HC Deb 28 April 1933 vol 277 cc463-79

(1) This Act shall not come into force in any local area unless and until a resolution extending this Act to such area has been passed by the local authority in manner provided by this section and a certificate to that effect has been issued by the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the application of the local authority.

(2) Before passing a resolution for the purposes of this section the clerk to the local authority shall cause notice of the motion for the resolution and of the meeting of the local authority at which, it is to be submitted to be published not less than ten or more than twenty-one days before such meeting in one or more newspapers published in the district of the local authority.

(3) A resolution of a local authority shall have no effect for the purposes of this section unless at least three-fourths of the whole number of the members in the local authority shall have been present at the meeting and have voted in favour of the resolution. —[Mr. Williams.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3 p.m.


I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time."

This proposed new Clause is intended to provide local option within local option. It has become all the more necessary having regard to the decision taken on the new Clause proposed by the Under-Secretary. In the earlier proceedings the Blackburn Rovers, as I may call them, had a very good gate. They had a good gate in the last contest, and so we are further considering this Measure. It has been the practice in this country in respect of a great deal of municipal legislation to provide for the principle of adoption, that is to say, when a Bill receives the Royal Assent and becomes an Act of Parliament, it does not come into operation in any area until it has been formally adopted by the local council. I am certain that if we had present one of the representatives of the Ministry of Health he would be able to tell us of the number of Acts of Parliament of the adoptive character which are only in operation in particular areas.

What are the grounds for this new Clause? My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) and myself are at one in that we do not like local option, and the more we can limit it the better pleased we shall be. The Bill imposes local option, arid if the right hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) had his way, he would extend it to a great many smaller authorities. It will have the effect of bringing into local elections acute controversy in many cases as to whether or not they should take any particular line with regard to the licensing or otherwise of dog racing tracks.

I would remind hon. Members of the strong arguments that were used in this House when we were discussing another Measure dealing with cinemas. I do not think that there is the slightest doubt that the original Measure, which received a Second Reading with some difficulty and was, in fact, destroyed in Committee upstairs, owed its destruction to the strong opposition to local option which was shown not merely by the rank and file of the Liberals, but by many Members of the Cabinet. They objected to the fundamental principle. The House has decided that this Bill, which contains local option, should have a Second Reading, the Committee upstairs has passed it, and we are now considering a local option Bill. Therefore, those of us who dislike it have only the remedy to limit its scope as far as possible. Accordingly, if the proposed Clause is passed, the Act will not operate in any local government area to which it applies until the Home Secretary has issued the necessary certificate; and he shall not and will not issue such a certificate until a resolution has been passed by the local authority, of which due notice has been given; and, in addition, such resolution shall not be operative unless at least three-quarters of the whole number of the members of the local authority have been present at the meeting and have voted in favour of the resolution.

This adoptive Clause is not a new or novel Clause, but a Clause of the kind that can be found spread over a great body of the municipal legislation of this country. Most Governments from time to time have been responsible for the passage of municipal legislation of this character, and as a result those areas that desire to make use of certain kinds of legislation are free to do so, and those who wish to avoid introducing into their local politics elements of controversy that are absent can do so by omitting to adopt the Act. Whatever merits this Clause may have had when it was originally put down, its merits are much greater to-day as a result of the decision, which the House took by a large majority that the Bill has to come into operation on the day in which it receives the Royal Assent. In the course of the discussion whether we should adjourn consideration of the Bill, I tried to explain that point. I do not want to abuse my position by re-explaining it at any length, but I would point out that if this Bill is passed in its present form, at the moment it receives the Royal Assent, greyhound racing will be illegal throughout the United Kingdom, with the exception of Northern Ireland. It will only become re-legalised when the local authority has granted a licence, and as 21 days notice has to be given, at least that period must elapse. If, on the other hand, we introduce into the Bill the adoptive principle, we shall interpose that necessary period which will restore that aspect of the new Clause moved by the right hon. Gentleman that most of us would have desired to preserve, because our objection was not primarily to the date, but to the alteration of the Title.

