§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Amendments reported (according to Order).
§ LORD STONHAM moved, after Clause 2 to insert the following new clause:
§ Qualified privilege
§ ". It is hereby declared for the avoidance of doubt that any person prescribed for the purposes of this section may claim qualified privilege in any action for defamation arising out of the publication of matter relevant to the grant, suspension or refusal of a bookmaker's permit."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first Amendment, which stands in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, and myself. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that this is related to Amendment 9, and that the two together are an alternative also to the second Amendment on the Paper. I hope, therefore, that it will meet your Lordships' convenience if I refer to the three Amendments together in one discussion, as I believe that this will save time. I will then, if necessary, move the other Amendments only formally.917
§ Your Lordships will recall that on the Committee stage the noble Duke moved an Amendment designed to ensure that the licensing authority could, during the currency of a bookmaker's permit, receive and consider representations to the effect that he had defaulted on his obligations, and, if they thought fit, cancel the permit. There is no provision whatever in the Bill for the cancellation of a bookmaker's permit before it is due for renewal unless, of course, he is found guilty of one of the criminal offences listed in Clause 8. There is thus a real danger that if a bookmaker decides to default soon after his permit is granted, he may, knowing full well that he will lose his permit at the end of the year, decide to make the most of the intervening period. He could, in fact, default on hundreds, perhaps thousands, of punters, and they would have no redress at law because this Bill does not amend the Gaming Act and, although it legalises cash betting off the course, it still does not allow recovery at law of betting debts—and I am not discussing that question at all; I am merely stating the position.
§ If it should be argued that any off-the-course bookmaker can, under the present law, default with impunity and that this new Bill does not worsen that position. I would say that I disagree, because the permits granted to bookmakers under this Bill would be a badge of respectability. They would advertise them on their notepaper, and unsuspecting backers would have no means of knowing that a bookmaker, perhaps because he has made an unlucky bet or had a very bad time and cannot pay, has decided to make hay while the sun still shines. In my view, therefore, that there is a case for providing for the suspension of permits by the licensing justices is established and undeniable. I believe also, my Lords, that we are all agreed that, so far as possible, backers must be protected against the welshing bookmaker and that it is up to the Government, having made cash betting legal, to provide a means of protection against the continuing operations of those who default. I trust that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack will accept that responsibility, and if he cannot agree to either of the two alternatives which I am putting forward, he will find a better way of achieving the same objective.918
§ In discussing this point at earlier stages of the Bill the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, suggested either that Tattersall's Committee should be converted into a statutory body or that a separate statutory body should be set up for the purpose of hearing betting disputes. His Amendment proposed that such bodies as were prescribed should be able to send a certificate for consideration by the licensing authority, but that the licensing authority should not be allowed to inquire into the circumstances in which the certificate was granted. This was clearly unacceptable. Tattersall's Committee, appointed by the Jockey Club, is an ad hoc body. There are no proper rules for the giving of evidence; there is no evidence given on oath; disputants are not allowed to be legally represented, and there is no appeal against the Committee's decisions. In the noble Duke's own words, it dispenses "rough and ready justice". It has done so greatly to the benefit of racing for a great many years, and in my view—and I attach the greatest importance to this—it is highly desirable that Tattersall's Committee should continue to do precisely the job it is doing now, and in the same way.
§ After all, many of the cases that come before it are honest disputes in which neither party have arty intention to default; they merely want the dispute settled. And when large sums, as we know, can depend on the flick of the ticktack man's white-gloved finger, it is obvious that misunderstandings can arise. There is, therefore, a continuing need for the Committee's work; and when this Bill becomes law its decisions will be even more seriously regarded and it will have an added importance, because it will save unnecessary reference of disputes to the licensing authority. However, it is, in my submission, unthinkable and quite contrary to our ordinary conceptions of justice and fair play for an unofficial body of this kind to expect its findings to form the basis of an official decision by the licensing authorities. The Amendment which I am now moving, with the support of the noble Duke, meets this criticism whilst still achieving the main objective. It would, in fact, place Tattersall's Committee in the same position as any other person who wished to give reasons to the licensing justices for the cancellation or non-renewal of a bookmaker's permit.919
For example, if Tattersall's Committee, having investigated a dispute between a bookmaker and a backer, found against the bookmaker and ordered him to pay up, and if he then defaulted, they would inform the Jockey Club, and he would be warned off. The Committee would then inform the appropriate authority, the justices, who would invite the bookmaker to give his version, and if he responded they would inquire into the circumstances. It would be exactly the same if Mr. Smith "complained, except that the justices would then make preliminary inquiries in writing to make sure that the complaint was not frivolous or malicious—or, indeed, completely untrue. I agree with the noble and learned Viscount that we should not, in his words [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 224 (No. 88), col. 167]:
put anyone under the danger of an inquiry without consideration for the ordinary principles of justice.
