Previous Section Home Page

Column 649

Mr. Randall : I have listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend's logic and his point about how we all enjoy services provided by all sorts of people on Sundays. It seems that he supports the notion of Sunday opening and the deregulation of trading.

Mr. Howell : Not at all. I am afraid that my hon. Friend has not been following my argument with his customary diligence. I was saying that Sunday is a day of recreation and re-creation. It almost has a spiritual aroma. When people are re-created through leisure, that is special. That is the case for sports and the arts on Sunday. It must not be confused with the case for wholesale commercialism and Sunday opening. I am against that. I do not regard Sunday sport for recreation, spiritual uplift and cultural enjoyment as an extension of commercialism. I hope that my hon. Friend will not draw me on to that track.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes) : Does not the right hon. Gentleman find it curious that racing is one of the richest sports, yet stable lads are some of the worst paid people? The reason is that many people want to become stable lads. Does he genuinely think that people will be employed as stable lads if they say that they are not prepared to work on Sundays?

Mr. Howell : If the hon. Gentleman was listening to what I was saying, he would know that I had just dealt with that. If he has just come in, I am sorry that I gave way to him [Hon. Members :-- "He has been here all the time."] In that case, I apologise to him. I shall have to repeat what I said before. People should not be exploited on Sundays. People are entitled to protection and trade union rights on Sundays. I fully support that. It is astonishing that the Jockey Club has not given sufficient attention to that aspect of the industry. I am glad that Lord Wyatt is moving in the right direction. I hope that the Bill will make progress in the other place.

Should we oppose all that I have been talking about because the Bill proposes to allow betting shops to open on 12 Sundays a year? I do not believe that it is logical to do so. It is necessary for the betting shops to be open so that the punters can have their flutter--of which I approve.

What has emerged on both sides of this House--especially from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and from the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay)--is that we now have for the first time Sunday racing in Ireland. I support my hon. Friend's view that, if we are to avoid illegal betting, we cannot have Sunday racing without betting shops being open. The advent of Sunday racing in Ireland should be monitored carefully. For Sunday racing in Ireland there is on-track betting only. I ask the Minister to find out whether that has led to an extension of illegal betting, which he and I both fear. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton that we should study this new situation and not be afraid to rethink matters if that fear is justified. Of course, if it is, it would enforce the Home Office's view, and I would be the first to acknowledge that.

Mr. Holt : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a certain inconsistency of thinking in the Home Office, because for evening racing, which is now more frequent--it is certainly far more frequent than the number of Sundays on which it is proposed to have racing--the punters cannot by law go to the betting shop in the evening and have a bet. Yet the same Home Office says

Column 650

that we cannot have Sunday racing without the betting shops being open, because otherwise illegal betting will be encouraged. If it does not encourage illegal betting in the evenings, the industry can be run perfectly well without betting shops being open in the evenings, why would it do so on Sundays?

Mr. Howell : I am tempted to say "game, set and match" to that comment, because I believe that it is completely logical. I hope that the Minister will take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I understand the concern, but my overriding concern is to allow people to exercise their free right to enjoy themselves and to provide proper safeguards for the staff who must work on Sundays in order that we achieve our aims. If the Irish experience is successful, we should take note of it. Whatever view we take of this, if our objection is to the opening of betting shops, that may be the catalyst around which we can find common ground.

I say to my friends in the Jockey Club that they need to be careful about the comments in support of this measure. I shall cite one example. The Jockey Club said that the Grand National could be run on a Sunday if the Bill was passed. It could not. The hon. Member for Berkshire, East is quite right in restricting the hours of opening of betting shops on Sundays to 12 noon to 6.30 pm. The Grand National attracts more betting than almost any other race. There is an avalanche of flutters among housewives. Their interests could not possibly be maintained by opening the betting shops at 12 o'clock.

Mr. Holt : Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that bookmakers, almost without exception, have to act illegally on Grand National day to pay out winning punters after the official closing time of 6 o'clock?

Mr. Howell : They must have been backing better horses than the ones which I backed. I may add, however, that the Grand National is one of my lucky races.

I hope that the House will give this Bill a Second Reading. I hope that it will go to Committee. There are good grounds for trade unionists to get their teeth into the Bill in Committee.

Mr. Duffy : Trade unions are not in agreement.

Mr. Howell : Some trade unions are.

Mr. Duffy : Which trade unions are in favour?

Mr. Howell : Mine. It is just as important as my hon. Friend's.

Mr. Duffy : That is a typical Tory claim, is it not? That is just what the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) would have said.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order.

Mr. Duffy : I am speaking for the industry.

