I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of this Measure is to amend the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1963, with respect to the provision of amusements with prizes. It does not affect the provision of gaming machines in premises not open to the public. "Amusements with prizes", the expression used in the 1963 Act, described a minor form of gaming in which a small sum of money is paid and small prizes are given—the sort of situation with which one is familiar in fun-fairs and the like. The 1963 Act sought to provide safeguards against abuse in two ways. First of all, subject to an exception for travelling fairs, the amusements can be carried out only under a permit granted by the local authority. Secondly, conditions were laid down with the object of ensuring that the element of gambling is small.
How have these safeguards worked? In practice, they have been out-flanked. The first bit of out-flanking has arisen from an interpretation of the courts of the wording of the Act, as a result of which local authorities have been obliged to issue permits more widely than was the intention. Further, a loophole appeared in the conditions dealing with the provision of the amusements, the effect being that substantial prizes, instead of small ones, can be given by the device of the delivery of a token that is exchangeable for goods.
Local authorities have been faced with applications for permits from public houses, safes, and similar premises and, in view of the unqualified expression "any premises" in Section 49 (1, a) of the 1963 Act, some local authorities have felt bound to grant such applications. Others have refused such applications as a matter of policy, but in some cases the decisions have been overturned on appeal, the appeal court taking the view that each application must be considered on its merits and not by reference to policy determined in advance by the local authority.
As a result, therefore, the situation has been reached where local authorities have simply not felt it open to them to refuse permits for such premises. Amusements in the shape of gambling machines are now installed under permits in a whole variety of places, including cafés, coffee bars, public houses and shops. My Bill seeks to remedy this situation by strengthening the hands of local authorities to refuse permits for such premises. On the other hand, everything we try to do in the Bill is completely within the intentions of Parliament as expressed during the passage of the 1963 Act. We have not gone one whit beyond those intentions.
Another development has been that the restrictions on the amount of stakes and prizes laid down in Section 49(3) are being evaded by the installation of machines operated by and delivering tokens which are exchangeable for prizes in kind worth considerably more than the one-shilling limit which was intended. Some of these machines installed in public houses are operated by tokens purchased over the bar and the jackpot prize can be a bottle of whisky. There was a case fairly recently reported in the Press in which a shopkeeper in Bridport, Dorset, had installed a machine like this, under a permit, in his toy shop.
Yes, it could not refuse. The intention, evidently, was to attract children to play the machine in the hope of winning an expensive toy. There is nothing unlawful about that as the Act stands.
Could my right hon. and noble Friend say how widespread is this practice in shops? I am sure that it has come as a surprise to many of us to find that it exists at all.
I cannot say that it has happened in any other shops. This is the only case I know, but it could happen. It is an ingenious and perfectly lawful thing to do. Its very ingenuity makes one wonder whether it is wide-spread.
No, it could not and I was about to refer to the opinion of a judge in a High Court judgment which would apply in this connection. In the case of Hewison v. Skegness Urban District Council, reported in Law Reports 1963. 1, Queen's Bench Division, at page 584, this part of the judgment puts the matter in a nutshell:
It seems, however, unfortunate that Parliament should not have given to the local authority power to attach other conditions to the permit, for example, conditions limiting the number and type of gaming machines which should be upon the premises. When a local authority considers an application such as was made to this local authority by the applicant, what it has to decide is whether, having regard to the character and record of the occupier of the premises, the nature of the premises and the general requirements of the neighbourhood, it is desirable that there should be gaming machines on these premises. It may well be that although some of these considerations indicate that in some premises it is desirable that there should be, say, six gaming machines, they also indicate that it is highly undesirable that there should be, say, 36 gaming machines. The Act seems to me, however, to be so drafted that the local authority has no power to limit the number of machines but can only say that permission shall or shall not be granted for the provision of amusements with prizes on those premises.
I see that this is not quite the point that the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) made.
No, I am familiar with that judgment. My point is that even as the law stands a local authority would be entitled to say as a matter of policy that it was undesirable to have even one machine in a toy shop.
If the local authority refused permission to install, then presumably the applicant would be entitled to go to the courts and the local authority would have to show good reason why it refused permission.
That is perfectly true and, as I have said, some of these refusals have been revoked on appeal to the court. This may explain the reluctance of local authorities to refuse permission. The judgment which I quoted continues:
I have not lost sight of the fact that paragraph 2 of the Third Schedule provides that the grant of a permit shall be at the discretion of the local authority. The discretion, however, is to grant or withhold the permit but not in my view to impose terms.
That is another restriction of what was the original intention of Parliament.
The relevant parts of the 1963 Act are Section 49 and Schedule 6 and it is Section 49 that deals with amusements with prizes at such places as pleasure fairs, amusement arcades, and parks. Section 49(1) allows amusements with prizes
on any premises in respect of which a permit has been granted by the local authority under Schedule 6.
