when he introduced the Bill, skipped very quickly over the question of penalties. Indeed, I had to rise to intervene to draw his attention to them.
§ Mr. McAdden
I know that my hon. Friend spoke for about 50 minutes, but he skipped very quickly over the penalties which are proposed to be inflicted on anybody who either attempts to make a bet at Tote odds, or to accept it, with 1668 anybody else than the Racecourse Betting Control Board. In other words, for any infringement of the copyright we are seeking to establish, they are to be treated as criminals.
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Gentleman ought to try to understand this, although I know it is a substantial effort for him. They will not suffer penalties for breaking the copyright, but for breaking the law. It is a breach of the law already, and the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) is carrying on previous legislation. That is all he is doing.
§ Mr. McAdden
With respect to the hon. Member, he also should try to understand. It is not a question of a breach of the law as it exists at present, but it will be a breach of the law if he has his way. Something which has been perfectly legal for quite a number of years will then become illegal, because he and his hon. Friends are anxious to introduce legislation which will ensure that nobody could attempt to make a bet at Tote odds with anybody else than the Racecourse Betting Control Board, and will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of £100 for the first offence, and for the second offence, to three months in gaol and a fine of £200. On conviction on indictment for a first offence the fine is £500 and for a second offence twelve months in gaol and a fine of £750.
These seem to me to be pretty severe penalties to inflict on anybody for something which has for years been regarded as perfectly legal. To try to create this new offence under which these heavy penalties will be inflicted is something which should more properly be the subject of Government legislation than of private Members' legislation.
§ Brigadier Clarke
From time to time friends of mine in the House ask me to put a bet on for them. Sometimes they stipulate Tote odds and sometimes S.P. I always put it on S.P. and stand the other, because the price is always so bad. Would I be liable to a fine of £100 for laying Tote odds whilst not being a bookmaker?
§ Mr. McAdden
I do not pretend to be learned in the law, but, as I understand it, if the Bill were passed and if my hon. and gallant Friend as a Member of Parliament and knowing what is 1669 enacted by the House in the name of the British people were to attempt to transmit bets to a bookmaker at Tote odds it would be very little use his trying to pretend that he was not doing it wilfully. I should imagine people would say, "Here is one of our legislators who was present in the House during the Second Reading debate on the Bill and obviously well aware of all the implications involved." I do not know the quality of his friends, but if they had 5s. each way at Tote odds with the bookmaker they would be liable on conviction to the very heavy fines which I have mentioned. For these reasons, I think that my hon. and gallant Friend should be very careful what attitude he adopts towards the Bill. I should not like him to add to the risks which he already runs.
One of the objects of the Bill is undoubtedly to create a monopoly in pool betting on horse racing. I do not think there is any denial about that. I think the Bill is perfectly clear. Any form of pool betting on horse racing is in future to be a monopoly of the Control Board. I do not quite see why. If the object is to attract to horse racing large sums of money through pool betting which under existing legislation is not there, then, its I understand it, there is not the slightest reason why a group of people interested in raising money for the improvement of breeding and so on should not start a pool of their own on horse racing.
Perhaps we might have an organisation called "Amenities Pools", or something like that, the promoters of which would register with a local authority as pools promoters. They could run a pool on horse racing without this Bill at all. If they were successful, they could raise considerable sums of money for the improvement of horse racing. The difference is, of course, that they would be subject to the 30 per cent. Pool Betting Duty.
The Bill is an attempt to organise enlarged pool betting on horse racing without being liable to the Pool Betting Duty to which any other person in the country would be liable if he attempted to do something exactly similar. That seems to me to be an unfair discrimination between a form of gambling which is operated in the country by various people and the Control Board. I am not in favour of its being given monopolies 1670 and special privileges over and above other organisations which are capable of providing the same service and which at the same time contribute very substantially to the revenue of the country.
I have been led to believe that those interested in the problems of betting and gambling on a racecourse have in the past few months or years been working closer and closer together towards a harmonious solution of the problem with which we are all confronted—how to ensure that some contribution is made from bookmakers in excess of that at present being made by them to the future improvement of racing.
Those organisations have been working fairly successfully, and a contribution—it may not be as much as the Control Board would like—has been made. At least it is a step in the right direction. I really do not see the sense of introducing legislation of this kind now which may disturb the present conversations.
§ Sir E. Errington
Would my hon. Friend think it proper and right, and is it felt by the bookmakers that it would be a correct thing, that they should contribute to an amenity fund?
§ Mr. McAdden
My hon. Friend wants to know whether I think it proper and right that bookmakers should contribute to an amenity fund. Of course I do. They have done that and are doing that. I should like the idea extended. I should like to see some form of registration of bookmakers by which those not at present contributing would be placed in a position where they would have to make some contribution to the sport in which they are so obviously financially interested.
§ Mr. McAdden
I should he interested to see how much could be raised in that way if there were proper registration of bookmakers and proper supervision of their activities. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman should ask a question and then proceed 1671 to have a conversation with his hon. Friends. If he is interested in the answer, it is that I should have thought that if we could have comprehensive legislation on the whole question of gambling which would enshrine all these provisions—some form of registration of bookmakers and some form of contribution by them to the forms of sport, not only horse racing but dog racing and other forms of sport in which they are interested—and if a fund of that kind could be created by the registration of bookmakers as part of a comprehensive scheme, we should succeed in raising far larger sums of money than is possible under the Bill which, on the one hand, some people say is going to produce a great sum of money and which others, on the other hand, say is going to produce nothing at all.
It seems to me that those engaged in forms of gambling in the country which are at present legal should not, as a result of a Private Member's Bill, be placed in an impossible position when comprehensive legislation on the subject is something for which the House has been asking for some time and when we are told that 90 per cent. of the people of the country already have the facilities which they want. When legislation is only just round the corner, it would seem a great pity to break up the opportunities which exist for working out a sensible and reasonable solution which, I fervently hope, the Home Office will introduce before very long.
For all these reasons, and whilst congratulating my hon. Friend on being fortunate in the Ballot, may I commiserate with him for having wished on him a Bill which, with respect, does not contribute very much to the improvement of our betting laws and merely adds to their complexities and confusion?
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
It has been said that discussions upon betting and the law of betting bring people to the Chamber on a Friday who are not often found here on that day. They have this additional feature, that they bring together on one issue hon. Members like the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) and certain of my hon. Friends who opposed the Bill from the benches behind me 1672 who are not commonly found in agreement upon matters which we debate.