But that would hardly apply to a communication from Tattersall's Committee, although, of course, the licensing justices would act on it only after they had given the alleged defaulter the fullest opportunity to state his case.
§ In our earlier discussions on the Bill the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, said that it would be impracticable, indeed, impossible, to make the licensing magistrates arbiters of racing debts. But, my Lords, they will have to be, whether my Amendment is accepted or not. The bookmaker is required to advertise his intention to apply for a renewal. It is then open to anyone to object, and if the objection is based on a betting dispute, the magistrates would have to inquire into it. This position cannot be avoided unless you set up a separate statutory committee to hear betting disputes. I am opposed to the setting up of a separate statutory committee, because it is quite unnecessary. Tattersall's Committee will still do the bulk of the work, and only a small minority of cases will be referred to the justices. After all, the majority of defaulters are backers, not bookmakers, and it will be no use referring the defaulting punter to the justices. We must face the fact, however, that the appropriate authority must be arbiters in a small number of betting disputes, and are quite competent to act. They 920 can hear counsel, can consider evidence, evidence can be given on oath, and they can come to a fair and proper decision.
§ The noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, has also said that, because the licensing authority will be a public body carrying out a public duty laid upon it by Statute, anything said for the purposes of its proceedings will be covered by the law of qualified privilege—meaning that the witness cannot be successfully sued for anything he says in the court which he has a public duty to say. But, despite this assurance, which is obviously based on the highest legal opinion, we nevertheless feel that, for the removal of all doubt, it should be written into the Statute. I hope, therefore, that Amendment No. 1 will be accepted, because it will encourage people to come forward who might otherwise still be deterred for fear of an action for libel.
§ I cannot honestly see any valid objection which either has been made or could be made to the principle that the justices should investigate a complaint of default as soon as possible. It was argued that interim investigations might involve bookmakers and witnesses in long journeys. I do not see why; but, in any case, the journey will not be any longer in January than in June, or whenever the permit comes up for annual renewal. Indeed, the noble and learned Viscount said that an annual inquiry, similar to that held by the Brewster Sessions, would be preferable. But if a publican does anything wrong, he can come up at any time, which is precisely what we are asking for in the case of bookmakers. I should like to know why a man in a back street, if he has a valid complaint, should not be allowed to bring it up at any time in the year.
§ Finally, there is the suggestion that our proposal has the effect of making betting debts recoverable because if a bookmaker does not pay up he will lose his licence and his livelihood. But that is implicit in the Bill without my Amendment—and why not? Surely we all want to get rid of the man who welshes and thereby deliberately defrauds his client. These Amendments are designed to do just that, and they will do it without injustice and without throwing a great deal of work on to the licensing authority; and, as such, I hope they merit your support. I beg to move.921
After Clause 2, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, for grouping the three Amendments together, and I am sure your Lordships will appreciate it, in view of the business that we have to-day. However, I hope your Lordships will also be indulgent with me if I speak rather longer, because I have to deal with two separate points that are raised by the Amendments. The first Amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said briefly, is declaratory: it wishes to declare that a communication from a body such as Tattersall's Committee to the licensing authority would clearly be covered by the law of qualified privilege. My Lords, I do not think that that is necessary, and I believe that it might even have an adverse effect. The difficulty that has arisen in the past, as I understand the matter, has been when the publication of the result has been of a wider character than was necessary. That could not apply here because, according to the law as it stands, provided that the communication was made to the licensing authority, which is under a duty to receive the communication and to consider its relevance to the holding of a licence, there could be no question of excess publicity.