I hope that the promoter will realise how vitally necessary this new Clause is. He is in favour of the Bill. I on balance do not like it very much, but if he wants it to come into operation, he must seek the passage into law of a Bill that can be made to work. It cannot work in the form in which it will leave the House unless it is altered. It cannot be altered in a way that the Home Secretary had in mind because the House has decided otherwise. The only device for overcoming the difficulty in which we are involved is the device of this new Clause. It was not put down for that purpose, but the hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles) is now in the position that if be succeeds in persuading the House to carry the Bill through the rest of the proceedings to-day, it will leave the House in a totally unworkable form. Therefore, if he is wise, he will seize the rope of salvation which I am flinging to him, which will enable him at least to arrive dry in the craft which he is trying to pilot into another place.

3.5 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

I take it that on this new Clause we shall not be allowed to explain in detail why we oppose the principles of this Bill, but however bad the Bill may be, and however much it may cut across the principles which many of us hold who are opposed to the licensing of dog tracks, I feel that the proposed new Clause will make this bad Bill just a little bit better. I think it is only right that a local authority should be given the opportunity of saying whether it will adopt this Bill. It will merely mean that we shall have the same state of affairs as exists in the case of Sunday cinematograph entertainments. The Bill will not become operative until the Home Secretary has issued a certificate, in accordance with the provisions of the Bill, certifying that the local authority have elected to adopt the Measure. Hon. Members who have had experience in local affairs will know that this principle of giving local authorities the choice of adopting Measures has been in force for a good many years in relation to many matters of local Government. In the position in which we now are there is a, greater need than ever for leaving this option to the local authorities. The proposal for recommittal has been rejected, the proposal to adjourn has been rejected, and without such a Clause as is now proposed the hon. Member who is responsible for the Bill will find himself with a Measure which has become thoroughly unworkable. At least the new Clause will make a bad Bill a little better.

If there are any hon. Members who do not like this adoption principle, who think local authorities ought not to have the right to say whether they will adopt a Bill or not, I would ask them to read the first paragraph of the new Clause. I feel that will remove any apprehensions they may have, because all it provides is that the Measure shall not come into force in any local area unless and until a resolution extending it to that area has been passed by the local authority. Many hon. Members object to the court of quarter sessions or any other outside authority having the right to confirm or reject some determination on the part of the local authority. They contend that the local authority is responsible for the lives of the community, and that it alone should have the right to say whether a certain licence should or should not be granted. I think that the more authority that is given to a local body the more are the anomalies and the difficulties that may be created. We know of anomalies which exist now arising from the action of other licensing authorities. Many of us would like to see that the decisions of every authority exercising discretion were liable to consideration by a further court of appeal.

Many hon. Members have said that the licensing authority must be the local authority because the local authority alone is sufficiently well fitted and well attuned to the needs of the neighbourhood to give a definite and conclusive decision, when any such matters come before them. I ask those hon. Members who take that view,' how they can possibly oppose the suggestion that we now make that the local authorities should not only be the judges in their own area but that they should be the sole determining authority as to whether this Bill should be adopted? The Mover of the new Clause said that no new principle is being suggested. The principle has worked very well in many matters that have to come before local authorities and that occupy an important place in the work that local authorities have to perform in regard to public health, and the like. I hope that the House will adopt this principle, in order to make this complex a Bill a little better, by supporting the new Clause which has been moved and which I am glad to be able to support.

3.12 p.m.


I was not at all surprised to hear the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) move the Amendment, but I was literally amazed to hear the hon. Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) supporting it. Let us see what the Clause does. The local authority must first of all apply to the Home Secretary to be allowed to adopt this Act—if the Bill becomes law. In order to pass a resolution to that effect, 75 per cent. of the members of the authority must be present, and the 75 per cent. must all vote in the same way. The hon. Gentleman said, quite rightly, that some of us have had more experience of local authority work than he has had. I have an idea that he has had none—if he does not mind my saying so. How is it to be expected that 75 per cent. of the members of a local authority must attend any meeting at any time? I would like to know how many times in this Assembly 75 per cent. of hon. Members are present, even on Budget day?

