§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SIR WALTER SMILES
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a simple Bill with a single purpose only. It is to give local authorities the power to decide for themselves whether or not they will have a dog racing track within their district, and, if so, how many such tracks they will permit. I take it that all Members of this House are thoroughly conversant with dog racing.
§ Sir W. SMILES
Well, I am surprised. The right hon. Gentleman is one of the first who, I should have thought, would have known most about it. At any rate, hon. and right. hon. Members will know something about it. They will not be like a learned judge in a law court who, asked to decide anything about dog racing, first of all inquires "What is a dog?" and afterwards "What is a race?" The present powers of local authorities with regard to this question are practically nil. They have certain very restricted powers under the Town and Country Planning Act. When local authorities wish to stop a dog racing track being put up they often apply to the Ministry of Health or the Home Secretary to stop it, as they think it is a nuisance, and then they find out that they have no powers of any kind whatsoever. This Bill is intended to give them these powers.
I have heard a great deal of criticism of the Bill. I adopted the original Bill which was moved in May, 1928, by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan), and it has been pointed out to me since then that the Bill is very badly drawn. I believe that any private Member's Bill which goes to the Parliamentary draftsman afterwards is always altered and amended, and with me it is a question of principle only. I am quite willing to amend it in any way 1152 that will suit, up to a point, two of the opponents of the last Bill. I allude to the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) and the hon. and gallant Member for Enfield (Lieut.-Colonel Applin). The latter, being a distinguished barrister, will, I expect, be able to keep us straight over this matter. It is only a question of principle. I do not wish to give local authorities power to forbid admission to girls of 22 or men of over 70, or to take, say, 10 per cent. of the gross profits for the mayor. We do not want to give that kind of latitude at all. It is only a question as to whether or not a local authority will have dog racing tracks within their area. Neither do I intend to put in any regulations about bookmakers or totalisators. After all, there is a Royal Commission on Betting now sitting, and I consider that the question of betting and gambling generally is for this House, not for local authorities at all.
All of us admit that these dog racing tracks are casinos, canine casinos, as I have heard them described, and it is probable that a dog racing track would not exist for three-quarters of an hour if there was no betting.
§ Sir W. SMILES
There is a great deal of unreflecting emotion about boys betting. I went to serve my time when I was 16 years old, and I was immediately introduced to a hot-bed of betting. Nearly every man in the shops where I worked betted and gambled on horse racing every day in the week, and I found that perhaps no blacksmith betted, about 70 per cent. of the fitters, and all the turners and machinemen had a bet on a horse every day. I put it down entirely to its being a mechanical age, and the more machines are introduced and you have the dull routine and accuracy of the machines the more will people seek in their leisure hours a bit of gambling to pass the time. I started by working 56½ hours a week for 4s. and losing a good deal of my own money every week by betting. I was cured in three months, and I have a great deal 1153 of thanks to give to the people who cured me. We all of us remember our school teachers with affection, and I can remember now with tender remembrance the man who took 5s. from me at the three card trick in Belfast. I am quite sure he saved me a great deal of money.
I believe in puppies being allowed to find out for themselves that brown Windsor soap and blacking are bad for them. After all, you send boys out to the Colonies when they are 20, and before they go, in my opinion, they should not be brought up like hot-house flowers. They ought to know something about the silliness and foolishness of gambling and drinking. I have absolutely nothing against the bookmakers. I consider them to be a most honest and respectable profession, and I have never had anything but the best of dealings with them all my life. You have only to turn up an advertisement in the "Sketch," and you see a. beautiful girl there telephoning to her uncle, and talking about a, horse, whose name she had forgotten, and a race which she had not remembered, and she had also omitted to send a telegram. Her uncle tells her to "Ring up 'Duggie,' and he will pay." I have never heard of any other profession in the world with the same high ethics of commercial morality. I have nothing but admiration for the National Greyhound Racing Association. I understand that it controls over 50 tracks. These men put their money in when they did not know whether the public would take up greyhound racing or not.
Captain A. EVANS
Will the hon. Member allow me to point out that the Greyhound Racing Association is a commercial concern which runs dog racing tracks for profit, and that he, no doubt, has in mind the National Greyhound Racing Society.
§ Sir W. SMILES
I accept the hon. Gentleman's ruling on the subject. In any case, the men who recently started greyhound racing tracks risked their money, not knowing whether the public would take up the sport or not. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will go as far as that. I hope that he will also agree that they make a good deal of money out of it and that they have more or less a monopoly. They are doing their best to prevent unlicensed people setting 1154 up dog tracks all over the place and right up against their doors. I understand that there is also a Mr. Shand of Liverpool, who controls, I believe, 22 tracks. I do not know which is the best society, whether Mr. Shand represents it, or whether it is the association to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers. I do understand, however, that one of these bodies has a rule that when they license a track no other track may be erected within 15 miles of it. In Manchester, for instance, I understand that there are two tracks. A gentleman in Bolton wishes to open a track, but Bolton is within 11 miles of Manchester, and he cannot get permission. I understand that the gentleman in Bolton wishes to make his track the Ascot of greyhound racing of the North, with every possible amenity for racing and gambling. He cannot get a licence, but he does not propose to pay any attention to that and is going on with his track. The local authority is the body that should decide whether there shall be a track at Bolton or not, and nobody else. I am not pretending that greyhound racing or dog racing is any worse than some of the films we see at the cinema. I do not suppose that it is any worse than nonstop variety, football, reading novels at home, listening to the wireless, smoking, drinking beer, dirt-track racing, horse racing, or canary singing competitions.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
What about political meetings?
§ Sir W. SMILES
I believe in everybody having freedom to amuse himself as he likes so long as he is not a nuisance to his neighbours. Another thing which it is the duty of local authorities to decide is the allocation of the sites of these tracks. It may be perfectly right and proper to have plently of tracks at Blackpool or Southend. I have been to both places, and I hope to visit them again. Most people, however, would not like to see a track erected next door to Westminster Abbey or alongside Canterbury Cathedral. That would be in bad taste, and the local authorities of Westminster and Canterbury should be the bodies to decide whether they wish to have a track there or not. At the present anybody can open a track in Canterbury or here 1155 if they wish, provided it is not in a restricted area under tie Town Planning Act. There are people who say that there should not be tracks in the East End of London, where, I understand, some of the poorest of the poor live and are wasting on gambling money which should be used for food. I am not going to presume to dictate on that subject, but I say again that it is a matter for the local authorities to decide.
I think that all of us would congratulate these gentlemen on the perfect organisation that they have built up. I believe that lots of them own a track for a start. They also own the totalisator, and I understand that in many cases they own the dogs. They own the tipsters outside the gates, and if there are bookmakers, I believe that they own them too. At the end of the evening, they own most of their patrons' pocket money also. It is an absolutely perfect organisation. Those of us who live in Lancashire have often heard about the combines in the cotton industry—vertical combines and horizontal combines. I suggest that this is a perfect example of vertical combine. It is exactly the same as the Lancashire Cotton Corporation. The only difference is that that Corporation loses money and these people make money. One of my friends in Glasgow sent me a cutting from the "Glasgow Evening Times" of the 28th November. It was a report about the Albion Greyhounds (Glasgow) Ltd., and it stated that the dividend of that Company was 952 per cent. on the deferred shares and in addition, a bonus of 14 shares for each five shares held. Most of us listened to a debate in the House on Scotland the other day, and from what we heard we thought that Scotland was down and out. It is true that the slips on the side of the Clyde are empty, and that they have not the money to go on with the new Cunarder, but Albion Greyhounds (Glasgow) Ltd. pay 952 per cent. Scotland is very far from being down and out. What it wants are a few more of these companies, and it will be on its feet properly.
On looking up the report of the Debate on the last Dog Racing Bill, I saw that most of the Members who supported the Bill were in a position to say: "I have never made a bet, and I 1156 have never attended a greyhound racing track in my life." I made bets and attended greyhound racing tracks long before I ever thought that I might be selected to sponsor this Bill. When I found myself first in the ballot, I selected this Bill, because I thought that Lancashire in general and Blackburn in particular wanted it. I assume that when I had a chance of that kind I am out to represent the wishes of my constituency first of all. There was a long list of Motions from which to choose, and most of my constitutents are interested in them too. There was everything possible covering human activity from the cradle to the grave. Perhaps it would be more Parliamentary to say from Bills about birth control to Bills about the House of Lords.
I have arranged with the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey that if tracks are to be shut down in future, there must be fair compensation. We all agree to that. There is a great difference between shutting down a wonderful track like the White City, compensation for which would mean that the ratepayers would have to pay a shilling on the rates and shutting down some tracks, which are run by a man turning a wheel and a bit of rope and which have no enclosure at all. In one case the compensation would probably run into £100,000 and in the other case it would not be worth a £10 note. None of us would wish that these people should get unfair compensation. I admit that in every case greyhound racing tracks do not decrease the value of surrounding property. There may be some cases where it has actually increased the value, but that is a question for the committee which assesses the claim for compensation. We do not intend to treat anybody unfairly. What are the alternatives to the Bill? The House can refuse to pass the Second Reading, or it can encounter obstruction in Committee. The result of that would be that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of unlicensed greyhound racing tracks will spring up all over the country. If people see that it is possible to get dividends of 952 per cent., naturally they will want to engage in this business.
§ Captain ARTHUR HOPE
What does the hon. Member propose to alter in this Bill? I understand that he has come to 1157 some arrangement to leave out certain parts of the Bill. Could the House know what they are?
§ Sir W. SMILES
I am proposing to retain Clause 1, anyway. But I was not going into all those details now. That is a matter for the Committee.
§ Captain HOPE
But I understand that you are proposing to leave out three of the seven Clauses, and the House is entitled to know what the Bill will be like in Committee.
§ Sir W. SMILES
On Second Reading, I am considering only the principle of the Bill, and that is that the local authorities shall have the power to decide whether or not they wish to have dog racing tracks in their locality. It is on the principle only that I am asking for a Second Reading for the Bill. I have stated one alternative to the passing of the Bill, and that is that there are certain to be hundreds more tracks; and it may also give rise to certain Private Bill legislation. Some of us who have served on Committees dealing with Private Bills always feel sympathy with the ratepayers. The proceedings take a great deal of time, and though in many cases members of the Bar give their services quite voluntarily to poor people, one feels that municipalities have to meet a very heavy bill for legal expenses if they wish to get a municipal Bill through. It is my desire to save the municipalities from having to incur such an expense.
