HC Deb 02 July 1941 vol 372 cc1454-64

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." — [Major Dugdale.]

Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)

I am raising a matter to which I directed attention the other day, not in any sort of antagonism towards my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who occupies a position of great responsibility and has to balance one opinion as against another. I have a shrewd suspicion, for what it may be worth, that if he were left to his own mental devices, he would range himself on my side. Nor do I raise this question animated by a kill-joy spirit. I fully recognise the importance of sport, which is a characteristic feature of British national life, and I must confess that on occasions I have myself participated in sporting events.

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed', without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." — [Major Dugdale.]

Mr. Shinwell

I have participated in sporting events of various kinds. Indeed, in order to indicate that I am not obsessed by any puritanical spirit, I confess that there have been occasions, not within recent years, when I have ventured an odd shilling on a horse, I assure the House without any measure of success. Nor do I subscribe to the idea which has been canvassed in some quarters that all recreation and all holidays should be abandoned. Even in war-time, in the stress and trial of critical events, there must be accommodation for recreation, sport and holiday making. That is not the issue that I raise in this Debate. But when sporting spectacles on a large scale dip extensively into our resources, that is quite a different thing.

This matter has been raised on several occasions, in the form of Questions, sometimes in perfunctory Debate, through the Press, and elsewhere. Recently there was a sporting spectacle at Newmarket, the venue of the Derby, when it was alleged by certain newspapers that nearly 100,000 people were present. I understand that that allegation was unfounded. It was said that no more than 60,000 attended, and my right hon. Friend in reply to a Question said that not half that number were present. But even if 30,000 people were gathered at Newmarket, it certainly meant an unreasonable use of our resources. It involved the use of buses, trains, private cars and food and drink on an abnormal scale, for on these occasions much more food and drink are consumed than normally, and I understand that it involved the presence of the police, who were specially engaged; and, moreover, I understand—this may be taken note of by the Secretary for Petroleum—that there were present a large number of petrol spotters, whatever that may mean.

My hon. Friend said the other day that we could not expect to eliminate a large industry, even in the present situation. I recognise that the presence of bloodstock and the training of blood-stock gives employment to trainers, jockeys and others associated with horse-racing, and that that is important. But recently we had an announcement regarding the concentration of industry, and in the course of concentrating industry we eliminated a number of businesses and a large number of traders, and did it without paying any compensation. If we are to eliminate traders in legitimate businesses, depriving them of their livelihood without compensation, why make a song and dance about the elimination of this industry, however important it may be?

I have no desire to eliminate this industry. If the breeding of blood-stock ought to be continued on a large, bona fide scale for post-war purposes, then I see no reason why the Government should not compensate the persons concerned and maintain the blood-stock. I would much rather see the Government indulge in expenditure of that sort than see the present waste of our resources—petrol, transport and the like. It may be asked, If you propose to abandon these horse-racing spectacles, what about other sporting events, what about dog-racing? I was informed that at the Wimbledon greyhound race track goo cars were present on one occasion recently. I regard that as a scandalous state of affairs.

Sir Reginald Blair (Hendon)

How many people were there?

Mr. Shinwell

I cannot say. There may have been several thousands. I think that is beside the point. I may be asked, What about football matches? Several weeks ago, in Glasgow, where I was attending a conference, there was a football match at which between 60,000 and 70,000 people were present.

Mr. de Rothschild (Isle of Ely)

How many cars were at the meeting?

Mr. Shinwell

I understand there were so many cars in Renfrew Street and Union Street, and in the main streets of the city that there was complete congestion.

Mr. de Rothschild

I meant, How many cars were at your meeting?

Mr. Shinwell

I can assure my hon. Friend that there were no cars at my meeting. Walking is good for the health. It might improve the standard of health of the people of this country, particularly of those who are disposed always to travel in cars, if they walked a little more than they do. I have no objection to football events. I do not care how many people foregather to see football. I have played football and am fond of seeing the game in normal times. I do not object to a race-meeting or a greyhound race meeting or to people attending cinemas and the like, but I do object to the waste of resources involved.