The local authorities who are responsible for the granting of permits are defined in paragraph 9 of Schedule 6. I do not intend to worry the House with those details. They are perfectly orthodox. But Schedule 6 also provides that application for a permit should be made by the occupier or the intending occupier of the premises.
Section 49(3) is important. It lays down the conditions which must be complied with in respect of amusements installed under the Section. Subsection (3,a) provides that the amount paid by a competitor for what is called "a go" shall not exceed one shilling. Subsection (3,c) provides that no money prize shall be given which exceeds one shilling. The point to note, however, is that no limit is imposed on the value of the prize in kind and this is where the loophole in the Act has appeared.
I come, therefore, to what my hon. Friends and I want to do by means of this Bill. Clause 1 adds a further condition to Section 49(3) of the Act. It is proposed to add to that subsection a new paragraph the words of which in (f,i) will limit the prize which can be won by playing the machine. The money prize must not exceed one shilling and in the case of prizes other than money the article must not have a value exceeding one shilling. Condition (f,ii) precludes the giving of any other prizes either in addition to or in exchange for the prize obtained under the first condition. That is to ensure that there can be no arrangement by the proprietor to evade the limit on prizes in kind—for instance, some cheap article which it might be possible to exchange for something more expensive. The House will see that the Clause does not prohibit the use of tokens as such for operating machines. The essential point is that we want to limit to 1s. the value of prizes in kind which can be won by the operation of the machine.
The object of Clause 2(1) is to make clear that it is open to a local authority to refuse a permit other than for an amusement place on the ground that it is undesirable that amusements with prizes should be provided on the premises in question for any of the reasons stated in the subsection. Those are three in number: the purposes for which the premises may be used; any circumstances in which the premises may be used; or persons by whom they are used. As the House will see, the purpose of this provision is to overcome the difficulty with which, because of the absence of any specific provision in the original Act, local authorities have been confronted in the matter of withholding permits for public houses, cafés and those sorts of places. Local authorities take the view very strongly that they should have an effective discretion in the matter of refusing permits, and I believe the House will agree with them. As I said just now, that they should have this discretion is completely within the intention as expressed by Parliament when it passed the Act.
Paragraph (a) of subsection (2) empowers a local authority, on the grant or renewal of a permit, to impose conditions limiting the amusements to machines of the kind specified in Clause 1 and specifying the number of such machines. Paragraph (b) deals with the right of appeal and penalties. The subsection does not and is not intended to apply to amusement places as such. This in practice means that it will not apply to arcades or funfairs.
Subsection (3) provides that a court, on convicting the holder of a permit of an offence under Section 49(2) of the Act, may order the forfeiture of the permit. This is comparable to the situation of the conviction of the holder, for instance, of a bookmakers' permit or a betting agency permit. There is nothing new about this.
Subsection (4) relates to paragraph 3 of Schedule 6 of the Act providing that a local authority shall not refuse to renew
a permit otherwise than by reason of the conditions in which amusements with prizes have been provided under the permit or the manner in which those amusements have been conducted.
The purpose of this provision was to preclude the refusal of the renewal of a permit for a funfair or amusement arcade on grounds strictly unrelated to the provision of amusements under the permit—for example, noise or nuisance caused by roundabouts and such things.
Subsection (5) defines the expression "amusement place". I do not think there is anything particularly mysterious about that. It speaks for itself.
Clause 3 provides that the provisions of the Bill other than subsections (1), (4) and (5) of Clause 2, shall not come into operation until after the lapse of six months. I think that is a fair provision to allow time for the disposal or alteration of machines by those who have been operating them.
As I have said, this is an amending Bill. It is not amending in terms of new thoughts. It is amending in terms of putting right something which went quite unintentionally wrong in the drafting of the original Act. I hope the House will not consider this Bill controversial and will give it a Second Reading.
I should like to begin by congratulating the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope) on his success in the Ballot and on having used that success to introduce this Bill which, as he said, is not controversial. I support the Bill wholeheartedly and I should like to explain in a few words why I support it.
As the hon. Member has said, this Bill stems in whole, or at any rate in part, from a judgment, that he has quoted, of Mr. Justice Salmon in the case of Hewison v. Skegness Urban District Council, reported in 1963 1 Queen's Bench at page 584. A relevant passage which has not already been quoted is this at the end of the judgment:
This court can give effect only to what Parliament has enacted. It is not permissible for us to guess at what Parliament probably intended. Still less is it permissible for us to give effect to what we think Parliament ought to have enacted. If Section 24 leads to the most fantastic—and I do not think that is too strong a word—results, it can be cured only by legislation. For my part, I consider that it does lead to fantastic results but leads to those results quite clearly and inescapably.