That is the first point. Having decided, by 75 per cent. of the membership being present and voting all in the same way, then, the local authority will appeal to the Home Secretary to issue an Order showing that they have power to adopt the Act. Let us see what happens then. The first argument that I level against the hon. Gentleman, especially as he is in the legal profession, is that he ought to know that there are thousands of local authorities in this country, big and small, and that every one of them is called upon under his clause to adopt this Measure in the first instance. He believes in economy in governmental administration; I should imagine this process would require a staff at the Home Office to see that all the applications were in order, and to make sure that 75 per cent. of the members of each local authority were present and had all voted for the adoption of the Act. I should imagine that it would cost a few thousand pounds per annum to administer this Clause.

Let me pass on to the next consideration. What would happen? One local authority might adopt the Act and another local authority next to it would not. Consequently, we might have all the dog racing tracks in Croydon and none in Leicester; or, on the other hand, it might be possible to have all the dog racing tracks in the country in Leicestershire, and none in Croydon. When the local authority has adopted the Act, and the Home Office has issued its decree that all is in order, the local authority must then give notice to the Press on an application from the owner of a dog racing track. If hon. Gentlemen want to delay the passing of this Measure, they must have better hands at the task than the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded this Clause.

3.16 p.m.


I hope that my two hon. Friends who have moved and seconded this Clause will carefully consider what it is they are proposing, for a more undemocratic proposal I have seldom listened to. I have the honour to represent one of the most salubrious and delightful constituencies in Essex, namely, West Leyton, and what my hon. Friends are proposing to do is to put into the hands of some of the rural or agricultural gentlemen—admirable and public-spirited gentlemen—who rule the affairs of Essex, the power to thrust upon us in both East and West Leyton a track that we do not want. My hon. Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) has some knowledge of local government law, and I have no doubt that he would be able to tell the House, were he desirous of so doing, that there are local authorities which are composed of one man only. I would ask how, in such an authority, composed of one person, the majority of three-fourths of the authority required by Sub-section (3) of the Clause will be arrived at? No doubt my hon. Friend, with his superior legal knowledge, will be able to explain that point. I would like my hon. Friends to understand that their proposal amounts to this, that, while we as a Tory party stand for democracy and the principle of live and let live, they desire to use a Mussolini type of liberatorship to thrust upon us what we do not want. I hope they will take second thoughts on their proposal, and will see the impossibility of its application by a parish council, a rural district council, an urban district council or any of those sections of public administration, even such a borough as the one I represent, which must, under the definition Clause, be dominated by the county council or some other borough council; and that they will accordingly withdraw the proposal.

3.19 p.m.


In listening to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden), I had some difficulty in understanding whether he was delivering a speech on the Clause which is now before the House, or whether he was delivering a speech on a later Clause. If his speech was on this Clause, 1 venture to suggest to him that closer application of the great powers which he undoubtedly possesses to the Bill as it stands and to this Clause will convince him that, whether the Clause is a good one or a bad one, it will have no such effect as he has suggested. The Clause certainly lays it down that a local authority shall not have these duties thrust upon it unless it so desires. Whether the authority is a county council, a rural district council, a parish council, or any other council, is a matter which does not arise on this Clause, but which can, and I have no doubt will, be discussed later. It will be discussed with all the wealth of oratory, all the strong feeling and all the underlying fierceness that that matter generally engenders. But it is absolutely wrong to suggest that anything in this Clause would enable a racing track to be forced on Leyton. Whether the Clause is passed or not, the authority will still be able to license or to refuse to license such a track. The only difference it will make is that they will be able to decide whether they shall have these duties thrust upon them.