Another alternative is to wait for the Government to take up this matter. We had some experience of that the other night in the case of the reform of the House of Lords. People have been waiting for legislation dealing with the House of Lords for more than 20 years, but the other night the Motion was talked out. It is things of that kind which bring derison upon this House, and I do not think much will be done towards deciding this question of dog racing tracks if we wait for the Government to take it up. We can trust the local authorities in some things; we trust them to manage gas, electric light, tramways, housing schemes, etcetera, and why should we not also trust them in the matter of dog racing tracks? If hon. Members suspect local authorities of not being honest men and of submitting to financial pressure, I advise them to oppose the Bill; but, after 1158 all, the people who voted for the members of the local authorities are the same people who returned us to this House, and if we can trust them to return a first-class Member of Parliament surely we can trust the local authorities, which they have elected, to decide the question of dog racing tracks.
§ Mr. MABANE
I beg to second the Motion.
I do not think it is necessary to delay the House very long, for surely there can be little doubt as to the result of the Division which will be taken. A similar Bill was before the last House of Commons but one. On 11th May, 1928, a Division was taken and the Bill secured a Second Reading by 222 votes to 18. Today, perhaps, 18 will be rather a. high figure for the Opposition to raise. The central principle of this Bill is quite simple: It is whether local authorities are the best judges of what shall take place in their areas and what are the wishes of their inhabitants, or whether they are not. Behind that is the general moral issue. It is not really very directly concerned with the purpose of this Bill to consider the moral issue, but, none the less, it would be foolish to suppose that the moral issue had no influence in securing the presentation of this Bill to the House.
No doubt we shall be asked whether greyhound racing demands any special treatment, why we should desire to impose regulations on the institution of greyhound tracks when we do not desire to impose regulations upon any one who intends to set up an industry or to open a shop in any particular town. I want to make the point that it is different from other forms of industrial activity—for I understand that this is regarded as an industrial activity. We shall be told that it is a sport. By some people it may be regarded as a sport, but it would be sheer cant and hypocrisy to suggest that greyhound racing would have any success whatever unless it were connected with betting. On a previous occasion a greyhound racing track was described as an "animated roulette track," and I think that is roughly true. But I am not at all concerned with the morality of betting. Betting seems to me to be a bore, and that is a sufficient 1159 reason for not engaging in it. If people want to bet, unquestionably they will, and it seems useless to attempt to prevent them. They will also lose money, and that is a more cogent point. observe that in the previous Debate there was some difference of opinion among those who opposed the Bill as to whether one lost money by betting or not. Sir Frank Meyer, who opposed the Bill, held that it was possible to win money, but the hon. and gallant Member for the Aston Division (Captain Hope), who also spoke in opposition to it, was pretty definite that one did not win money by betting but lost. He said that he had been speaking to working men and that it was quite clear that many of them had a fixed amount which they spent each week in this way. Now they bet that money on the dog tracks. I think it is extraordinary that any Member should get up and suggest that it is a good thing that working men should allocate a certain amount of money each week to be paid into the pockets of bookmakers.
§ Mr. MABANE
I will come to that point when I am dealing with another part of my argument. On the question of whether one loses or wins by betting, I prefer the opinion of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aston. There is a difference between the philosophical recognition of betting as a feature of human life and the provision of artificial facilities for betting on a large scale, and that is what we are considering here. We are not considering whether betting is a good thing or not, but whether there should be any control whatever of those who want to provide artificial facilities on a large scale for betting. The practice of the Continent is often held up to us as an example. Many people are anxious to give the impression that whereas on the Continent there is freedom, here there is not. Let us consider that idea in regard to betting. On the Continent there are many casinos, but they are not established freely, they are subject to the most strict regulations, and beyond question they are, of deliberate intent, not allowed to be established near large areas of population. So it is useless to 1160 argue that in this Bill we are endeavouring to impose upon this country restrictive conditions which do not exist in other parts of the world. Rather are the restrictions in other parts of the world a good deal tighter than they are in this country.
We are not suggesting that greyhound racing should be stopped, or that very rigid restriction should be placed upon it. We are suggesting a much more moderate and simple proposition, which is that the wishes of an area shall be consulted before a greyhound racing track is established. I have no doubt that a good deal of the opposition will be based upon the notion that our proposal embodies the principles of local option. There are a number of people to whom that phrase is as a red rag to a bull. No sooner do they hear the phrase "local option," than they say that any proposal connected with it must be bad. That is because the phrase has been used principally in connection with proposals for restricting the consumption of alcoholic liquor, and people at once jump to the conclusion, when you use it in any other connection, that because they consider it bad in the first connection it must be bad in the second connection. Yet if they were to pursue that notion to its logical end, they would find themselves in an impossible position. Without local option, the government of this country could not be carried on. We have given the local authorities local control in a tremendous variety of ways, and the principle is recognised by this House that in many important respects the local authorities, who are the people on the spot, are the best people to judge of the needs and desires of a locality.
I therefore ask the House not to consider the phrase "local option," but to think of another and more popular word, "devolution." In these complicated days, Parliament has to consider such important and far-reaching matters, matters of international concern, that it has not the time to engage in the consideration of matters of local detail. It cannot occupy itself with local and purely' domestic matters of this kind; such matters are far better left to the local authorities. I notice that my hon. Friend who proposed this Motion suggested to the House that local authorities were not incompetent, and that it was wrong to suppose that local authorities were corrupt or not able 1161 to make a judgment on this issue. Some hon. Members dissented from that view. That is rather deplorable. I would remind hon. Members who take the view that local authorities are incompetent that there are local authorities who take the view that we are incompetent. 1 notice that the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) suggests that that is not so. If he votes against this Bill, his own local authority might very definitely come to that conclusion. We ought to take the same charitable view of local authorities and of their ability and probity as we do of ourselves.
Let me advance another, and, it seems to me, very important argument, but one which I admit from the outset has an appeal primarily to the democrat. It is that the interest of the people in politics tends to decline. It tends to decline because the matters on which they are asked to pass judgment 'are in so many cases remote from their home lives. Consequently, they lose interest. That seems to me a bad thing. Politics should, if possible, begin on the doorstep, and we shall only have a healthy interest in politics when the individual voter can distinguish the way in which the vote that he casts affects his own particular life, the life of his locality and the life of his street. He should be able to feel, upon himself directly, the effect of any bad decision that he may make. He should be able to feel in his own home the bad effects of any foolish vote that he may give. That is an argument that has an appeal to all Conservatives. They often tell us that they are proposing policies that it needs great wisdom on the part of working-men to accept, and that the short view would lead the working-men to oppose what the Conservative proposes. Therefore, if we can by this Measure help to develop a better political sense, Conservatives, at any rate, ought to be very well pleased. I welcome any proposal that will provide this exercise in politics for the generality of the people.
We have had an example recently in the Sunday Entertainments Act; many of us felt that that Act might not work very well, but in practice it is doing something quite different from that which we supposed when we passed it. It is well on the way to develop a vital in 1162 terest in localities where votes are taken. I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will tell us that in Croydon there has been tremendous interest in this purely local matter. If we can stimulate interest in these local matters, we shall undoubtedly be leading the people towards a more intelligent interest in politics.
The position in regard to greyhound racing tracks has changed somewhat since the original Bill was introduced in 1926. Since then, this House has put upon the Statute Book a Town and Country Planning Act. If a local authority now adopts a plan and has that plan sanctioned by the Ministry of Health, it has a degree of authority in the control of its area that it did not have before. Hon. Members showed no objection—the figures of the Division will prove that—to giving local authorities those powers. Why should any hon. Member object to the extension of those powers in order to make them complete? The local authorities object that they should be subject to an unwelcome, inconvenient, inopportune and uninvited intrusion into their areas by financial interests, principally from London. They object particularly to the impudent assumption that they, the local authorities, are not the best judges as to what the area wants. No suggestion has been made so far as I know that greyhound racing should be absolutely uncontrolled. It is recognised that some degree of control is necessary, but apparently those who oppose the Bill think that control by an organisation called the National Greyhound Racing Society is better than control by the local authority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear ! "] Hon. Members agree. Here is a circular which contains a paragraph stating that the National Greyhound Racing Societyalready conducts very careful inquiries in the case of every new racecourse desiring to be affiliated and licensed. These inquiries cover questions relating to the suitability or site, the extent of the local demand for a racecourse, the character and bona fides of the promoters and the soundness of the applicants' finances.That is a most impudent matter, and I am astonished that any hon. Member should support it. The implication of it is that this National Greyhound Racing Society knows better than the local authority what is needed in a locality. It 1163 indicates clearly that the conclusion reached by those who wish to establish greyhound racing tracks is often utterly at variance with the conclusion reached, not only by local authorities, but by people in the neighbourhood where it is proposed to establish the greyhound racing track. I should like to hear the hon. Member justify in debate the suggestion, which, apparently, he has made, that the National Greyhound Racing Society is a better judge of the needs and desires of the neighbourhood than the neighbourhood itself. The hon. Member says, "Certainly "; I hope he will give the House some reason for that point of view. There are proposals at the present time for establishing greyhound racing tracks in Southport, Huddersfield, and various other parts of the country, and those local authorities object to any suggestion that they ought not to be the judges of what should be established in their areas.
I suggest that it would be quite improper for any opponent of this Bill, whether he were Conservative, Liberal or Labour, to fall back on the argument that this is class legislation, that it is being put forward in such a way that it distinguishes between the rights of one class and another. I think it would ill-become any Conservative to put forward that argument, for, if I know anything about the basic principle of Toryism, it is that people should be compelled to do that which is good for them. I know that there are many Tories in the House to-day who in reality are Whigs, but, if they are Tories, they must not advance the argument that people should not be subject to regulations that are good for them. It would be absurd to put forward any suggestion of that kind.