Mr. Howell : My hon. Friend must control himself. The trouble with my hon. Friend is that he assumes that his own personal view is automatically the view of everyone else.

Mr. Duffy : What about the stable lads?

Mr. Howell : I am saying that I want people to have free choice. I will defend to the death my hon. Friend's right to oppose this Bill.

Column 651

Mr. Duffy : My right hon. Friend is on his own.

Mr. Howell : A lot of people would defend my hon. Friend's right. We would hope, however, that he would do it in a more intelligent way than he managed earlier.

Mr. Duffy : My right hon. Friend is with the Tories.

Mr. Howell : I am not with the Tories. If we fought a general election on this matter, more Labour voters would support my view than would support his. I do not want to turn this into a party political discussion. For Heaven's sake, let us understand where we are.

I support the Bill. I want it to go to Committee so that we can consider the question of protection of staff, betting and all the other matters involved. I support it because I believe that it is a move towards the encouragement of a civilised life on Sundays. People can enrich their lives by enjoying themselves in a non-commercial way in sport. It will not change the character of Sundays. As a committed Christian, I believe that it enshrines the Christian concept of individual free will, which I regard as paramount.

12.2 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate. I begin by saying to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) that I was rather surprised by the tone of some of his remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay). He appeared to be suggesting in an ill-natured way--although he is normally an extremely courteous opponent--that because my hon. Friend has taken a high profile on another issue it was somehow unwise or improper of him also to take a high profile on this one. It would be a rather extraordinary state of affairs if we could exercise our consciences in only one area at a time. It is a rather alarming proposition and one which I would not have expected even from the Opposition.

I should have thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East had proved by the extensive nature of his consultations that he was eminently qualified and, indeed, sufficiently devoted to the cause to be introducing the Bill. Although I certainly would not go so far as to compare his qualities with the one who came after John the Baptist--which I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) was in severe danger of doing at one

point--nevertheless the way in which he has presented the Bill, about which I am about to disagree profoundly, should have won the respect of the House as well as of those on whose behalf he is moving it. In absolutely opposing the Bill, I hope that I cannot be accused of being a Sabbatarian zealot. In fact, I favour deregulation. The churches in my constituency and constituents of mine who do not share my view are fully aware of that. I believe that the anomalies in the existing law need tidying up and I have never seen--although I remain open to conviction--a sensible compromise which makes it possible to enter partial deregulation. That is the basis of my disagreement with the Bill.

In essence my hon. Friend is suggesting piecemeal legislation. It does not matter very much to me whether the Bill is a stalking horse for total deregulation. In its own right, as a measure of piecemeal deregulation, it is fundamentally flawed and it will create far more anomalies than it will solve, particularly in the high streets with the opening of betting shops. Nothing that I have heard

Column 652

convinces me that those flaws are superficial and that they can be ironed out if the Bill is sent into Committee. The plea, "Let the Bill go to Committee upstairs" is common and I cannot deny that I have made that plea on occasions. I fully expected to hear such a plea from the proponents of the Bill.

When considering whether a Bill should go upstairs one must decide, looking at the essential nature of the Bill as opposed to its clauses, whether it is possible for it to emerge from Committee in a form to satisfy the misgivings of those who did not want it to be sent there in the first place. So far I have heard nothing that convinces me that the essential nature of the Bill is viable. It is a piecemeal measure.

My hon. Friend started to go down the road of complicated legislation by promising us that if there were any alterations to the 12 Sundays that he proposed for off-course betting, they would need to be decided separately and that, therefore, we need not worry. The fact that my hon. Friend has already started to limit his Bill and has started to introduce complications about how often the things that he seeks to legalise can be legalised suggests that we are still floundering around with anomaly after anomaly and are trying to solve an already overregulated situation with even more complicated regulations.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : Given that there may be genuine fears, does my hon. Friend not agree that a step-by-step approach is a good idea? If betting shops are open on 12 Sundays a year we can judge, over a number of years, how that goes. If initial fears are ill-founded, another hon. Member can introduce legislation to make changes. Surely such a compromise is a better way of proceeding than making a definite decision when some people are uncertain of the final results.

Miss Widdecombe : I respect what my hon. Friend has said. He is seeking to go gently rather than rushing in, and that is an appealing argument. Nevertheless, as a result of his Bill, we will have another set of shops open on another regulated number of days while other shops will stay shut and others, which are supposed to stay shut, will open. The Bill does not clear up anomalies, it adds to them. I am not convinced by the way in which my hon. Friend and others have approached the question of noise and disturbance. Forgetting the theological arguments for a moment and considering the social ones, Sunday is, for better or for worse, a special day of relative peace and quiet for much of the population.

