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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) spokefor an hour and a quarter. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that he could have compressed his arguments into 15 minutes. They would have been better for that. As a consequence of his speech, hon. Members on both sides of the House who know a lot about this issue will be excluded from the debate, and I regret that.
I want to consider the Government's attitude about Sunday sports. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) on bringing forward this Bill. As the debate has clearly shown, a range of questions must be answered about Sunday sport in general and Sunday racing in particular. The Bill plainly gives the House an opportunity to express a view, and it perhaps offers some answers to those questions.
Column 669It may be helpful if I start by stating the Government's view. In broad terms, the Government support the Bill. That will not surprise hon. Members because we have supported two previous Bills on this matter. We will be happy to see the Bill make progress for a variety of reasons which I propose to outline concisely.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) said in a most impressive speech, a variety of sporting events already take place on Sundays. My hon. Friend itemised them and they include tennis, cricket, golf, soccer, motor racing, athletics, badminton, hockey and no doubt many other activities. For the life of me, I can see no reason in principle why we should not make it easier for Sunday racing to do likewise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley explained that a number of sporting organisations which hold events on Sundays resort to a variety of strategems to avoid the Sunday Observance Act 1780. I do not like strategems to be used for that purpose. I should be much happier to bring clarity to the law, which is the effect of clause 1.
I question whether the right hon. and hon. Members who passed the 1780 Act had in mind the holding of sporting events in general or of racing in particular. The House may be interested to learn the preamble to that Act, which explains what was in the minds of those legislators 200 years ago. The preamble, which I have edited slightly to avoid repetition, states :
"Whereas certain houses, rooms or places within the cities of London or Westminster have of late frequently been opened for public entertainment or amusement upon the evening of the Lord's day, commonly called Sunday under pretence of inquiring into religious doctrines, and explaining texts of Holy Scripture, debates have frequently been held on the evening of the Lord's day concerning divers texts of Holy Scripture, by persons unlearned and incompetent to explain the same, to the corruption of good morals, and to the great encouragement of irreligion and profaneness ; be it enacted." In other words, that statute had nothing to do with kicking a ball or riding a horse ; it had everything to do with the publication of false doctrine. That is to say, it had to do with practices of the kind in which some right hon. and hon. Members, but particularly Opposition Members, engage on most week days.
Mr. Beith : The hon. Gentleman, as a Home Office Minister, can surely confirm that there is no law against kicking a ball or riding a horse on Sunday. If the Bill was only about that, we would not be arguing against it.
Mr. Hogg : The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, (Mr. Beith) is right, though one might derive the impression from speeches made by some right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that that is what the Bill is about.
I turn to the way in which the Bill fits into our concept of betting. I begin with a personal observation. I know that I shall cause offence to my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), but personally I have no great sympathy with betting. I am not an enthusiast of betting ; I have always regarded it as a waste of time and money. But this is not a betting Bill, and right hon. and hon. Members should not allow their prejudices about betting to colour their judgment.
Mr. Hogg : For precisely the reason I shall explain. I start from the premise that I am not an enthusiast of betting, and personally, regard it as a waste of time and money. However, it would be wrong for us as individuals to allow our personal prejudices, to the extent that they exist, to interfere with a reasoned judgment as to need. I believe that there is an intrinsic need to provide a mechanism for lawful betting on days that racing takes place, and that is what the Bill does. If we were to allow racing on Sunday without making proper provision for off-course betting, there would be a growth in unlawful betting. If that happened, I believe that it would spill over to other days of the week. I start from the considered view that one cannot allow racing on Sunday without providing also for off-course betting. I understand why the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed does not like betting. He does not like gambling. I do not like gambling either, but I think it wrong to start from the premise that because betting shops will have to be open for 12 extra days a year we should place a prohibition on all sporting activities on Sunday, and racing in particular. That is the wrong way round.
Mr. Randall : On this interesting point of illegal betting, how does the Minister square what he has just said with the comments made by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) about evening racing? The hon. Gentleman is an expert on these things and he seems to think that evening racing has not given rise to increased illegal betting.
