HC Deb 13 March 1947 vol 434 cc1495-500
Mr. Ede

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this early opportunity of informing the House of the discussions which have taken place between my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Minister of Fuel and Power and myself and representatives of various sporting interests with a view to reducing the number of sporting events which take place on Mondays to Fridays.

My right hon. Friends and I explained to the organisations concerned the importance, from the point of view of the national interest, of taking every possible step to avoid interference with production. While His Majesty's Government is most reluctant to propose a limitation of mid-week sports, which will undoubtedly cause inconvenience both to the spectators and the organisers of the various forms of sport, it is of vital importance in the present national emergency that arrangements should be made whereby all sporting events which are likely to attract large attendances shall take place only on Saturday afternoons or Saturday evenings. I am glad to be able to inform the House that all the organisations with whom we have had conversations have expressed their willingness to co-operate to the fullest extent.

As regards greyhound racing, it has been decided, as has been announced today by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, to amend the Order prohibiting the use of fuel at greyhound racing tracks so as to enable fuel to be supplied at such tracks on Saturdays. Since, however, the days on which greyhound racing with betting facilities may take place are fixed by the local licensing authorities, and since in certain areas the two appointed days each week to which racing is limited do not include Saturdays, it will be necessary to amend the law to enable all greyhound tracks to race on Saturdays, and His Majesty's Government propose at an early date to introduce a Bill to permit two greyhound meetings to be held on all tracks on Saturday afternoons and Saturday evenings. The Bill will be a temporary measure and there is no intention to make in this connection any permanent amendment of the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, which governs this form of entertainment. I hope the House will agree to afford facilities for the expeditious passage of the Bill.

As regards football, no corresponding legislation is necessary, but it is understood that the organisers of this sport will be prepared to arrange that, for the remainder of the present season, no organised football matches will be played except on Saturdays.

As regards horse racing, the Stewards of the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee readily agreed at our meeting with them to make immediate arrangements for altering the date of the Grand National to a Saturday, and they have since informed me that the Manchester Cup and the Chester Cup will also be run for on a Saturday. They are also considering whether the dates on which other racing events which draw large crowds take place can be altered to a Saturday.

I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, of paying tribute to the public spirit which the representatives of the various sporting interests have shown in tackling this difficult problem, and to the co-operative manner in which they have responded to the suggestions of His Majesty's Government.

Mr. Eden

May I ask the Home Secretary whether he can assure us that these measures, which, however necessary, are most unpalatable, are only temporary, and that they will be reviewed again by the Government when the days begin to get longer, so that, in areas where no afternoon shift is being worked, it may be possible to allow people to get out of doors to these sports?

Mr. Ede

We shall keep the matter continuously under review, and the restrictions I have mentioned on football apply to the League and Cup games and similar fixtures. It is not our intention to deprive players who meet for recreation, and who, probably, would be very alarmed if they saw a group of 50 people watching them, of their mid-week recreation. What we are anxious to avoid is the assembly of large groups of people at fixtures where the attendances may involve a substantial reduction of production.

Mr. Rankin

Would my right hon. Friend say whether the arrangements with regard to football, include those games which may be played in the evening during the week? That is a custom.

Mr. Ede

Oh, yes. In present circumstances, we have asked the Football Association and the League to include those games, and I would like to say that they were most co-operative in the way they met us.

Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew

Does not the Home Secretary agree that it might be simpler to do this by Order in Council, when revocation would be easier, rather than to do it by legislation?

Mr. Ede

I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I considered that. The only legislation that we require is with regard to greyhound racing. On the particular points involved here, I am advised that it is not possible to do it by Order in Council. The Bill will be quite a simple one and, if I may say so, in answer to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), it will be clearly shown on the face of the Bill that it is an entirely temporary Measure and not any permanent alteration of the law.

Mr. Thurtle

Could my right hon. Friend say whether he has any observations to make on other sports, such as lawn tennis at Wimbledon, and county cricket?

Mr. Ede

I am hoping to see the officials of the Marylebone Cricket Club early next week. With regard to tennis, and particularly that at Wimbledon, I think that the circumstances prevailing at Wimbledon at present make it unlikely that there will be any large crowds there.

Mr. Carmichael

I understand that this Report is, more or less, a joint statement by Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Scotland. With regard to football, does the Home Secretary intend to include in these arrangements what is recognised as junior football? I ask that, because such clubs are run entirely by working men, and the income from them is very small. The only opportunity they have of improving their position is in the evening. Did the Football Association indicate that they were including junior football in the ban?

Mr. Ede

The Scottish Football Association was most co-operative. In Scotland, apparently, the exact meaning of junior football is highly technical. I understand that there are some professional clubs which are, technically, described as junior. The exact definition, and where the line is to be drawn, are still matters of negotiation between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the representatives of the Scottish Football Association.

Sir Ralph Glyn

As to cricket, in view of the arrangements already made for the test matches with South Africa, could the right hon. Gentleman make it perfectly clear today that he does not close his mind to the possibility of that being carried through this season?

Mr. Ede

I was most careful to explain to the people I met the day before yesterday, that I did not have a closed mind on any of these subjects, or in regard to any of the future diseussions which I am to have. I placed the situation before them, and tried to find out with them what arrangements could be made, which would inflict the least inconvenience on people, but would secure the maximum production in the country.

Mr. Eden

As cricket was not mentioned, I presume that it was not included in the arrangement. Can the right hon. Gentleman say what the conclusions of his discussions are going to be? We would like to know what his mind is on the subject. Does he also wish to stop county cricket?

Mr. Ede

No, Sir. Quite frankly, I do not want to stop any of these sports. Only the harsh necessities of the time have made me contemplate this at all. I am hoping to meet the Marylebone Cricket Club to discuss the matter with them. But may I point out that 10 days' racing at Nottingham brings together a total of 146,000 people—

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

They work all the better for it afterwards.

Mr. Ede

I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member. I do, after attending racing on my native heath. I am not proposing to interfere with the Nottingham races, but a four days' test match at Trent Bridge would probably concentrate into those four days a bigger attendance than would 10 days' racing at Nottingham. That is the kind of question that has to be discussed with the Marylebone Cricket Club, and it would not be fair for me this afternoon to indicate any prejudice, as between one side or the other, that might hinder my negotiations with them.

Major Cecil Poole

Does not the Minister realise that, if he is going to take compulsory powers to direct the working man's sport of greyhound racing on Saturdays, it will be particularly distasteful to the nation if he allows horse racing during the week?

Mr. Ede

There is a very substantial difference between the entertainment of greyhound racing—and I use the word "entertainment" advisedly, in contradistinction to the term used by my hon. Friend—and horse racing. May I point out that, in 1946, the bloodstock exported from this country, mainly to dollar countries, amounted to £2,500,000. In addition to that, horse racing in this country attracts a substantial number of visitors interested in bloodstock from dollar countries, and the Government have to take that into consideration.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

It is obvious from what the right hon. Gentleman says that he appreciates the very great difficulty of drawing the line between large and small events, and that he will have to arrive at a definite list of fixtures that will have to be banned. In view of that fact, will he see that the publication of that list takes place at the earliest possible moment, so that everybody may know where they are?

Mr. Ede

I only had this first exploratory interview on Tuesday last, and I have taken the earliest opportunity of bringing it before the House. I will certainly try to keep the House and the country informed of any decisions taken. The noble Lord used the word "banned." It is quite clear that, in the majority of these cases, we could not ban except by legislation, which would be exceedingly difficult to draft, even if we desired to do it. We have to rely on the good will and co-operation of the organisations concerned.