I now direct the attention of the House to a most remarkable document which has come into my possession. It is a prospectus of the Silver-Line Coach tours. It was issued in the seaside resort of Dunoon. There is a circular day tour to Oban, covering a distance of 185 miles, and there arc tours to the Trossachs, to Glencoe, and various other places involving long journeys and consuming a great deal of petrol. But the most amazing thing of all is that on the back page there is a map—a complete map, a detailed map—of the restricted area in Scotland. If I may say so, and I am not using hyperbole, it is really ghastly that these things should occur when we are in such a critical situation. The other clay reference was made in the course of a speech to the loss of an oil tanker in the Atlantic. There were 26. men who had lived for a long time in an open boat. These are tremendous tragedies of the sea. We have no right to allow men to go to sea and sacrifice their lives in order to enable—and I use this expression to the House—a large number of lazy scroungers to enjoy themselves. It is all wrong, and I hope that we shall attend to this matter.

I discovered the other day, when I was making inquiries from some of my hon. Friends, that 500 workpeople were stranded in Glasgow at the Waterloo Street bus station because they could not get a sufficient supply of buses. That may not be due to shortage of petrol. It may be due to shortage of transport, but surely, when there is this difficulty about normal transport for purposes of production, it is all wrong to provide buses to attend race meetings or to indulge in these spectacular tours. I understand that there has recently been a restriction on the bus services in South Wales, alleged to be due to shortage of petrol. My hon. Friend the Secretary for Petroleum may say that there is no shortage and that plenty of petrol is coming into the country. My response is there may be, but if we have so much that we can afford to allow people to use it, or misuse it, in this fashion, then we do not require to use our oil tankers in order to bring petrol in, at any rate in such vast quantities. We might have fewer oil tankers. There are many oil tankers that can be converted into refrigerators or used for ordinary cargo-carrying purposes.

The hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Petroleum said the other day that there was a good deal of wangling. We observed that it had been decided to reduce the basic ration. I wonder whether that is because of all the hubbub that has been going on about Newmarket and other places. He said there was wangling, but that we should leave it to the conscience of these people. Some of those people have no conscience at all. I would not care to leave it to the conscience of people. If people are misusing petrol in a critical period something more seems to be required than leaving it to their personal conscience. We ought to take steps to prevent them from doing these things.

The Secretary for Petroleum (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

The question of leaving it to people's conscience was not suggested in regard to wangling. I indicated that the wangling would be pursued by a rigorous enforcement of the Regulations and by co-operation between the police and the Department. I said that the small amount of the basic ration which was left after the reduction would be within the disposition of the individual. That is a completely different affair.

Mr. Shinwell

It does not matter in the least. If there is to be a reduction of the basic ration and what is left has to be left to the conscience of the people, my suggestion is that we reduce the basic ration still further or abolish the supplementary ration. Before I had examined the matter more closely I thought we ought to prevent people from using cars at all for private purposes and confine their use to business purposes, but I recognise that that might be impracticable and that something of the kind might be required.

I ask hon. Members in all solemnity: Do hon. Members and the people in this country realise what we are up against? In normal times I love spectacular events—those glorious cricket matches, those great football events, the flash of the horses as they go by. I love those things, and so do we all. So do the people of the country. But we cannot afford them now.

I am convinced that I represent a very large body of public opinion in saying these things, but I realise that I do not represent every opinion. I gather that from the anonymous letters I receive. I received one this morning bearing the address of a well-known hotel and saying that because I am adopting this attitude my antecedents are now going to be exposed. I am bound to say that that fills me with unalloyed delight. For a long time I have wanted to know a little more about my ancestors, and if somebody will fill in the gaps, nobody will be more pleased than I. But if anybody imagines I am to be deterred by threats of that kind—and the House knows that I am not—he is making a very great mistake. I plead with my right hon. Friend. He has his difficulties; that, I appreciate. He may find it difficult to respond whole-heartedly to the appeal I make to him, an appeal endorsed, I am sure, by many other hon. Members, but I do ask that he should devote himself assiduously to considering whether it is possible to conserve our resources in greater measure.