When one reads criticisms of that kind by a learned judge about the apparent failure of Parliament to give effect to its intentions, one does so with somewhat mixed feelings, because I, in common with a number of other hon. Members, spent a very long time on the Committee stage of the Betting and Gaming Act, 1960, with which the learned judge was concerned, and which is now codified in the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1963, which this Bill seeks to amend. These observations of Mr. Justice Salmon only go to show how very difficult it is in this complicated field, notwithstanding all the care and attention that is given to a Bill in its Committee stages in both Houses of Parliament, to get it right and foolproof.
On behalf of those who served with me on the Committee, perhaps I may remind the House that this particular provision, which was Clause 24 of the 1960 Bill and is now reproduced as Section 49 of the 1963 Act, was reached in Committee only at our 23rd sitting. I am not saying that we were completely exhausted at that point, but we had already spent 22 sittings on the Bill dealing, as we then thought, with far more important aspects of the Bill than this particular provision. As the Under-Secretary of State will recall, the Bill introduced a great many sweeping changes in the law of betting and gaming. It abolished street betting. It introduced the highly controversial betting shop, about which, one day, Parliament may still have a good deal to say as to their desirability or otherwise.
It was only at the very end of a very long Committee stage that we reached this provision which, as the noble Lord has said, was intended to legalise, with abundant safeguards, what is generally regarded as the quite harmless and innocuous form of amusement of putting a penny or a sixpence in one of these machines.
Perhaps I ought to declare an interest. I am myself an addict whenever I have the opportunity of putting a penny or a sixpence in one of these machines in a café—which I incline to pronounce as "caff" but which some people prefer to pronounce as "caffay"—or in a public house.
In my part of the world, I find that people call it "caff". No doubt, the pronunciation varies from one part of the country to another and according to one's taste in using a French or Anglicised form of pronunciation. We all know what we mean.
A great many people find these amusements quite interesting and entirely harmless. I think that both the Committee and the whole House thought that it was a form of amusement in public houses and cafés which it was quite right for Parliament to sanction, with adequate safeguards. However, as the noble Lord has said, loopholes have been discovered in the Act in the sense that local authorities have found themselves in a difficulty. When an application comes before them for permission to install one of these machines—no machine may be installed anywhere without the approval of a local authority, or approval on appeal—the licensing authority is not entitled to impose conditions as to the number of machines which may be installed in any such place. I think it is perfectly reasonable that local authorities should be able to say, "Yes; it is proper that there should be two or three or, perhaps, six machines in a particular public house or café, but it would be unreasonable for there to be more."
The noble Lord has told us that in certain parts of the country there has been an attempt to install these machines in toy shops. I have not myself seen them in a toy shop, and I doubt that it would be generally thought everywhere that a toy shop was a proper place for any of these machines. But this must be a matter for the local authority concerned.
I think that the whole House will agree, the law being what it has now been decided to be in the Queen's Bench Division, that effect should be given to what, I entirely agree, was the clear intention of Parliament, that a local authority in exercising is discretion whether to grant or withhold permission for machines in a particular place should be able to limit the number of machines, and also to deal with the loophole about the token prize which can be won.
Having said that, I have only two comments to add, and I hope that the promoter of the Bill or the Under-Secretary of State will consider them in Committee. I am not quite happy about the drafting of the Bill, for two reasons. I draw attention, first, to the closing words of Clause 1 whereby it is sought to amend Section 49(4) of the principal Act by inserting towards the end, after the words "subsection (3)(d)", the words "or (f)(ii)". The operative part of Section 49(4), omitting unnecessary words, would then read:
the conditions set out in subsection (3)(d) or (f)(ii) of this section shall not be deemed to be contravened if "—
and so on.
With respect, I do not consider that it is a very happy form of terminology to say that such-and-such conditions or such-and-such conditions shall not be deemed to have been contravened. As I understand it, what is intended is that neither the conditions set out in subsection (3,d) nor the conditions set out in subsection (3,f,ii) shall be deemed to be contravened. As a mere matter of language, it seems to me that, unless one uses the negative first before the disjunctive, one will produce further problems of construction for the courts. If one says in an Act of Parliament that such-and-such a condition or such-and-such a condition shall not be deemed to be contravened, what is the result if one of the conditions applies but the other does not? I feel sure that the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) will agree.
My second observation is this. Clause 2 of the Bill, which I regard as perhaps the more important, seeks for the first time to introduce a new distinction in our law between an amusement place and a place which is not an amusement place. I suppose that that is probably necessary to give effect to the intentions of the promoters of the Bill.
