HC Deb 29 June 1928 vol 219 cc899-902

I beg to move, on page 2, line 34, at the end, to insert the words: (2) A local authority may by order direct that the provisions of this Act relating to general closing hours or the provisions of any closing order made by them under the principal Act shall not apply with respect to the sale in billiard halls or billiard rooms within their area of tobacco and matches to persons bona fide taking part in or watching billiards or any similar game, and in a part of the building to which no other persons have access. Originally, in Committee I added swimming and boxing as well as billiards. I gauged the feeling of the Committee, and I have dropped swimming and boxing, but I understand the feeling was quite in favour of billiards. I speak more especially for towns and villages in Lancashire and Yorkshire, where they have billiard matches every night. I think we had the support of the entire Committee as far as billiards is concerned, and I consulted with my right hon. Friend and I think he is in agreement with me. The Bill itself is practically an agreed Measure. It is a compromise. It has been a case of sacrificing on both sides and on all sides, and I believe the feeling of the House is an honest and genuine desire that the Bill should go through as expeditiously and smoothly as it did in Committee.

Lieut.-Commander BURNEY

I beg to second the Amendment.


We were appealed to a few moments ago and we withdrew our Amendment to delete Clause 2, and I refrained from moving the deletion of Clause 3, in order to help to get the Bill through. The right hon. Gentleman appealed to us to facilitate the passage of the Measure but, strangely enough, I believe he went into the Division Lobby in support of the new Clause moved by the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley).


No. When I leave a matter to the free vote of the House I feel it my duty to take no part.


I apologise. At any rate we have carried a new Clause against which the Committee definitely reported, and here we have a new Sub- section proposed about which there is not a single word in the whole report. The hon. Member says he speaks for Lancashire and Yorkshire. I think I have very much more title to speak for Lancashire than he has. I live in the heart of Lancashire—in Manchester. If the House accepts this Sub-section it will raise once again the old cry, "If you allow cigarettes and tobacco to be sold in billiard halls, why cannot we not open our shops as well?" and you have the old idea that once you make a concession on this hand you have to make concessions on all hands. Let me ask the hon. Member one thing. Who is going to take the initiative with the local authorities? The people who own billiard halls are going to fall into a different category altogether from the ice cream vendors and the other shopkeepers. In their case, there must be a majority either of 50 per cent. or two-thirds, but in this case the local authority "may, by order, direct." I do not know who is going to apply to the local authorities. I take it that if the Mayor of a little town owns a billiard hall, he will see to it that the local authority does this. The hon. Member knows quite well that that may be the case, and I am sure he will be on my side straight away, because I believe he stands for cleanliness in public administration. Let me give another argument. What about the young men, the lads from 15 who go to the billiard halls? The billiard halls, as far as I know, are conducted properly now, but I should hesitate to allow a boy of mine to remain in a billiard hall puffing at cigarettes until after 12 midnight and beyond that hour. That is what the hon. Member is going to make possible.


He can "puff" in a billiard hall now.


But he cannot buy cigarettes for the purpose of puffing in a billiard hall. In reality, there are two arguments against this proposal. First of all "the local authority may direct," and that, at any rate, gives an entirely new complexion to the Bill. In this case, a little bit of intrigue and wirepulling by the owners of two or three billiard halls, and then you would get an order directing that they should be entitled to sell. I say that it is grossly unfair to other shopkeepers in the vicinity of the billiard halls. I know a billiard hall in Manchester where there is a small tobacconist's shop right on the corner; in fact, it is almost a part of the billiard hall itself. What will happen? The shopkeeper on the ground floor of the billiard hall with a tobacconist business will be compelled to close, but the people who enter the billiard hall will be entitled to buy their tobacco and cigarettes inside. It is a preposterous idea, and I hope for the reasons I have given that the House will decline to accept the Amendment.


I wish to appeal to my hon. Friend who moved this Amendment to withdraw it just as earnestly as I appealed to the hon. Member who moved the last Amendment. There are provisions in the Bill which are unfair—and I am bound to recognise this—to tobacconists, in that we allow licensed victuallers to sell tobacco and matches during the hours that they are open; and, similarly, the theatres, cinemas, music halls, and similar places of entertainment may sell tobacco, matches, and other articles during the hours when they are open. But, while we agree to this provision, a provision which we recognise is a hardship upon the tradespeople whose goods are being sold at these places, there is no reason why the provision should be extended further. There is a distinct difference between the position of billiard halls and that of the theatres and other places where permission is given for sales to take place. In the case of theatres and cinemas, no one can be present without having paid for entrance. Therefore, they are bona fide members of the audience, whereas in the case of billiard halls I think I am right in saying that on an ordinary day, when there is no special match being played and when members of the public go in to play themselves, there is no entrance charge made for merely going into the hall. I hope I do not put this unfairly, but I understand that that is the position. Therefore, it will be grossly unfair that ordinary members of the public shall be able to come in and buy tobacco and matches when, as the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has said, there may be a tobacconist's shop alongside the building, at which the sole trade is in tobacco, and which is compelled to close at eight o'clock. I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw this Amendment, and that, if he does not—though I am sure he will—the House will reject it.


I should like to join in the appeal that has been made to the hon. Member who moved this Amendment to show the same reasonable spirit of compromise which we have shown upon these benches by not pressing this Amendment. If this Amendment were to stop at billiard halls, there would still be an injustice. To me, the difficulty is what is meant by "billiard rooms." I have no difficulty in defining billiard halls, but I have considerable difficulty in defining a billiard room. I understand that the hon. Member is willing to assent to the request that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Salford (Mr. Radford) has made and not proceeded with his Amendment, and, therefore, I will cut my remarks short.


I think it is only right, after I have made an appeal to hon. Members on one side to withdraw Amendments which jeopardise the Bill, to appeal to my hon. Friend to do the same on this occasion. I think the fact mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Salford (Mr. Radford), that many of the persons who go to these billiard halls do not have to pay for admission, does, in effect, constitute a billiard hall an open shop, and that is clearly against this Bill. If my hon. Friend can see his way to withdraw his Amendment, his action will facilitate the passing of the Bill.


I have no hesitation in taking that action. This Bill, as we know, has been a compromise all through, a question of give and take on each side otherwise, it would have never got through the Committee stage so quickly and expeditiously as it did. I, therefore, beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.