I believe that these events have a very big effect on morale by causing a slackening off. Why should the workers be called upon to work harder—and we have asked them to work harder—when we can afford this sort of thing? Why should we talk about absenteeism, when this is the real absenteeism? Who were these thousands of people who attended Newmarket the shipyard workers, the miners, the shop assistants? Of course not. They are not the people who can afford to go off in cars and waste their substance on this riotous living, especially in war-time. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend and the Government to make a strong stand on this issue. Some hon. Members and people outside may resent what I have said, but let them face the cold facts. I ask them, Do they really want to win this war? If they really want to win this war, we shall have to conserve all our resources. We cannot afford to waste or misuse a single thing, and in the circumstances I beg my right hon. Friend to give the matter his most sympathetic consideration.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I would like first of all to thank my hon. Friend for the reasonable and tolerant way in which he has put his point of view. He recognises, as I do, that there is more than one point of view about this matter, and my hon. Friend has been good enough to agree that certain steps have already been taken. Therefore, I have no quarrel whatever with the spirit or with the terms in which my hon. Friend made his statement to the House. It is, of course, the case that, in a number of directions, recreations, amusements and entertainments of one sort and another have inevitably and quite properly been restricted in war-time. The facilities, for example, for football have been very much reduced, both public football and, I should imagine, private local games, owing to grounds being occupied by the military, and other reasons. It is the case that theatrical entertainments, for economic and financial reasons, are not quite as extensive as they were, and it is moreover the case that sports of many kinds have been reduced.

That is inevitable, partly by force of circumstances, partly by deliberate desire, and partly by the fact that the people are very heavily occupied with their work. Indeed, in the case of racing, as my hon. Friend agreed, the fact is that partly for economic reasons and partly by the direct action of the Government itself programmes have been very largely reduced as compared with the prewar position. In the 1941 programme, 93 days of racing are provided, covering 67 meetings at 15 places. That is the amount which has been approved by the Government, as compared with 331 days, covering 159 meetings at 47 places in 1938. The House will therefore see that there has been a reduction on the average to about 40. per cent. of the figure for the last pre-war year. That is a very material reduction, which has been largely brought about by the Government, with, I should like to say, very good co-operation and good will on the part of the Jockey Club stewards and others.

I do not quarrel with my hon. Friend's statement that sights such as he mentioned are disheartening not only to hon. Members in this House but to private citizens of all classes who take the war seriously. When all is said and done it is, nevertheless, the case that if we take the line that large assemblies of people for purposes of enjoyment—with some of which one sympathises according to one's point of view, and with some of which one does not sympathise, again according to one's point of view—should be prohibited, or if we say, for example, that no public transport facilities or petrol should be available for getting there then we get dangerously near a position in which the Government is asked to prohibit entertainment, recreation and enjoyment of a certain character altogether. My hon. Friend has made it clear that he is not raising this matter because he is fanatically anti-racing or betting. For myself, I have never been to a race meeting in my life and I have never gambled. That just happens because of my general frame of mind. Because that is so, I must, in my opinion, be careful, particularly in my Ministerial office, not to let my own predilections and wishes as to how I desire to spend my life, determine my policy and tempt me to control the enjoyment of other people.