This is not a question of freedom; it is not a question of local option; no principle of that kind is involved at all. Surely it will be generally agreed that there are certain forms of activity in which men and women will engage, and will encourage others to engage, which are undesirable. I do not think that I should be contradicted on that point. I do not know that any Member of the House would suggest that it is not undesirable that people should be given freedom to sell dangerous drugs. That is quite a simple example, and other 1164 forms of activity will spring readily to the mind which by common agreement must be subject to control. Then we proceed from those forms of activity which are certainly, and by general agreement, undesirable, to those which have no harm in them whatever. But there are borderline cases. There comes a point when you leave off control and introduce freedom. I suggest that betting is one of these borderline cases. The whole practice, the whole attitude of this House towards the question of betting, whether it be on the part of people who want betting to be encouraged or people who want betting to be discouraged, has been in conformity with that view, that betting is a borderline case; and among forms of betting greyhound racing is the supreme borderline case at the present time. There is no effective control over the establishment of these greyhound racing tracks. It seems to me that the issue before the House is not whether there should be control or not, but whether the control should be by the National Greyhound Racing Society or by the local authorities. On that issue I think the House should remain in no doubt that the control ought to be in the hands of the local authorities.
§ 11.49 p.m.
§ Captain A. HOPE
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
I should like sincerely to congratulate the Mover of the Bill on his very felicitous, good-tempered and good-humoured speech. If eloquence and wit could make a bad Bill into a good one, he would succeed. I must oppose this Bill for a number of reasons. The first is that at the moment I am not in the least certain what the Bill is going to do. It has eight Clauses, two of which are purely drafting ones, and the Mover has only talked about one Clause, namely, Clause 1. He has said that he is going to concede a certain amount if the Bill receives a Second Beading and gets into Committee, but, with all due respect, I think that he should give the House some information as to the lines upon which he is going to proceed when the Bill gets into Committee. The Bill was only printed three days ago, but I have a copy of what I believe is proposed. I understand that it is proposed that two 1165 or three of these Clauses should be taken out altogether and that a new Clause should be inserted as to the sense of which we have no knowledge whatever. I think it is rather a lot to ask the House to agree to the Second Reading of a Bill which is going to be completely mangled directly it gets into Committee.
§ Sir W. SMILES
I have already spoken about the new Clause. It is the Clause to provide for fair compensation.
§ Captain HOPE
I understand that Clause 3 also is to be taken out. Will my hon. Friend make any statement on that point?
§ Sir W. SMILES
I have already mentioned that matter. I said that we were not going to have conditions as to girls under 22, or men over 70, or the mayor getting 10 per cent. of the proceeds.
§ Captain HOPE
I feel distinctly uneasy on this subject. The Bill is a, very short one of only eight Clauses, three of which, apparently, are to be withdrawn altogether, while there is to be a new Clause the contents of which we do not know. I think my hon. Friend might have given us some further statement as to the alterations which it is proposed to make. Of course, I understand that a private Member, in introducing a Bill, naturally takes an example from the Government when they are introducing a Bill, and, after the lamentable exhibition that we have seen in the last two or three days in connection with the alteration of the London Passenger Transport Bill, I am not surprised at a private Member being in some difficulty and doubt as to how to introduce a Bill.
My reason for opposing this Bill on principle is that I cannot see why there should be discrimination—and under the Bill there is discrimination—against one type of sport or enterprise. Dog racing is an established thing in this country. It may be said that it is a gambling sport, but it is a sport for millions of people, largely of the working classes. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) told us that there were many things that we should not talk about. He spoke of the philosophy of Toryism, but the philosophy of Toryism, like many other things, is many-sided, and possibly my philosophy of Toryism may not be the same as he thinks. I see no reason why we should not talk of this subject of dis- 1166 crimination, and of the fact that this Bill is in many ways, though unintentionally, a bit of class legislation. I can understand the moral objections to greyhound racing altogether. I can understand that certain social and religious organisations, the Anti-Gambling League and so forth, object to it on principle, because it encourages betting. I sympathise with that objection; but why, if that be the real motive behind the Bill, has not sufficient pressure been brought to bear upon the Government to say that it should be abolished altogether because it is an incentive to gambling? I should disagree with that action, but it would be logical.
The Mover of the Bill said that he was concerned, not with the moral side, but with the point of view of the obstruction of amenities in any one district. I am certain that he is sincere in saying that; and the hon. Member who seconded said more or less the same thing. But the great bulk of the people who are supporting this Bill in the country do not care anything about the question of amenities, but only care for the moral side of the question. Every Member of the House, I should think, has had letters from his constituents on this subject within the last few days. Not one single letter said anything about the amenity side of it, but a great many objected on moral grounds. If this is a great moral evil, which I do not think it is, a Bill should be introduced by the Government of the day saying that greyhound racing is illegal and wrong, and it should not be left to local authorities to say whether it is right or wrong.
It may be asked: Why are we frightened of local authorities? Do we not trust them to do the right thing? I should certainly be the last person to cast any aspersion on the integrity or honesty of local authorities, but there is always a great deal of wire pulling and influence brought to bear on local authorities on any question of local option. The bon. Member mentioned Sunday cinemas and said that it was a healthy thing to rouse the democracy to take an interest in politics. I am afraid the figures of the Croydon poll the other day were very much greater than they have ever been in any municipal elections, and certainly considerably bigger than in the Parliamentary by-election that took place 1167 this year. You can always rouse local feeling on any given subject provided there is a certain amount of agitation. Is it honestly suggested that we want a raging, tearing campaign in every district in the country where there are dog racing tracks as to whether they should be open or shut? I was passing through Croydon on the day of the poll. It was like Bedlam. You talk about a healthy interest in local politics. There were a lot of very hostile, bad-tempered people abusing each other on the question whether there should be some form of Sunday cinema. If you think that is good for municipal life, I entirely disagree.
What will happen if the Bill is passed with the alterations, of which we know very little The amenity question will immediately die out altogether except in a few selected places. Blackburn will be one and Southport, probably, another. In every other part of the country you will immediately have a campaign by the anti-gambling and anti-sport societies. I do not say it in any objectionable way, but they will bring pressure on local authorities to refuse to license any greyhound track, not because of the amenity question at all, but simply because they object to greyhound racing as a social evil. It is already beginning with the Sunday cinema question. Polls are being demanded in many districts. Now you will have similar trouble with regard to racing, and there will be no limit to it. If you bring it in against greyhound racing, why not against horse racing, dirt-track racing and football grounds, which attract just as large crowds?
You will set up a local squabble which will go on every year. The local municipal elections are sufficient for local squabbles as it is. You will have it over dog racing and then someone will bring in a Bill to license horse racing tracks and dirt-race tracks, and there will be no end to it. If this is really a matter of supreme importance, the Government should bring in legislation of their own. I agree that there should be some authority to say whether, from the amenity point of view, there should be a track or not, but I do not think the local Council is the right one. There will be a great deal of lobbying and wire pulling and a great deal of opposition, not on the 1168 amenity question at all, but on the moral side. I cannot see why some judicial authority, like Quarter Sessions, should not be the authority. I do not see why the Home Office itself might not be able to do it. I have an open mind on that subject, but I think the local council is not the authority to grant licences.
I come to the question of discrimination. It is said that, because 40,000 or 50,000 people assemble for two hours in the evening, it destroys the amenity of the place. Are you seriously going to say that greyhound racing from 6.30 to 9.30 destroys the amenities of a place on a Friday evening while in the same place on Saturday you get 70,000 or 80,000 people going to watch football? These greyhound racing tracks are, in a very great number of cases, on existing football grounds. There is going to be one, I understand, at Stamford Bridge. Are you going to give power to the London County Council or to the Chelsea. Borough Council to say that greyhound racing shall be stopped on a Friday because it attracts too many people and makes too much noise while on a Saturday, when there is a visit of the Arsenal or the Villa, the whole district is congested for hours in the morning, afternoon and evening? It is illogical. I agree that not all teams can attract those crowds, but the Aston Villa team can. If you honestly look into the question of discrimination, you will see that you are going to leave an enormous number of opportunities for further legislation on the lines that I have indicated. You cannot say that it is right to have football on one day and that greyhound racing the next day is wrong. You can say it on moral grounds but not on amenity grounds. You cannot say that horse racing at Alexandra Park on a Saturday, which blocks the whole district for hours, is right and that dog racing at Clapton is wrong. Either greyhound racing is right or it is not. If it is right, it should be allowed practically unfettered scope, subject to a proper licensing authority such as the Home Office.
I earnestly ask fair-minded people not to go against greyhound racing because it is a new sport in which they are not interested themselves, which they think is a great financial success, as I believe it is. Whatever the hon. Member may say, it is a bit of class legislation. Millions of working-people enjoy their 1169 evening's greyhound racing. They do not lose all their substance. I was taken to task four years ago for saying that certain working-class people set aside so much money per week for the purpose of getting. There is nothing iniquitous in It at all. If I go to Newmarket, I know I am not going to lose more than a certain amount. If I lose it on the first two races, I close down. I think that is the principle of a great number of people. I have made careful inquiries whether greyhound racing has increased betting or not, and I do not think it has. No one will accuse Lord Brentford of being particularly partial to this form of amusement. He, when Home Secretary, said there was no evidence whatever that in the big towns, London or elsewhere, there had been a great increase in betting as a consequence of greyhound racing. Betting is undoubtedly part of the system of this country, for good or bad. Just as the hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles) said that he had experience of that in the early days, we have all had experience of it, and some may not have profited so much from it as he has.
§ Mr. MABANE
What Lord Brentford said was as follows:I asked the police in practically all the large centres where there is dog racing. From their replies I am bound to draw the conclusion, first of all, that there is very much betting."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1928; col. 623, Vol. 217.]He also said that he had found no evidence from the police that there was much disorder.
§ Captain HOPE
That was the impression I received of what he meant, and certainly no inquiries which had been made since then indicate that there has been an increase in betting. There always has been, and always will be, betting in this country. I have spoken on the subject to many people in all classes and walks of life, and I think that they generally now bet on the dogs rather than on the horse race. I think that a great many bookmakers who go to racecourses will bear that out and say that their receipts or turnover during the last 1170 four or five years have been very much decreased on account of the opposition of dog racing tracks in the country. I do not say whether betting is right or wrong, but it is an existing thing. There is a Commission sitting upon it at the present moment and they will, no doubt, report in five, six or ten years' time when we may get, possibly, some legislation on the subject. Meanwhile, betting is to be recognised as an existing force. If betting on dog racing is wrong—and a great deal of the moral objection to the Bill is to betting on dog racing—you have to say that all betting is wrong and close down betting on horses and on football coupons and other similar things. We want a perfectly free expression of opinion on the question without any obstruction or anything of that sort.