So far as qualified privilege is concerned, that would apply, provided that the communication was not made maliciously. Again putting it quite broadly, so that your Lordships may appreciate the position, "maliciously" in that context means either knowing that the communication was false or recklessly careless whether the communication was false or true; and I am sure your Lordships will all agree that anyone who makes a communication either knowing it to be false or recklessly careless—whether it is false or true—is perfectly rightly made to stand by the results of that action. But the difficulty of Amend-men, No. 1, as your Lordships will see if you look at it, is that it applies to "a person prescribed for the purposes of this section"—that is, it is limited to persons prescribed. The noble Lord has not indicated who are the persons who should be prescribed, but if the intention is to 922 limit it to Tattersall's Committee or someone in a similar position, that would cause the difficulty of limiting a perfectly genuine and helpful doctrine in the law of defamation to a prescribed class.
But the Amendment also has the difficulty (I do not know whether this is intentional) that it would give theprivilege in any action for defamation arising out of the publication of matter relevant to the grant, suspension or refusal of a bookmaker's permit.That would extend the privilege beyond what I have just described. Any direct communication from a complainant to the justices, whether intentionally or not, would be a "relevant" publication—for example, a publication to the Press of matter which would be relevant to the consideration of the justices. Therefore, the Amendment is giving extended cover to a limited class. In other words, it is altering the law of qualified privilege, which in my view operates fairly in giving everyone the right to make such publication, provided that the publication is not excessive. The Amendment would give a limited class of people, namely complainants, the right of making the widest publication, which has already been frowned on. The result would be that instead of having the general law limited to action taken which is directly concerned with the proceedings of licensing authorities, it would extend to all persons interested in giving information for the purpose of those proceedings—as I say, to the publication in any way of any matter that is relevant. I do not think that this is right. I think that the law ought to be what it is—namely, the well-understood provisions as to qualified privilege.
I come to the other two Amendments. We had a most interesting debate on Committee stage, and I have given great consideration to the arguments that were advanced. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, with his usual frankness, stated the objections both to Tattersall's Committee being changed in its mode of acting to a new body and also to Tattersall's Committee being given rights over and above the general public. I need not reiterate his arguments because I think that everyone accepts them. What we have to consider here is, first, the scale of the evil; secondly, the machinery which is advocated to deal with it; and thirdly, whether the scale 923 of the evil is something that justifies the difficulties which the machinery produces.
If I may first of all deal with the scale of the evil, in my view, the problem is a very small one in terms of the possible number of dishonest bookmakers with whom it is designed to deal. During the Committee stage the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 224 (No. 88), col. 152]:We do not want the small criminal element who have been mixed un with bookmaking. They are a very small element but we want them out altogether.The proportion of defaulting bookmakers is very small, according to my information, and I think that your Lordships will agree that not all bookmakers who default are necessarily dishonest. Default may result not from dishonesty but from bad luck—for example, a run of wins by heavily backed favourites; or from an error of professional judgment—for example, failure to adjust odds adequately to the volume of bets upon a particular horse, or failure to hedge bets on a heavily backed horse.
If a bookmaker on the course defaults for reasons which are not dishonest, then there is no reason why he should wish to carry on a dishonest business off the course. I speak subject to correction, but those who know much more about it than I do tell me that an honest defaulting bookmaker can raise the money, pay off his clients and be admitted again to the course. I am told that does happen sometimes. Those with whom we are dealing are those who are deliberately dishonest. I think that it is fair to say this. Some dishonest persons who at present find in bookmaking a means of exercising their dishonesty, will, when faced by the need of getting a permit (because in order to get a permit they have to show that they are of good reputation), either abandon bookmaking or abandon their dishonesty. Of course, there is the obverse of the medal. A dishonest bookmaker knows that his time is limited until the next licensing sessions. The alternative, of course, is that the dishonest bookmaker does not apply for a permit but tries to carry on illegally. There again he will be subject to the heavy penalties laid down in the Bill, which make this course unattractive. I 924 would remind the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that apart from the offences against the Bill, if any bookmaker is convicted of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty, his permit can be cancelled under the provisions of the Bill.