Mr. Hogg : The hon. Gentleman has forstalled me because I was about to reply precisely to that point and to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) about Ireland.
Mr. Hogg : No ; I must proceed, because time is running on. I recognise the expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh and I am not trying to denigrate him. However, three points need to be made about evening racing. First, high grade racing does not take place in the evening, according to the advice that I have been given, whereas the racing industry intends to put on high quality racing on Sundays. Secondly, as a rule, evening racing is not televised, whereas it might be the intention of the television companies to televise Sunday racing. Thirdly, it is one thing to say to a customer at a betting shop who is there at 6 o'clock, "You can bet on the 7.30 at" wherever it may be. It is another thing to say to a punter on Saturday, "Is not the time right for you to put a bet on the Sunday race at" wherever it may be? On the whole, people like to put their bets on fairly close in time to the event, because runners are scratched, conditions may change or the race may not be held.
Mr. Holt : Punters want to put bets on at the latest possible moment to get the best possible price. It has noting to do with anything other than pure old-fashioned greed. I find my hon. Friend's arguments slightly illogical in that he is talking about the grading of racing. I assure him that the vast majority of the hundreds of people who go to the betting shops of which I have knowledge are not interested in whether the owner will win £10,000 or £5,000--they are interested in whether they can make a winning bet. The quality of racing is irrelevant.
The same is true about Ireland. I urge two considerations on the right hon. Member for Small Heath. First, in Ireland the majority of race courses are close to the main centres of population. Therefore, those who wish to place bets have easy recourse to the on-course betting facilities. Secondly--I have no personal knowledge of this, but I have been advised and I accept that advice--the majority of off-course betting in Ireland is done on English racing, so once again the comparison is not useful.
A number of hon. Members have been worried about the effect of the Bill on Sunday trading in general. The Bill is not a stalking horse for Sunday trading legislation. It stands wholly separate and wholly apart. Hon. Members can express their prejudices in a debate of this kind, but there is nothing in the Bill that has a direct impact on Sunday trading. It does not have even an indirect impact on Sunday trading. It deals with a particular problem--the prohibition of a variety of sporting events for which a charge is made on Sunday. To turn to the employment protection clause, a number of hon. Members including my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley, have expressed anxiety about those with existing contracts of employment. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East has tackled the problem in an extremely responsible way. He has provided that those with existing contracts of employment should not be prejudiced as a result of the legislation. That is right. However, he has also said by implication that we cannot build similar safeguards into prospective contracts of employment. That is quite right, too. There is a variety of occupations in which people have to work on Sundays--the fire service, the police, hospitals, power stations, garages, the transport industry. Even hon. Members--whom some people may suppose are not essential--have to work on Sundays. We cannot say that they are obliged to do that, whereas jockeys and stable lads are not. It is for them to decide whether they want to go into an occupation that may have that consequence.
Mr. Lofthouse : We cannot compare essential services with betting shops, which are certainly not essential on Sundays. The Government have recently extended drinking hours in public houses to 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoons. Are we not steadily eroding Sunday as we have known it? Ought not the Sabbath to be kept special? This is the thin end of the wedge. Before we know where we are, it will not be 12 Sundays but even more Sundays. Does the Minister share my view that the Bill would be more acceptable if no betting shops could be opened on Sundays?
Column 672that in the opinion of the Home Office it is necessary to allow off and on-course betting on Sundays, for the reasons that I have already given. As for essential services, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) blew the hon. Gentleman out of the water. The right hon. Gentleman aptly remarked that if one goes to Blackpool or Cornwall on a summer Sunday one sees that the sea fronts are stacked full of operations being worked by
people--roundabouts and whirligigs, ice cream parlours and this and that. They are not essential services, but they are providing a service. Now that we have identified that kind of service, nobody could call them essential services. However, they are services that many people happen to perform as part of their contract of employment. We cannot make a distinction in principle between jockeys and people who look after dodgem cars. They are not different in kind.