I once had the gross misfortune to live fairly close to Fulham football ground, which was also used on alternate Sundays for rugby league. First, I was disturbed by the noise of the cheering and shouting that penetrated my back garden. Secondly, there was the hassle of the traffic that filled up all the normally peaceful residential roads and made it impossible for residents to move their cars on a Sunday or to park within a mile or one and a half miles of their own homes--

Mr. Holt : Is my hon. Friend advocating that all football matches should be banned on Sundays? Is that the logic of her argument?

Miss Widdecombe : The logic of my argument is that I do not want present policy to be extended. I shall address later the points raised by my hon. Friend.

Column 653

The residential roads in Fulham were cluttered. The spectators were orderly and there was no misbehaviour, but they filled the streets and there was continual noise and traffic. I can understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East might say that, just as I have a right to cut my honeysuckle in a peaceful garden in Fulham, so someone else has the right to raise a lot of cheering and noise not too far from me. Freedom, however, is essentially a question of balance and I am not convinced that that balance is reached when something that could be done on another day of the week disturbs the peace and the orderly routine of the citizens and their families on a Sunday.

I detected a flaw in my hon. Friend's argument when he attempted to address that question. My hon. Friend said that we should not pick out a particular day of the week. He said that those who live near a racecourse or a sports ground encounter noise and disturbance on other days of the week, and that, therefore, there was no particular objection to Sunday. I respectfully suggest that there is a particular objection to Sunday because it is the day when it is most likely that all the family will be at home and the day when people want peace and quiet. On an ordinary working day, when adult members of the family are likely to be at work and their children at school, what is going on in the immediate neighbourhood is of less importance than what goes on on a Sunday.

My hon. Friend was clever to concentrate all his efforts on racing. I believe that the Sunday Sports Bill--it is not a Sunday racing Bill--will inevitably lead to intensification and the extension of other sports on a Sunday.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : Confusion is arising about the extension of other sports on a Sunday. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Health (Mr. Howell) and I have already clearly demonstrated that there are many sporting events on a Sunday that break the law. Few of those sports will extend the number of matches played beyond the present number once my Bill is in operation. Craven Cottage will not host any extra football matches on a Sunday because of my Bill. There will not be an increase in the current number of football matches, rugby matches and golf matches that take place on a Sunday ; the only increase will be in horse racing.

Miss Widdecombe : There is already an increasing number of such matches and an increasing degree of commercialisation, with all that that implies. I believe that my hon. Friend's Bill will give an impetus to that increase.

Sir Charles Morrison rose--

Miss Widdecombe : I shall finish this point and then give way. I have no sympathy with the view that if the law is broken extensively the only way in which to meet that is to legitimise the law breakers. Those who share my views were challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) who asked why the Lord's Day Observance Society did not prosecute more often and why we did not seek to close down enterprises that were already open? Why the law is not enforced more rigidly is a valid question, but there is a difference--

Mr. Andrew MacKay : Answer the question.

Miss Widdecombe : I am attempting to. There is a difference between saying that we should enforce the law,

Column 654

recognising that there are some breaches, and saying that we will go for wholesale deregulation which will not only regularise the breaches, but increase their numbers.

Much has been said today about employment protection.

Mr. Thurnham : My hon. Friend has not tried to answer the question yet. If the law is being breached, should we turn a blind eye or should we enforce it?

Miss Widdecombe : The machinery for enforcing the law exists and can be used.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : My hon. Friend cannot have it both ways. She does not like piecemeal legislation. She says that she is reasonably happy with the present situation, and refuses to give the House her opinion on whether existing sporting events on Sundays should not take place and whether the Lord's Day Observance Society should prosecute those who take part in them. Does she want Sunday with or without sport?

Miss Widdecombe : I understand that what happens now is not so much that people flagrantly breach the law, but that they get around it--I offer the example of gate money.

Mr. David Evans (Welwyn Hatfield) : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Miss Widdecombe : Usually, I should be pleased to give way to the chairman of Luton football club, but on this occasion I want to move on. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East wants me to make progress.

My hon. Friend has not convinced me of the efficacy of his provisions for employment protection. He says that he has built into the Bill protection for existing employees, but that is a naive idea, since employees can be penalised in more ways than one. I do not believe that my hon. Friend's measures will protect people who do not want to work on Sundays from other forms of penalty that can be inflicted on them--overty and covertly--by their employers. My hon. Friend has not satisfied the House on that point.

The Bill creates another anomaly, too. My hon. Friend is fond of saying that he wants to iron out anomalies, but he creates them. One group of workers would be protected against dismissal for refusal to work on Sundays, and another would not. He was rather coy about whether he had consulted the staff of betting offices. He talked a great deal about choice and the freedom to choose.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : I know that my hon. Friend does not agree with that.