I should have thought that it was really very difficult to object to the Bill upon the ground on which, as I understood him, the hon. Member for Southend, East principally relied, that it went so short a distance and was piecemeal legislation. It is quite true that the Bill does go only a very short distance, and it is true also that it relates to a branch of the law which is unsatisfactory in many respects in regard to which large-scale reforms could, no doubt, usefully be made. However, if the Bill goes only a short distance —even a disappointingly shot distance—it goes in the right direction. For my part, I should have expected it to be welcomed by a majority of hon. Members. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) has earned the gratitude of the House by bringing it forward. A very real attempt has been made in the preparation of the Bill lo make it a fair and reasonable Measure in the methods to which it resorts.
The Bill has no bearing upon the controversial issue of betting shops and, so far as I can see, it has no significant effect upon the anomalous position of the users of betting slips and street betting or, except indirectly, upon the activities of bookmakers. But, although the Bill goes only a short distance, it goes, as I say, in the right direction, its main importance being, so it appears to me, that it empowers the Racecourse Betting Control Board to carry on pool betting off the Course.
The object of the class of legislation to which the Bill belongs—the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, and the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934—is to endeavour to achieve some control over part of the huge amounts of money involved in betting and to secure that, out of these sums, at least a certain benefit accrues to the sport of horse racing. That is a good object for legislation, which, I should have thought, would be acceptable to hon. Members of the House. The Bill tends to advance that object and will tend to increase the available fund.
Tote Investors Limited has, until now, as I understand it, been carrying on the business of off-course pool betting. The company has had close association, I believe, with the Board and has transmitted stakes into the totalisator fund. I 1673 understand also that the Board has paid to the company a percentage commission on sums thus transmitted. All this has meant that the Board hitherto has had an interest in off-course pool betting. The Bill takes, as it were, statutory notice of that interest and, to the extent that it defines the future relation between the Board and off-course pool betting, it is a welcome Measure. It makes much clearer than hitherto what it is that the Board is authorised to do.
§ Mr. McAdden
I wonder whether the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman has been drawn to paragraph (3) of the First Schedule, as a result of which it seems that the Board is to be given powers under which money received after the dividend has been declared can be returned at any odds it likes. The whole basis of totalisator betting is that money invested on a particular race, after the deductions, is distributed among the winning participants. Paragraph 3 of the First Schedule completely does away with that and seems to give the Board extraordinary powers which, if it cares to use them, will enable it to switch money from one pool to another just as it likes.
§ Mr. Irvine
That may be so, and I take note of the point the hon. Gentleman makes. But the fact remains that, when the Bill becomes law, if it does, there will be upon the Statute Book express recognition of the power in the Control Board to carry on the kind of activity in respect of off-course pool betting which has been carried on with its co-operation thus far by Tote Investors Limited. I do not think that anything the hon. Member for Southend, East has just said reflects upon that point which I was seeking to make. To the extent that I am right in what I have said, and I believe that I am, I submit to the House that the Bill is doing a useful service, at least, inasmuch as it makes perfectly plain as a matter of law that the Board shall have explicit authority to have the association with off-course pool betting which, up to the present, it has had through its association with Tote Investors Limited. Admittedly, that is a very limited advantage, but it is an advantage so far as it goes.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman again. I agree that, on paper, it seems that that 1674 is so, but, if he refers to paragraph 3 (a) of the First Schedule he will see that the Board is to have powers to do away with the restriction which formerly existed whereunder it was obliged to deal with moneys invested in a particular race in that race. Now the Board is to have those words "on that race" deleted, being able to apply the money generally to all its pools.
§ Mr. Wigg
I think that I can help on this point. There are, in other countries, systems of pool betting in which there is a carry-over; nine-tenths of the money is distributed, and one carries over one-tenth far, let us say, anyone who has forecast the six winners. It is called the "jackpot". That is perfectly plain, and the hon. Member for Southend, East knows it quite well. He is merely trying to make a mystery out of nothing. It is perfectly plain and straightforward, and, in due course, we may have it in this country with advantage.
§ Mr. Irvine
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for the enlightenment he has given me. I accept his account of the matter without hesitation.
In this connection, I note that, by Clause 1 (2), it is provided thatwinnings on bets shall be calculated by reference to the amounts or rates of any payments or distributions in respect of winning bets made by means of a totalisator lawfully operated.I observe that that does not mean a totalisator at the racecourse where any particular race is being run. It seems to mean that the Racecourse Betting Control Board could arbitrarily select any totalisator at any race meeting in the country to determine what I should be paid on a winning bet backing a named horse in a particular race.
§ Sir E. Errington
I should not like there to be any mystery about this. That provision deals with the situation where it has not been possible to put the money into the pool for some quite unusual reason. It is a saving Clause to enable the Board to pay out in that event.
§ Mr. Irvine
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making that plain. I think that this is a Committee point and will require consideration in Committee, because undoubtedly, as I say,
1675 the effect of the provision at present would seem to be that where a bet is received by the Board from me on a race it may pay me at Tote odds no matter where the totalisator may be situated. That appeared to me to have some kind of relationship with the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) made, and that is why I mentioned it. I now learn from the hon. Member for Aldershot that that is not the intention. It would appear that there is some confusion on the point. It is perhaps a Committee point which can be cleared up then.
§ Mr. Irvine
As I was saying, I should have thought that the Bill will do good in making definitive and clear what are in practice regarded as existing powers of the Racecourse Betting Control Board, although some of them, as exercised, have not previously been spelt out in any Statute in this branch of the law.
I particularly welcome the provisions of Clause 4 (3, d). I like the special reference to the fact that the application of moneys may be at the discretion of the Board directed to thereduction of charges to the public for admission to horse racecourses or otherwise …That is a desirable feature. One of the reasons why I particularly welcome that passage is that I would have some apprehension that the proprietors of racecourses might be sometimes at a disadvantage unless their interests are watched carefully.
I listened with great interest to the observations of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) about the letter which we have all received and which referred particularly to the situation at Aintree. Aintree has a good deal of territorial and other relationship with Edge Hill and other parts of Merseyside which I know well. Unless I misconceive the matter, I would have thought that the effect of the Bill would be much more favourable to the owners and proprietors of racecourses than the Aintree letter seems to convey. I may be wrong, and it may well prove otherwise, but, having regard to the paragraph (d) to which I have referred, I would not have thought that the Bill will 1676 in any way accentuate any conflict of interest between the Board and the proprietors or owners of racecourses. Indeed, quite the contrary is the case. The racecourses may benefit from the Measure in a way which they do not seem to expect.
It seems to me that the Secretary of State can play an important part on this point. It is possibly a matter upon which hon. Members on both sides might, while supporting the Bill, have differences of view. I refer to the extent to which it is desirable that the Home Office and Secretary of State should intervene to influence the policy of the Board and the method by which money collected by the Board should be applied to the various objects set out in the Bill.
