HC Deb 05 November 1934 vol 293 cc785-92

10.35 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 8, to leave out from "track," to "shall," in line 10, and to insert: made on any such date fixed by the licensing authority under sub-section (1) of section five of this Act as falls before the first day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-five. This Amendment and the others which I am moving to Clause 7 substitute for the proposals in the Bill the simple requirements that an applicant for a licence in respect of an existing track must (1) give notice to the licensing authority of his intention to apply for a licence; (2) claim that he is entitled to benefit by the special procedure prescribed for existing tracks; and (3) publish the notice of his intention to apply for a licence so as to enable his statements to be checked. This is the simplification which I believe will be to the advantage of tracks who make application under the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In line 12, leave out from beginning to "delivered," in line 24, and insert: (a) at least two months before the application is made the applicant— (i) has. In line 26, after "police," insert: a written notice describing the situation of the track and stating that he intends to make application on that date claiming the grant of the licence by virtue of this section, and also. In line 35, at the end, insert: (ii) has published the said notice and a copy of the said declaration in at least two newspapers circulating in the locality in which the track is situate; and. In line 40, leave out Sub-section (3), and insert: (3) Every such declaration as aforesaid delivered to the licensing authority in connection with any application for a licence shall, until the hearing of the application and, if the application is granted, so long as the licence remains in force, be kept by the licensing authority at their offices so as to be available at any time during office hours for inspection by any member of the public free of charge. In page 8, line 16, after "revoked," insert "or cancelled."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]

10.38 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 8, line 19, to leave out "five," and to insert "three."

Five seems a purely arbitrary figure. There is nothing scientific about it, as might be inferred from the fact that in Clause 8 seven years is the period decided upon. If three years is a good enough period for Income Tax purposes, it is probably quite good enough in this case.

10.39 p.m.


The Government think that five years is a reasonable length of time as a moratorium for existing tracks. They are fortified in their view in that that was the length of the period fixed by the committee which discussed dog racing in 1933 on the Bill introduced by the hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Sir W. Smiles). The committee on that occasion agreed that five was a reasonable time, and we take that view. It has to be remembered that there are no compensatory provisions. Tracks that apply under these provisions will get a clear run of five years. We do not provide any compensation for them. In view of the expense that has been entailed in the erection of tracks, five years seems a reasonable period.

10.40 p.m.


Is there not one other point to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman might have referred, namely, that, if the period is only three years, it will be an inducement to those in charge of tracks to conduct them well, while if it is five years they may try any sort of tricks to make the track pay. If this be not an institution of grave national importance, it seems to me that a period of three years is perhaps long enough. I agree that there should be power not only to revoke but to extend the period from time to time.

10.41 p.m.


I am amazed that the Mover of the Amendment has made no attempt whatever to justify a reduction of the period from five to three years. The Bill as it stands deals very arbitrarily with track owners at the present time, and one would expect that, when an Amendment of this character was moved, some justification would be offered, some argument, and some cases which might lead one to assume that there was reason to believe that a three-year period was a sufficient period in which to utilise the capital which had been expended. The hon. Gentleman, however, made no case at all, and, in view of the fact that the Bill already deals very harshly with the greyhound racing public, I hope that the Government will not entertain any idea of accepting the Amendment.

10.42 p.m.

Captain A. EVANS

The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) may not consider that this is an interest of national importance, but there is no reason why he should attempt to apply to it the Socialist principle of confiscation, which is what it amounts to. The Under-Secretary has pointed out that five years was considered to be a reasonable period. Why was it considered to be reasonable? Because it was held that in five years the track-owner would be able to make what arrangements were feasible for liquidating his capital in the best way. I am surprised to find a Member of the Liberal party allying himself with the principle of confiscation. I doubt very much whether he would like to see his own business assessed on a three-years' life and then confiscated.


I must reply to that statement. If I were offered three years' goodwill for my professional business, I would lock the door and shake the man's hand off.

Captain EVANS

That may apply to my hon. Friend's business, but he has forgotten to take into consideration the fact that in this case, at the end of three years, there would be no goodwill to dispose of, because the track would be closed.


Does the hon. and gallant Member anticipate that these tracks would be closed if they were conducted under reasonable conditions and meeting the requirements of the public?

Captain EVANS

I do not anticipate that they will be closed; I only hope that they will not be closed; but, if they are closed, I think the only fair basis is to allow five years in which to wind up their affairs and do what is possible on a percentage of working expenses—which, after all, does not allow for any profit—to liquidate their original capital. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not be persuaded to accept the Amendment.

10.45 p.m.


I am very much surprised to hear the question of compensation mentioned at all. From the point of view of equity, I suppose a Bill of this description is unprecedented. It has been stated that on the question of revocation there is no appeal. Is it to be said that, where people have carried on a legitimate business and gone to a great outlay, they are to have no further interest and no rights? Will anyone with a spirit of fair play say that, when perhaps £30,000 or £50,000 has been laid out and a sport or recreation provided and it has been carried on in a right and proper way, as I believe it has been, renewal of the licence may be refused and the question of a period of time is not to be taken into consideration? I do not give any bouquet to the National Government, but I think they are wise in rejecting the question of three years. If a track is not well conducted, action may be taken without waiting for a fresh application. It may be that from the point of view of the amenities of a district or from a public health point of view, or a surveyor's point of view, it is unnecessary that a track should exist, and revocation of the licence would automatically take place. I am not holding any brief for them, but I am interested in three different companies in Liverpool because they are giving some form of recreation, and I want to see a fair and square deal as far as possible. Some Members may be puritanical in their outlook, but there ought to be a spirit of equity. I do not know why there should be a vindictive spirit. I can see a thousand and one abuses to which I should like to put an end, but in this I can only see an innocent form of sport, and you want to be vindictive in the matter of three years. I am in total disagreement. I want to see the fair and honourable thing done.

