HC Deb 17 April 1946 vol 421 cc2743-54

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

5.49 P.m.

Sir Stanley Holmes (Harwich)

It was a matter of great pleasure to many of us on this side of the House when the Chancellor, in his Budget speech, announced that he was making a concession in respect of Entertainments Duty for sports and games. The pity of it was that, having been defeated last November on an Amendment to the Finance Bill to achieve this, we found that the Chancellor, having previously gone into the Lobby against us, was willing to make this concession. While it is a pleasure to us, I think it is a far greater relief to hundreds of his supporters sitting behind him. All candidates at a General Election receive a number of the usual questionnaires which they can answer if they think fit. I believe that there was never a questionnaire to which such a unanimous "Yes" was given than that which was sent to candidates on behalf of local or county swimming clubs, rowing clubs, boxing clubs and so forth asking them to support the reduction of Entertainments Duty on sports and games, with the result that, in November last, literally hundreds of hon. Members on the other side of the House were compelled to vote against the promise given at the General Election. Now they have absolution from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Budget he has introduced.

When the Chancellor made his speech last week he said he hoped that the saving on Entertainments Duty would be handed on to the public in the form of reduced entrance fees. This we have seen is already being promised. It naturally does not apply to the present season for football clubs and they have not said anything about it. But there was an announcement yesterday from the M.C.C., Middlesex and Yorkshire that at their cricket matches during the summer, they are going to make the reduction which the Chancellor suggested. Whether the professional football clubs will all be able to do the same when the end of August comes, may be a matter of some dubiety at the moment. I notice that in view of the concession the professional footballers' union are going to apply for increased wages for players. That may be a very difficult matter to settle. If there is a strike of professional footballers, the Minister of Labour will not be in a position to send 22 soldiers in a lorry to take the place of Aston Villa versusArsenal.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

Why not?

Sir S. Holmes

The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) appears to be pleased with the idea of having some soldiers to play instead of the usual professional teams. I think the professional football clubs will make the concession, not to the players, but in respect of entrance fees.

One set of sports bodies who will not be able to accede to the request of the Chancellor, are those which devote the whole of their surplus funds to the public benefit. I will mention two such bodies which illustrate the point, the Amateur Boxing Association and the Amateur Swimming Association. The Amateur Boxing Association have, for many years, devoted the whole of their surplus funds to teaching the noble art of self-defence to young people. They have been prevented during the war from doing this in respect of boys still at school, because they had no surplus funds. Their funds were always raised by subscriptions, and the holding of championships and exhibition bouts in different parts of the country. When they held these during the war, they did not put up the price of entrance fees to meet the additional Entertainments Duty, consequently, at the end of each year, they found themselves with practically no surplus.

The same applies to the Amateur Swimming Association who have devoted all their surplus funds to teaching boys and girls to swim. In each of these, and many similar cases, associations when they have public exhibitions will go on charging the same fees as they did during the war. There will probably be no concession to the public, because these associations wish to follow their old practice of using the surplus funds for the benefit of the younger generation. I warmly acknowledge the benefit of the introduction of the concession which was partly suggested by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when he spoke against my Amendment on the subject last November.

Mr. Paģet

I also welcome this concession. There are many local football clubs and sports associations who have had very great difficulties in making ends meet. in addition there are repertory theatres who make a cultural contribution to the life of the community, particularly in country towns, and they have found it very difficult to carry on. This concession will be a great help to them.

What is the principle upon which this exemption will be applied to one form of entertainment and not to another? There spring to one's mind horseracing and greyhound racing. If the principle be that the exemption is to apply to forms of entertainment which are not merely or principally gambling vehicles, one would say immediately that that is a very intelligible and proper distinction. But why exempt professional boxing? I am told, by those who have been to recent Albert Hall exhibitions, that the bookmaking carried on there was just as open as on a racecourse. There is very little ground indeed for exempting professional boxing from any form of taxation. Professional boxing is a thing which any Government should watch with a good deal of care.