On the general point, of the limited number of dishonest bookmakers, perhaps I may add this. For the first eight years of my professional life, when practising in Liverpool, I largely had a criminal practice, as many young barristers have, and I appeared in very many cases involving either street bookmakers or betting housekeepers. I cannot remember—and from Lord Stonham's speech on Second Reading I think he would be inclined to agree that my recollection is probably based on fact—it ever being suggested that these bookmakers, however illegally they acted, were defaulters and did not keep faith with their clients. In fact, their illegal position made it all the more necessary that there should not be any question of their defaulting.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I agree that the defaulting or dishonest bookmaker is rare; but that only confirms the need for proper machinery to deal with him; because otherwise he inflicts great damage on the unsuspecting public.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
We are agreed on the first premise, and, as I said in indicating the line of my remarks, one has now to consider the machinery and see whether one is not using a hammer to crack what is, ex concesso, a very small nut. The suggestion is that anyone who has a complaint—and the noble Lord and the noble Duke have seen that it is impossible to limit it to Tattersall's Committee—should have the power to make that complaint, and that there should then be an immediate inquiry by the licensing justices. On the now admitted basis on which we all approach this Amendment, that there is a very small number of dishonest bookmakers, it is surely a fair point that the other complaints are going to be complaints about the terms of the betting and so forth. There will be the complaints where the man defaults, either, as I have said, in the rare cases of dishonesty, or for the other reasons I have indicated and which I will not repeat. But the other cases will be where there is a dispute as to the terms of the bet—when it was received, or something of that kind.
925 To accept the Amendment would mean that any disgruntled punter would not only be able to make the complaint but could cause the licensing justices to have a sitting and to hear it at once. I do not want to put too much upon this aspect, but, as your Lordships are aware, I am responsible for the operation of 16,000 justices in England and Wales; for their work and, roughly, the machinery of the courts. I do say to your Lordships that to begin a new procedure by putting on the justices the burden that they must be available to hear the complaint of any disgruntled punter would inflict upon them an excessive amount of work. I was most impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, when we discussed this matter in Committee. I am by no means convinced that it is healthy. If people have a real complaint, then let them bring it to the licensing sessions, and let the matter be investigated when the permit comes up for renewal. But to provide them with the chance of starting an argument as to the terms of the bet and the results of the bet—when the bet was received and so on—any day of the year, seems to me, both from the point of view of machinery and, indeed, in the deeper sense, undesirable.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I would only say this to the noble and learned Viscount. As I understand the Bill, the licensing justices who give the permits have to meet quarterly, and Amendment No. 9, which stands in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham and myself, asks that they should consider objections "at their next meeting." So it is not asking for a meeting on any day of the year, but only that the complaint be considered at their next meeting. The object is that the bookmaker who defaulted would be called to task within three months, rather than within twelve months, of having defaulted.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful to my noble friend. I was going to deal with that point, and I will now deal with it straight away. The machinery which we have in mind is an annual meeting, either in April or May—and rather earlier in Scotland—but roughly on the same basis as the brewster sessions; and we have in mind that there should be quarterly meetings, the 926 business of which would be limited to new entrants. Obviously, not everyone decides to become a bookmaker in May, and if the new entrants decided to make the application in July, then we think there ought to be the other sittings, but solely for that purpose. I am glad that my noble friend has directed my attention to that point.
I put to your Lordships in Committee the suggestion that we might deal with it say, six-monthly; and that would be at the October meeting. In thinking it over, I had a further idea: that at the six-monthly meeting it would be open to the justices either to decide the matter or to adjourn it to their other meeting. I thought that in that way, I should give the justices the minimum of extra work. I put this point to those advising me on the matter, and they said that, however it was put, even with my suggestion that the justices might adjourn the case if they did not thank it serious, there would have to be such an investigation at the October meeting, to see whether the case was one which ought to be dealt with or not: that it would really make the October meeting almost the equivalent of a second licensing meeting or, at any rate, that it would enormously add to the work. I do not think it would be fair to those whom we are trying to lead from an illegal to a legal method of operation that the period should, in effect, be as short as the six months. I ask your Lordships to believe that I have considered it. That is the only reason why I have bored your Lordships with an idea which occurred to me, but which was found by those advising me not to be practicable. As I have said, I have sympathy with the motives of the movers of the Amendment.