If it is, I ask two questions. First, why is it that the operative part of Clause 2, which is designed to give local authorities discretion which they do not have at present, is introduced by an Amendment to Schedule 6 of the 1963 Act and not as an additional condition to be inserted in Section 49 of the 1963 Act, which is the kind of change that I should have expected and which, I believe, Mr. Justice Salmon would have expected? Perhaps in Committee the right hon. Member and the Home Office will consider that point.
Finally, I throw out this question for consideration. Granted that it is now proposed to introduce into the law this distinction between an amusement place —by which is meant, I understand, an arcade where there can be a number of these machines and to which people go for amusement only and for no other purpose—and places like public houses and cafés and some shops where in future there is to be a limit on the number of machines, which I think is desirable, is the Home Office and the hon. Member perfectly satisfied that it is still right not to give the local authority any discretion concerning the number of machines which can be installed in an amusement place?
I believe that I am right in thinking that under the Bill as drafted a local authority will still have no control over the number of machines which can be set up in an amusement place. That may be right and proper. Perhaps someone will confirm my interpretation of the Bill as drafted and that it is desirable that that should remain.
With those words, I endorse the principles of the Bill.
I endorse the congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope) on introducing this Bill and for using his time to clear up what was obviously a mistake in the legislation. As far as I can see, there seems to be only one difference of opinion among hon. Members, and that is about the way of pronouncing the word "café".
I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State one or two questions. First, is he satisfied with the definition of an "amusement place" in the Bill? I should like to ask him particularly whether this amending Bill in any way restricts the use of these machines, or, rather, the licensing of them, in such places as political clubs. I am not clear on this point. I do not know whether a political club is a place of amusement or not. It can be in some cases. I think that these machines are used extensively in these clubs.
What are the criteria on which a licence will be issued under Clause 2? A local authority may refuse a licence on three conditions. If I read the Bill correctly, the last condition on which it can refuse a licence is on the grounds of the persons by whom the machines are used. It seems to me that this is a wide Clause, and I am not altogether happy about it. Perhaps at a later stage my right hon. and noble Friend, with the help of the Home Office, will agree to insert some slightly more definite words in the Clause.
What is the position if a person who wishes to install these machines has been in prison or is a bad character? What are the criteria? In considering whether the Bill should be amended, it would be a good thing to look at this aspect.
Obviously there are many points which we can consider in Committee, but I congratulate my right hon. and noble Friend on attempting to bring the law on this matter up to date. There is no question that in this country there is a very heavy wave of gambling. I do not wish to introduce a controversial note, but people today find that they have more money in their purses and perhaps this is a way in which the natural instinct of people of this country to gamble is employed.
Although it does not come within the compass of the Second Reading of this Bill, it seems to me that before long we shall have to look at the whole question of these machines and to see whether the Revenue can be given a more direct method of acquiring money by way of taxation from them. It seems to me that no taxes flow from these machines and that the Revenue does not have much control over the amount of money put into them or the profit made from them. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider this point when framing his Budget.
What is the machinery for checking these machines? My right hon. and noble Friend said that he wants to do away with tokens. Has the local authority the right to inspect these machines at intervals to ensure that the provisions of this amending Bill, when it becomes an Act, are implemented?
I am sorry. I meant to ask whether local authorities would have any machinery whereby they could check that the value of the tokens was not in excess of the sum laid down in the Bill and whether there would be any routine checking to ensure that this amending Bill, as I like to call it, was adhered to?
Once again, I congratulate my right hon. and noble Friend on using his time to deal with something which is obviously of great public interest and importance.
I wish to say only a few brief words. I must confess that I was one of the Home Office Ministers concerned with the 1960 Act. My recollection is that I did not pilot the Clauses dealing with amusement and gaming machines through Standing Committee, but I remember taking part in the discussions on them. We found this a very difficult and baffling problem, for this reason. Conditions which we might attach in order to secure that there was no abuse in one set of circumstances might very well cause the making of onerous conditions in another set. That is one of the dilemmas with which we are often faced in legislating in a general way.
I wish particularly to invite attention to the point about local authorities having greater control in this matter. If my recollection serves me correctly, the reason why we put the equivalent Clause into the Betting and Gaming Act, 1960, was that people who had travelling fairs wanted to ensure that they could provide a modest form of amusement for the public through gaming machines. In a fairly short time, a few weeks of the summer, these travelling fairs travel around the districts of many local authorities. I congratulate my right hon. and noble Friend on introducing the Bill, but I ask him to ensure that when we give power to local authorities to investigate the circumstances in which the machines are being used and to attach conditions, we do not set up a procedure which is administratively impracticable for the people operating these travelling fairs. We have to be very careful about that, or we might defeat the very purpose for which the provision was originally inserted in the 1960 legislation. Having raised that difficulty, I do not propose to offer a solution to it at this stage, but it is something of which we should not lose sight.