I ask the House before giving a Second Reading to the Bill not to be misled by promises of what is to be done in Committee. The Committee is a funny place. Sometimes when we wish to move Amendments we are caught napping and are not there. I prefer, if I dislike a thing, to destroy it at the first possible chance rather than play about with it like a cat playing with a mouse. The House for various reasons should refuse to give a Second Reading to the Bill. First, I am not certain, beyond Clause 1, what the Bill is to do. Secondly, it is discriminatory legislation, and, to a certain extent, class legislation as well. Thirdly, if the Bill passes we shall have the whole of the troubles which have been raised on the Sunday cinema entertainments taking place upon this question all over the country. You will arouse a great deal of feeling on the part of fair-minded people to say that it is wrong that dog racing tracks should be licensed by the local authority while bootball grounds, dirt-tracks, horse races and other things need have no licence of any sort or kind. In asking the House to reject the Bill, I also ask hon. Members not to run away with the idea that we think that greyhound racing is a paradise. We have to take things as they are in the world. Greyhound racing has come to stay. It is a sport, apart from being an industrial undertaking, and it has the backing of a very great number of people in this country who will be annoyed and bitterly disappointed if there is any discriminat 1171 ing legislation against a sport which they enjoy as much as we enjoy our sports.
§ Sir ALFRED BEIT
I beg to second the Amendment.
I object to the Bill as being what in America is called a "Blue Law," being purely restrictive. I think that not many hon. Members were elected to this House to see more laws of this nature put upon the Statute Book but rather to remove a great many that already exist. I should like to know why local authorities should dictate to the public as to how they should use their leisure. The public itself is surely the best judge, and greyhound racing tracks, if they are to prove a mere craze, will die, sooner or later, from lack of public support. If not, there will have been proved to be a definite demand for them. Above all, I should like to know why Blackburn Town Council should attempt to dictate to this House and the rest of the local authorities of the country in this matter. They are the only people from whom I have heard during the last few days. The only communications which I have received on the subject have been from representatives of that body. I would ask the hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles), who moved the Bill whether unanimity on this subject exists in Blackburn, whether Blackburn has a track, and whether the people of Blackburn support the track, or whether there is a decline in attendance at that track?
§ Sir A. BEIT
What may suit Blackburn and Southport may not necessarily suit Blackpool and Southend.
§ Sir A. BEIT
At any rate, the hon. Member tells me that Blackburn has not a track, so how can they know if it is 1172 going to be a nuisance? I admit that the drink question has been paramount in all considerations relating to local option. Nevertheless, I think that the recent example of the Sunday Entertainments Act reinforces the objection which I have always had against the principle of local option, and, further, the effect upon local elections will be very undesirable. We have seen what has happened in polls on the Sunday cinema question throughout the country, and the effect of this Bill will be to bring a new and undesirable element into the election of local councils. I cannot help feeling—though I do not wish to impugn the honesty of any local authority in the country—that some of the weaker members will find it hard to resist the temptations which dog track owners can hold out to them in order to get their way and obtain a licence from them.
I further have a constitutional objection. Since the Debates on the Ottawa Agreements, when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of a section of the Liberal party brought up constitutional objections of that kind, they have become rather fashionable. I should like to know why the House should be deprived of its time-honoured rights whether in regard to greyhound racing or any other subject? Everybody will admit that we have potential rights over everything, and why we should hand them over to local authorities is something I cannot understand. Is it to be assumed that the members of the Cabinet who decorate the Government Front Bench, except on Wednesdays and Fridays, though they cannot make up their minds on the question of House of Lords reform, are unable to do so on this matter? I do not think so. I fail to see that there is any reason for a further step in decentralisation, or the other word which the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) called it.
§ Sir A. BEIT
At first sight it will take me a little time to connect those two subjects. I am speaking more on the lines of the liberty of the subject in this particular discussion, and I think that you cannot tack on to that very rightly or 1173 with any show of logic a Bill affecting London passenger transport. One of the principle objections I have to the Bill is that it discriminates, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aston (Captain Hope) has said, against other forms of sport, and especially other forms and other kinds of racecourses. I understand that as far as horse racecourses are concerned under the Race Course Licensing Act, 1879, all racecourses within 10 miles of Charing Cross must be licensed. Such licences are now granted under a certain Section of the Local Government Act, 1888, which enables the Middlesex County Council to license the racecourse at Alexandra Park, familiarly known under another name. That is the only licensed racecourse in the country, but I do not sup. pose anyone would say that it was actually or morally a better racecourse than those which are not licensed. I, personally, have never been to a greyhound race meeting, and I have been to very few ordinary race meetings. Curiously enough, I object to neither, and I see no reason for favouring blood stock versus dogs.
The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill gave us some very illuminating experiences of his youth about betting, but I cannot see that it enters into the principle of this particular Bill, nor that anything any Parliament in the world may do can really affect betting in one form or another. I remember seeing in an American film some people betting by setting in motion an electric fan and betting on which wing came to rest. It seems to me that you can bet on anything you like. There are considerable powers held to-day which could influence the establishment of one of these courses very considerably. The Town Planning Act has given local authorities the right to schedule areas whereby they shall not be used for any other purpose than that determined, and there is the further considerable power given to licensing justices of withholding licences for the sale of alcoholic liquor. If this Bill goes through, think of the access of power given to Mrs. Grundy by the union of local councillors with licensing justices, just at the time when, I believe, there is a movement on foot to relieve us from some of the most irksome restrictions from which we are suffering. 1174 Turning to the Bill itself, I do most particularly object to Clause 2. We have not been able to get a satisfactory answer from the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading as to what is going to be left in and what left out. He says that that can be thrashed out in Committee, but, according to the report I read in one of the popular newspapers this morning, one of the essential principles of the Bill will be altered if the retrospective provision in Clause 2 is left out. If so, so much the better, and I thank the hon. Member for the concession, but at least it would be very difficult for us to judge a Bill when he cannot definitely say which of these essential principles must stay in and which are to be taken out. I would like to draw attention to Clause 4, in which the penalty for carrying on dog racing without a licence is to be £5 a day. What sort of objection will that be in a case where some companies make a profit of 950 per cent.?
§ Mrs. RUNGE
May I ask the hon. Member whether he is against unregistered dogs running on unlicensed tracks?
§ Sir A. BEIT
I would like to assure the hon. Lady that I am just coming to that point. I was asking what sort of detriment the penalty Clause would be in a case where the profit is 950 per cent.? I, myself, would not mind paying £5 a day for that privilege.
§ Sir A. BEIT
I am perfectly well aware of that, but even in the interregnum period before the injunction is granted they will go on making money. It is no penalty if you want to carry out this Bill. The solution, in my opinion, is not along these lines but along the lines of control by the National Greyhound Racing Society. Perhaps the Under-Secretary to the Home Office may be able to give us an indication of a better method of control. I want to assure the hon. Lady that here are a lot of bad courses badly run and with an honesty which might be questioned. If you could have 'this thing under the control of a society which knows its business, as racecourses under the control of the Jockey Club, then nothing could be said, but I think the local authorities are the last people to have this power. The National Grey 1175 hound Racing Society certainly knows its business much better than the local authorities do, and the only test of whether a certain district needs or wants one of these courses is to establish it and see whether the public support it.
§ 12.21 p.m.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House that I should intervene at the earliest possible moment to give some indication of my views upon this matter. There are, of course, a considerable number of hon. Members who, owing to the pressure of Government business last year, have not yet had an opportunity of taking part in a debate on a private Member's Bill, but they, I am sure, will realise that it is always the object of the Government, as far as possible, to refrain from interfering with the rights of private Members on these days. There are, of course, cases when the Bill proposed is in direct contradiction of the Government policy and Government action must be taken, but this is clearly not one of those occasions, and I can tell the House that there will be to-day no interference on the part of the Government, and that the Division, if a Division be taken, will be left to a free vote. There will be no opportunity for my hon. Friends to exercise that hypnotic power which Government Whips are always assumed to have, but which they are not always proved to possess. Even so, perhaps the House will not resent but, in fact, will rather expect that I should make some remarks on the possible implications of this Bill, and to devote myself, perhaps, more to the particular than to the general.
The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading in a speech upon which, I am sure, the House will unite in congratulating him for its freshness, wit and good humour, was in a reminiscent mood, and I was particularly struck with that episode in his early life when he lost—I cannot remember whether it was 3s. in the five-card trick or 5s. in the three-card trick, but, anyhow, it obviously gave him the first lesson in that self-help which we associate with his namesake. The hon. Member was quite frank in the reasons which led him to introduce this Bill. He said he did it to please Lancashire in general and Blackburn in par- 1176 ticular, and himself only, I assume, in parenthesis, but he did not deal at all with the general question of morality. He expressly, I think, excluded it from the considerations which would weigh with the House in the discussion of this Bill.
There are, of course, many arguments to be used on both sides as to whether greyhound racing as a sport, with all its concomitants, is good or evil for the country, but I think the hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in not introducing considerations of that nature on a Bill of this character, because it is obvious that no one is competent to decide as to the general morality on a question of this kind except the Imperial Parliament. You cannot have morality by districts. If greyhound racing is bad for the morals of Southport, it is equally bad for the morals of Surbiton. We are, therefore, left with the narrower question of whether there are in different localities local conditions which may or may not make it advisable to refuse to permit a greyhound racing track within a particular neighbourhood. We have to ask ourselves, further, from the examples which we know and from examples which can easily be named, whether there is any need for protection of that kind. If we answer that question in the affirmative, we have to ask ourselves whether this Bill will give us the kind of protection which we need.