I should put this point to your Lordships in conclusion. As I say, we are, as is now conceded by everyone, dealing with a very small problem. Undoubtedly, it will be possible for the licensing committee to deal with complaints—and by "complaints" I mean the serious matters worthy of consideration. To do more means to try to invent and operate, and find the personnel to operate, a system which I venture to put to your Lordships, is unnecessarily cumbersome for the type of problem confronting us. It may be that in the future, when we have seen how the Bill works, we shall be able to create improvements. But our method is 927 simple, and I ask your Lordships not to complicate it, or the work of the justices, by trying to provide at this stage for the perfect method. I am sorry that I have not been able to meet the views of your Lordships. I always try, I think your Lordships will do me the credit to agree, on a Committee stage to give the fullest examination of any points that are raised; and if I can find a method of dealing with them I do so, as I hope to show your Lordships in the course of to-day. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is here. He threw out a suggestion, and it met with the approval of the House. I have put down an Amendment at any rate to try to meet his point. I never intentionally stonewall on a Bill. But I think that, in view of the scope of the problem and the difficulty of the machinery, the step suggested by these Amendments would not be a practical or desirable one. Therefore, I hope noble Lords will not press the Amendments to-day.
§ 3.22 p.m.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, and myself, I am most grateful for the full reply which we have had from the noble and learned Viscount. But I must confess that I am not at all happy with the reply which we have received. First of all, I should like to say how much I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said, and to express my warmest admiration for the way in which he put this complicated business. As we have dealt with three Amendments together, I will raise point by point the answers as the noble and learned Viscount gave them.
I must confess my ignorance, when talking of the first Amendment, of "qualified privilege". The noble and learned Viscount said that it is better to stick to the well-understood principles of qualified privilege. I confess that I think they are not well-understood, and I am still far from clear about them myself. For example, if an objection is made by any individual or body at a hearing when a licence is to be renewed or granted, are those proceedings reported in the Press? If so, if a Press report quotes anyone as saying that such and such a bookmaker was a defaulter, is it quite clear that the person who said that cannot be prosecuted? Furthermore, it may 928 be hard to prove whether it is true, because, as I said during the Second Reading and, indeed, during the Committee stage, all these matters are going to revolve around betting disputes. If the bookmaker did not pay because of a technical betting dispute in which he was right, he is not in default. But the punter may well have brought the case in the genuine belief that he, the punter, was in the right and the bookmaker in the wrong.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I help the noble Duke? The test is not truth, but honest belief in its truth. Therefore, in the case my noble friend put he would be clearly within qualified privilege. I am sorry if my exposition of the law of defamation was not sufficiently clear, but if my noble friend would care to ask me about any point I should be only too happy to answer him.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount. Provided it can be published that a genuine person can accuse someone of being a defaulter without risk of being prosecuted, then I am sure we are satisfied that that Amendment need not be made.
On the other two Amendments I hesitate to use strong language, but I rather feel that the noble and learned Viscount has been arguing from the premises of convenience. He talks about the scale of evil. He said that there are only a few defaulting bookmakers. Perhaps this is an over-simplification. If there were only a few burglars in this country, would nothing be done to prosecute them? It is just as bad to steal 6d. as £5,000. It is the principle we are trying to get. To say that because there are only a few it does not matter, seems to me a dangerous moral premise upon which to base arguments.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
While welcoming this Bill in principle, I think that not enough thought has gone into its working-out. Of course, the fundamental difficulty is that by broadening the scope of legal betting and at the same time refusing to touch or alter the Gaming Act there is a fundamental contradiction in the terms of the Bill. That 929 is the real difficulty we are up against. If by making all forms of betting perfectly legal you also made them recoverable, there would be no problem. But by making them not recoverable at law there are bound to be difficulties and contradictions.