10.50 p.m.


The proposal as I understand it is that, if a track is considered by a licensing authority to be redundant and superfluous, it must retain its licence for five years providing it is an existing track. If it is required for the public amusement and would in any event get a licence, it should make no difference whether the period is five years or three years. It is simply a question of how long you are going to tolerate a track which has been licensed but which the local authority think detrimental to the interests of the neighbourhood and which aught to be closed down. Looking at it from that point of view and remembering that, under another condition, licences have to be revoked if tracks are not properly conducted there is really very little difference between the five years and the three. The real issue is: When are you going to begin granting licences only where they are required under the new conditions set up by this Bill? Looked at from that point of view it is a question of the public interest and it occurs to me that three years is really an ample period.

This is one of the things in the Bill as originally drafted and as it now stands which I have never been able to understand. When the Under-Secretary spoke just now it appeared that like so many other things settled in another place regarding this Bill, as for instance the percentage business, this matter seems to have been settled in the most casual manner in the world. All the Under-Secretary could tell us was that it seemed that on the whole five years was a reasonable period. The figure five may have a special significance; at any rate, there seems to be a general antipathy to any number of an equal denomination, two, four or six, They jump from three to five and from five to seven, and all the satisfaction we can obtain is that on the whole the Government thought that five would be a reasonable number. Looking at it from the point of view that you are going to set up a new licensing authority and a new system altogether, that you are trying to regulate this industry—I hesitate to call it sport—in the interest of the public, I really think that the Committee are justified in asking that we should have a little better, reason than that somehow five years seemed a reasonable figure to put in. Why not four, or six, or the number which the hon. Member suggests? He may not have given any valid reasons for making it three years, but the reason obviously underlying it is that three is less than five and that if you are going to set up a new system, the sooner you get it working the better. If you are going to have a licensing Act administered in the public interest, the sooner you get to that position the better. Therefore, if there is to be a Division, I shall feel tempted to support the hon. Member, though I am certainly not in favour of confiscation or anything of that kind. And there really is no question of confiscation at all. If a track is required in the interests of the amusement of the people of the neighbourhood and is properly conducted I can see no reason whatever why it should not continue in existence for 50 years. But it ought not to continue in existence for a, single day if it is thought to be not in the interests of the public.

10.54 p.m.


If this goes to a Division, I shall vote for the Amendment and shall consider that I am doing no injustice to any person concerned. As has been pointed out by the hon. Baronet, this proposal would only give to a local authority the power to get rid of what they consider to be an undesirable dog track. If there be an undesirable dog track why should it be imposed on the locality for five years? That is the question the hon. Member has failed to answer. Assuming you have a reasonable dog track and a reasonable local authority, that authority is not likely to impose hardship upon people in its neighbourhood who have established the track. But if there is a track that is a nuisance in the neighbourhood, why should the local authority be held up from taking action? We are told about injustice and lack of compensation. I would ask the Committee to consider the fact that in the last 12 months or two, three, four or probably six years, no one has invested a penny in a new dog tracks—I think that the hon. Baronet will agree with me—without knowing that this was to be a likely subject of legislation. Certainly, no one has put any substantial sum in such a track. It has been known for a long time that this matter has not been dealt with by earlier Parliaments because of congestion of business. Further, every one is well aware that when dog tracks were springing up like mushrooms there was a very determined appeal on the part of the local authorities that some power should be given to them for controlling these things which were springing up in their midst. Therefore, every investment made in the last six years has been made in the light of these facts, and I shall vote for the Amendment because I think that three years is a long enough time for restriction to be placed on the local authority before they can recover the power which should have been given to them by legislation some years ago.

10.57 p.m.

Captain A. EVANS

I think there is no difference of opinion that the purpose of specifying five years in the Bill is to meet the claim of compensation. I would like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) to consider for a moment the following situation. Assume that a track is properly conducted, well patronised and well run in a selected area, that a vast amount of capital is invested in the enterprise, and that subsequent to the track being established, a planning scheme is approved by the Minister for Health and the area subsequently becomes an area within a planning scheme. Surely the hon. Gentleman will not suggest that they should be penalised because a local authority or the Minister of Health has decided that that shall be a planning area within the meaning of the Act, and because of that their capital outlay should necessarily be confiscated?


Perhaps the hon. Member will admit that should the existing tracks be within a planning area, it makes no difference to the fact whether the years in the Bill are five, four, three, two or one. Therefore the question of compensation does not arise.


I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, and to say that I shall play the game again tomorrow in regard to a subsequent Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 8, line 20, leave out "first day of January," and insert instead thereof "beginning of July."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]

Ordered, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave sit again."—[Captain, Margesson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.