During the last few weeks I have had several deputations and several communications from various bodies up and down the country with regard to this matter, and they have certainly brought before my notice cases which seemed to me, at any rate, to call definitely for action of some kind. I had a case, for instance, where it was proposed to put a greyhound racing track down in the middle of a quiet residential area, much in opposition to the wishes of the residents there, who saw not only their amenities threatened and their quiet disturbed, but the prospect of a considerable fall in the value of their property. Yet neither those residents nor the local authority, who are their natural protectors, are in present circumstances able to take any steps in the matter. It was a fully built up area, to which no town-planning scheme applies.
1177 I had another case brought to my notice, again in a fully built up area, where there was no town planning scheme in operation, where a building was bought and razed to the ground and a greyhound racing track put in its place. The site chosen for this track was such that if the attendance was large, as it probably would be, the traffic problem would become almost intolerable. It meant that thousands of people would have to debouch into a particularly crowded thoroughfare in the evenings, in the vicinity of a bottle neck. Yet the local authority responsible for the traffic control of the area had no power whatsoever to say: "This is not a suitable place in which a greyhound racing track should be set up." If hon. Members will search their own experience or charge their imagination they will be able to recall a variety of eases where, from the point of view of the amenities of the neighbourhood, the value of the property, the traffic problems of the vicinity, or the responsibility of the local authority for maintaining law and order, there is a case for some kind of control to be exercised by some body, in some way.
noticed that when the senior Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Buchan) introduced this Bill some years ago he was called a crank by, I think, the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon). I think my hon. and gallant Friend chose that phrase with less than his usual felicity, because if ever there was one who has tried everything once and some things perhaps once or twice, it is my hon. Friend the senior Member for the Scottish Universities. Even if my hon. and gallant Friend did think that he was a crank, I hope he will acquit me of a similar accusation. I have no evidence to call except my own, but I frankly do not believe in the value of an ethical standard which has to be bolstered up by prohibition and regulation. I do not believe that the man who has to be prevented from falling from moral standards by law is any better than the man who falls. Equally, though I do not believe in the maintenance of an ethical standard by prohibition, I do not believe in needlessly and unnecessarily multiplying and increasing in strength the temptations which already seem quite numerous 1178 enough and quite strong enough for our weaker brethren.
In more affluent days I contributed my modest quota to supporting the bookmakers in that condition of life which they expect. In fact, I went further than the hon. Member opposite in raising their standard of life. Moreover, I must confess, with reluctance, that I have been dog racing. I had an invitation through the kindness of my hon. Friend opposite to visit a greyhound racing track. From the financial point of view I was not affected; I was having a Caledonian night, and it was all free for me. I examined myself closely from the moral point of view, but I did not appear to be any worse morally when I got back than I was when I set out earlier in the evening. Even so, without being a crank, without dealing with the general aspect of morality, I still do feel that there are questions connected with the control of greyhound racing which need regulation in this House and which may well need legislation. If we come to that conclusion, the next question we have to ask ourselves is whether this Bill is the right Bill. At any rate, it is a Bill. It gives this House an opportunity to get into Committee, and, in Committee, to discuss this question in detail. But I must, in fairness, point out the many problems which, to my mind, are either not dealt with or not adequately dealt with in the Bill, which will certainly need investigation, and where the Bill will certainly need modification if it is to be possible to recommend its passing when it is referred to the House again. The first point to which I would direct attention was dealt with at some length by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aston (Captain Hope), who moved the rejection of the Bill, as to the question of the authority which is to exercise the control, if control there is to be. He voiced a sentiment which is very largely felt among hon. Friends of mine, namely, objection to the principle of local option. I had good reasons to know of the existence of that feeling during the debate on another subject during the summer. They feel that so many responsible duties are placed on local authorities that it is urgently necessary that their constituents should choose the men best fitted to deal with the really major problems of local government, and should not be disturbed by these comparatively minor, for 1179 they are minor, issues. They feel, in other words, that it would be a mistake by introducing this subject into local politics to make, if I may so express it, a dog fight of every local election. They wish, therefore, to remove this bone of contention from local politics.
I think every hon. Member will admit that whatever the authority is to be, it must be a local one. The questions which will have to be discussed will be local in application. You cannot have any central body which can effectively deal with local amenities, the local value of property, local feeling, local problems. Therefore, if it is to be a local body what other local body is there except the local authority? Some hon. Members may suggest that a question of this kind might well be, left to the licensing justices. But there is an objection to that in general, that it is the whole process of modern development not to add to but rather to reduce the administrative duties of justices of the peace, because they are not always, perhaps, consistent with their judicial duties. There is the further practical point, that they really have no staff to carry out administrative duties. A question of this kind, which needs discussing and investigation, could hardly be carried out by the justices.
In this particular instance there is a further objection, and one which to my mind seems quite conclusive. Local authorities already possess, in certain areas, powers under the Town Planning Act to deal with this question. As time goes on and more use is made of the 1932 Act they will possess more and more powers, and you may have in a number of areas concurrent powers over the control of greyhound racing. You may have the justices under the proposal in this Bill and the local authorities acting under the Town Planning Act, and you would have, I submit, a perfectly intolerable situation. The justices, exercising their right, might tell the promoters of a greyhound racing scheme that it was all right while the local authority might forbid its erection. Therefore, if there is to be any form of control there is really no other body able to exercise it other than the local authority of the area.
Another problem which the Committee will have to face if the Bill gets a Second Reading la the considerations which are 1180 to weigh with a local authority in deciding whether they will grant or withhold a licence. As the Bill is drafted there is no limitation at all on the decision of a local authority. Hon. Members may say that they do not desire in this Bill to raise the general question of morality at all but other hon. Members may say that if there is no limitation at all, if there are to be no grounds for explanation or appeal, it will be possible for every local authority to decide the matter purely on moral grounds. It will, at any rate, be a matter for the Committee to consider whether it will not be necessary to insert words which will make it clear that a local authority shall exercise in this matter a semi-judicial function and consider specific considerations, and that some provision shall be made for the people who desire to have dog racing to be able to place their views before the local authority, so that it will not be possible for the town council to meet and the mayor to say "Hands up those who do not like dog racing," and if there are enough to refuse the application altogether. That is the first problem which the Committee upstairs will have to consider.
The second problem is contained in Clause 2, which is retrospective in character. Whatever it might have been when the Bill was originally introduced this provision is quite intolerable to-day. In the past five years a great many people have sunk a great deal of money in an enterprise to which Parliament has raised no objection. Not only has there been no legislation against it but the fact that the Bill of 1928 was introduced, although never passed into law, was certainly an encouragement to them to believe that their action had the sanction of Parliament. No-one can seriously suggest that under Clause 1 a local authority, without any reason being given, without any opportunity for appeal or for a presentation of the case, shall revoke a licence to a track which has been established for five years, and thus confiscate the whole of the undertaking without compensation of any kind. The Committee will certainly have to consider either dropping the retrospective provision altogether or providing for compensation. Further, there is no provision in the Bill for the termina 1181 tion of a licence, or for the terms upon which a licence, if it is to be terminated, shall be granted.
Finally, there is the question of the conditions which may be imposed. As the Bill is drafted a local authority will be entitled to impose any conditions they like, there is no limitation at all. It might impose a condition that no women should be admitted. Think of the protests we should have from all the organised women's associations, representing thousands of women who never want to go to a greyhound race meeting but who would nevertheless bitterly resent such an imposition. It is clear that if a local authority is to be allowed to impose conditions—I can think of conditions with regard to Sundays and the admission of juveniles—which may be quite reasonable, and the Committee will have to consider whether these powers should not be within well-defined limits. I hope I have said enough to show that if the House decides to give the Bill a Second Reading there will be very difficult problems to be solved in Committee and that considerable changes will have to be made before the Bill can be allowed to proceed through its further stages. Still there is a question to be discussed, there is a problem to be considered, and there are changes which require to be made. On these grounds, the House will be well advised to give a Committee of their own representatives a chance of discussing the Bill upstairs, and it may well be that as a, result of their labours it will be possible for Parliament to proceed with legislation which will not lay hon. Members open to the accusation of being either killjoys or libertines, but which will deal in a practical way with what is admittedly a practical problem.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
The House I am sure has been delighted to hear the Under-Secretary of State explain the attitude of the Government towards the Bill. On the whole I have been pleased with what he has said. I intend to join other hon. Members who have spoken and try to keep away entirely from the problem of betting which has really nothing to do with the Measure now before the House. I agree, however, with the observation that there would hardly have been any need for this Bill were it not for the presence of betting on dog tracks. 1182 But the Bill itself has nothing to do with the question of betting. Let me deal with one or two of the criticisms made by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. They have compared this Bill with the provisions of the Act permitting the opening of cinemas on Sundays. In that Act there is provision for a public plebiscite to be taken, but this Bill has no provision of that kind. It merely gives the local authority itself the power to determine this issue—
§ Mr. DAVIES
The agitation is already here without this Bill. The agitation against dog racing in the city where I live is very nearly as acute as the agitation in other towns in connection with the opening of cinemas on Sundays. The passing of this Bill therefore will not of necessity affect any agitation for or against dog racing tracks. The local authority in these cases ought to be paramount. I will mention a few cases in point and will endeavour to put the attitude of the local authority itself. In any case I am very doubtful if any hon. Member of any political party, who has ever sat on a local authority, will vote against this Bill. I do not know whether I am saying too much, but I should be a little astonished if the Mover and Seconder of the rejection to-day have ever served on a local authority in any part of the country. If they have, I feel sure they will in the end support this Bill, although the details of the measure may not suit them.
Let me come to the problem as we see it in that part of the country where I live. Take the case of Manchester, a City with 750,000 population. It has one dog racing track already in connection with the Bellevue Zoological Gardens. If dog racing tracks are allowable at all it is quite appropriate that one should be attached to the Bellevue Gardens. That is admitted. But then another Promoting company comes along and proceeds to submit plans, with a view of erecting a dog racing track in Cheetham Hill, in a residential neighbourhood where nearly all the inhabitants are against the proposal. I have no hesitation in saying, from facts brought to my notice, that although the rateable value of that new dog racing track may bring 1183 in more revenue to the coffers of the local authority, on the other hand there will be a depreciation in the rateable value of the surrounding property, and the local authority in the end will gain nothing at all from the transaction. That will, I think, be proved later in connection with this case.