I take the view—and I invite the Joint Under-Secretary of State to express an opinion on this matter because it is of importance to the House—that it is desirable that the influence of the Secretary of State should not be merely a formal or remote supervisory influence, but should be an active and vigilant influence. What I am concerned about is this. The object of the Measure is to bring in some part of the vast sums circulating in gambling bets into a pool from which the sport of horse racing and indirectly its followers may benefit. I would not presume to question the capacity of the Board to determine how these objects can be best served or how money collected can be best spent. All the same, I would express the view that it is a matter upon which this House is perfectly entitled to insist that the Secretary of State and the Home Department should keep a very careful watch.
§ Mr. Irvine
I am glad to hear from my hon. and learned Friend that that is so. What he has said illustrates exactly what I want the position to be.
However satisfactorily this matter may work in practice, it is nevertheless desirable in a Bill of this kind that we should make it quite clear that the position in 1677 law is as we believe and desire it to be it practice. In that connection, I would invite my hon. and learned Friend to consider whether the wording of Clause 4 (3, d) does not give a somewhat undesirably wide discretion to the Board. It is all very well to be told—I accept it entirely—that the Department and the Board, in practice, work in unison, but I should have thought that there was something to be said for making provision in the Bill—again this may be a Committee point, but I suggest that it is a major Committee point—to ensure that the Secretary of State should exercise his powers in a vigilant and determined fashion and that we should not leave too great a discretion to the Board, however great our confidence in the administration of the Board may be at present.
I believe that if, with the Secretary of State playing an active part in all this, moneys are expended by the Board upon the objects which are outlined in the Bill and in the 1928 and 1934 Acts, everyone will benefit and that the proprietors of racecourses will benefit among the rest. I should have thought that it would be desirable to ensure that they should receive regular contributions from the Board. It seems to be a matter of comment, not that unfairly small sums are received by them from the Board, but that the sums paid come at irregular intervals. That is a matter of criticism which one hears and it is one upon which, under the machinery proposed in the Bill, the Secretary of State could usefully intervene.
To sum up, I would for my part express the view that the Bill does not go far but that it goes appropriately far for a Private Member's Bill; that it goes in the right direction; that it is right that the powers of the Racecourse Betting Control Board in off-course pool betting should be regularised and made perfectly clear; that it is right that a substantial part of the Board's revenue should accrue to the benefit of the sport and that the Board's powers to help the sport should be extended.
In that latter respect, I advance the view that the Secretary of State may, and can, play an important part and that there may be something to be said at a later stage, if the Bill goes to Committee, for clarifying the powers to he exercised by the Secretary of State and, perhaps, in certain respects, extending them.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) and the other sponsors of the Bill have done a useful public service today in introducing it, for they have focussed attention upon several racing and betting problems which the Government fully realise are long overdue for solution.
The Bill seeks to amend the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, the Second Reading of which was handled by no less a person than my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer and was speaking for the Government. On that occasion, he said:the Government refer for guidance to the sound and, I might almost go so far as to say, the unerring instinct of the House of Commons on large and vague general issues of this character."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1928; Vol. 214, c. 2347.]He added that the vote would be left entirely to the decision of the representatives of the constituencies.
I am sure I shall be forgiven if today I say that the Bill does not raise large or vague general issues. It seeks rather to clarify and, to some extent, to extend the mode of conduct of totalisator betting, which has become part of the everyday life of the country since the 1928 Act was passed. Nevertheless, the position of the Government today is exactly the same as in 1928 in its attitude towards a vote. We believe that the Government should be neutral and that the progress of this Measure should be determined by a free vote of Members.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), in an attractive speech seconding the Bill, said that he hoped that the Government would find time for the later stages of the Bill. I must, however, remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government have embarked this Session on a vast programme of beneficial legislation and that there is no further time left at this stage for the introduction of Private Members' business into Government time. Having said that the Government's attitude towards the general principles of the Bill is neutral, it is my duty to try to make clear the principal implications of the Bill, to point 1679 out its advantages and defects and, above all, to stress certain difficulties which, after discussion with representatives of the Racecourse Betting Control Board, we have found to arise.
The underlying purpose and, obviously the most important purpose of the Bill is one which even its opponents would not dispute: that is, the desire to provide more money for British racing and the improvement of our bloodstock and other breeds. My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley), with his great knowledge of the matter, was at pains to stress this. Indeed, nobody with healthy sporting instincts would deny that those are laudable objects.
Most, but not all, of the changes in the Bill follow recommendations of the Royal Commission and such changes are for that reason alone entitled to respect. It is argued by opponents of the Bill—for example, the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden)—that it would be wrong to implement some but not all of the Royal Commission's recommendations and that we should not have what has several times today been called piecemeal legislation. I would not advise the House to reject the Bill on that ground alone, provided that hon. Members feel that the provisions of the Bill are instrinsically sound.
Clause 1 is certainly the most radical Clause. Apart from attempting, in subsection (1), to give a clearer definition than at present exists of the general scope of the Board's powers, that Clause enables the Board to set up totalisators off the course as well as on the course. It enables the Board to accept bets at Tote odds which are received too late actually to go into the pool and it enables the Board to accept credit bets either by telephone or by post at places off the course. Although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot stressed, there are to be no betting shops, the Clause also will enable the Tote to accept cash bets made off the course by post.
On the face of it, those seem to be wide powers. One of them in particular—the acceptance of cash bets by post—is a power which, as we have been forcibly reminded today, is not enjoyed by book- 1680 makers. This, however, was a power that was recommended by the Royal Commission as were the other powers, with the exception of the one that the Board may accept bets at Tote odds. Wide though those powers may seem, I understand, however, that it is not the Board's intention that they should be used to effect major alterations in the Board's general way of conducting its business.
I understand that the Board has no intention of setting up, for example, a large number of off-the-course totalisators, Rather the Board wants this power to enable it to use electronic computers at some central point and, if this should prove economically as well as technically feasible, to have a central point where the off-the-course Tote bets can be received.
Similarly, the power to accept bets at Tote odds is limited to those bets which cannot reasonably be included in the pool, essentially the late bets, what I have heard described today in connection with bookmakers' practices as the overnight declaration, which until today I had always understood was a cricketing term. But that is not an unreasonable or a vast or a drastic extension of the Board's powers therefore. It is largely a way of enabling the Board to satisfy people who would in any event be their customers.
The acceptance of credit bets by telephone and by post also follows, and it is understandable, in the light of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, that the promoters of the Bill are taking the opportunity to obtain this power to receive cash bets by post.
I think Clause 1 is pretty clear. It follows the general lines of the Bill of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), and I do not think it is necessary for me to attempt to clarify its implications any further.
I think that I should, before dealing with Clause 2, which is the really difficult one, come to the disappearance of the totalisator fund which results from Clause 4, and that is a provision which has been criticised by the hon. Member for Pontypool. As some hon. Members already know, the fund was in reality a somewhat inflexible method of bookkeeping, and it has been proved by experience to hamper the Board in the 1681 speedy and efficient conduct of its business. The Bill provides this opportunity for abolishing it, and I do not wish to raise any fears about that intention.