Section 49 of the Consolidation Act, the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1963, has some interesting conditions about the chances which are allowed. Subsection (3, a) says:
the amount paid by any person for any one chance to win a prize does not exceed one shilling".
Paragraph (b), however, says:
the aggregate amount taken by way of the sale of chances in any one determination of winners, if any, of prizes does not exceed fifty shillings…
Therefore, the person staking a maximum of one shilling may compete in what is virtually a competition of chances against no more than 49 other people. In other words, the most the Statute allows him to have is a 50 to one chance. But then we go on to paragraph (c) which says:
no money prize shall be distributed or offered which exceeds one shilling".
As I understand it, that means that although a person make take a 50 to one chance in his competition with others, it is a 50 to one chance of winning only even money. If I am wrong, I shall be glad to be corrected, but that is what it appears to be as the law stands. It is a very strange situation and is a further point which may require attention when we are legislating afresh.
In conclusion, I should like to say that, like much of our other social legislation with which the Home Office is concerned, the Betting and Gaming Act, 1960, was highly experimental, especially with amusements with prizes. We must not be ashamed of the fact that in the test of a few years the original experiment turns out not to have succeeded. We must realise that when we legislate to amend it, that also may be experimental to some extent. This very small experiment seems to have failed to have worked as we would have wished and it is right that we should try to put it right, but while doing so let us do it as thoroughly as we can.
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. and noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope) on his initiative in introducing this helpful and necessary Bill. It is directed against what I hope I may legitimately describe as the almost limitless ingenuity not so much of the gambling public as of the people who exploit gambling for their own benefit. Most of us are to some extent gamblers. The human race might be described more by the Latin term homo lusor than homo sapiens. As there has been some doubt both about the spelling and pronunciation of French, I should say that that is spelt l-u-s-o-r and not l-o-s-e-r.
I think that it will be most convenient if I deal with the points raised by my right hon. and noble Friend and reply to the questions as I go along.
Te said, quite correctly, that the Bill would not affect gaming machines in premises not open to the public. This answers the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) about political clubs. I am very glad to get this on the record, because I would hardly dare show my face this evening in the Cowley Conservative Club if I had not made that quite clear. There is a separate provision in the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1963, for the installation of such machines in clubs or other premises to which the public does not have access. That is Section 33 which does not include the same restrictions on stakes and prizes which are provided in Section 49 for amusements which may be provided in premises open to the public.
The purposes of section 33 was specifically to allow gaming machines to be installed in clubs to raise money for club funds. It is true that there are now gaming machines installed in premises open to the public under Section 49 which, because of the loophole to which my right hon and noble Friend has drawn attention, allows expensive prizes in kind and which, structurally at any rate, are not very different from those installed in clubs. The additional restriction of prizes provided for by Clause 1 will remedy this. Clubs get the best of both worlds, because, if they wish, they can equally well install and operate machines for which the Bill now provides as well as those to which they are entitled under Section 33.
My tight hon. and noble Friend alluded, as did the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) to the intention of Parliament at the time the 1960 Act was passed. This can be briefly summarised in a sentence from a speech by the then Minister of State for the Home Department in which he said:
The purpose here is to provide licences or permits for the major fun fairs and amusement parks which grace our seaside resorts and Battersea Park, and not to set up in coffee bars and shops similar institutions which, under this Schedule, could be approved if the licensing authority thought fit to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1960; Vol. 623. c. 333.]
It was clearly Parliament's intention that this provision should cover small-scale gambling and that local authorities should have power to limit the places at which this gambling, even on a small scale, would be available.
As the debate has already shown, defects in the existing law have been found by the ingenuity of the gambling organisers. Local authorities have felt obliged to give permits more easily than they wished. When they have tried to apply restrictions in their interpretation of the law, they have in a number of cases been overruled on appeal. This case accounts for the admittedly exceptional but disturbing case of the Bridport toy shop. In that case a permit was issued by the local authority. It is not for me to say what was in the authority's mind, but there seems good reason to assume that it felt obliged to allow the permit because of difficulties which had arisen in previous cases over Appeal Court decisions and felt inhibited by precedents from refusing it in that case.
There is, I am glad to say, no evidence of widespread abuse of the intention of the Act in this way. In fact I have heard of no other toy shop where such a machine has been allowed to be installed. But there is undoubtedly disquiet on a very large scale among local authorities, which has been conveyed to us not only by individual authorities but also by local authority representative associations, who have made it quite clear that this anxiety is not localised or confined to one or two places here and there—it is general throughout the country.