Each hon. Member will view the Bill in the context of his beliefs about Sunday as a whole. I respect and understand the views of those who, as a matter of conscientious conviction, wish to retain the present pattern of Sundays.
Speaking on behalf of the Government, and expressing my view, the balance of the Bill is right. I very much dislike the concept of prohibiting what is now covered by clause 1. I welcome the liberalisation of the law, and I think that it is desirable to introduce limited betting to safeguard the proper observance of the law. The position of existing employees is properly protected in the Bill, and I should like it to be considered in Committee.
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : The debate has been very stimulating. Although I am opposed to the Bill, I believe that the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) has done the House, racing, entertainment and British people a service. I very much hope that the points that have been rasied in the debate can be built on so that we can reach an agreement that will be good for those who enjoy the sport, those outside the sport, religious groups and those with moral views on the matter. That is a good thing. We are all for racing. There is no question about that. It is just a question of how we link it to betting.
I was disappointed by some of the bad humour earlier in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) is very knowledgable on these matters and expressed concern about the sensitivity surrounding the issue. I was sorry that the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) responded as he did. I do not think that it added to the debate. Nevertheless it demonstrated that sensitivity and concern exist and are being expressed in the correspondence that we receive on the subject.
Unquestionably, the issue is sensitive and the solution in the Bill is not satisfactory. The Bill is based on straight deregulation. No Bill based upon straight deregulation will get through the House. It is necessary to win over a great many people in the country and achieve a consensus. We have to reach a balance, and the notion of using a free-market approach to deregulation, forgetting everyone's feelings, will not win. The Opposition will never support the Bill, although we support racing, until we have an assurance that the 100, 000 or so people who operate the industry will have
Column 673a decent standard of living, reasonable terms and conditions of employment, and so on. Those matters have to be taken into account. I was pleased that the hon. Member for Berkshire, East mentioned the appalling conditions in which stable lads work.
We also have to take account of the sensitivities of members of the Church and those who believe that Sunday should be kept special. Some Conservative Members tend to dismiss such things because they consider that only the market matters, but we feel that even those who are not believers should take those matters into account in reaching a balanced solution. We advocate a balanced solution.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Does my hon. Friend not find it rather puzzling that the Conservative party considers itself to be the party of tradition, yet is subject to the very gross forces of commercialism and latterly has totally yielded to commercial pressures? That distinguished grocer from Grantham who apparently inspired the Prime Minister would be turning in his grave at what is now being done in the name of the Conservative party.
Mr. Randall : That is a good point. One of my hon. Friends referred to Conservative Members as, "modern Tories". They are not such nice people as the old Tories. This deregulation approach is associated with the modern Tories, and the old Tories with their traditional ways would despise it.
I do not think that anybody would disagree with the fact that British law is currently being brought into disrepute. It is irrational that some sports and gambling activities can take place on a Sunday but others cannot. We have to find a solution. I do not believe that the Bill as it stands is the right solution. One cannot punch through the problem with a Bill such as this. We have to ensure that we take account of the views of all the interested groups.
Mrs. Wise : In the list of those whose views and interests that have to be considered, would my hon. Friend care to include children? The Bill would affect the children of the employees who would have to work on Sundays in betting shops and shops in general. It would also affect the children whose parents would be spending their time in betting shops instead of at home.
Mr. Randall : My hon. Friend has made a good point. As the party of the family, the Labour party takes such things into account. The Conservative party believes that everything depends on the market. Deregulation is based only on the market and does not take family values into account.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) mentioned the children of those who work in the industry and those who would go to betting shops on a Sunday if they were open. Those children have to be taken into account. The progress we make must be based on consensus, and that, in turn, must be based on respecting the views of all the interested groups.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : I apologise for not having been here earlier but I was taking part in a phone-in on my local radio station. I was there with a member of the Keep Sunday Special campaign. He told me that the campaign is interested in deregulation on the basis of recreation, emergencies, social gatherings and travel. Does the hon. Gentleman find it strange that the Keep Sunday Special campaign should oppose the Bill, as there can be nothing more recreational or a bigger social gathering than the Wimbledon finals, the grand prix or many of the Sunday games that take place?
