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 Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

I rise to raise one or two points in connection to this Betting Duty. The hon. Member who spoke last stated as a very cogent argument that a man could very easily come to an arrangement with his bookmaker about £1 meaning £10 and so on; but that can only be when there is perfect trust between the bookmaker and the man who bets. It means in effect that if he won or lost, then at law all the claim he had would be for the pound. If he went to law the Court would order the bookmaker to pay the smaller amount. The consequence is that everybody is going to bet on £10 and £20 and take good care that they are within the law. I do not think the argument counts much as far as that is con- cerned. I also oppose this differentiation for other reasons. I agree with a good deal of what the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) has said about betting. On this point it is no use of the last speaker saying that there is no vested interest. There is a vested interest.

Anyone who knows the drink traffic knows that every time the drink trade want a reduction of taxation, they come to Parliament and, heedless of every other social 'question, press for a reduction. The same will happen in the case of betting. The bookmaker will come and plead and try to get a reduction. But there is this other point regarding the differentiation. It is all very well to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will differentiate in the way suggested. I do not think he can do that logically. You are not only dealing with betting and racing; you are dealing with betting and other forms of sport, if sport it can be called. Take whippet racing. In Scotland there are large numbers of people who go regularly every Saturday of their life to see this form of racing. The person who attends horse racing has to pay only 2 per cent., but if the bookmaker goes to a whippet race meeting, which is frequented largely by working men, he has to pay 3½ per cent., as against 2 per cent. in the wealthier place. If a man makes a book on a whippet ground, he has to pay the larger amount. There is no question that they are poorer people who attend the whippet meetings, and I object to something that penalises poorer people as against the rich people.

There is not only the objection in regard to whippet racing. In my part of the country there is trotting or pony racing, and I am going to ask if under the Amendment moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a pony race is a horse race? There are grounds where whippet racing and trotting are carried on in combination and there is also foot running. In Edinburgh there is a place called Powderhall where whippet racing and foot racing are carried on, and there are some places where the three forms of sport are carried on. A bookmaker on a race course will only charge his client 2 per cent., but if a pony is considered a horse, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer will charge 2 per cent. for a bet on a pony. If there happens to be a whippet running he will have to alter his basis of taxation and charge the full 3½ per cent. One of the reasons for differentiating is that the bookmaker who goes to the race course has a great deal more expenditure than the other bookmaker who sits in an office. But trotting and whippet racing are equally expensive. I am raising this question because I have been asked by certain people who are constituents of mine to do so. They want to be dealt with equitably. There ought to be no difference.

I myself think there is a tremendously strong case—almost an unanswerable case—for legalising betting in this country. The law of betting has ceased to be a law and has become a farce. When law is treated as a farce, it ceases to be law. Whether we on these benches like it or not, the great mass of people do not look upon a man as a bad person for having been fined for betting. In my constituency he is looked upon as the, reverse and as some one to be proud of. A person fined for a bet is not looked upon the same as a person fined for being drunk or for committing a theft.

If the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to stop street betting there is an effective way to do it. A Bill is at present going through Parliament, the object of which is to cut out newspaper reports of divorce cases. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to deal with street gambling, he has only to cut the publication of betting odds in the newspapers. I will give him an illustration. I have a friend—a constituent of mine—who runs not only a credit betting business but a street betting business. Incidentally, when he gets his licence, it will give him an additional status for street betting, and he is proud of it. In the ordinary course this man takes about 1,000 bets each day. During the general strike, when the newspapers were not being printed, the number of bets went down to about 40 each day. That was because there were no newspapers no betting odds, and no tips. [HON.MEMBERS: "And no racing!"] Oh, yes. I know something about it, and I would remind hon. Members that we had Chester races for three days during that period. I have never made a bet off a racecourse though I have made one or two on racecourses, but I like to go to racecourses and to see horse racing. I do not know that there is any crime in it; if there is, I shall probably suffer the punishment hereafter. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Churches are sincere in wanting to stop betting they should start a campaign to abolish the publication of betting odds in the newspapers.

I am with the hon. Member for West Islington, who is against all indirect taxation. I have, for instance, what some Members would regard as a peculiar "complex" on the drink question. I voted with the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) in favour of the total prohibition of liquor, and some time later I voted for a reduction of the taxes on liquor, because I believe sincerely that if the liquor traffic is bad it ought to be suppressed in a straightforward way, and we ought to take a referendum of the people upon it. I do not believe in taxing an evil and raising revenue from it, and. if betting be an evil, I do not think we shall stamp it out, by taxing it. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can logically apply a duty which differentiates between betting on the course and betting off the course. This is being done from the rich man's point of view. The rich man can bet over the telephone. I am a Member of Parliament and I have a telephone, and I can get five bookmakers to bet wills me on credit; but if I were working at my trade, no bookmaker would give me credit. There is one bookmaker in Scotland—James Maclean—who will not "take you on" at all, unless you can give bankers' references. Thus the poor man is driven to street betting, and here we are legislating against street betting, while condoning and encouraging racecourse betting. Therefore, for these reasons I have no moral scruples about the thing at all. I go among my constituents, and the general feeling I find is that the greater the unemployment the greater the betting.

A man, say, has a couple of shillings, and with Is. he decides which one of three things he will do with it—to have a drink, to go to a football match, or to make a bet. He usually chooses the bet, for the reason that if he spends the money on drink it only lasts for about three minutes; again, if he goes to a football match, and watches a game for an hour and a half, he enjoys it, till it comes to a finish; while in the matter of a bet—which he chooses—he does so because he thinks he gets more sport than from the other two. He has as much right to judge what his sports should be as I have. In the first place, he may get a newspaper, and spend an hour or two spotting the winners. Then he puts on his bet. Then he has the excitement of watching, as at the football match, for the result, and one way and another he reckons he gets out of his 1s. on the bet as much sport as in any other way. My own view is that betting increases with unemployment. If you give the mass of the people something to utilise their mind with in the way of remunerative work, you will not get, in the great industrial centres, anything like the betting you get now. That is the experience of almost every one of us. If you give the people a, continuity of employment, good education, good newspapers to read, you will possibly do more to stop betting than in any other way. Anyhow, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the whole subject of this tax. If, however, he is going to impose it, let it be on a uniform basis, so that it will affect all in the same way.