The local authority associations made representations to us in favour of tightening the restrictions under the Act, and it is, of course, for consideration in committee how far Parliament would wish to go in the direction of restriction. It is only fair to my right hon. Friend and the House that I should put it on record that in representations that have been received by the Home Office it has been suggested that the restrictions available to local authorities might usefully go even further than is contemplated in the Bill.
The desire has been expressed that a local authority should have power to make a decision in advance that it will not in any circumstances issue permits for certain specified types of premises. In other words, this would remove from the local authorities the onus of even considering applications from certain specified types of premises. Under the Bill as drafted they will still have to consider each case on its merits, but, of course, in considering each case they will have available to them much stricter criteria as set out in Clause 2 of the Bill to guide them in refusing a permit if they wish to do so.
The criteria in Clause 2(1) are much more strictly drawn than they were in the previous Act. The scale of permissible gambling under the Bill is much reduced in financial value by Clause 1 and is therefore less likely to be attractive to those who wish to exploit gambling for commercial purposes, and the number and type of machine permissible in any premises can be limited by conditions imposed by a local authority following the animadversions contained in the judgment of Mr. Justice Salmon. These restrictions will, I think, considerably lighten the local authority's task, and given these restrictions it might well seem unduly repressive, especially to small proprietors, to give the local authorities the unqualified power which it has been suggested from some quarters they should have. This is a matter, like many others, which can be looked at again in Committee, if an Amendment were to be put down.
I do not think that I need recapitulate or comment on the exposition which my right hon. and noble Friend correctly made both of the scope of the present law and of the other provisions of the Bill. I will go straight on to comment on some of the technical questions which were raised in speeches by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and other hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Islington, East, made two comments on the drafting of the Bill. One was on Clause 1 and another on Clause 2(5), which was also echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham. The final words of Clause 1, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, have the effect of amending Clause 49(4) of the principal Act. That subsection covers a type of machine which is normally played for a small coin, and the successful operation of which results in the return of the coin inserted and a free turn, the successful use of the free turn resulting in the machine putting out a further coin. That would be contrary to the condition of subsection (4,d), but the subsection permits it, subject to a limit of 1s. on the total amount which may be won as a result of the insertion of one coin. That is what the present provision does.
The provision in Clause 1 of the Bill for the amendment of that subsection is consequential upon the earlier part of Clause 1, and its intention is to put beyond doubt that the proposed new conditions in subsection (3,f), which we are inserting in the Act, will not preclude a successful player on a machine of the kind specified in the subsection from being given a further turn of play without payment. That is the intention, and we shall certainly look very care- fully at the wording, in conjunction with my right hon. and noble Friend, to see if it requires or is susceptible of improvement. I hope that undertaking will meet the hon. Gentleman's point.
The second point which he raised and which my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham also touched on was the definition of an amusement place. Both hon. Members asked if the Home Office was perfectly satisfied with this definition. I would say at once that the Home Office is never perfectly satisfied with anything; least of all is it likely, after the experience of the administration of gambling legislation, ever to be perfectly satisfied with the precise provision of legislation of this kind. We are certainly always ready to look at it again. The first half of the definition of an amusement place relates to premises used wholly or mainly for the provision of amusements by means of machines. This will in general cover amusement arcades. The second half of the definition refers to premises used wholly or mainly as a pleasure fair consisting largely or entirely of amusements.
This definition relates to Clause 2(1) and (2) which both provide that the provisions will not apply to an amusement place. The reason for this is to safeguard the interests of the legitimate amusements industry. The definition in subsection (5) is intended to cover amusement arcades such as may exist in any town, and permanent fun-fairs like those of Bellevue in Manchester, and also fun fairs and pleasure parks normally found at seaside resorts.
I am coming on to that point. They are not entirely free from restrictions. They are merely outside the scope of this Clause. I think it would be generally agreed that the criteria set out in Clause 2(1) are not applicable to such places and it would be unreasonable that the powers of a local authority which are to limit the numbers and type of machines should apply in respect of such places which have such machines as their basis of existence. This does not mean that amusements in fun-fairs and amusement arcades will be free from all restrictions because they will be subject to the conditions laid down in Section 49(3) of the Act, as it is proposed to be extended by Clause 1 of the Bill. They are not, therefore, entirely outside the scope of the licensing provisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham raised the question of Clause 2(1) about the words
the persons by whom … the premises are, or are to be, used".
The intention is that the other criterion set out in the Clause is to give the local authority a reasonable discretion to exercise its own judgment, which local authorities are very well qualified to do; but, obviously, the kind of persons contemplated would include young people, and especially if the premises were premises where alcoholic liquor were available.