I would most earnestly ask your Lordships to support these Amendments, because they are doing a great deal to protect the interests of the backer. After all, if something is legal in the law of this country it should be protected, so that one person is not "gypped" if the other person acts dishonestly and disreputably. Debts on the Stock Exchange and in shops are enforceable, so why not betting debts, too? Why should not those who undertake betting transactions be protected as much as other people? While I have the greatest respect and gratitude for all the work the noble and learned Viscount has put into answering the discussion on these Amendments, I still feel that this Betting Bill would be strengthened if the Amendments were incorporated in it.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I should like to take up what the noble Duke has said. I think it is a bad argument to say that because there are very few cases therefore we can ignore the matter.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I say to the noble Viscount that this is not a question of ignoring it. If that were so, there would be great substance in the argument. This is a question of whether, if you have very few cases, they should be dealt with once a year or at any time. It is not a question of their not being dealt with.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
But you are ignoring it until the end of the year. It is as if you were saying that there are very few defaulting solicitors. That does not mean that the Law Society wails for a whole year and gives the defaulting solicitor eleven months' run. Would the Bar Council do that? Would the Stock Exchange do that? Would the police do that? Clearly they would riot. Where an evil is found, it is to the public interest that it should be dealt with as soon as possible, and not have an eleven months' run. While it 930 is perfectly true that the bad element in bookmaking is not enormous, what there is is bad. I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount must know from chief constables as well as the racing community that you have a very bad element who must be dealt with as quickly and as ruthlessly as possible.
I venture to say that the noble and learned Viscount has contradicted himself, because one moment he said that this was a very small problem, and then he said that to deal with it will be a great burden on the justices. Surely, if it is a small problem the amount of work which will come up quarterly is going to be very small. If it is a big problem, it is important that it should be dealt with. Therefore, with great respect, I think it is a contradictory argument we have heard from the noble and learned Viscount.
May I suggest what would happen in practice? Normally a justice would say to the odd punter who comes along: "Did you take this to Tattersall's Committee? Why do you not go there first?" That is the normal court of first instance where you go and deal with the normal "muck and truck" of small betting disputes. If a small punter came along without having gone through that established procedure he would not get such a hearing as those who had gone through that sieve of Tattersall's Committee, which would be at least a prima facie case to the justices that here was a serious complaint against a bookmaker. On this point I hope that these Amendments in some form or other will be put into this Bill.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I should like to support, very briefly, the speeches that have been made in support of these Amendments. Let me say at once that of course we in this House all recognise the conscientious and thorough way in which the noble and learned Viscount always carries out his undertakings to look into a matter. We are perfectly satisfied that he has to the best of his ability given full consideration to these Amendments, which are based on Amendments that were moved at the Committee stage. I should like to follow the method of the noble Duke and deal with these Amendments in order. On the first, would say straight away that I could not justify its wording. I 931 think it is defective, and if one wanted to take this Amendment strictly it would be unworkable. But that is nothing new; we are always moving Amendments which are defective in their wording.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? Do I take it that he is referring to Amendment No. 1?
§ LORD SILKIN
I am speaking of No. 1. The real issue before the House—and this is the way we have always dealt with these matters, at any rate since I have been here—is to look at the principle and not worry too much about the actual wording. What we want to do is to provide in the Bill beyond any doubt that any person who gives evidence or makes a statement about a bookmaker, in good faith and without malice, is protected against an action for slander or libel. If we could secure a statement of that kind in the Bill it would be better that the Government should do it themselves than that we should endeavour to beat the air by putting down unworkable Amendments. But that is the principle behind this Amendment. I am sure that everybody in the House would support an Amendment designed for that purpose. It may be said that it is not necessary because there is the ordinary law; but this really is something special and there are special circumstances which would justify a declaration of this kind in the Bill. We are dealing in the main with ignorant people who might be frightened off by fear of the law of libel and slander, and a statement in the Bill that they are protected would be of great value. I do not want to say more than that on that point.