My hon. Friend says it is undemocratic. I should not mind if it was. It is all the better for that. But, as a matter of fact, I do not think it affects it one way or the other. It simply gives these great and wise people, who, we are told, should have all the powers that this House can delegate to them, who are the people who should have a say in the question of greyhound racing, the right to say whether they want those powers or not. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. That may be said of some of the speeches to-day. It may be that a great many of these authorities who will receive powers under the Bill would be a great deal happier without them. We have been told by supporters of the Bill that there is a great demand for these powers. It may be that in certain areas there is, but it is unquestionably the fact that in other areas they will be a great nuisance. I do not think there is anything unsound or inconsistent with the principles of the Bill in accepting this Clause, which intensifies local option. If you are going to have local option, have lots of it. I should like to have all the local option there is in this Bill and none anywhere else, and we should be quit of it.

Returning to the point raised by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) again we are in disagreement. I have had some experience of local authorities, and, although I have considerably less opinion of them as a rule than he has, in this case the conditions are reversed. In the local authorities on which I have served it has been the exception rather than the rule when 75 per cent. of the Members were not present.


Has the hon. Member seen a local authority 80 unanimous that, when 75 per cent. of them were present, they were all of one mind?


I was coming to that point later. The hon. Gentleman must not endeavour to curb my oratory on this important point. It is a matter that needs careful development. I am meeting his closely reasoned speech point by point. Whatever faults local councillors may have, inattention to business is not among them, and it is not at all unreasonable to suggest that 75 per cent, of them should be present. But I think there is some ground in the hon. Gentleman's second objection, that it is unreasonable to suggest that 75 per cent. of them should be all of one mind. I think such a resolution, adopting very important powers, should not be carried at a thinly attended meeting, but it is unreasonable to say that three-quarters of the Members must be in favour of it. If we can satisfy him on the other points it would be perfectly easy to move an Amendment to deal with the point that he wants, and to alter the third Sub-section of the Clause. That is not a great argument against the Clause, and, though I cannot speak for my hon. Friend who is not here at the moment, I am inclined to think that it is an Amendment which would be accepted.


The hon. Member has not indicated the nature of the Amendment.


We are not discussing an Amendment of the Clause but the Motion "That the Clause be read a Second time."


I thought that the hon. Member was going to indicate what Amendment would be accepted.


I suggest the deletion of the words at the end of the Clause: and have voted in favour of the resolution.


The hon. Member has had great experience as a local administrator, and he knows how the county council, in making by-laws, can override all the parish, rural, and district councils. If he wants to give full democratic opportunity, which I suggest he is not giving, how would he protect them?


The hon. Member is discussing an entirely different point.

Sir W. SUGDEN rose


Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to answer it. There is no hurry in this matter. There is no misunderstanding in the mind of any Member of the House about this important point. You are giving the power in the Bill to some local authority, and we have not yet come to the point where we finally decide what that authority shall be.


It gives it in the definition Clause.


We are not discussing the definition Clause. The time will come when we shall discuss the definition Clause, or perhaps I,shall be more accurate in saying that the time may come, and then I shall be happy to deal with thee, point raised by the hon. Member. The Clause lays it down that to whatever authority you give those powers, whether they are workmen or millionaires, whether parish, district, borough or county councils, they shall pass a resolution putting the Act into force. That is the only thing the Clause does. I suggest that in the event of the Clause being read a Second time an Amendment to delete the words, and have voted in favour of the resolution, would meet the point. I wish to refer to the contention that the Home Office would be snowed under with applications and correspondence if this Clause were carried. I hope very much that we are to hear the Under-Secretary on the matter, which is one of importance. If their conjecture was correct the argument would be a valid one, if not for the rejection of the Clause, for the earnest consideration of some Amendment. I suggest that the Home Office at the present time, under the able and efficient management which it now enjoys, is not so depleted and overworked that it could not deal with a very small matter of this kind. The hon. Member exaggerates the number of local authorities who would in fact adopt these powers. I think that he would find that there would be comparatively few and that a very little correspondence would be entailed upon the Home Office and very little, if any, extra expense.

I come to the real purpose of my intervention, which is to ask for a statement from the promoters of the Bill as to their position in regard to the new Clause. I am not among those who desire unduly to prolong unnecessarily an already protracted Debate, but I do not think that an important Clause of this kind ought to be decided without a statement from the promoters of the Bill as to their attitude. If they adopt a hostile attitude, I should like to know the reason for that attitude. If they adopt a favourable attitude, I do not want any further answer than the mere acceptance of the Clause, but other hon. Members might like to know the reason promoting the acceptance. I do not think that it would be treating the House fairly or properly for the promoters of the Bill not to make some statement to the House.

