Henry Norris in Parliament 1920-August 1921
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Last updated: July 2008
In Henry Norris’ first few months as an MP he had not made much of a mark. Perhaps he was feeling his way in an environment that was new to him and different. Whether he reached some conclusions about just how different it was and how much of a role he could play in it I don’t know because he said very little in public about his time in Parliament; however, this may be an indication of his thinking by the autumn of 1919: Parliament resumed after the summer recess on Wednesday 22 October 1919 and between then and March 1920 Norris said nothing at all in the House of Commons - he made no speeches in any of the debates, and asked no questions; just to put this in some kind of context, neither did George Elliott or Samuel Hill-Wood.
A private members’
ballot took place on
By Friday 13 February, when it was presented, Norris had gone round a few of the MP’s he’d got to know and was able to list the following as supporting the bill in principle: Colonel Penry Williams, Mr Briant, Major Prescott, Sir Cyril Cobb, Sir Peter Griggs, Mr Foreman, Mr Perring and Mr Hinds. Note that Samuel Hill-Wood was NOT one of the supporters of the bill. And although I can’t speak for the others I’ve evidence to suggest that Cobb and Foreman took no interest in football; however they may have been anti-betting.
quick note on Mr Perring. William Perring was one of the few MP’s that
became a friend of Norris rather than just a Parliamentary colleague; he and
his wife attended Norris’ Peace Reception at Fulham Town Hall in October 1919
and Joy Norris’ wedding in 1923. It’s
possible that the two men knew each other before they met in the House of
Commons, for William Perring ran a house furnishing business based in
Private members’ bills
were debated on Fridays provided the Government didn’t take the day for its own
business. The second reading of the Ready
Money Football Betting Bill took place on
As the bill’s presenter, it was Henry Norris’ task to make the main speech in favour of getting the Ready Money Football Betting Bill made law. He did this during the afternoon of Friday 5 March 1920, with a wealth of statistics about the game as currently paid, and the amount they were contributing to Government funds through the Entertainment Tax, which unlike the Chancellor, he actually had some figures for - about £½million per year was his estimate. Most of Norris’ speech was spent explaining what exactly it was for. He told those MP’s who were present on a Friday that the bill wasn’t designed to put a stop to personal betting, nor to put a stop to any of the betting competitions run regularly in the Press, wherein there was a prize but no one had to pay a fee to take part. In fact the bill’s scope was very limited; it was just meant to put a stop to (as Norris’ described it), “the wholesale issue of coupons which are circulated by more or less reputable bookmakers and others among workmen, to induce them to part with their money which they may never see again”. As far as I can tell (and I have no understanding of betting whatsoever so if any reader spots me being wildly inaccurate here please contact me and explain how this works) there were some betting scams about, in which the bookmakers employed an agent - someone working on a factory floor for example - would distribute coupons with particular fixtures listed on them and then take cash in advance from his co-workers saying that the money was for a series of bets; once all the money had been paid by the agent to the bookmaker, the bookmaker would disappear with it. Usually the coupons had no firm’s address on them; giving the police a hard time tracking the criminals down. Some parts of these scams were already illegal, but the printing and circulation of the coupons was not. In his speech Norris tried to give the House of Commons some idea of how big the scams had got; he mentioned a police raid in which 51000 coupons had been recovered from a firm estimated to be making £20,000 a year. The Ready Money Football Betting Bill was the FA’s effort to close loopholes by which some criminals were getting away. The FA was also getting worried about an obvious alternative to disappearing and setting up under another name, for the crooked bookmakers - the offering of bribes to players to get a particular result from a particular fixture.
In his speech Norris mentioned that a few days before, he’d been approached by someone claiming to represent a bookmakers’ association and told that “it would be a good thing if I had a bad cold...this afternoon when the Bill came on, otherwise I might be opposed at the next election”...an attempt at intimidation which had “only convinced me all the more that I should press this Bill forward”. The second reading of the bill was seconded by a Mr Thomas, who was particularly worried about the possibility of fixed matches. Mr Evelyn Cecil also spoke in support of the bill; he was MP f constituency in which Aston Villa was situated and had been approached by the club to give the bill his backing. Cecil said he had voted for a bill in 1913 which had been trying to achieve the present one’s object, and he had clearly done some investigation of how the scams operated because he was able to say that the agents were paid, as much as 10% of the money collected from their workmates, and were often singled out by the scam organisers as being men their colleagues respected and would listen to. Sir Peter Griggs also spoke in support of the bill, as the leaseholder of the ground of a big amateur football club (Hansard doesn’t say which one).
Mr J Jones also spoke but I’m not sure his speech helped the bill along very much: he didn’t see why it should single out a type of betting scheme used by the working-classes while leaving those used by the upper classes untouched. He saw no difference between the ready money schemes and circulars encouraging working people to invest their hard-earned wages on the stock market. Then he started on transfers, suggesting that transfer fees were bribes offered to players to come to one club rather than another; and he got personal, by asking Norris if transfers weren’t a kind of gambling, on the future form of a player (Norris denied it.) Jones did in the end say he supported the bill; but that he thought some of the things said in its support by the other MP’s were so much humbug.
Jones’ speech was the last in the bill’s favour, and there were no speeches against. So the bill got its second reading and was sent for a committee stage.
