Clause 15. — (Betting Duty.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Finance Bill. – in the House of Commons on 15th July 1926.

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Photo of Sir Frank Meyer Sir Frank Meyer , Great Yarmouth

There has been a. robust reality about the remarks of the last speaker which' to me has been in welcome contrast with some of the other speeches we have heard on this occasion, and also during the Committee stage of this Bill. At the risk of calling upon myself the censure of the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr) and the hon. Member below the Gangway, I am going to confess that I am, and always have been, one who takes a pleasure in an occasional bet. I am one, according to the evidence given before the Select Committee, of 3,000,000, and, therefore, I am in considerably good company, and when I say, as the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that my first bet was made at a very early age—I think I beat him by some years, for I believe mine was made at the age of 12—and ever since then I have taken an interest in the sport of horse racing, at any rate, I may be said to be slightly familiar on practical grounds with the subject. I do not think it has ever been very profitable to me. Indeed, I might say, to paraphrase the well-known verse, Myself, when young, did eagerly frequent Tipster and tout, and heard great argumentAbout it and about, but evermore came outA poorer man than in I went. In spite of the knowledge that in the long run it is always the bookmaker who wins, that has not deterred me, or any of the other 3,000,000 apparently, from supporting their own opinion in a sporting way.

There seems to me to be three principal lines of argument in opposition to this tax. We have been told that this tax will increase betting, but it is the first time that I ever heard the economic doctrine advanced that to make a thing more expensive is likely to increase its consumption, and I leave it to those who advance that argument to prove, if they can, how increasing the cost can tend to increase the consumption. I would like to refer to what the hon. Member for Motherwell said, that the tax on what is known as legal betting will drive street bookmakers to take out licences in order to give themselves a respectability which at present they have not got. I would point out that, once they do that, they identify themselves in the eyes of the police, they have a place which the police can inspect at any time, without notice and without warning, and it will make it very difficult for them to carry on the illegal transactions of street betting, which at present they can only practice by means of secrecy and by employing a great many spies and scouts. Therefore, I do not think it is likely that a street bookmaker who wants to carry on an illegal business will take out a licence and brand himself as one open to be inspected by the police.

We are told that for the first time under this tax the State recognises betting. What a peculiar use of the word "recognise." Here is something which is going on all around us by millions of people every day, and to say that we do not recognise it at the present time is to adopt a mental attitude which we are wont to associate physically with the ostrich. How can we pretend we do not recognise a thing on which we take Income Tax and which everybody on all sides is doing all the time? It is an abuse of the word "recognition" to say that merely by taxing a thing you are recognising it. It seems to me that those who are opposed to this tax have only one logical attitude which they can take up, and that is that they should state clearly and definitely that they will do all in their power to stop betting by legislation. If they think this betting is so unclean a thing that you must not touch it, even with the hungry hand of a revenue official, they should be logical in their attitude and should say: "We will do all we can to stop betting. We will not be content that street betting should be illegal, but we will make all that is now legal betting illegal." I challenge those Members of the Labour party and of other parties who are going into the Lobby to vote against this tax on moral grounds to put into their Election programmes at the next Election, that they are opposed to betting and that they think it should be made illegal, just as street betting is illegal at the present time.

In regard to what the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) said on the last occasion, that to tax betting was as great an evil as to tax prostitution, I challenge him to go to his own constituents, among whom, I am sure, there are many thousands who practise this evil of betting, and tell them that whenever they are making a bet they are doing something which is in any sense comparable to prostitution.