I would remind the House, and, indeed, I should emphasise, that the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to the disbursement of the Board's surplus moneys—it would be wrong to call them profits because they are not ever treated as such—is in no way diminished, and, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) pointed out, in interrupting one of his hon. Friends, those powers are exercised in accordance with instructions carefully laid down by the Home Office. There is, of course, annual accounting to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Renton
That was before my time, but I have no doubt that these practices have continued, although I myself have not taken part in such conferences.
I must come to Clause 2 on which certain rather serious difficulties do arise. As the law now stands only the Board and persons authorised by it may conduct pool betting on horse races on the course. Off the course anyone except the Board may conduct pool betting on horse races provided it is done on a wholly credit basis. The Royal Commission recommended that the Board should be empowered to conduct pool betting off the course as well as on and that no other person should be allowed to conduct this form of betting except with the authority of the Board. In short, the Royal Commission recommended that the position off the course should be made as the position on it. I hope I have made that clear.
This recommendation is put into effect by Clause 2 (1, a) and (1, b). Under paragraph (a), as the House has already been told by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, the promoters would expect the Board to receive a commission from those who conduct pool betting on horse races. Under paragraph (b) the Board would be expected to pay commission to authorised agents, who would nearly always be ordinary bookmakers, I suppose, who brought business to the Board by transmitting totalisator bets to the Board.
1682 That last form of betting or of agency would, I am told, exclude the passing on to the Board of what bookmakers call "mug money", that is to say, those cases in which the bookie anticipates that the punter will lose; but on the other hand, in examining paragraph (c), we should bear in mind the possibility that there are a good many bookmakers who would transfer to the Board the liability for what is called "hot money", those cases in which the punter is likely to win. It is in that context that I feel we should regard the various suggestions which my hon. Friend has made, and about which he is so optimistic, for the payment of commission by the Board and the receipt of commission by bookmakers.
So far so good, so far as these powers in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) are concerned. On the face of them they look reasonable, and the main anxiety must be to see whether they could be made workable. The provisions in paragraphs (a) and (b) would be meaningless so long as bookmakers were permitted to accept bets at tote odds; that is, to offer customers terms which have been worked out for them by the Board on the basis of tote bets received. It is for that reason that paragraph (c) has been inserted in the subsection. It was not a recommendation of the Royal Commission that this acceptance of bets alt tote odds should be only with the authority of the Board, but, as I have said, this power is an essential corollary to the Royal Commission's recommendations.
These new powers, the powers which the Board would have of forbidding other people to engage in any of these activities mentioned in subsection (1, a, b, c) would require enforcement, and the promoters of the Bill have two distinct methods of enforcement in mind. One is that there should be authority, subject to the approval by the Secretary of State, for various commercial conditions as to percentages to be paid by way of commission. The other method of enforcement is that there should be stringent criminal penalties arising from Clause 2 (4) and those penalties would be incurred by people who engaged in any of these activities without the authority of the Board. In a sense, therefore, the two methods of enforcement are inter-linked, dependent upon each other.
1683 It is, of course, for the House to consider whenever it legislates whether the laws which are proposed will be observed, and it is necessary for the House to consider in this case whether both those methods of enforcement are necessary and whether they would be effective.
I want to consider Clause 2 (2) in relation to the powers under subsection (1) which I have described. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, who has been anxious to ensure that authority under subsection (1) should not be dispensed in a niggardly fashion by the Board, says in effect that the Board must grant authority to any person who applies. I do not know whether he is in any doubt on the mandatory nature of the subsection. Certainly his revised draft of it did not resolve the point. But if he says that the Board must grant authority to any person who applies, the sanction would lie not in the refusal of the authority but in a later cancellation of it in the event of the conditions under which it was granted being broken by the bookmaker to whom it was granted. That would be the effective point to consider.
My hon. Friend says that in the interest of fair play to the Board and the bookmakers alike the authority should he granted only on terms and conditions which the Secretary of State may determine. The main condition would be what the bookmaker should pay to the Board by way of commission. Prescribed percentages have been mentioned by my hon. Friend. It is the Board's conviction, and I believe that it is shared by bookmakers, that such a condition would be unenforceable. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot agrees that it would not be completely enforceable. He has used the expression "at least reasonably enforceable" today, but is that enough?
The only way in which it could begin to be enforceable would be for the Board to be given the right of access by its accountants or inspectors to bookmakers' books. Even then, such people as the Board might appoint would be faced with the most awesome task of going through every entry and separating from a mass of other bets those accepted at Tote odds and they would have to be 1684 very vigilant indeed to ensure that "hot money" was not being wrongly passed on to the Board as an obligation. It would be a very difficult task for the accountants.
§ Mr. Renton
I think that the hon. and learned Member is considering the position before the race has been run, whereas the accountant would have to consider it after the race had been run, and even many months after, and he would have an extraordinarily difficult task. I agree that if one could distinguish between "hot money" and "mug money" before the race one would be very rich.
§ Mr. Oakshott
My hon. and learned Friend made a very important point a moment ago. Did he say that it is the view of the Racecourse Betting Control Board that Clause 2 (1, c) is unenforceable?
§ Mr. Renton
Yes. When I speak about it being unenforceable I am referring to the fact that bookmakers would be allowed only to operate either (a), (b) or (c), subject to the conditions laid down. Those conditions would involve the payment of a percentage of the turnover on each of the three types of operation, that is either payments to the Board or payments by the Board, as the case might be. The books would have to be examined and it would be necessary to go through a vast number of dealings over a considerable period and then not merely just tot up the turnover but see that the entry in the books had properly been made under the heading (b) or (c) as the case might be. There would be such a temptation to transfer bets from one category to the other, that even a very astute accountant with a great knowledge of this work, could never be quite certain. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot agrees—
§ Mr. Renton
May I finish my sentence? Even my hon. Friend the Member for 1685 Aldershot agrees that we can never be 100 per cent, certain, and that therefore these conditions would not be completely enforceable, but he would be content if they were reasonably so.
§ Sir E. Errington
I must make my point clear to my hon. and learned Friend. Obviously if this Bill became law it would be essential to have separate books kept for Tote transactions. The point I was endeavouring to make was that there was a two-way payment of money. Under paragraph (b) the money is paid to the bookmaker. Under paragraph (c) the money is paid to the Board. In those circumstances there are clear and definite accounts, and the loss of authorisation by the Board would be a serious matter, regardless of any criminal law. It is because of the inter-relation of the books—if I may put it that way—coupled with the fact that authorisation would be of value, that we have in fact a practical enforcement. There will always be the black sheep whether we pass this Bill or not, but it does not inherently increase the number of likely black sheep.