In the professional arena, there are long contests and tremendous punching power is developed which is permanently injurious to the people who indulge in it. It is then that there are cases of punch-drunkenness which go near to the verge of insanity, permanent insanity, induced for the pleasure and amusement of spectators, and, what is worse, as a money making vehicle for gamblers. I urge very strongly that this matter should be considered and a distinction drawn between the amateur boxing and three-round competitions, which, I believe we would all encourage, Services boxing and local sports associations boxing on the one hand and professional boxing on the other. We should not do anything which will assist this racket of professional boxing; it ought not to be encouraged. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about all-in wrestling? "] The same would apply to all-in wrestling, though I would say that although all-in wrestling appears to be more spectacularly brutal, it is far less likely to be so, though it is not a very edifying spectacle. The Resolution contains the words: …other than the racing or trial of speed of animals,… etc. Is homo sapiensincluded as an animal or not? Does the Resolution cover human racing sports or not? In a good many definitions man is the foremost animal. I would ask whether foot races are included in this.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South)

I join in the congratulations which have been offered to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this concession. In South Wales, particularly among the struggling Rugby clubs, it is welcome as a valuable help. Speaking as one who has the honour to represent the city which has the finest Rugby club in the four countries—

Hon. Members


Mr. Callaģhan

I must appeal for your protection, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I repeat —doubtless I shall be contradicted in later speeches if hon. Members do not agree with me—that Cardiff Rugby Football Club is undoubtedly the finest Rugby football club. On their behalf, and on behalf of all those other Rugby clubs, particularly the smaller ones, in the South Wales area, who have been struggling very hard, I welcome this as a valuable concession.

I wish to ask the Chancellor if he will extend his bounty to one other type of entertainment, or whatever one cares to call it. I refer to the work done by the small motor clubs up and down the country. I have in mind motor-cycle meetings that are held from time to time. I am not speaking of dirt track races—they would possibly fall into the same category as big boxing—but of the small motor-cycle meetings that are held from time to time, not to provide a profit, but because there is a conjunction of like minded men, not wealthy men, who get together and who like to indulge in this form of sport. I have here the programme of a meeting held on Saturday, l6th March, that is, before Budget day. I would draw the Financial Secretary's attention to the fact that it states, firstly, that it is a test of reliability, and not a race. I wonder if that excludes it from the motor racing which is referred to in the Resolution. Secondly, it is a test of the skill of the riders, and of the steering qualities of their machines. I think it probable that it is a test of skill, a test of reliability. It is not a speed trial, it is a time trial. For the narrow reason of encouraging a useful sport, and for the perhaps wider reason that the sterling qualities of these machines may help to develop our export trade, I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider including this form of sport in his conces- sion. This is not a "money-spinner," for the bookmakers. It is not a source of profit to anybody. It depends very largely on the weather whether a meeting is run at a profit or a loss. In those circumstances, if my right hon. Friend has a few pounds to give away, as I have no doubt he has—it would not be a big concession—would he be prepared to consider the claims of these people?

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I should like to support what was said by the hon. Member for Harwich (Sir S. Holmes). I am particularly glad that he reminded the House of the Amendment moved from this side of the House in November last year, which sought to achieve what the Chancellor is now proposing in this Resolution, a reduction of tax on certain forms of public entertainment. It is well worth stressing the point he made, because it shows that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench and those behind them realise that they will have to do something if they are to consolidate the votes which sent them to this House in such large numbers last July, and that those of them who are on the Front Bench are getting apprehensive about the state of public opinion. All this talk about nationalisation will not go far enough. They must be up and doing to consolidate their vote.

Having said that, I would add that I am very glad indeed that the Chancellor has seen fit to make this deathbed repentance on behalf of himself, and those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit with him and behind him. This concession will be received, indeed has already been received, very warmly indeed by the lovers of those sports which will he covered by the reduction of Entertainments Duty, I also wish to associate myself with what the hon. Member for Harwich said about the Chancellor's hope that clubs, football clubs particularly, will be able to do something in the way of the reduction of the prices of admission they charge to their grounds. It should be said that perhaps it may not be easy for all these clubs to bring about this reduction at once, because as the hon. Member said, many of them have been finding themselves increasingly in low water in these difficult years, and it would be a little unfair if the public expected an immediate advantage from them. I hope that clubs, particularly football clubs, as and when opportunity offers, will make this desirable reduction by passing on the benefits they are to receive from the Treasury to the public, who in such large numbers have patronised their grounds. I say that as one who has in his constituency an important football ground which draws large numbers of people from a wide area in South Scotland whenever matches arc played there.