When we come to the second Amendment, the only case against it is one of expediency. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, gave the parallel of other organisations—the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Stock Exchange—and I absolutely agree with him. If anyone came along and complained to the Law Society that a solicitor was defaulting they certainly would not say that they would leave it till the next annual meeting of the Law Society and let the solicitor go on practising until then. The same would apply to any other pro- 932 fession. I think we must organise the meetings of the licensing authorities so that they can deal with this matter. If it meant appointing 16,500 justices instead of 16,000, I should not be distressed about that. But if it is just that a person should be entitled to complain to the justices that his bet has not been paid, and if it is just that they should be able to consider it, it is even more just that they should consider it quickly rather than wait until the end of the year. To delay justice is to defeat justice. It will not always happen, but on an average it may happen that it will be six months before a matter of this kind can be dealt with. Therefore provision should be made in the Bill for the magistrates to be able to deal with these matters at their quarterly meetings.
The noble and learned Viscount rather assumed that in every case there would be an exhaustive investigation. But it may well be that the licensing authorities would be able to say straight away as regards a certain number of this very small number of complaints that they are frivolous; that it is not necessary for them to have a hearing and that they can deal with them on the spot. That will certainly apply to a good many. As the noble and learned Viscount himself knows, all professional bodies get a number of complaints which they can dispose of without a hearing at all. It may be dealt with by means of a communication to the bookmaker asking for an explanation which he could give and which would then dispose of the matter. The number of cases in which they would find themselves requiring a hearing would be very limited, especially as the number of defaulting bookmakers is, by agreement, very small. In spite of what the noble and learned Viscount has said, I hope that this matter will receive further consideration. I feel that unless the noble and learned Viscount is able to give us that assurance, some of us would like to test the opinion of the House, at any rate on the second Amendment. So I hope that, with the leave of the House, the noble and learned Viscount can give us some assurance on this point.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has suggested that I should ask your Lordships' leave to speak again, which I do. 933 I have been only six years in your Lordships' House, but when I find a position in which so many weighty speeches are made against the view that I have advanced, clearly it would be right for me to examine it again, and I shall do so. The noble Duke, if I interpret him rightly, has suggested that I might examine particularly having some procedure at the quarterly meetings. I should like to consider that, although I have stated the difficulty. While logic is a poor resort for anyone, I should like to justify the apparent lack of logicality which I have conveyed to my noble friend Lord Astor, by one sentence, if your Lordships will allow me, because I do not think that my argument was contradictory. He might have thought it contradictory were I not quoting the noble Viscount himself. I quoted the noble Viscount to say that the number of cases of dishonesty is very small; but our argument was, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has just indicated, that there would not only be the very small number of cases of dishonesty but there would be a number of other complaints which were really complaints as to the operation of the bet, and which were not complaints of dishonesty but complaints of dissatisfaction on the part of the punter. That is, I think, the real difficulty, and I hope on examination my noble friend will acquit me of a complete disregard for the rules laid down by Aristotle which I had to study so painfully some time ago.
I gathered from the general run of the discussion that the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, did not get the same support for their first Amendment concerning qualified privilege. I feel that that is not really workable, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will agree. On the point about giving an earlier opportunity to a punter who complains about a bookmaker, I promise to consider that matter, and I will do my best to impress the view of the House on all who are concerned with the Bill, including my right honourable friend.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, of course I accept what the noble and learned Viscount: says; and, as the noble Duke has indicated, we will certainly not press the first Amendment, for we are convinced by the argument upon that. On the second Amendment, I am very grateful for the assurance the noble 934 and learned Viscount has given that he will look at the point again. But could he, without binding himself to accept any particular method, say whether he accepts the principle that there could and should be inquiries by the justices at more frequent intervals than one year?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, this is the Home Secretary's Bill. I will convey to him my belief that that is the view of a great number of your Lordships and that we ought to consider the matter again. If, by any chance, I am not successful, I promise the noble Lord that I will let him know in good time for him to put down an Amendment on Third Reading. As it is not my Bill, that is the most I can do.
THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble and learned Viscount for what he has told us, and I have no doubt that in view of his very handsome assurance the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will be prepared to withdraw the Amendment.