Miss Widdecombe : The people who will be disturbed by noise from sporting and racing events have no choice, and neither do staff. What choice is my hon. Friend giving stable lads and betting shop staff? There are 10,000 betting shops-- [Interruption.] I have extended the courtesy of giving way several times to my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East, and I think that he should either stand up or stop making sedentary interventions. As I was saying, these 10,000 shops employ up to 40,000 people, who, if the Bill were passed, would stand to lose Sunday as a day of rest. So another 40,000 families would be affected by the measure.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : My hon. Friend encouraged me to intervene, properly, and I agree that I should. Does she

Column 655

think that people who run restaurants, hotels, hospitals, television stations and petrol stations on Sundays have freedom of choice, or does she think they should not open for business? Perhaps we should stop petrol being sold and close down Heathrow on Sundays? That seems the logical conclusion.

Miss Widdecombe : The logical conclusion of my hon. Friend's argument is further to limit choice in an area in which it is already limited.

Next, my hon. Friend addressed the problem of illegal betting, completely ignoring the Irish experience and the fact that by naming runners on a Friday and placing bets on a Saturday there should be no need for illegal betting on Sunday.

There are too many flaws, fresh anomalies and piecemeal ideas in this Bill, however much my hon. Friend and I might agree about the basic principle of deregulation. His legislation would lead to more anomalies in our high streets and further limitations of choice being imposed on working people. The Bill is too flawed to be capable of rescue in Committee. I urge hon. Members to reject it.

12.27 pm

Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) on introducing the Bill, not because I support it but because he has given us a chance to debate a sporting issue in the Chamber, and that is to his credit. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) whose judgment on sporting matters I value. However, I disagree with them both and I shall oppose the Bill.

It was rather unfortunate that the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) should have made the comments that he did about my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). It is also unfortunate that the chairman of the all-party racing group was present to hear them and did not object to them at the time, given the harmonious relationship between hon. Members from all sides in that committee.

I do not oppose the Bill because I am against Sunday racing. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath, I believe that it would benefit the racing industry and provide a pleasure that could be enjoyed by many. However, this is not the Bill for the job. It is primarily a betting Bill to enable off-course betting to proceed. Should anyone doubt that he should have a look at the Bill. It is true that the Sunday Observance Act 1780 needs changing, but the exemption of sporting fixtures for which admission is charged creates an additional complication in this Bill and is not acceptable to the Government unless provision is made for such events to be carried-out legally.

The hon. Member for Berkshire, East reminded us of his interest in Sunday sport in November 1987. He asked the Home Secretary : "what is his policy on the introduction of horse racing on Sundays."

A junior Minister replied :

"Provided suitable arrangements are made for betting to take place lawfully, we see no reason to stand in the way of horse racing on Sundays. That is the view we have expressed on the Bill introduced in another place by Lord Wyatt of Weeford and we are following the debate about that Bill and

Column 656

the public debate which has arisen with interest. We have no plans at present to introduce legislation on this subject."--[ Official Report, 5 November 1987 ; Vol. 121, c. 822. ]

Clause 2 of the Bill seeks to remove section 5(4) of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, and restrictions covering on and off-course betting on Sundays. I should like to quote from "Recreation and the law" written by Valerie Collins in 1984. It says :

"Sunday observance

Many spectator events are now organized on a Sunday, and this creates a potential difficulty under the Sunday observance laws. The Sunday Observance Act 1780 provides that it is an offence where any house, room or other place shall be opened or used for public entertainment, or for publicly debating on any subject whatsoever, upon any part of the Lord's Day, called Sunday, and to which persons shall be admitted by the payment of money, or by tickets sold for money. '

This offence is not confined to entertainments in buildings, a point discussed in Culley v. Harrison (1956). In this case, a motor-cycle scramble had been held in a fenced-off area within a large park, to which members of the public who purchased a ticket were admitted. The organizers were charged with an offence under the Sunday Observance Act 1780 for using, on a Sunday, a place for public entertainment to which people were admitted on payment of money. They contended that other place' should be construed in relation to the preceding words any house, room,' and that a park was not a place' within the meaning of the section. The court decided that other place' in the Act was not restricted by the words house' and room' preceding it, and that the part of the park used for the motor-cycle scramble came within the Act, and an offence had been committed."