As a matter of fact this Clause does not go so far as the Royal Commission of 1949 originally contemplated, because that made the recommendation in paragraph 431 of its Report that the local authority granting the permit should have power actually to prohibit the admission of persons under the age of 18 years to such premises. The recommendation followed from a careful discussion by the Royal Commission of the possible harmful effects on young people of constant resort to amusement arcades. This recommendation was not implemented in the Act of 1960.
It was thought then that the harmful possibilities envisaged by the Royal Commission were strictly only applicable to one category of amusement place, namely, town arcades, and there was evidence that the number of town arcades had diminished very considerably, since the particularly bad period just before the war and also between the Royal Commission's Report and the debates on the 1960 Bill. The estimates were at that time that the number of such arcades in Greater London had dwindled from 130 just before the war down to only seven in 1959, and I understand that the estimate of the total number of town arcades in Great Britain a few years ago was probably not more than 20.
It can be argued that cafés—or "caffs" —and coffee bars are now popular places of resort for young people. I think the powers written into Clause 2(1) which relate both to the type of premises and to the kind of persons who may be expected to frequent them are sufficiently strong to enable any local authority to exercise its discretion without difficulty in order to avert any evil to young persons.
I do not want to keep interrupting, but could we just probe this question of the definition of amusement places a little further? Would the hon. Gentleman say, for example, whether in his opinion a pier at a seaside resort is an amusement place under this Bill or not? As I read it, it is not, because it is not a place for the provision of amusements merely by means of machines. If so, do I take it that the local authority would have no power to limit the number of machines there?
Subject to taking technical advice on this point, I would hazard the opinion that a pier would not be an amusement place within the terms of subsection (5) because it is not a place for the provision of amusements by means of machines exclusively, and it is obviously not a pleasure fair, but I should like to take expert advice on that point, and perhaps it would be reverted to in Committee.
Questions have been raised not only about those parts of the existing law which are touched upon by this new Bill but also about some parts of the existing law, which is lengthy and comprehensive, which are not directly touched by the present Bill. I would not want to delay the House by going into these matters, which are beyond the scope of the Bill. They are matters for future consideration and decision. I have in mind particularly the points alluded to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) as well as by the hon. Member for Islington, East. It is perfectly possible that future legislative action may be necessary on other provisions of the existing law, but in some cases experience of the operation of the law is not yet sufficient, and in other cases interpretation of the law by the courts is not yet sufficiently conclusive to justify the Government in bringing forward amending legislation.
Meantime we have this very useful and, I think, necessary Bill to close loopholes in the law which, although they are small, are clearly defined, and are undoubtedly damaging. It is the Government's view that it would be wrong to postpone action, where it is already clearly and demonstrably required, in order to await more far-reaching and perhaps much more controversial revision of other parts of the law.
My right hon. Friend's Bill is desirable beyond question, and it cannot be said beyond question of other parts of the law. Therefore, I am very happy to join other hon. Members who have spoken in commending it to the House.
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope) on introducing the Bill, which may become known as the "One-Armed Bandits Bill".
I want particularly to draw attention to the provisions in (f, i and ii) in Clause 1. I wonder whether the Clause is widely enough drafted. The people with whom one is dealing here are of very great ingenuity, as is shown by the way they got round previous legislation. I wonder whether the phrase:
or a prize other than money of a value not exceeding one shilling
might not be used for evasion. The valuation of a certain item of goods allows considerable elasticity, and this may be used to get round the provision.
Another alternative which I do not think is caught by the next subsection is when someone who wins on one of these machines gets a disc in the form of a ballot or tombola ticket. I am not convinced that this would be covered by the words:
the winning of that prize does not entitle any person to, or to exchange that prize for, any other benefit'.
There might well be a ballot in which the odds of winning a much greater prize were fifty-fifty. There might be a tombola in which every second person won a prize. I am doubtful whether these would be covered by the Bill, but I am not certain.
I suggest that we might consider whether we may not ultimately be brought to the conclusion that there can only be a cash prize or another turn. The method of giving a prize other than money opens the matter up very much more widely. Perhaps this point might be looked at in Committee.
I want to draw attention to the extraordinary extension which there has been in this type of gambling in recent years. The inquiry into gambling conducted recently by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise showed that £10 million a year net profit is made by Britain's one-armed bandits—this is indeed big business—and that the total membership of gaming clubs, including bingo clubs, is now more than 16 million. These figures are very much on the increase. This has very considerable social implications. In addition, about 24,000 gaming machines are in use.
One is driven to consider the desirability of this type of gaming and the problems which its extension pose. I have some figures which may be interesting. A village club with a membership of under 500 made a profit of nearly £600 in four months from a 6d. fruit machine. A Conservative club made more than £500 from two machines in three months. A billiard hall company with a number of halls had a surplus of £29,000 in a year from its gaming machines alone.