The gentlemen who are proposing to erect this new dog racing track have taken great care that the track is to be erected right beside one of the main tramway sheds of the City, in the midst of the staff and trolley-boys of the Corporation. I hardly think that any employer of labour would willingly assent to a proposal that a dog racing track should be established right in front of his own works. Whether he be a Liberal, Conservative or a, Labour employer there is no one in the country who would encourage and welcome the establishment of a dog racing track right opposite the main door of his factory or workshop.
There is another matter to be considered. In Liverpool one dog racing track has been established near a hospital. That is grossly unfair. There is nothing in areas that are not town-planned to prevent a racing track being established even near schools or colleges. Let me ask the two hon. Gentlemen who have supported the rejection of the Bill, would either of them like to see a dog racing track with its main entrance right opposite the house where he now lives? That is the real test. Would any Member of this House care to see a dog racing track established in front of his residence?
§ Sir A. BEIT
That is not a difficult question to answer. If the experience of racecourses counts for anything the people who have houses at Newmarket have never been known to regret it.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Yes, but some of those people may have other residences as well, and if they do not like living at Newmarket they can live somewhere else. That is the test, whether these tracks should be established in certain residential neighbourhoods or not. I do not know why these dog racing gentlemen are concentrating so much upon Lan 1184 cashire nowadays. What are their proposals? There are two tracks being promoted at the moment for Oldham, two for Birkenhead, two new ones for Manchester, one in Bury, one in Swinton, one for Lower Bredbury; one in Blackpool, I believe; one for Bolton, one for Hazel-grove and one for Southport. In addition there have been tracks imposed upon the following communities against the wishes of the vast majority of the people concerned, namely, one in Rochdale, and I understand Wallasey falls into that category too. That is the information I have received recently.
Let me try to state again how the local authority itself looks upon this problem. The general case has been put better by other hon. Members than I can hope to put it, but really the local authority ought to have power to say not only whether a dog racing track should be established within its own area, but it ought to have power to determine the location of a course if it decides to allow one at all. In the case of Manchester the proposal is that a new dog racing course should be placed within about a mile of the Town Hall steps. I do not think any hon. Member would like to see a dog racing course established in or near the centre of any town or city. I am informed authoritatively that the local authority in Manchester, composed of 144 members, the majority Conservative, decided unanimously against the proposal, in spite of the fact that they knew that they had no legal power for saying "No." If a local authority feels so strongly as to give a unanimous vote against a dog racing track in its particular area—the City of Manchester may not have objected to an additional dog racing track in another area, though as to that I cannot tell—surely Parliament ought to come to its aid with legal sanction for that decision. That is not unfair.
The position therefore is this: Unless this House gives that power to local authorities, irrespective of the unanimous decision of the City Council the promoters of this dog racing track in Manchester can still proceed. All they have to do, I understand, is to appeal to the Ministry of Health and, unless I am mistaken, irrespective of what the Ministry of Health may say, provided the plans meet the technical requirements of the Ministry 1185 and the local authority the proposal is bound to go through in the end. A local authority has already power to say that shops cannot be built in certain streets oil residential areas, or that a factory cannot be built in a neighbourhood which is set aside as a residential area. If a local authority has power to do that and power even to refuse a licence to a public house, or to refuse permission for the conversion of a building into a public house, it certainly ought to be entitled to say that a new dog racing track shall not be established in a given neighbourhood.
This problem as already stated, has nothing at all to do for the moment with betting, though I am convinced that the growth of tote clubs is in some towns part and parcel of the whole game of dog racing. I hope that the House will give sanction to this Bill in order that the people of a town or city may have absolute mastery over the conditions under which they are called upon to live. For those reasons I have pleasure in saying that the party to which I belong have officially and I believe unanimously decided to support the Bill.
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ Mr. BRIANT
I think the whole House with the possible exception of one or two Members have been very glad to hear the statement from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Bill. I could not assent to all its provisions and I agree that there must be considerable amendment of it in. order to make it a practicable Measure, but it expresses an opinion which all of us feel, namely, that there must be some limitation placed upon the powers of the promoters of dog racing to start tracks wherever they like. The hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) seemed alarmed that the House of Commons should hand over certain powers to local authorities. I do not know what he expects the House of Commons to do. All legislation in recent years has given local authorities certain powers. That is the reason why they are local authorities and if there is any matter which should come under their cognisance, it is this question of the construction of dog racing tracks.
I have a case in mind in London. I am not sure whether or not it is the case to which the Under-Secretary has alluded. 'Within three miles of this House, on one 1186 of the main roads out of London, along which a large proportion of all the traffic going to the South must pass—I refer to the Brixton Road—there was formerly a row of houses, perfectly habitable, which happened to have long gardens. This ground was purchased and the houses were pulled down—this, in a district where there is a great lack of housing. A dog racing track was constructed on the site, next door to a church which has a long and reputable connection with the district and has exercised a very valuable influence there. This track is on the main road. Trams, omnibuses and all kinds of conveyances pass it all day. Overlooking it are the rooms attached to the church, where meetings of young people are held, apart from the religious services. No one in that neighbourhood wanted that track. I cannot find anybody except those financially concerned who have the slightest interest in it. The traders there did not want it. Certainly the churches did not want it. The police, I understand, did not want it, and some of the traffic authorities did not want it. But, without consultation with anybody, this track has been dumped down on that site. Even an hon. Member opposing this Bill would hardly venture to suggest that there ought not to be some limitation in such a case as that, on what I venture to describe as an abominable scandal in a residential neighbourhood. How far those limiting powers ought to extend is another matter.
Captain A. EVANS
Is it not a fact that at this course there is accommodation for 2,500 people and that it is generally from 85 to 95 per cent. full, at both afternoon and evening races? If there was no demand for it, surely this would not be the case. It is very often absolutely crowded.
§ Mr. BRIANT
The hon. and gallant Member misses my point. The attendances may be as he describes them, but those people probably do not come from the locality at all, but from all parts of London. Unfortunately that is the case, and I contend that the people of the locality are the proper people to decide whether their locality is a proper place for a dog racing track. If those who want the track can persuade their own local authorities let them do so in their own districts and let them keep dog 1187 racing there, because I am sure that we do not want it in our district. That is a genuine, honest and sincere view. Local authorities are responsible for the amenities of their districts. Apart from essentials such as roads and drains they provide public baths and open spaces, and it cannot be said, logically, that they have no right to object to something which disturbs the amenities for which they are responsible. I do not want to enter into the ethical question. I know that it is full of controversy and, honestly, I have never been able to argue purely on that basis. But I do say this, approaching the question with an intimate knowledge of the conditions, that, in practice, as the last speaker has pointed out, no employer would desire one of these tracks outside his business premises. No church would desire to have one in its vicinity, and I do not think that any hon. Member would like to have one beside his residence. In fact, I do not know who would wish to have one of these tracks except the people who are financially interested. But the moral aspect cannot be eliminated entirely in considering this matter. The amenities of a district depend to some extent on the moral aspect of things in that district.
To come down from the high position taken by the opponents of the Bill to practical considerations, anyone who knows these organisations knows that there is no sport whatever in dog-racing and that there never can be. Even the dogs themselves must be excessively stupid. No dog of mine would run after a tin hare twice. The whole organisation is simply machinery for gambling and nothing else. There, it differs from various sports which have at least human interest. I suppose no one of us who is really keen on sport is not eminently thankful when the sport in which we are interested is free from gambling. Most hon. Members coming to the House this morning probably looked at the tape to see how the English cricket team was doing in Australia, but there is hardly a cricketing enthusiast who is not deeply grateful that the element of betting is practically absent from that game.
I put it further. I have some knowledge of the actual effect of dog racing. I do not wish to stress too much this 1188 side of the matter but from my personal knowledge vast numbers of mere lads who did not bet before, now go dog racing and I know of cases in which lads go to these races on Saturday night and all their money is gone on Sunday morning. The street traders in whom I take some interest are by no means prudish. They rather pride themselves on being what they call "good sports" and many of them occasionally have a shilling on a horse. Strangely enough, from them comes a protest against dog racing. They tell me that their takings go down enormously on Saturday nights on account of dog racing and that they are not paid up on Sunday or Monday because so many of their customers are spending the money on dog racing rather than on essentials.
After the satisfactory speech of the Under-Secretary I do not desire to take much time. I would only say that those who are opposed to the point of view of people like myself, often call us "spoil sports." That is a, very superficial criticism. I deny that many of these things can be called sport at all. There seems to be a delusion in many minds that if a man puts a shilling on a horse he is therefore "a sport." There is no possible connection between that kind of betting and sport. If the House will allow me to introduce a personal word, perhaps with a shade of egotism, may I say that during 44 years of my life I have been running never less than three cricket teams and three football teams, and I have had thousands of young fellows playing games every week. Therefore, I think I can lay some claim to being considered a sportsman. But these gentlemen who have put a little money into dog racing and call themselves sportsmen are rather inclined to sneer at people like myself who attempt to carry our principles into practice. After the speech of the Under-Secretary I hope the House will pass this Bill and that those who have opposed it will, at least, see that whether they agree with the Bill or not, no reasonable person can deny to local authorities some power of control over these organisations.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. DENVILLE
I think I might throw a little oil on the troubled waters at this stage of the proceedings. During the whole course of this Debate nothing has been said as to the attitude of the various in 1189 terests towards this Bill, and the House might like to know that, from information which I have received from various managers of greyhound racing tracks, they are all desirous of some form of control over their tracks. In fact, they are in favour of tracks that are already licensed being licensed by a reputable body, but what causes most consternation in the camp is that they are afraid that, if local option is given and local bodies have the power to license greyhound racing tracks throughout the country, the same evil conditions will ensue as those from which we suffer in the entertainment world. It is common knowledge that throughout the countryside theatres and music halls are licensed by local authorities.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
Will the hon. Member bear in mind the very important difference that in a city like Manchester there could hardly be at any time more than about half-a-dozen dog racing tracks, whereas the number of places of amusement cannot be far short of 100? That makes all the difference.