I disagree with the hon. Member for Crawley who said that betting was not the crux of the Bill. Some hon. Members have talked about France. Hon. Members should realise that betting shops in Britain are different from those in other countries. It cannot be said that the off-course betting industry in France operates in the same way. The Pari-Mutuel system in Paris is a tote-like operation and works through cafes and some registered establishments throughout France. I have checked with the organisation in charge of that and it confirmed that it has 650 Pari-Mutuel outlets throughout France. Those offices operate on some Sundays, but only for a limited period on Sunday mornings. However, I am informed by the organisation that it has just been granted the right to operate 77 such units in the afternoon. That is a vital and significant point.

The Bill would allow people to enter betting shops and place bets during the times of races. That is not the case in France, although some hon. Members have wrongly said that the French system operates in that way. Apart from placing bets in the 77 outlets in France that I have mentioned, people are confined to betting in a registered cafe or similar establishment on a race to take place some time later in the day. What is the reason behind the Bill's purpose to open betting shops? It is that it is a betting Bill and will cater for the betting industry's needs and wishes. That, rather than a wish to allow people to place bets, is the purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Soames : I know that the hon. Gentleman is speaking from an entirely partial point of view and is representing a specific interest, but will he accept that this is not a betting Bill? It is about allowing racing to take place on Sundays and to legalise other sports which at the moment are being carried on entirely illegally on Sundays.

Coincidentally, because of the dangers of the abuse of gambling, which the Government take very seriously, they

Column 657

rightly do not believe that it is possible to have racing without off-course betting shops being open on 12 Sundays in the year. That is purely coincidental. The main aim is to allow millions of our constituents and fellow citizens to go racing if they would like to do so. Betting is a sideshow.

Mr. Meale : I disagree. the hon. Member for Crawley has referred to the French system. Even if we replicate that with the proposals in the Bill, people would still be allowed to place bets in betting shops on Sundays. That worries the majority of Opposition Members. I accept that there is no difference between hon. Members on both sides of the House about the issue of people participating in other sports on Sundays.

The hon. Member for Crawley should bear in mind the technological advances. A report in Horse and Hound on 9 February--I am sure that the hon. Member for Crawley reads that magazine regularly, although I do not--stated that the Pari-Mutuel is investing heavily in a Minitel system to allow people to place bets from home without going to betting establishments.

This is a betting Bill. It is intended to open betting shops. The hon. Member for Crawley is aware that over the past 18 months many discussions have taken place between the Jockey Club, the racing and bloodstock group and others about the possibility of racing on Sundays. The stumbling block has always been the opening of off-course betting shops in the high streets on Sundays.

Opposition Members are concerned about the Bill and we are worried about what is happening in the bookmaking industry. We must consider the new technological advances and satellite information services. We should also be concerned about the purchases being made by bookmaking organisations in this country and abroad.

The Sporting Life recently referred to the big four betting chains in Britain making inroads into the Irish market and purchasing betting shops in Southern Ireland. It referred to purchasers in Dublin and stated that 250 shops have been purchased in the capital by Corals, Mecca, William Hill and Ladbrokes.

The Financial Times recently stated that Ladbrokes has been heavily engaged in purchasing betting facilities in the United States and now has the contract for betting shops in California and Ohio. Major betting chains can now operate--

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) : The hon. Gentleman is wittering on about betting shops and the control of the betting industry. I am not sure what he is recommending. Does he think that it should be nationalised? What would he say to his ordinary, local, working-class constituents who are generally denied the credit accounts available to many of my constituents who can bet 24 hours a day, seven days a week? What would he say to them? Does he believe that they should not be allowed to visit betting shops?

Mr. Meale : I will surprise some hon. Members on your side of the Chamber--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. Not on my side of the Chamber. It is not mine.

Mr. Meale : I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The argument for a nationalised betting system was lost a considerable time ago. However, the industry and the

Column 658

Government should encourage great participation in the tote enterprise. I say to the the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), that I do not seek to deny to any of my constituents the facility to place bets. I am drawing international comparisons because one must take into consideration new technologies such as SIS and domestic satellite television reception.

Mr. Soames : The hon. Gentleman's remarks are self-evident nonsense. If betting shops--against which, obviously, he has a great vendetta--and betting organisations were to permit his union to recruit members, would he withdraw his opposition to the Bill? Yes or no?

Mr. Meale : The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting proposal, but I am unaware that he has the power to offer such a deal. However, the hon. Gentleman refers to the Transport and General Workers Union as though it is the union I represent, whereas I have been asked to speak on this matter by the Transport and General Workers Union only because of my general interest in racing. If the hon. Gentleman has time today or next week to examine the Members' register of interests in the Library, he will find that I am sponsored not by the TGWU but by a different union. My concern is a general one, for all who work in the industry, and it is not confined to the interests of the TGWU.

Next Section

  Home Page