The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr Paget) appeared to wish that the benefits of the reduced Entertainments Duty ought not to be extended to the sport of boxing. I think—I do not say this offensively—that he made a somewhat vicious attack upon that form of sport, and I could see that his remarks were not received with the approbation which one would have expected from his friends who sit upon the other side of the House. It would seem that he was out of tune, or out of step, with them. I dissociate myself from what the hon. Member said on that point. Perhaps I have not attended so many boxing entertainments in my life as he has done, but I cannot agree that the amount of gambling on boxing is as heavy, or is conducted in as blatant a way, as he has just suggested to the House.

I agree with one thing he said. He asked—and I hope whoever is to reply will be in a position to answer—whether human beings engaged in foot racing would be excluded from the benefits of this reduction. I think such events should not be excluded. There is a lot to be said for the complete withdrawal of Entertainments Duty on all forms of sport, but I do not intend to go into that matter. It should not be taken for granted that all the people who go to horse racing are merely animated by a vicious desire to bet or gamble. Far from it. I see the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) looking at me. I feel sure he will agree with me that large numbers of people in his own Division, and very large numbers in the Division of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), would welcome a reduction so far as race meetings are concerned. I am delighted to see the hon. Member is nodding at me. It is probably the first time that complete unanimity has prevailed between us. I wholeheartedly welcome and support this Resolution.

Mr. C. Williams

I feel that someone ought to say how much we appreciate what the Government have done. The hon. Member who has just sat down who, I think, represents somewhere in North Wales—

Mr. McKie

I really must protest against that ery unnecessary remark. I have known the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) for a considerable time and he knows perfectly well that I have nothing to do with North Wales.

Mr. Williams

I do not wish in any way to offend my hon. Friend. I was never quite sure which part he represented—North or South Wales. I want to comment on two points. I want to be sure that wrestling matches such as we have in Cornwall are exempt. I think they are exempt, but I would like to be absolutely certain. This is a sport which is rather different from that enjoyed in other parts of the country. It is one of the things on which I might be allowed to speak as it has rather a closer association with Cornwall than with other parts of the country.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

Would the hon. Gentleman also include the Cumberland style of wrestling?

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Gentleman had not interrupted me I was just going to say that.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)

Is it not true that on the opposite side of the House hon. Members are more used to catch-as-catch-can?

Mr. Williams

I really would not he quite sure. If I was to take the liberty, I could go into the different forms of wrestling at great length. The other point upon which I should like a little more information is the question of menageries or zoological gardens. I do not know whether they come under this heading or whether they should be considered under Item 4 or 5. I want to be sure whether or not an institution such as a zoo, if it is not run as a private hobby, will get the advantage of this concession. This is a matter which has gone on for a long time. The duty has been paid, or has not been paid, during the war. It is a matter in which I have some slight personal interest as far as my constituency is concerned. I am glad that I roused the interest of hon. Members opposite when I began talking of menageries. I congratulate hon. Members opposite. They are accepting our advice over and over again. It shows that, although they have made very bad mistakes, and are making worse ones every day, as far as this particular matter is concerned, they are improving a little, if very slowly. They could have got all the kudos for this last Resolution, but now, as always, whenever anything good is done, it happens as a result of the suggestions of the Conservative Party.

6.15 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

The remarks we have just heard from the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) prompt me to put one brief point to the Financial Secretary. What situation will arise if in connection with a circus or a menagerie, as it has been called, there takes place, as part of the performance, some form of chariot racing, or other contest of that kind, which may well form part of the circus proceedings in the ring?