§ Mr. DENVILLE
That is another point. When local bodies are given power to impose conditions, they make those conditions so irksome and so unbearable that theatres and places of entertainment in many of our large cities and towns find it almost impossible to carry on, and I suggest that, if the licensing of greyhound racing tracks is placed in the hands of local councils, the same onerous conditions will be imposed upon them. It might be quite possible that some local authorities, if they had this power, would give a licence to a track that is unlicensed by the National Greyhound Racing Club and refuse a licence to or close down a track that has already been licensed by a governing body. They are strongly in favour of some government of greyhound racing tracks, and their proposition is that the local councils should have the right to say whether or not a site is suitable, and that a body something on the lines of the Jockey Club should be set up with, say, two members of the National Greyhound Racing Society or Club, two members of the general public, and an independent chairman, and that they should have the granting of licences to reputable firms for the purpose of greyhound racing stadiums.
They admit, and I think everyone in this House will admit, that it is unreason 1190 able to allow such things to happen as we have had happening in Brixton, and to say that people can take a field by the side of your house and run greyhounds there. It is unreasonable to say that strangers can come into your city and make themselves an absolute nuisance without your having any power to stop them. But it is perfectly reasonable, when a reputable society say, "We want to be governed, but on similar lines to other racing societies. We do riot want any favouritism, but we want only what others are entitled to." It may seem strange that I should get up and speak on behalf of greyhound racing societies at all, because they are my natural enemies, and, if there was a Bill in this House to close them all down, I should vote for it with pleasure, but there is a sense of justice implied in this matter. I know the terrible conditions under which we in the entertainment world have suffered through local interference, and if I had the time I could inform the House—I expect it can be done in Committee—of the ridiculous conditions that are put upon them.
Further, if we give power to the local councils, it opens up at once another loophole for bribery and corruption. There is no question about that, and we do not want any more bribery and corruption, nor do I think the councils want any more. They do not want to be bothered with it, and why should candidates have to put forward in their election addresses whether or not they favour a dog racing track in their locality? Greyhound racing tracks should be governed in the same way as are race courses, by a properly constituted governing body, and the sites of the tracks should be approved by the local councils or the county councils as suitable for such a purpose. Another point on which the greyhound racing people might meet with the approval of this House is that they are anxious that there should be control of these things, because at the moment a lot of unlicensed tracks are running no fewer than three times on Sunday. Crowds of people go there on Sunday, and I feel that the first thing that would be done, if a governing body or the local councils had the power, would be to stop all Sunday greyhound racing. I think there will be common agreement that that ought to be done.
1191 A large number of these ungoverned, unlicensed tracks are giving free admission, and that is a matter of vital interest to me, as I daresay it will be to the Treasury. Thousands come to these tracks without paying any admission fee, but when they enter they are required to buy a catalogue, not a programme, for which they have to pay 6d., 1s., or whatever the promoters like to charge, only there is no Entertainments Duty paid in these cases, whereas if the people go to a place of entertainment to which they are admitted free by programme, they have to pay Entertainments Duty on that programme. Thousands upon thousands of pounds are being lost to the State in this way, and I can assure this House that I am fully in accord with those hon. Members who urge that this Bill should go to a Committee, which should have the opportunity of receiving the best evidence possible from those who have conducted their tracks in a fairly straight and honourable manner. Their suggestions could then be put against other suggestions, and the Committee might arrive at a good result.
A controlling body of the sort that I have mentioned would be able to put down a lot of these unlicensed tote clubs. This matter could be brought into this Bill by giving power to the local councils or to a governing body by which these tote clubs could be suppressed or licensed according to the needs of the district. I have heard from one of the leaders of the National Greyhound Racing Club only this morning that they are so much in favour of licences being granted, of all greyhound tracks and totalisators being licensed, that they themselves, knowing the condition in which the Totalisator Control Board is, are willing to give 21½ per cent. of their totalisator proceeds for the Totalisator Board. Men who are approaching this Bill in the manner in which the governing board of greyhound racing are meeting it should meet with the approval of the House. They are asking to be licensed, and I hope that the Bill will go to the Committee stage so that justice can be dealt out to all.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mrs. RUNGE
I did not mean to take part in this Debate, but, as a Member who took a great interest in greyhound racing from its beginning, I think that I 1192 ought to make a few remarks. I have attended greyhound meetings, and I have betted at them very moderately. I have won at greyhound meetings with my own dogs, and one of the most thrilling moments of my life was when my dog made the first dead heat that ever occurred at the White City. I gave up greyhound racing because I thoroughly disapproved of it after having tasted its excitements. I support this Bill because I think that it is essential to do everything to make greyhound racing as clean and honest and as straight as possible. The chief dangers to the sport are the unlicensed tracks, and I should like to ask the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading if the power that will be given to the local authorities to license tracks will also include the power to license them only for registered dogs. If that is not done, the principal menace to make greyhound racing a clean sport will still remain.
§ Sir W. SMILES
I am willing to meet the Hon. Lady in Committee and discuss that point. I am not as versed about the ownership of dogs as she is, but from the remarks she has made I think that, unless I hear a better one, I will agree to her suggestion.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. McENTEE
The area in which I live has been affected very considerably by the coming of dog racing track companies and the institution, of tracks. We have had a pretty bad experience, particularly in regard to Sunday dog racing. The track was put down in a very thickly populated place, and it became a nuisance to everybody round about. In spite of protests that came from practically everyone within a quarter of a mile radius of the track, the local authority found that they had no power to influence it either by licensing it or by preventing it. Although I am in favour of the Bill, I think that dog racing is in itself essentially immoral. I do not think there is anything immoral in a live dog running after a dead tin hare, or that there would be anything immoral even if the dogs themselves were tin as well as the hare; but there is undoubtedly an evil influence attached to dog racing tracks in some areas, and there does not seem to be any power to control the sport, as it is called, either in regard to the conduct of the 1193 course or in regard to the type of people who run them or the type of dogs that run.
I have never been to a dog racing track in my life, but I read the sporting papers, not for the purpose of getting winners, but for the purpose of getting information with regard to dog racing. One sees from time to time accounts of the faking of dogs. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mrs. Runge) probably had that in mind in some of the remarks that she made. It is undoubtedly necessary in the interests of decency, both in regard to the sport itself and in regard to the people living in the areas in which tracks are operating, that some form, of control should be exercised. I know of no better method of exercising that control than that of giving to the local authorities the power to license and the power to withdraw the licence if the conduct of the course is not as desirable as it ought to be. The hon. Member who seconded the rejection of the Bill referred to the penalty clause and said that a £5 penalty is not and could not be a deterrent. His opinion apparently—and it is mine—is that if the penalty is to be only £5, the effect will be in no sense a deterrent, and they will carry on with impunity and make great profits.
§ Mr. McENTEE
I see no objection when the Bill goes to Committee to making the penalty £500. That would be a deterrent. I am pleased that the Bill has been introduced. It is very necessary, although I think that there ought to be some restriction on the local authorities as well as on the owners of race tracks. The local authority may consist of people who are called cranks—I do not know what a crank is and I have often been called one myself and it may be a body of people without any consideration for the interests of the people who have invested their money in race tracks or of the people who desire to use the tracks. It cannot be said in every instance that a dog racing track must be evil. I think that tracks can be run under good con 1194 ditions and can be enjoyed by large numbers of people, and that the people frequenting dog racing tracks are just as good and decent as those frequenting any other kind of sport. I have no interest in the matter and no desire to stop it as long as it is decent, but, if it exceeds the bounds of decency, there ought to be some body in the area—the local authority is the best body—to license it, and if necessary to withdraw the licence. I heartily support the Bill, not because I think that it is a good Bill as it is, but because it can be easily amended and made into a good Bill.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. DORAN
In lending my name to this Amendment, it was not my intention to speak on the matter at all, but I wish to take this opportunity of identifying myself with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Denville). I do not wish to offer any observations on the commercial side of this matter; I am in no way identified with commercial interests in dog racing; but I do think that when we established this principle of local option by the passing of the Sunday Performances Bill we were asking for a great deal of trouble and knew we would get it, and it is beginning now. I would refer to my experiences in Croydon with reference to the Sunday opening of cinemas. There we saw, without any limitation, a narrowminded Chadband interference with public liberty, a shrieking round the parish pump, a threatening of every little councillor with extermination if he dared to vote in support of what is called the desecration of the Sabbath. I am just as Godfearing as any person in this House, and I revere my Sabbath, but I do believe that sport is one of the essential factors of the British race which has made for backbone and not for wishbone; and rightly controlled, in a really businesslike way, by men of broad minds and common sense, I see no reason why the people should not have the sports and the enjoyments they wish to have.
I deplore that a National Government like this should encourage all the vicious outpourings of these self-constituted Sabbatarians who shriek round the village pump and say "You shall not do it on a Sunday," though they do not mind if it is done on the other six days 1195 of the week. I have lent my name to the Amendment in the very sincere hope that it will be carried, and that six months will elapse before this question comes up again, so that Members who are opposing us to-day may have an opportunity to clarify their minds and realise that the people's liberty is the thing to be thought of. It we allow every local council to be threatened by a small body of narrow-minded fanatics all I can say is that the day of Britain's greatness has gone. I sincerely hope that if this sport is to be encouraged the National Government will see that it is encouraged properly and put on decent lines; but I do not wish to see the day dawn when everything shall be taken down to the parish pump for discussion, and we shall be told that the voice of some narrow-minded member of some little tin-pot tabernacle is the voice of the people.
§ 1.29 p.m.
§ Mr. SUMMERSBY
With all respect to the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. Doran), I feel bound to protest against the tone of his remarks. I have tremendous respect for anyone who has strong opinions, and I think his reference to members of tin-pot tabernacles, though I cannot claim to be one myself, was one to which objection should be taken by the House. Those things mean a lot to very many people. As an ex-mayor and present deputy-mayor of a local authority I would like to thank very much indeed the hon. Members who have been so careful to endeavour to spare local authorities all the trouble they can, spare them having temptations put in their way. On behalf of the Members of local authorities I thank them very much. I would like to have seen a little more consideration shown for the half-starved women and children who are walking about in so many districts as a result of this curse of dog racing. I know that on this Bill we are not at liberty to discuss the rights or otherwise of betting, and are merely asked to say whether local authorities should have a particular power or not. In a district near where I live—Finchley—the local authority, under the Town Planning Act, were able to save a whole residential district from being absolutely ruined, and I know enough of the work 1196 of town councils and of the type of men who serve on them to know that the public will get a fair deal from them. For the life of me I cannot see why a district where rich or poor, great or small may be living should be ruined just for the particular sport of one class of people.