The Under-Secretary has pointed out that the Government 'are neither opposing nor supporting the Bill, but as they have taken a large part in the conduct of it I should like to hear some words from the Under-Secretary in reply to the objection put forward by the hon. Member for Westhoughton, and how in his view, and in the view of the draftsmen of the Home Office and the Government, the Clause would affect them. I commend the Clause to the House. I think that it is carrying to its logical conclusion the principles of the Bill, the principles of local option. If the local authorities are the right people to deal with this matter, they should decide whether they wish to deal with it or whether they do not. There can be no conceivable reason for rejecting the Clause. It is little use dealing with the argument put forward by the hon. Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden). It is perfectly simple to say that it is not the intention of Parliament to impose on local authorities duties and powers which they do not wish to have, and if the majority of the House take that view, as I think they do, I hope they will give their support to the Clause.

3.33 p.m.


I am glad that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), who moved the Amendment, has returned to his place. I do not see in his place the hon. Member who seconded the Clause. He referred to my colleague and myself as the Blackburn Rovers. I might refer to him and his colleague as the South Croydon Wanderers, but it must be remember that that is a club that is not in the First Division. My first reason for objecting to the Clause is one of time. It would take a good deal of time for the local authority to get together 75 per cent. of its members if it wished to take these powers or not. It would also take a certain amount of time to get the necessary formalities through the Home Office. It is no hardship on a local authority to have these powers conferred upon it. If there is no track and no contemplated track there is no hardship on the local authority. If there is no track and no proposed track there is no expense on the local authority. It would be unfair to some tracks in other parts of the country if there was one law for one place and another law for another. The promoters of the tracks go through the same formalities with their local authorities before they are allowed to conduct their sport. Allusion has been made to the question of responsibilities. Every Member of this House has responsibility which he cannot shirk. We must cast our votes one way or another, or take the coward's way of abstaining. I think the members of all local authorities should be equally courageous, and should be forced to face up to their responsibilities. They should decide whether their town, or district, should have a dog track in its area or not. I have no intention of excusing anyone.

3.36 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles) has, I think, in a short and pithy sentence, completely damned his own case by stating that he wholly disapproves of the principle that there should be one law for one part of the country and another law for another part. That must strike at the root of local option. If local option is to be preserved, there must be one law for one part of the country and another law for another. One council may decide that it is longing for greyhound racing and another that it is not. The principle is not whether or not we disapprove of local government. We have a different conception on the functions of local government from those which appear to be held by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and the hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn. The function of local government, in our view, is to administer the finances and look after the general amenities of an area. The duty of a local council is to see that such roads as come under its control are properly maintained; that its educational services are properly maintained, and that it carries out the hundred and one duties of real local administration. It is not the duty of local authorities to take decisions upon large moral issues.

Many of us regret very deeply that the question of the opening of cinemas on Sundays was ever referred to any form of local option. We feel that questions of that sort should be left either to this House, or some national body operating under a Statute passed by this House. If this unfortunate Bill goes through, elections of local authorities will be fought out on the question of whether or not they approve of dog racing, and not on whether they are properly administered. My friends and I claim that such local authorities as have the good sense to stand out in this matter, and confine themselves to their proper duties, should be entitled to do so. Only those who rush in where angels fear to tread should be able to decide whether or not they shall have dog racing. Remembering the type of person who does rush in where angels fear to tread, we have endeavoured to insert in this Clause a certain amount of protection even for those local authorities who rashly wish to spread their tentacles over a field which need not concern them.