Mr. Randall : I was about to come to the Keep Sunday Special campaign, which has made suggestions. The campaigners recognise that everybody should, if they so desire, go out and enjoy their racing. It is simply attempting to find a balanced solution to the betting problem. We know that the two things are inseparable and, therefore, to look at racing without taking betting into account would be absurd.
Mr. Soames : The hon. Gentleman started by saying that he is much in favour of racing. He went on to say that the Bill is not the right way to proceed, that there must be consensus and that we must all rally round. I do not want him to disappoint the House, but would he be good enough to say exactly how we could arrive at that conclusion?
Mr. Randall : I shall comment on the hon. Gentleman's intervention and then continue with my speech. There are two possibilities. First, the Irish have racing on Sundays. Irish racing operates in a similar way to the proposals that were put forward by the Keep Sunday Special people. They propose that we should have racing, but allow betting to take place on Saturday. The horses would be named on Friday, the betting would take place on Saturday and the racing would take place on Sunday. I understand that the group put that proposal to the hon. Member for Berkshire, East but it was rejected.
Mr. Randall : I accept that there is on-course betting, and the Keep Sunday Special Campaign--mainly Christian people--accept on-course betting on a Sunday. Off-course betting is the stumbling block. Will the Home Office keep an eye on what is happening in Ireland to see what lessons can be learned and find out about illegal betting? Secondly, in the next five or so years, there will be a technological solution, and we need to keep an eye on it. Again, I hope that the Home Office will look at this matter. A problem arises because workers will be required to take bets and man betting shop tills. But one can make instantaneous banking transactions-- electronic cash transactions--through one's home telephone. Developments are taking place rapidly and it will be possible for people to carry out such transactions in their own homes. At the moment, we have a system of credit
Column 675card payments. It is limited to people with sufficiently high credit ratings, but it proves that there is a demand for home gambling transactions. With the development of home terminals--we can buy them now--and the new phones that will come on to the market in the near future, it will be possible to carry out cash transactions, possibly even using phonecard-type technology.
In answer to the hon. Member for Crawley, those two matters are the possible bases on which we should build. I hope that the Minister will examine the matter and write to me about his views on those possibilities.
Mr. Randall : The Minister says, "Rubbish." His reason for saying that is his obsession with illegal gambling. He is worried about it because it might grow and, therefore, revenue to the Exchequer will drop. That is his only concern. I am deeply worried that the Home Office is showing such contempt for the racing industry that it is not prepared to build on the legislation.
Mr. Andrew MacKay : The House is anxious to know where the Opposition stand. We have moved a little nearer since the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). The hon. Gentleman seems to be in favour of Sunday sport, Sunday racing and gambling on Sunday provided that it is on-course, and happy with off-course betting provided that it is high-tech. In other words all we are waiting for is high-tech and then he will be in favour of the Bill. I am not sure that all of his hon. Friends agree. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) definitely disagreed with him, so he needs to clarify the position for his hon. Friend's benefit.
Mr. Randall : I have just said that I will tell the hon. Gentleman. I do not need him to decide what I am saying. We must carry out a study of what is happening in Ireland because the system is in operation there and we must learn from it. That seems reasonable. For the longer term we must consider other technological methods. For several years I was in the banking industry and I picked up information on this which is coming rapidly to fruition. I hope that the racing industry will take that into account.
Hon. Members referred to the Bill's impact on family life. We must have consensus or the Bill will not proceed. We must have the agreement of Church groups and those in the industry. The conditions of some of those who work in the racing industry are a disgrace to the nation. Stable lads are treated appallingly. We should be ashamed of their working conditions, pay, security and the way in
Column 676which they are often intimidated by trainers. In reviewing and building a case for racing, which could include Sunday racing, we must take those matters into account.