These machines can be bought for cash or on hire purchase or through a variety of types of rentals. There are about 3,500 working men's clubs and institutes which have these machines. I am told that a Bristol firm, which has a country-wide maintenance service and caters essentially for this type of club, reckons that about 10 per cent. retention in the machine is fair to the player while still making it an exception for a £400 machine not to pay for itself in the first year of operation. Therefore, the profitability of these machines is very well demonstrated.
To go further on this point would take one out of order. I thought that while we were considering this legislation I might draw to the attention of the House the vast scale on which this kind of gambling is operated and is apparently expanding, and I merely pose the social question of how much further it should be permitted to go.
As one of the supporters of my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Lord John Hope), I should like to say on his behalf how very pleasant it is to find that the Bill is welcomed.
This is an example of the utility of Private Members' Bills. Sometimes there are Private Members' Bills which deal with a great question—not very many and not very often, but they occasionally arise. There are Private Members' Bills which some people think should never see the light of day. There is a third class of Private Members' Bill which is an example of the working of our system in this House, whereby private Members are able to assist in the process of legislation and fill loopholes and make improvements where they are badly needed in cases where the Government might be in a difficult position if they tried to bring in a general Bill.
I want particularly to say a word of appreciation—an opportunity to do so is given us on the occasions of such non-controversial matters as this—of the attitude which was adopted by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher). I do not say that anybody has to be red-faced about it, but here was a situation in which Parliament had failed to carry out its intentions. It would have been easy for the hon. Member to say that here was another example of Government bungling. We ought to appreciate that on this private Members' day he did not do that at all. Actually, he made a very clear statement. I intended going into that myself, but the hon. Gentleman did it so well that I will not take up time doing so.
One appreciates that the famous 1960 Bill, which was the result of the Report of the Royal Commission of 1951—it was the 1960 Bill which is known sometimes as the Butler Bill—was in Committee for a very long time, and I think that some people were very worn out by the time they reached this point. That does not mean to say that a mistake was not made. I myself was not personally responsible for it—I might have been if it had been a year or two earlier—but I know from experience how these things go.
One sees from paragraph 432 of the Royal Commission Report that the 1s. prize was taken in its stride, as if that were the answer to the problem. It did not occur to anyone that the things which have been done would be done. Only when one gets people with ingenious minds, like my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) does one see what can be done, and when one finds out what the position is, steps have to be taken.
Perhaps I may be permitted to say that one should appreciate that the scope of the Bill is very limited. It is true that the Long Title states:
A Bill to Amend the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 with respect to the provision of amusements with prizes.
But, at the same time, the only specific matters mentioned are Section 49(3) and Schedule 6 of the Act, which is, of course, connected with Section 49. The matters about gaming machines, although rightly commented upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North are not really germane to the present discussion. Section 50 of the 1963 Act states:
Nothing in section 32, 33, 34, 41, or 42 of this Act shall apply to a game played by means of a machine in accordance with the conditions set out in subsection (2) of this section.
The Act dons draw a distinction between the type of machine with which my hon. Friend was dealing and the type of machine which concerns us here. I am sure, however, that the House will generally agree with the concern he expressed.
The Bill really has only two basic objectives. The first is to deal with the situation created by the legal decision of Mr. Justice Salmon. It makes the position of the local authority clear and also has the valuable result of drawing the attention of the local authority, in clear terms, to its powers and therefore its duties. The other provision is that of principle.
With regard to matters of detail, I feel that I should say that those who are promoting the Bill will pay very careful attention to everything that has been said. I do not think that there will be much difficulty about dealing with the points that the hon. Member for Islington, East so clearly stated. I would not think it right to take up time in arguing with him now, but when he said that he was sure I would agree with a certain point I felt I would rather reserve my position on that for the future. As between lawyers, it is always a pity to destroy the basis of a good argument.
I am not so sure about my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North and the very ingenious suggestion that he made about Clause I. There may be something in it. It is clear that, if one has a position where one can argue that all one has is a ticket which is obviously worth much less than ls., it is quite immaterial that that ticket enables one to do something quite different and not mentioned in the Bill. What Mr. Justice Salmon said about it I do not know, but he would probably find a way of dealing with that sort of argument. However, perhaps it would not be proper for me now to discuss all these points in detail.
This is not a grandmotherly Bill. All that is being done is to make effective provisions that have already been the subject of consideration by Parliament and which were a direct result of the Royal Commission. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State pointed out that one of the recommendations was not being fully met, but I think that, on all the other matters, we are in full agreement with the Royal Commission. We are, therefore, really doing no more than bringing the present legislation into line. It may be that we shall have some quite difficult small points to discuss in the Committee but if they are met and dealt with with the same helpfulness and goodwill that we have had this morning I am sure that they can be overcome.