The speeches made by hon. Members in defence of dog racing have been so wonderfully good that I can only imagine what sort of speeches they would have made if they had had religion, piety, truth and justice, and, above all, a. real desire to serve the people of this country. I do not want to go into other matters, but the abominable cancer of the cry for economy which has swept through the country and has caused the dismissal by local authorities of approximately 100,000 persons has put many people in such poverty that their lives are not worth living. To say that there is no starvation is not true. These people see their children badly clothed and badly nourished, they hear of one or two isolated cases in which their friends have made a considerable sum of money by going dog racing, and they risk the very barest amount of money they have and lose it.
In a speech which I have just abandoned I had put instance after instance of this which would have touched the heart of any Member, no matter how broadminded he might be, and that in any way without talking sob-stuff. This idea of getting something for nothing, of getting rich quick, is one of the greatest troubles at the present time. We see it in the biggest industrialists and in the poorest men. The industrialist will not invest his money in any concern unless he can see a return of 20 or 30 per cent. The days have gone by when men went into industry for the sake of industry itself and were satisfied with a moderate return. It is the idea that we can get rich or attain anything without work which is undermining the spirit which put this nation into the proud position which it still occupies. I have always respectfully admired the Lady Members of this House, and I admire the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mrs. Runge) still more for having carried out her principles at the expense, perhaps, of her pocket. I have very much pleasure in supporting this Bill.
§ 1.34 p.m.
§ Mr. GRIMSTON
I am sorry that at this moment the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane), who seconded the Bill, is not present. I think it is only fair to make same reply to his remarks about the Greyhound Racing Association. He read out certain extracts from the conditions which they lay down in the granting of licences, and said those conditions were an impertinence. There may be perfectly honest differences of opinion as to whether greyhound racing should or should not exist. If it is to exist, there may be but one opinion in this House, and that is that the sport should 'be conducted cleanly. That is the great object of the Greyhound Racing Association. They do all that they can to see that the sport is run cleanly. I do not wish to detain the House; all I wish to say is that the Greyhound Racing Association deserve from hon. Members approbation rather than censure.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I rise for the purpose of giving my support to the Bill that is now before the House. I am sure that after the clear speech of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, speaking as he did for the Government, that the House might very well come to decision to agree to a Second Reading of the Bill, leaving to the Committee the task of amending it where possible. I would like to remind hon. Members that there cannot be much "parish pump" or "tin tabernacle" about the local authorities who are to be trusted with the granting of licences. They are councils of county and non-county boroughs; urban districts having a population of not less than 20,000, and the county councils in other areas. The House will agree that, taking them as a whole, local authorities are pure and clean in their administration, and are quite able to give a fair decision in matters of this sort.
The Bill is a very fair one. It is democratic in its character, and it rests upon the will of the people. In some cases, local authorities have deprived an agricultural labourer of his pigsty. That being so, is it too much to ask that a local authority should have power to licence a greyhound track? Depriving the agricultural worker of his pigsty has in many cases meant depriving a man and his wife of two pigs, which they 1198 would otherwise have been able to use for the provision of clothes or food for the family. Another strong reason why the House should agree to the Second Reading is that the Bill has received the support of the County Councils Association. On the 23rd November, a Resolution was passed by that body in favour of local authorities being given power to grant licences. That would solve a. difficulty in many parts of the country, especially in the part from which I come, which is the borough of Southport.
Every Britisher is a lover of clean sport. I know that the Bill does not involve any debate or criticism as to what is true sport, or as to what is gambling. I am supporting the principle which is in the Bill. I was the possessor of a small fox terrier dog, and I thought that I would just play a game on this little dog. I stuck the skin of a hare in one corner of the garden and set the dog on to it. The dog showed his disgust and annoyance at what I had done by having nothing to do with me for a whole week. I cannot but think that greyhounds, after having been made to run after something mechanical and artificial, have a disgust for the owners that asked them to do so. I represent a division which is not opposed to sport, because in it are run the Waterloo Cup and the Grand National. I should be afraid to denounce true English sport. I am sure that there is truer English sport in running after the hare on the Waterloo Cup course than there is in dogs running after something mechanical.
Representatives of the inhabitants ought to be trusted with the power to say whether there should be a track in their midst. Town planning has been referred to. We know that in the town and Country Planning Act sufficient powers are not given to local authorities. We have had it on record that when a local authority has appealed to the Minister of Health, the original application of the promoters has been upheld and the racing track has been established. I appeal again for a Second Reading. I have not been consulted with regard to any alterations in the Bill. I am quite content that they should be left to the Committee with the object of making it a reasonable Bill, so long as we preserve the main principle contained in the Bill which is to leave it to the local authori 1199 ties to say whether they will have a greyhound racing track in their midst or not.
§ 1.42 p.m.
I would like to support the principle of the Bill, and I shall vote for it in Committee. The arguments that have been put forward by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department have convinced me definitely that the Bill, as it is now, would not meet the general situation. I do not want to lend my support to the fanatics in this House on either side but I think that a strong case has been made out for the local authority having some jurisdiction and some voice in the establishment of a dog racing track, where the district, from more points of view than one, is suitable. I wish to leave the subject of gambling apart from my argument, because if there were to be a question of the morality of the matter I should have a lot to say about forms of gambling that hon. Members undertake which is not undertaken by working-class people, and of which, in many cases, they make a good job.
It is very desirable that some authority should have the right to say whether dog racing tracks shall be established and the general conditions on which they shall be run. We have for years been working, and rightly so, in the direction of giving local authorities more power in the organisation of their districts for various social and domestic purposes. I do not think that even the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill would agree to a dog racing association coming ruthlessly into a district, disregarding sanitation, roads, transport and everything else, and putting down a track in opposition to the desire of those who are responsible for good Government and for the social amenities of the district, and in many instances deliberately against their wish.
I received a letter from the County Councils Association asking me to support the Bill, which I certainly shall. It is no good Members opposite trying to make a case out in opposition to the Bill by talking about the "tabernacles of tin-god politicians" in local government. That is not true. The biggest proportion of local authorities merit nothing like that description. They endeavour to do their level best to pro- 1200 vide for the amenities and comforts of the people whose interests they are there to safeguard. I am positive that the time has arrived when not only dog tracks, but all kinds of industrial and social amenities, should be guided in each district by the best people who can guide them, and that is the local authority who are there for that purpose.
I trust that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill, so that in Committee we may thrash out the question of what powers shall be given. I should strongly object to giving to any local authority power definitely to obstruct the wish and desire of the people for a sport of this or any other kind if they require it. The Mover of the rejection of the Bill said that the desire of the people for this sport was proved by the patronage it received from the public. I agree that that is so, but I do think that this House should give power to some authority to see that these tracks are in suitable positions and are run cleanly. I have seen dog racing tracks in very congested districts, and it has appeared to me that they have been established in the wrong position; there were far better sites on which they could have been established. Therefore, I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill, in order that these matters may be thrashed out in Committee.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I was one of those who opposed this identical Bill in 1928, and my change of policy is entirely due to the extraordinary difference that I find in the attitude of the House of Commons towards this particular sport. We were threatened, in the last Debate, with a tremendous degeneracy of our people due to the introduction of more gambling on dog racing, but that really has not occurred. The promoters of greyhound racing tracks have cleansed the sport and made it very popular, and as good a sport as horse racing. We have to remember that people cannot always go to horse races in the afternoon, but can go to see this sport in the evening; And that it is now liked by the public is, I think, brought out by the fact that over 20,000,000 people visit dog races in the course of the year. The usual 1201 accusation has been made that it is really a sort of gambling entertainment and nothing else—that it is, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) once described it, simply animated roulette. I do not think that that is the case at all. Dogs like "Mick the Miller" and "Future Cutlet" are just as much popular heroes as any racehorse. People take as keen an interest in form and are just as keen on these dog races as are patrons of horse racing in their sport.
May I call attention to one weakness in our procedure? It is with regard to private Members' Bills. At the beginning of the Session, everything is rushed. We have to ballot for leave to introduce Bills, and, within practically 24 hours, we have to produce to you, Sir, a Bill. If we had had a little more time, I believe that this Measure would have been much better drawn up than it is to-day. My hon. Friend who introduced it has introduced exactly the same Measure which was turned down in 1928, and I am certain that, if he had only had another day or two, he could, by the time the Bill came up for Second Reading, have added, with general agreement, Clauses which would have made the passage of the Bill easier than it is to-day. I do not blame him; it is due to the procedure of the House; it is impossible to ask private Members to put into a Bill in two days all that considered judgment which they would like to embody in a Measure of this kind.
I have been interested in greyhound racing from the start, and I was rather inclined to be against the Bill, but, as has been indicated by the Under-Secretary for the Home Office, the whole atmosphere has changed. There is no doubt that, when he said that the decision of local authorities as to whether they should license greyhound racing tracks or not should be made on physical and not on moral grounds, the Bill was as good as given a Second Reading, for no one can object to that. I feel confident that, when the Bill goes to a Committee, as no doubt it will, we shall have there the Under-Secretary for the Home Department, who will take a, perfectly practical outlook on this matter; and, when we remember that he belongs to a family which for generations has looked after horse racing, I am certain that, when he enters into our deliberations in 1202 Committee, he will be able so to frame the Bill as to make it a useful contribution to legislation without being penal against any interests whatsoever.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. LEVY
I am sorry to intervene, because I feel that there is really no need for my making any contribution to this Debate. My only reason for rising is that at the edge of my constituency a dog racing track is in contemplation, and the local authorities there feel that at least they ought to have some authority to say whether it shall or shall not be placed in that particular position. I support everything that has been said by the Under-Secretary for the Home Office; he has said it far better than I could say it. He has only reiterated, however, what the local authorities, when approaching me on this matter, have said definitely, namely, that in approaching this subject they must give consideration to the question of the congestion of traffic, to the task of the police, and to the amenities of a residential neighbourhood. Since the only question that is now raised is whether the local authority shall have a right to this discretion, I hope that if the Bill can be amended and altered in Committee to make it a workable Measure, it will go through without a Division.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.