There are 100,000 people working in the industry and they are strongly opposed to the Bill. Who is in favour of racing on Sunday? I suppose it is the gambling industry. It is a multi-billion pound industry and its turnover and profits will increase. We have no objections to that-- [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen scoff. That is absurd. If the industry is not viable, racing will not be viable. If anyone disputed that, it would be remarkable.
The hon. Member for Berkshire, East said on the Jimmy Young show that people should run their own lives and politicians should not interfere. He said that he despised the nanny state. That is the wrong attitude to adopt in promoting the Bill. If he is to get consensus, one must take many people along with him. His rather narrow attitude is not the way to proceed.
In response to a question from the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), the hon. Gentleman implied that he does not believe that Sunday should be kept special in this respect and that people should decide for themselves. Once people decide for themselves without considering others, one does not have a society,. Again, that is not the way to proceed.
We all welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments about the stable lads, and I am glad that they are on the record. It was interesting to see how appalled the hon. Gentleman was at the conditions of work, the pay and the hours of the stable lads. I believe that the hon. Gentleman saw the stable lads and they shocked him. If nothing else comes out of today, I believe that we all welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Berkshire, East recognised that the conditions of the stable lads are appalling.
I hope that when it comes to working out the levy and the investment in the industry--in which the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) is involved-- the stable lads will be a serious consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member of Attercliffe made some interesting points. Essentially, he said that he felt that there was a need for a greater balance in the case for racing. We are talking primarily about racing, although I accept that the Bill covers other sports, too. My hon. Friend said that a finer case is needed, which I believe was a good way of making his point. He is an expert on these matters. He referred especially to greater unity within the industry, which I believe is a good point. We must take into account the social consequences on those who work in the industry. My hon. Friend also mentioned the churches. He added that the racing industry is in a healthy state. I gathered from some of the points that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh was making that the racing industry is not down on its heels. It has high revenue. It is unacceptable that an industry that is so relatively opulent has employees who are treated in such an appalling way. If nothing else comes out of today, we have made some progress for stable lads.
The hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) said that he felt that the Bill regularised the situation. I agree. We know that there are no practical constraints on racing. Betting, however, would be a new item. Betting and racing
Column 677are inseparable. The hon. Member for Devizes is a member of an all-party racing and bloodstock committee, and he knows that Sunday racing would not be viable unless there was betting, too. The two are inseparable.
Mr. Holt : The hon. Gentleman probably does not know that the National Association of Bookmakers, and the overwhelming majority of small bookmakers in this country, do not want the betting shops to open on a Sunday. They have asked for them not to be open. The Home Office cannot understand that, and is pressing that matter. The betting industry does not want it.
Mr. Randall : I listened with great care to what the hon. Gentleman said. Clearly, if one considers the extra revenues to those companies--the small number of substantial companies--their interest must be to increase their revenues. That is a key motivating force behind the Bill.
The hon. Member for Devizes talked about the anomalies. His point about illegal betting left a lot of questions unanswered. His statistics on illegal betting did not stand up. He added the interesting point that Christians should not impose their views on society.
Mr. Randall : Because I referred to the hon. Gentleman, I shall give way. The hon. Gentleman claims that he did not say that. If he did, however, I believe that it was a just example. Although I am a churchgoer, I do not believe that any group should impose its will on the rest, just as I believe that the Jockey Club should not attempt to impose its will on the racing industry.
Mr. Randall : Well, if that is so, it seems that the hon. Gentleman believes that no group should impose its will on the rest of society, and therefore I find it suprising that he intends to support the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) made an interesting speech and he--
Mr. Andrew MacKay rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Column 678Opposition, but expressed the view that we would have the opportunity to enable the Question to be put before 2.30 pm.
Mr. Beith : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What I had understood you to say was that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) must complete his remarks at a certain point. That seems to be a rather dangerous precedent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton said that he believed that there was a link between the Bill and Sunday trading. When we discussed the deregulation of the Sunday trading laws--