After that busy day, Henry Norris lapsed into what had become his normal behaviour in the House of Commons. He attended most sessions, but went for long periods asking no questions and making no speeches. During Parliament’s Easter recess, there were moves amongst MP’s, beginning with some from the Coalition Conservatives, to form a Centre Party. Lloyd George for the Coalition Liberals and Bonar Law for the Coalition Conservatives both welcomed these, seeing a fusion of the two groups as inevitable. The idea was that Lloyd George should be the political leader of this new party. It seems, though, that the moves came to nothing because they annoyed the majority of the Coalition Liberals.
The next time he spoke
was on Friday morning,
Mr Remer seems to have been trying by piecemeal means to defeat the bill altogether. With his amendment about the word ‘coupon’ thrown out, he now proposed that the second clause in this (short!) bill should be deleted. When he couldn’t find anyone to second that idea, he opposed Norris’ motion to allow the bill to have its third reading (after which it would almost certainly become law) on the grounds that it would only apply to football and not to similar scams operating in other sports. Fortunately for the FA and Norris, no one was prepared to second Remer on that one either and the bill got its third reading without any more discussion or votes.
On Tuesday 15 June 1920, Norris was involved in question time again, asking about the role of the Ministry of Health - which was responsible for local authority housing - in the wake of the recent severe flooding in Lincolnshire. This seems an odd thing for Norris to have asked: on housing, certainly, but he had no connection whatsoever with Lincolnshire. He may have been trying to elicit some information on who was going to pay to house the people who were now homeless, and who was going to build new housing for them. If that was his purpose, the Minister of Health, Dr Addison, obliged him by explaining that the Office of Works would do the construction work but the local council would foot the bill. I doubt if Norris found this explanation at all satisfactory!
After the enquiry about the floods, Norris then reverted to saying nothing in the House of Commons. However, he was still active in making sure the FA’s bill made it into law. Despite the bill having had its third reading, it could still fail at the last hurdle, that of not being signed by the King before the end of the current Parliamentary session. So when the Ready Money Football Betting Bill returned to the House of Commons just before Parliament’s summer break, on Monday 16 August 1920 sporting another amendment, Norris made sure he was in the House of Commons to guide it through this last hiccup. The last-minute amendment was a good one, adding the word ‘knowingly’ to the crime the law-breakers would be committing so that the act would only catch people who knew very well what they’d been doing. Norris got the amendment agreed without a debate, and the bill was on a list that came down from the House of Lords later that day as having been given the royal assent. The Ready Money Football Betting Act came into operation in season 1920/21 and during my researches in the local papers I did note several prosecutions made under it.
The Ready Money Football Betting Bill was Norris’ star turn as an MP: the only bill he presented. From August 1920 to August 1922, he did not make any more speeches. He never acted as a sponsor to any one else’s private members’ bill so this was the one and only time he was active in getting a bill made law.
Then Parliament went on holiday, only returning in November, the day after one of Ireland’s many Bloody Sundays. On the House of Commons’ first day back, Monday 22 November 1920, Henry Norris asked the Prime Minister a question about rents on Regent Street (most of which is owned by the Crown Estates). Norris said, did the PM know that his own desire were being ignored by the Office of Woods and Forests when it was renegotiating (upwards of course!) the leases of premises in Regent Street. The PM replied that according to his own information the Office was not increasing its rents to cover a notional concept of the goodwill developed by its business tenants; that all increases were based on current rentals being asked for similar properties.
It must have been Norris’ day for asking questions! Later in that Monday’s question time he asked the PM what if anything had happened to the old custom of special reduced fares on for groups of people travelling (say by rail) together to the same sporting fixture - the old football special fare. Had the special fares been withdrawn during World War 1? And if they had been, could they now be restored, now that fares on the railways (for example) were 75% more than they had been pre-war? For the PM, the Minister for Transport replied - Eric Geddes (who in 1922 would be appointed to cut Government spending by about half). He confirmed Norris’ fear by saying that the special reduced fares had indeed been withdrawn and said that he had appointed a committee to look into the whole question of fares. He reminded Norris that the whole travelling public had to contribute towards any concessionary fares that were allowed.
In May 1921 Andrew Bonar Law retired as leader of the Coalition Conservatives (though not as an MP) on health grounds. He had been a good leader, hard working and approachable. His successor, Austen Chamberlain had an unfortunate manner - a mixture of myopia, vanity and arrogance - and wasn’t nearly as much liked. The change was seen negatively by a lot of back-bench MP’s and perhaps Henry Norris can be included with these; because his engagement with House of Commons process slackened from this point on.
Although he continued
to attend House of Commons regularly and vote when required to, it was not
That question on
It was at this rather late stage that I started paying attention to when or if George Elliott was voting.
Henry Norris was not a
typical Conservative - at least not to his contemporaries - he believed in free
trade; or said he did and his political enemies accused him of believing in
it. Tt was a subject on which he did not
see eye to eye with the majority of his own constituents (I deal with that in
my file on Norris’ politics). So a bill
like the Safeguarding Industries Bill was a test of how far he would
compromise his own convictions to support the government. On
Norris was still there
voting in the last session before Parliament broke up,
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Copyright Sally Davis July 2008