Mr. Assheton (City of London)

I need hardly say how glad we on this side of the House are that the Government have introduced this admirable Resolution. Naturally, we welcome the concession wholeheartedly. We are very glad that hon. Members opposite who were compelled—I am sure much against their will in many cases—to vote against this concession on a previous occasion, should now be in the happy position of being able to support the reduction of tax on certain entertainments, games and sports. I took a considerable interest in this matter when I was at the Treasury. I have no doubt that the Financial Secretary has had the advantage of reading the minutes I left him on this subject. It was my unhappy lot to be at the Treasury at a time when no concessions with regard to taxation were possible. All of us who were there felt, as indeed the Financial Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have felt, the desirability of a concession in this direction.

I am a little surprised that all-in wrestling—if I read this correctly—is given the advantage of this concession when horse racing, the sport of kings and also the sport of the people, does not benefit from it. I hope very much indeed that before the next Budget comes for ward, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to see his way to extend this concession to horse racing. I am sure there are few sports which the people of this country enjoy more, or which are taxed so heavily, or on which the concession is more desired. I do not represent a constituency which has many amenities for sports of this kind. In the City of London we have more churches than any other constituency in England, but I think we have fewer football and cricket grounds. None the less, I should like to say that my constituents in the City, just as much as the constituents in any other part of the country, welcome this concession. We on this side of the House give it our blessing,

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am, of course, grateful for the bouquets which have been showered on my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having introduced this Resolution. When we discussed this matter last October and, unfortunately, had to resist the blandishments of Members, I think that many hon. Members did feel that it was probable something might very well happen in April. It has happened. I for one am delighted to feel that the Resolution is here. It came about very largely because of the feeling in the House at that time that, in particular, football clubs, were in a bad way and should be helped. I am delighted to think that football clubs have already got together and that it is likely that some of this concession, at any rate, will be passed on to the spectators. Twopence of it, I think, added to the tenpence-halfpenny which they had before, may possibly go to the football clubs, and the rest be passed on. I also understand that the county cricket clubs are hoping, almost immediately after the Budget is dealt with, to hold a meeting to investigate how they can also share the concession now being given with their spectators, I was asked a number of questions, many of them, I think, by hon. Members with their tongues in their cheeks. Quite obviously, humans are not included in the term "animal." The Zoo is actually now exempt, as it is not run at a profit: menageries will come under the terms of this Resolution.

Mr. C. Williams

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but that is a matter on which I have had correspondence with the Treasury. I do not expect him to give me an answer now, but, if the hon. Gentleman would look into the matter between now and the Report stage and let me have a letter on the subject, I should be quite happy about it.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am not entirely clear what the hon. Member is asking. I am sorry if I have not completely taken his point, but I can tell him, without any equivocation, that menageries are included in this concession.

Mr. C. Williams

Will the hon. Gentleman inquire into that point—

Mr. Glenvil Hall

They are entitled to and will actually get the concession. Any menagerie or circus will get it.

Mr. C. Williams

I am sorry to interrupt again. Any zoo gets it, yes, but I would like a definite assurance about menageries, and if the Treasury will let me have a letter on that point—

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I can tell the hon. Gentleman now that "zoo" includes menagerie and "menagerie" includes zoo. The hon. Gentleman's constituents in Torquay can feel perfectly happy about it.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

It is a Tory menagerie.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I was asked by the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan) whether the Chancellor would give consideration to the inclusion of small motor clubs in this concession, particularly when they hold motorcycle meetings. The short answer to that is once you begin to deal with track racing at all, you never know where you are going to stop. All sorts of other amateur clubs would feel, and not without reason, that they should be entitled to the concession, supposing motorcycle clubs were included. If my hon Friend feels very deeply about this, he has his remedy. Unfortunately, we do not finish with this Resolution when we pass it tonight. There is the Finance Bill, and, if my hon. Friend feels strongly on the matter, he may test the feeling of the House by moving an Amendment later to that Bill. All-in wrestling is, at the moment, undoubtedly included; whether it should have been included is another matter.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)

Could I have an assur- ance that that includes Cumberland wrestling? A concession has been given to the rest of Wales, which the hon. Gentleman represents.

Mr. C. Williams

Clearly, I have nothing to do with the rest of Wales. I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not mean it in that sense.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.