§ Mr. Renton
I am grateful for that further clarification by my hon. Friend. I do not wish to labour this matter too much, and perhaps it can be cleared up in Committee. I do not say that this point alone should cause the House to refuse the Bill a Second Reading, but it is my duty to point out such difficulties as have come to light in our discussions with the Board. I say candidly that the points I am putting forward are doubts felt by the Board, and I would be failing in my duty to the House if I did not put the House on inquiry to them.
I am not an expert. It is true that a bookmaker once, when I was 21, gave me a box of cigars on the condition that I did not back horses off the course. However, he did not do that because I was a successful punter but because my father had done him a good turn and he wanted to do me one.
§ Mr. Irvine
May I interrupt to get this clear? The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the doubts expressed are doubts which to his knowledge are felt by the Board. Have these matters had the consideration of the Government, and are the doubts shared by the Government?
§ Mr. Renton
Yes, indeed, these doubts are shared by us. I do not say that it is impossible to find a way round them, and if the Bill were given a Second Reading it would be necessary for me to enter into further discussions with the Board, with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot and the other sponsors of the Bill, to see what could be done. As at present advised—
§ Mr. Renton
May I finish the sentence? As at present advised, we do not see that even the alternative proposal put forward by my hon. Friend will do more than make these restrictive provisions more than reasonably enforceable. The question for the House to decide is whether that is good enough when passing new laws, especially when, as in this case, they carry heavy penalties, as I shall have to mention. Even if Parliament were prepared to grant the Board such powers—
§ Mr. Renton
I have a lot to say, and if my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me, I must press on. Even if Parliament were prepared to grant the Board such powers, and even if the method of enforcement could be made more effective than it appears to be, a further matter for consideration is whether the payment of these percentages would be reasonable for the Board.
After all, they deduct 10 per cent. of the turnover before paying out winning bets, and out of that they have to pay their expenses. If there is any surplus they pay it to the various good causes with which we are familiar. The proposals of my hon. Friend for the payment of these further percentages might be a great burden to the Board and might not be a commercially sound proposition for it to embark upon. If the commission from the Board were very handsome—5 per cent. has been mentioned by my hon. Friend—it might well he beyond the financial resources of the Board.
I move on a stage further. Even if the Board were able to afford a sufficiently tempting inducement to the bookmakers the question of commercial interest arises. The bookmaker would accept the terms offered only because it paid 1687 him to do so. That is one side of the coin. The other side is that this purely commercial arrangement is to be reinforced by new offences of a criminal character in order to ensure the success of a commercial operation. I should make it clear that we would not consider it part of the duty of the police to enforce these arrangements. The Board would have to prosecute.
My hon. Friend seems to hope that he can get subsection (2), revised as he proposes, to work by a mixture of good will and pressure, by carrot and stick. The House will have to consider sooner or later whether the Bill can be made in any true sense enforceable and whether it is suitable to be given the force of law, including the invocation of the criminal law.
There is another point. The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) asked me specifically to deal with it. It concerns the part which the Secretary of State for the Home Department is asked to play. It is an unusual rôle for a Minister of the Crown to be asked to be the arbiter—that is what he would be—on a commercial transaction. I do not think that my hon. Friend's alternative proposal gets round that difficulty. He suggests that the Board should prepare the rules and conditions for the granting of authorities and that the Secretary of State should approve, subject to any Amendment which he might care to make.
We do not feel that this is a suitable rôle for the Secretary of State. It is quite different from the rôle which he exercises when approving the arrangements for the disposal of the Board's surplus money. There, clearly, he is representing the public interest in deciding how this public authority shall dispose of its surplus money. That is quite different from governing a vast number of purely commercial transactions with bookmakers. For that reason, if the Bill gets a Second Reading we may feel it necessary to move an Amendment in Committee to take the Secretary of State out of it. If we did that it would leave the grant of authority to the discretion of the Board under subsection (1). It would no doubt use its discretion in a free manner, but if it were found that the arrangements proposed by my 1688 hon. Friend as to commissions were unenforceable in relation to bookmakers, the Board might very well find it necessary to limit its authority to such people as Tote Investors Ltd., with whom it could have sufficiently reliable contractual relationships.
From what I have said, the House will realise that the attitude of the Government on this matter is not determined by any political considerations as to the relative parts which the Board, totalisators and bookmakers should play in providing facilities for betting. The points I have put forward are of a technical nature on practicability and propriety. There is a revenue point to which I must draw attention. It was mentioned fairly early in the debate by the hon. Member for Pontypool. The effect of subsection (3) of Clause 5, as read in conjunction with Clause 6, must receive the attention of the House. At present the Board is exempt from Pool Betting Duty, which is at a rate of 30 per cent. in respect of bets transacted through a totalisator run by the Board, or any person authorised by the Board, on an approved racecourse.
Clearly, if as the Bill provides the Board is to be allowed to set up totalisators off the course, the exemption should extend to such totalisators, and the deletion proposed in subsection (3) of Clause 5 would do that, but the matter is not as simple as that because in Clause 6 there is a definition of totalisators. That has been introduced in an attempt to make it clear that the totalisator is a method of pool betting and not merely an automatic device. So the totalisator can range from a few clerks armed with pencils and forms, and possibly an adding machine, to a most intricate electronic device.
The definition in Clause 6 is wide enough to include the type of pools on horse races already run by certain football pool promoters. The effect, in conjunction with Clause 5 (3) as it stands, is that the Board, and any person authorised by the Board under subsection (1) of Clause 2, could run that type of pool without paying betting duty. As affecting people other than the Board, this must be a mere inadvertence of drafting. I assure the House that the difficulty can be overcome by limiting the exemption created by subsection (3) 1689 of Clause 5 to those who have it at the moment. I understand that the promoters of the Bill are agreeable that that should be done, so the House need not fear that the State financial arrangements would be disturbed. They need not be after that amendment is made.
§ Mr. McAdden
Do I understand my hon. and learned Friend to say that it cart be amended so that the Racecourse Betting Control Board will be authorised to run totalisator pools anywhere at any time on horse races free of betting duty, whereas anyone else who does the same thing will have to pay 30 per cent.?
§ Mr. Renton
Yes, I understand that to be the result. If my hon. Friend wishes justification for that, he must turn to the 1928 Act, in which he will see that the Board does not operate for profit, and to the Finance Acts under which the pool betting duty is paid. He will find that there the question of commercial profits being taxed arises.
I agree that it would leave the Board with power to run with its Totalisator certain kinds of pools which are undertaken by football promoters, and to do so without paying duty, but that is not the intention. The intention is to provide for the ordinary pools on horse races, which would be exempt from duty, and the Board does not wish to extend the exemption into other types of pool betting, although it may wish to do so on Totalisators off the course. I understand that the Board is prepared to give an undertaking to that effect. If it set up pools of the other sort I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have something to say about it.
