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

I am prepared to leave the matter to the judgment of the House and those who heard the hon. Member's words. I do not wish to misrepresent him. I took the trouble to read through his speech again to-day, and I have here a selection from it on which I founded my argument. He made the comparison, with whatever object he made it. There are only one or two Members here who are logical in this moral attitude towards betting. I believe the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) would be prepared to go to his electors and forbid betting altogether; I believe the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor), who, I am sorry to see, is not in her place to-night, would be prepared to do so on somewhat similar grounds; and perhaps also the hon. Member for Motherwell would, but they must go further. It is no good merely making betting illegal, because street betting is illegal now, yet it goes on among millions every day. That shows that the law is incapable of preventing betting in cash, which is a much more easy thing to prevent than to prevent betting over the telephone in a couple of words. Therefore, you must do away with those sports which lead to betting. You must abolish racing, you must abolish whippet racing, and you must abolish even foot ball. That is the only way logically in which you can do away with betting altogether. I do not see how any hon. Member can get out of that position.

I do not like to speak about the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) in her absence, but she has a definite attitude on this question which I am bound to criticise. She wants to suppress betting. She suffers, as some of her compatriots do, from what I might call a social uplift complex, and sometimes she is so confused in her desire to reform all the people in this country that she omits to see the beam in her own eye while searching for the mote in other people's eyes. Her attitude is very peculiar. She would admit, I am sure, if she were here—she did, on the last occasion—that she is very devoted to the sport of racing, in which I know her husband takes an active part, and she would not do anything to discourage it. In fact, the letter he wrote to the "Times" was an argument in favour of racing, but against betting. How can she take up that attitude, when it is quite clear that, if you do not have betting—nobody can deny this—the greater part of the people who go to the races would no longer go? If they did not go, the race companies and so on would not be able to give prizes, and if there were no prizes, how could people, except the Noble Lord her husband and half-a-dozen others, afford to own racehorses? The whole logic of the position is given away by these opponents of betting, unless they are prepared also to suppress racing and all other forms of sport on which betting takes place.

Although I am strongly in favour of a, tax on betting, and I consider that the moral argument that has been advanced cannot for one moment be logically supported, I am bound to say that I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman has gone the right way about collecting the £6,000,000 which he hopes to get. I desire to see him get his £6,000,000; I should be content if he were to get £8,000,000 or £10,000,000, but I think he is going the wrong way about it. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to think that I am blaming him, because I know that this is an extraordinarily difficult subject. It is quite obvious that previously to the bringing in of the Budget it was not possible for him to make the inquiries into this highly-technical business which were necessary to formulate the tax in the right way in order to get the money. He has made several concessions as the result, I imagine, of consultation with those who are interested in what I call a great sport and others call a vice. The success of this tax depends on getting the goodwill of those concerned. There has never been a tax which would be so easy to evade. If it be impossible to stop street betting, although it implies the actual physical passing of a coin from one man's hand to another, how much harder is it to suppress betting which is merely the result of a word spoken across the rails or spoken on the telephone?