Henry Norris in Parliament 1920-August 1921


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 Thursday 12 February 1920.  MP’s who wanted to take part in it had to notify the House of Commons’ hierarchy by the end of Wednesday 11 February and Norris did do so.  The ballot would give those MP’s who were drawn the chance to present legislation in Parliament that was outside the Government agenda.  When the draw took place, Norris’ name came out 22nd in the list so he had a reasonable chance of getting his bill heard.  Those who had got lucky had to have their bill’s wording drafted and ready to present to the House of Commons for a first reading by Friday 13 February 1920.  So I suggest that over the winter of 1919-20, the Football Association had approached Henry Norris to act as their agent if he did get lucky, and present to the House of Commons a bill they wanted made law; and had drawn up what became known as the Ready Money Football Betting Bill.  In fact, the FA had gone through this once before.  Henry Norris’ football acquaintance, William Hayes Fisher, whose seat Norris had taken in 1918, had piloted a Ready Money Football Betting bill through Parliament for the FA in 1914, only to have it fail at the very last, when a load of bills were jettisoned at the outbreak of World War 1 and never became law.  It’s possible that the wording as handed over by the FA to Norris was the same as in 1914.


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. 


A 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 Harrow Road.  Like Norris, Perring had been newly-elected in December 1918.  He was Conservative Unionist MP for Paddington North though unlike Norris his majority was a slender one, just over 1000.



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 Friday 5 March 1920.  Before it, however, Norris busied himself collecting some supporting statistics.  On Tuesday 2 March 1920 he asked a question at question time, as I’ve said above, the first time he’d done so for several months: he wanted the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Austen Chamberlain) to give some figures stating how much money the Government had collected from football clubs by way of Entertainment Tax since 1 September 1919 (the official start-date of season 1919/20).  He also asked whether the Government could say how much money they spent on the process of collecting the Entertainment Tax; and how much was spent by football clubs on the cost of administering it.  He was leading up to asking the Chancellor if the Government would contribute to the costs of collecting the tax (which was much-resented by football clubs).  Of course, the Chancellor said that the Government would do no such thing; and I would suppose that Norris had no real expectation that he would say anything else.   The Chancellor also said that no Government figures were available for the amount of the tax contributed by football clubs; which may have been the information Norris was trying to elicit - that the Government took the money but had no idea how much it was, or whether it was more than the cost of collecting it.


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, 11 June 1920, when the Ready Money Football Betting Bill returned to the House of Commons after its committee stages.  During its committee stages it had acquired an amendment which would have left out the word ‘coupon’.  To counter this change, which even the Speaker said was a nonsensical one, Henry Norris actually brought one of the offending coupons into the House of Commons with him, to show the other MP’s what they looked like and how they were used - demonstrating the folly of the recent amendment.  Mr Remer, who’d proposed the amendment, said that if it was left in it might cause the bill to be applicable to the work of canvassers during elections.  Mr Hogge and Mr Marriott backed Norris up in his assertion that without the word ‘coupon’ the whole purpose of the bill would be defeated, and Mr Remer’s amendment was dropped.  Two other amendments were rejected by the Speaker without any discussion because they applied to horse racing and golf rather than football.  There was one recent amendment, though, that Norris spoke in favour of.  Put forward by Major Baird on behalf of the Home Office, it sought to simplify the proposed penalties for anyone convicted under the bill when it became law.  There was some argument about the levels of the fines that those convicted would have to pay, which led to a vote in which Norris acted as one of the tellers (who count the votes); but in the end the Home Office amendment did get added to the bill. 


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 until Monday 27 June 1921 that Norris asked another question.  That day, he asked the Secretary for Mines to give full particulars of all journals supplied to his department.  A Mr Bridgeman replied that the department was supplied with the newspapers and journals it thought would best help it do its work effectively; and he would let Norris have a list of them if Norris wanted one.  The exact reason for such a specific question by Norris eludes me - he was not an expert on mining and had no mines in his constituency.  However, the wider context must be relevant - the long and bitter strike by the miners over the Government’s refusal to nationalise the industry. 


That question on 27 June 1921 was the last time Norris spoke in Parliament.  He did not speak again for the rest of the time he was an MP and the House was sitting: from June 1921 to August 1922.  Despite the possible reasons for this that I’ve mentioned above, such a long silence from a man who usually had plenty of opinions to offer, does seem odd.  Moreover, his last words came at a time when the Government was busily back-tracking on its promises to work with the local authorities to build housing worthy of the men returning from World War 1, promises that Norris had spoken out against (though not in Parliament).  The man in charge of that policy, Dr Joseph Addison, resigned in July 1921 as his budget was cut beyond all usefulness.  Norris had argued that government housing schemes would entrust the housing of the workers to those with no experience in building and planning matters: consequently they would not be good value for money (and they weren’t, in fact, though they were good value for other things).


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 Wednesday 10 August 1921 Norris didn’t take part in any of the debate on what was not as simple an issue as it first looks.  When it came to a vote on whether certain foreign goods required by the British ship-building industry should be exempt from paying import duty, he voted Yes - yes they should be exempt - rather than no, for no they should pay duty.  He voted with the majority: 237:62.  The debate on the bill continued on Thursday 11 August 1921, and one of the votes was on whether manufactured goods imported from Britain’s allies in World War 1 should not have to pay any import duty.  Norris voted Yes - for yes, they shouldn’t have to pay; and again he was in the majority 204:80.  In my opinion this vote made a nonsense of the whole bill because by it, goods from the USA would be exempt which was already one of Britain’s main industrial competitors.  Later in the day, however, Norris voted yes to a motion to make imported scientific instruments pay duty: so either the whips were out, or he was not quite such a believer in free trade under all circumstances as other people reckoned him to be.  The Government wanted the bill to be law by the time of the summer recess so debate on it went into a Friday, 12 August 1921 when Norris voted against a proposal made by the independent Liberals to put the bill off for three months; he voted with the majority, 176:54 and the bill got its third reading the same day.  There’s a second point to my mentioning Norris’ voting about this bill: protecting British industry - and therefore British workers’ jobs - in the economic decline of the early 1920s was a big issue.  Unemployment was high, people were worried about job security.  That being so, I think it’s pretty poor that Samuel Hill-Wood and George Elliott did not vote at all during the period the bill was in the House of Commons; although I can’t prove it, I assume that they were not in the House of Commons at all during the debate, Norris was there for at least part of all three days.


Norris was still there voting in the last session before Parliament broke up, Friday 19 August 1921.  Again, Hill-Wood and Elliott didn’t take part in any of the votes in the last few days before the holiday - presumably they were on holiday already but what ever happened to representing your constituents?  I think Norris was not exaggerating when he said he attended most House of Commons sessions.  He was very conscientious about it.





Copyright Sally Davis July 2008