I am sorry to have detained the House for so long. If the Bill is given a Second Reading the Government will be bound to advise the Committee to which it is referred that various Amendments should be made to Clause 2 and to Clause 5, but subject to those points we are content to leave the Bill to the judgment of the House. I express the hope that, in considering it, hon. Members on both sides of the House will have in mind the fact that it gives powers not to profit-making bodies but to a statutory board the chairman of which and some of the members of which are appointed by and can be removed by Ministers of the Crown. Although the Bill would increase 1690 the powers of the Board, there is justification for doing so.
I should like to give some assurance to bookmakers, for they will still have their important part to play in the life of racing. Many punters will continue to prefer to bet at fixed odds and at bookmakers' starting prices. None of that will be affected by increasing the powers of the Tote. It is for the House to declare its views on the Bill.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
One can at least congratulate the Joint Under-Secretary of State upon one fact—that as a coming-of-age present he received a box of cigars from a bookmaker. Very few people have received presents from bookmakers either on their coming of age or at any later stage. Nevertheless, I cannot help thinking of the rather hostile view of the Bill taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler), because I can think of no other excuse for making a speech of that length on the Bill at this stage. We have been conducted mainly through the Committee stage of the Bill on three or four points which can quite easily be settled in Committee with more advantage to everybody concerned.
I can report with gratification that, on the list which is kept at the door by one of the attendants of the House, showing the length of time for which hon. Members have spoken, for the first time I have seen that one speech has had to be recorded in seconds rather than in minutes. That was the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I regret to say that he made it so quickly that I was unable to hear it. All that it has been necessary to say about the Bill is that it does no harm and that it will do a little good, and in the lean times in which we live that should persuade everybody to vote for it.
I regret that not a word has been said today by the Government representative about the Government's general attitude to the big problem which confronts us. My hon. Friend, the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) quoted what the hon. Member, for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said when he was Joint Under-Secretary of State in 1956, when he assured us that the legislation was in 1691 the course of preparation for early submission to the House and as soon as time could be provided.
Let us be quite certain of one thing —that the main harm of betting in this country is the petty corruption which it causes in the various police forces. The Bill does nothing to deal with that. I do not think that those hon. Members who have put their names on the back of the Bill will suggest for a minute that it would have any effect on that.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. I hope that the vague rumblings which we have heard about the promotion of a comprehensive Measure to deal with this problem will fructify in some beneficent form at as early a stage as possible so that the real evil can he dealt with.
I believe gambling to be folly, but it adds excitement and entertainment to a visit to a racecourse. I do not condemn it. I do not want it to be thought that I am condemning it. I hope that the widest possible scope will be given to any Measure that is supposed to be comprehensive, so that the menace to the purity of the police system of this country may be removed as soon as possible.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Although it is somewhat late, I want to approach the problem from an angle which is slightly different from that of any other speaker today. I want to appeal to my hon. Friends that the Bill should have a Second Reading, but that it should go to a Select Committee. I hope that the House will bear with me for a few moments while I develop arguments in support of that view.
This is not a betting reform Bill. It is a Bill with an equally noble purpose, namely, the improvement of the sport of horse racing. It is promoted by a number of Members with considerable specialist knowledge of that sport who believe, as I believe, that we should have an improvement in the bloodstock of this country, better thoroughbreds and the best possible sport of horse racing. Practically every hon. Member, concerned with the promotion of the Bill has the interests of the sport at heart, and so have I and so have some of those who have spoken in opposition or who are in opposition to the objects of the Bill.
1692 For many years past, whereas the totalisator and the punter through the totalisator have actively financially assisted the sport, the bookmakers have done relatively nothing to assist it. Very naturally, those who love this most noble of all sports want to find a method by which to ensure that the bookmaker should make his contribution. The real purpose of the Bill is onefold. It is to ensure that an adequate contribution is made to the Tote by the bookmaker through the monopoly to be set up. That contribution would go towards the improvement of bloodstock and racing.
I think it is right that some hon. Member should state realistically the purpose. I see nothing shameful or wrong about it. It was criticised earlier in the debate by at any rate one hon. Member, who said that he was not interested so much in the sport of horse racing. After all, it is the punter's money and, if the punter puts his money into horse racing, he cannot complain if some of it is diverted to the improvement of the sport.
§ Mr. H. Butler
Would the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) follow that up and say that the punter who backs greyhounds should have some of his money diverted to the breeding of greyhounds?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Yes, I certainly would. We have one hon. Member in the House who is managing director of the Greyhound Racing Association Ltd. I would defer to his views. If one regularly went to greyhound racing and supported it, one could not possibly complain if some of the money was diverted for the purpose of improving the strain of greyhounds. If one goes to Cruft's Dog Show, I see no reason why Cruft's should not seek to divert some of their moneys for the improvement of pedigree dogs. If one goes to pedigree cattle shows, I see no reason why some of that money should not be diverted to the benefit of cattle breeding. Many of us want to see a first-class cricket team sent overseas. Why should we not pay for that? The same applies to Olympic sports, and many others.
It is a good and healthy sign that a sport should be defended and encouraged by those who believe in it. I myself, having in some measure been associated with horse racing, want to see 1693 some of the money put back into it for the best purposes. But I do not want what I may perhaps be allowed to call one of the lobbies in the House, on the one side, to be disguised. Again, on the other side, there is what might be called the lobby of the big bookmaker.
In 1955 some of us on this side of the House formed an extensive committee which considered the subject, and made recommendations to the Government in the hope that, in 1955, we should have a suitable Bill before the House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, who, I may say, have never shown any partisan spirit in this matter and have been most helpful, made similar recommendations.
What happened in 1955? At the last moment, instead of the Bill that we expected, we got something called a Shops Bill. Why was that? It was because the lobby of the big bookmakers was afraid that the setting up of betting shops would be inimical to their interests. On the other side, we had the intervention of the racehorse owners and breeders, who were unable to agree their conflicting interests of racing.
The difficulty is that racing is big money, and big interests are involved. They do not always agree. The difficulty facing a Government and those wanting to find a compromise, is to arrive at a solution of the conflicting interests. We may find that the bishops are on the same side as the bookmakers against the breeders, or that the breeders' interests are coincidental with those of the smaller bookmakers but not of the larger—
§ Mr. Niall MacDermot (Lewisham, North)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the Shops Bill he says we had was really the Bill that we did not have, because the Government withdrew it after pressure in another place?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
It was that idiotic Bill, brought before this House—and, fortunately, quashed—which arose from the Gowers Committee Report—a Report that was hopelessly out of date by the time it was published. However, I do not wish to discuss that Bill now.