I think, not in the case of my hon. Friend, but in other quarters, there is a disposition to accept the war as an opportunity to push personal opinion and sometimes, if I may say so, personal intolerance, for getting rid of types of enjoyment which some people think are antisocial and wrong, even wicked and immoral. The hon. Member said that, on rare occasions, he had had a shilling on a horse, and had promptly lost it. That is the fate of most people who put a shilling on a horse. The Government does not take the view that we ought to adopt the line of trying to exclude for the sake of doing so entertainment within reason. On the contrary, if we did take that line, if we tried to make it difficult for people to get to football matches, cricket matches, and even for people to get to political meetings, which my hon. Friend and I like very much and see no harm in at all, if we appeared to take the view that we should make it difficult for people to enjoy themselves, or have recreation, particularly if it was, we thought, rather a little over the line of moral rectitude, then we are not sure that we should get more out of the people. The Government is inclined to think that people would not like it. They would get restive and they would think we were very stiff. Consequently, when they went to work on Monday morning they might not be in as good spirits as they are now, when they can do things of this kind.

We have, therefore, taken the view that we ought to reduce racing facilities, and as the House will see by the figures I have given, we have materially done so. We do not, however, take the view either on moral or other grounds that horse-racing should be stopped. Horse-racing is a sport which gives a good deal of enjoyment to many sections of the community. It is certainly not a sport solely of attraction to the aristocracy though I agree every good aristocrat knows everything about horse-racing. But there are many class-conscious proletarians who know as much about racing and blood-stock as do the aristocracy. If you ask me who reads the fourth "Star" in London it is the proletarian. He wants to know what has run and what has won the 3.30. It may be a diversion of mental powers and mental interests that the working class and others should be interested in what has won a race, and know what has happened to their shillings. The reason why I have not that interest is merely that it is not in my line. I recognise that for millions of people this "putting on a shilling," or even more, causes a good deal of mental liveliness, and helps to keep them happy while they are at work, even if it causes a certain amount of sorrow when they know the result of the race. If we took steps to make it impossible for them to have a flutter, I am doubtful whether, on balance, we should gain in industrial incentive, or lose. This blood-stock industry has two values to this country The export trade is pretty considerable in value.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

What is the value?

Mr. Morrison

If my memory serves me rightly, about £600,000 a year.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

Where are the exports sent to?

Mr. Morrison

I cannot say. I am speaking from memory, but I think that is roughly the figure. Before the war it was sometimes less, sometimes a bit more. I do not say that it is of decisive economic magnitude, but it is a figure of some importance. The other point about this industry is that British bloodstock is the finest in the world. It would be a pity to lose this British distinction by eliminating racing, which would make it impossible for that industry to go on. It is one thing to say to an American, for example, "This is the horse that won the Derby this year." The American knows then what he is buying. But if you were to say to him, "If there had been a Derby, this is the horse that would have won it," he would say, "Do you think I was born yesterday?" Moreover, the industry could not go on unless some racing continued.

On balance, therefore, the Government take the view that we should not stop horse-racing, but should make an effort to carry it on in its present restricted form, and possibly with even more restrictions which will not imperil the bloodstock industry. I have consulted my colleagues in the Government, because this is a matter on which you cannot guess anybody's opinion and must ask for it. They have given it careful consideration, knowing that there is a sharp division of opinion in the House about it. I know that there is a substantial body of Members who take the view of my hon. Friend, but I know that there is also a substantial body who take the other view. We shall explore the possibility of confining these meetings practically, if not entirely, to Saturday afternoons. There is the psychological effect of seeing these vast assemblies of motor cars in the middle of the week, and seeing that others can get time off when one cannot oneself. We shall ensure fliat the meetings do not take place where they will interfere materially with railway traffic, and that only to a very small extent are railway facilities provided. In regard to petrol, my hon. Friend who has many problems to deal with, will see what he can do. On the other hand, if he gets down to controlling petrol meticulously, he will become involved in new problems. If there is any thing I as Home Secretary can do about controlling motor transport, I will do it. I appreciate the psychological effect, quite apart from whatever economic importance there may be. I thank my hon. Friend for the spirit of his statement, and I hope the House will appreciate that we are endeavouring to strike a balance and to be as fair as we can.

It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.