Here I would disagree very strongly from my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont). I do not think that it is too much to ask that at least three-fourths of a local council should be in favour of taking so momentous a resolution as this before any effective steps can be taken to carry it out. I cannot see why it should be considered at all an unreasonable demand. In some local authorities there are sharp divisions of parties—not always the same parties as we have in this House—but the last thing that is wanted in a local authority is that a decision of this kind should be carried as a mere party issue by the use of party whips in the local council. Many of us on this side of the House disapprove of party whips in local government, but it is an unfortunate fact which we have to accept, and unless this protective provision is put in, it is quite possible that because it is made a purely party issue, a bare majority might carry a resolution to apply for powers to regulate dog racing without the majority of the council being in favour of such resolution, and the claim that at least three-fourths of the council should be in favour of that resolution, I submit, is not unreasonable. Further, I suggest that three-fourths is not so large a number to ask to be present if they really want to do something. Even in this House, which is occasionally very sparsely attended, we can sometimes muster a quorum of three-fourths of our Members.


You only want 40.


I admit that, but I say that we occasionally have more, and when an issue of real importance is to be debated, I think that 75 per cent. of a council or even of this House should be present to take part in the Debate.

3.43 p.m.


I feel in two minds about this Clause, but if the hon. Gentleman who proposed it can give me satisfactory assurances with regard to one or two points, I will support him. But, generally speaking, I agree with the thesis that if there is to he evolution, let us evolve. If it is a good thing that local authorities should decide, let them also decide whether they want to decide, which is, I understand, all that this Clause does. If, as the promoters of the Bill say, there is a very great demand on the part of local authorities to be given these powers, there will be no difficulty. They will go through the Statutory movements laid down in this proposed Clause to acquire those powers, and all will be in order. If, on the other hand, as we think, the great majority of people object to having the possibility of questions like this brought into local elections and local politics, they will take the earliest opportunity of saying that they do not want to be the authority to exercise the powers at all. The hon. Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden) made some quite unintelligible observations when he said it was most undemocratic, because, if the Clause were passed, it might leave it in the power of one man to decide whether there was to be a track or not. In case anyone else seems to be so foolish, I would refer him to the Bill as it has come from the Committee. In it there is a definition of a local authority as the County Council for London and for other parts of England, Scotland and Wales a county or county borough. None of these authorities consists of only one man. I cannot understand at all to what the hon. Member was referring.

I ask for assurances on two points. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) said that three-quarters was too much to expect in a vote in favour of a resolution, and that he was prepared to see that altered, though the last speaker was not. I think that three-quarters of the membership voting on any resolution is much too high a proportion. The second point about which the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. II. Williams) will perhaps say something is, what is the object of saying that the clerk should give notice of discussion of the proposed resolution to be published in the Press, and so on? I am not sufficiently expert to know whether that is merely common form or whether it is something new introduced into this Bill for the first time.


It is new.


I should think it is new because it is so stupid. Everything so far connected with this Bill has been so stupid that this is in accordance with what has preceded. What is the point of publishing a notice in a paper about a race track discussion which is to come up before a council the members of which presumably have already had notice?


This is not a proposal with regard to a race track. It is a proposal as to whether a certain Act shall be adopted in a local area, and it is customary to advertise the fact that a new Act is to be put into operation.


No, you are wrong.


It has nothing to do with the race track then. If the council is to adopt a resolution that it will put an Act in operation that is only the same thing at one remove. I do not see the point of giving this form of publicity to the resolution. Even more stupid is the first Sub-section of this new Clause, which says that the Act shall not come into force until a, resolution has been passed and until a certificate to that effect has been issued by the Secretary of State on the application of the local authority. That may be common form again, but I do not see why the Home Secretary should be asked by the council to send them a little certificate to say what they;have done. Perhaps the hon. Member for South Croydon will also answer that question. Is it to be just a certificate to say that the council have been good and have followed the advice of the department in charge of the Act? What is the point? I cannot see any at all. Although I am quite prepared to agree to the principle of the new Clause, that the local authority should decide whether or not to adopt the Act, yet I do want to see the machinery of the Clause altered to the extent of removing the need for a certificate, and reducing the number who have to be present at a local authority meeting to vote in favour of the resolution.

Sir W. SMILES rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."


I think the House is prepared to come to a decision.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."