Let us try to get clear what the conflicting interests are. The big bookmaker does not want a system of betting houses, because we should then have 1694 betting houses set up throughout the provinces, and that would involve him in enormous capital expenditure. We therefore have a lobby there that prefers that nothing should be done. On the other side, those who are concerned with breeding—and the—horse owners— naturally want to ensure that the best possible conditions exist on the racecourse and in the bloodstock industry.
Therefore, as in this case, we get a Bill in which the bookmaker is encouraged, if I may say so, to invest part of his money in the Tote, because the Tote, in turn, by its bigger turnover and profit would be able to pay something for the benefit of racing. That is a meritorious objective, but it has nothing to do with betting reform as such.
With the Royal Commission, I believe most sincerely that if we want to secure really effective reform of the betting laws, we will do it only through a comprehensive Bill. Paragraph 187 of the Royal Commission Report, under the large heading:The Principles Of Gambling Legislationsays:… legislation has in the past been essentially negative and piecemeal … and we do not believe that a lasting solution will be found until a broader and more positive approach is made to the problem.A later paragraph states, in terms, that there must be one Act, and one Act only, to deal with the whole subject of betting.
I do not accept an earlier argument that if a Bill covering cash betting had, in fact, been laid before this House, it would not have been given a Second Reading. I believe that it would have got a Second Reading. Furthermore, I believe that if it had, the Government would have had to support it, having regard to their earlier announcements. No Government, from either side of the House, has ever done anything more than adopt a neutral attitude towards gambling. I say quite bluntly that I want to force either a Conservative or a Labour Government to do something about gambling and to deal with it positively.
I believe that the way to do that is to give the Bill a Second Reading and refer it to a Select Committee. I believe that it needs to be referred to a Select Committee because one requires the 1695 opinion of a Committee of this House on the political aspects of the matters which the Royal Commission reported upon from the administrative aspect. The Royal Commission, in considering the matter some eight years ago, decided in favour of cash betting. This House, fortunately, has a considerable number of Members with experience of horse racing and other aspects of this matter. It is right that the views of the Royal Commission should be reinforced by a Select Committee.
We have a very good precedent. Only last year, we had the Obscene Publications Bill, which, at the request of the promoters of the Bill, was referred to a Select Committee, and the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department supported that view. It therefore went to a Select Committee, which has reported, and it has now come back. I would say particularly to my hon. and learned Friend the present Under-Secretary that, in the matter of the Obscene Publications Bill, although the Government spokesmen may have had some difficulty in carrying the views of the Committee in that case, the same difficulty does not arise here.
The Government have previously indicated that they are substantially in accord with the Report of the Royal Commission. If the Bill goes to a Select Committee, there can be little doubt that the Select Committee will in substance support it in the general ambit and in the light of what has been said about the views expressed by the Royal Commission. If that is so, my hon. and learned Friend, in presenting the view of the Government, generally speaking, will find that we should get a composite view of substantial agreement with regard to the future of betting legislation.
§ Mr. Renton
I think that my hon. Friend's suggestion might have been more acceptable if it had been made two or three years ago. As my hon. Friend realises, if we sent the Bill to a Select Committee, it would have no chance to reach a conclusion in this Parliament, and, of course, we cannot say what might happen about the appointment of a Select Committee in the next Parliament, whether one was appointed in this Parliament or not. Therefore, on the timing of the matter alone, my hon. Friend's 1696 suggestion would not be an effective solution.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
If a Select Committee were appointed, it surely would be in a position to make its report before the dissolution of the present Parliament. If it reported, then one would be content, because the argument I am putting is that if we had a report, a subsequent Government next year, whatever the political colour of that Government, would indeed have to consider the introduction of proper betting legislation. That Government would be reinforced by the Report of a Select Committee, following the Second Reading of a Bill on this very subject. That would ensure support.
While I agree that it would, unfortunately, mean losing the Bill this year, it would not mean losing all that we require, which is the reformation of the betting laws. My appeal on this matter, therefore, is that we should give the Bill a Second Reading, send it to a Select Committee, and make sure that we then get the substance of the Royal Commission's Report without fear or favour, and manage to arrive at a fair solution between the conflicting interests, on the one side, of the bookmakers, and, on the other side, of those engaged in breeding and owning race horses. Thus we should achieve what is desired by all who are in any way connected with the sport of horse racing; that is, something that will be of benefit to those who race, who will then get real pleasure and benefit from a variety of betting, of whatever kind they like, in reasonable conditions.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I propose to follow the excellent example of some of my hon. Friends and to speak for but a very few minutes. First, let me declare my interest. I am a member of the Racecourse Betting Control Board. I follow in the steps of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who gave, I think, some fourteen years of very distinguished service to that Board.
It is important that the House should remember that the Racecourse Betting Control Board is not a commercial undertaking. It is a statutory body concerned with carrying out duties which have been laid upon it and which are to be performed in the public interest. I welcome 1697 the proposal made by the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and I am in favour of bringing the thinking of the House up to date. But there is not the time. The Royal Commission sat for two years and even if the Government took immediate action there would not be time for the Select Committee to report in the lifetime of this Parliament. Therefore, we have to take the situation as we find it.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). What is wanted is comprehensive legislation. I would remind the House that it is over two years ago, in March 1956, that, with very great surprise, I heard the spokesman for the Government say that they had in mind the introduction of a major Measure. I said on that occasion, and I repeat it now, that I would believe it when I heard it. I said on television that any Government, Labour, Liberal or Conservative, would always have excellent reasons for doing nothing. They would always have the excuse of pressure on Parliamentary time.
That is a very real problem for any Government, but the basic problem is, of course, that the matter requires a great deal of courage. I have a feeling that because it is a difficult subject it is left untouched. Excuses are found for doing nothing with the result that there grows up a situation which, of course, is a national disgrace. We talk about legalising postal betting. One can pick up any newspapers and find in them hundreds of advertisements inviting people to send their bets through the post to Scotland. That happens every day. There is hardly a great town in the provinces where betting shops are not openly carried on under the eyes of the police.
I agree that the Bill does not deal with that problem. It cannot. What it does is to demonstrate to the Government and to the Government which may succeed it that there is no need to be afraid of this subject. I have always stated quite frankly what my views are. I have not received a single letter of protest from anyone on the subject. I believe that the British people admire courage and that if people are independently minded and forthright in what they say, the public will respect them for it.
1698 The other thing to remember, of course, is that this has become a popular matter. There are very few people in the country, even among the clergy, who do not at some time during the year have a shilling each way on a horse. I regard myself as the punter's friend, and I want to prevent the man who has a shilling each way from being treated as a criminal. Above all, I want to see him get a run for his money. He does not always get it now.
Tribute must be paid to racing people. Some people seem to think that they are all crooks. Do those who think like that ever stop to think that hundreds of pounds change hands on the strength of one man's word against another's? Those words are honoured. There is probably no other occupation in the country, certainly no sport, where there is a higher standard of honour than in racing.
I would say that some politicians ought to back horses, not as a gamble but as an intellectual exercise. They could weigh up a race as a mental exercise and reach a conclusion. When they back their conclusion with a bet it is no good raising points of order. One has either won or lost. One either pays or is paid. It is no good blaming anybody but oneself. They might, of course, blame the judge or ride some wonderful grandstand finishes, and I suppose they could talk about what the jockey or the horse ought to have done but did not do. But the result would be the same. One has either won or lost; argument will not reverse the result.
We have had a long and interesting debate. This is not a major Bill. It is a very simple one. The first halting step in the right direction is to give the Racecourse Betting Control Board power to do the job which Parliament authorised it to do. To suggest that the Racecourse Betting Control Board will turn into a bookmaker is stuff and nonsense. The provisions in the Bill are there to safeguard the punter who may, on a tricast, punch the letter, although it may not deliver; he can then be paid.
The Board is a statutory body carrying out a statutory task. It is the duty of the House of Commons to ensure that it can do it. I very much wish that we could have a comprehensive Measure. 1699 I would welcome and support it, whatever Government introduced it. But, pending that time, I ask the House to give this small Measure the Second Reading it deserves.
§ Mr. McAdden
I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's reference to the parson, whoever it was, who wanted to have a shilling each way. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how the Bill will help?
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) is just being slick and smart, even when I did not refer to him. He wants to make a debating point. I spoke about a shilling each way, but thanks to the inflation which has gone on under the present Government it is now 2s. each way. Does that satisfy him?
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Aitken (Bury St. Edmunds)
It looks very much as though I shall have to follow the exhortations of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), whether I like it or not.
Most of us here today who like myself are interested in every aspect of breeding, training and racing horses have listened to a most informative debate. I confess that I am one who gains no excitement, no entertainment, no pleasure and no profit out of wagering money on horses. Therefore, I do not pretend to have anything like the understanding of the more technical points which some people have raised, but I think that the debate has shown very clearly that the Bill has really nothing to do with betting reform as such, as hon. Members have said. The object of the Bill is to help racing. That is a very desirable object. It is one which anyone interested in the present state of racing will approve.
The present state of racing is uncertain. One has only to look around or talk to some of the people in the community I represent in Newmarket to realise that many people who have spent their lives in the business of racing have apprehensions for the future. The object of the Bill is to do the Racecourse Betting Control Board a bit of good. I am all for that. Whatever the consequences may be, I should manage very successfully to contain my distress if any busi- 1700 ness is taken away from the bookmakers and I should not be unduly worried at any lamentations from the lady who owns Aintree or from anybody else who makes a living out of betting at the present time.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) said, over £6½ million has gone towards improving racing since 1945. That is a very great deal of money. People do not always realise that the Tote was set up to improve racing. We have a very attractive and beautiful racecourse in my constituency, but in other parts of the country there is a great deal to be desired in the amenities provided and in the standards of building and equipment on these courses. This industry would be in a poor state at present if it had not had this very important contribution of £6½ million. We know that in several countries the Tote monopoly has done a very great deal towards improving the standards of racing—for instance, in places like the United States, Canada and Ireland. But in this country the bookmaker is part of the fabric—the warp and woof—of the industry and I do not think that anyone wants to destroy his livelihood or to pass legislation which would damage his way of life.
One of the things which has always struck me is that in the last ten years we have heard a great deal about the contributions which the bookmakers could and would like to make towards racing, through the amenity fund, and so on. But nothing very much has come of it, when one considers the enormous proportion of money handled by bookmakers. As far as I have been able to find out, the amount of that fund, which is still to be raised, is around £50,000, which, when one considers the enormous amount of money handled by bookmakers, is a mere fleabite. As the hon. and learned Member for Northampton pointed out in an interjection, the amount of the fund should be £5½ million in order to be proportionally equivalent to what the Tote gives to racing at present.
As has been said, this is a very big and important business, not only from the point of view of employment and the interest and excitement which it provides, but to the export trade in bloodstock. The best figure which I have been able to obtain for this appears in the Loraine 1701 Report. That states that the net value of exports of bloodstock from this country is over £2 million, but if one wants to see something of the invisible export aspect as well as the visible export ancillary aspect of the industry, all one has to do is to go to Newmarket during the sales. Some time ago a Canadian, in addition to buying some horses, bought a Rolls Royce car, ten suits, six pairs of boots and shoes, a bit of jewellery for his wife and a picture worth £5,000 on a thirty-six hour visit to this country to attend the sales.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. It has been very much misunderstood, but I think that the debate has clarified the Bill and made it clear what its real objectives are.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
I have listened to some of the debate, but I am not in the least convinced by the case presented by the supporters of the Bill. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) said in opposition to the Bill, which convinced me completely that the House should reject it. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken), who said that Newmarket comes within his constituency, has given even more reasons why the Bill should be rejected.
The hon. Member said that this organisation is such a valuable institution that £6½ million has been provided for
§ certain services connected with horse-racing since 1945. I happen to have a lot of people in my constituency who have a bet of a shilling or two almost every day throughout the horse-racing season, but I should be extremely surprised if they thought that horse-racing was better today as a result of the £61 million which has been given during fourteen years from the totalisator for breeding and other purposes connected with horse-racing.
§ On the contrary, it could be said that there has been no improvement whatever in horse racing as a result of this £.6½ million and that it is £6½ million thrown down the drain. I presume that, under the Bill, this £6½ million over fourteen years will become much more than £6½ million in the next fourteen years. Again, it will be money thrown down the drain.
§ I see no real purpose for the Bill. The export of horses which are bred in this country has been mentioned. Who receives the money when horses are exported from this country?
§ Sir E. Errington
rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question he now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 65, Noes 13.1701
|Division No. 64.]||AYES||13.58 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Profumo, J. D.|
|Ashton, H.||Hornsby-smith, Miss M. P.||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Redmayne, M.|
|Baird, J.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Beswick, Frank||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Body, R. F.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Bowden, H. w. (Leicester, S. W).||Janner, B.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Cooke, Robert||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Russell, R. S.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Jones, Elwyn W. (W. Ham, S.)||Sharples, R. C.|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||MacColl, J. E.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||MacDermot, Niall||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mitchlson, G. R.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Tomney, F.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Oakshott, H. D.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Gibson-Watt, D.||Page, R. G.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Paget, R. T.|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Pargiter, G. A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gurden, Harold||Prentice, R. E.||Sir E. Errington and Mr. Wigg.|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Abse, Leo||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Barter, John||Holman, P.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hunter, A. E.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gibson, C. W.||Lindgren, G. S.||Mr. S. O. Davies and Mr. McAdden.|
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 30 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 24th April.