Skip to main content

Mid-Week Dog Racing

Volume 440: debated on Wednesday 23 July 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

10.20 a.m.

As the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary always conscientiously supports his colleagues on the Front Bench, however late the business lasts, but I feel rather guilty at keeping him away from an important engagement, and I want to express my gratitude to him for his consideration. I would not detain him if there were not widespread public interest in this matter of the ban on mid-week dog racing and a feeling that an injustice has been done. I have sufficient confidence in the Home Secretary to know that he would be the first to agree that it is never too late to remove an injustice. It was he himself who said, on 21st March, that this was not a measure which dealt one way or the other with the problem of betting, and he went on to say:

"I am very anxious that it should not be thought that greyhound racing has been singled out in any particular way because of the feelings which some people may have in regard to it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1947; Vol. 435, c 810.]
The basis of the action that was taken against this particular sport or recreation, whatever one calls it, was its alleged effect on production. As regards that we must look at the position of other sports, pastimes and recreations. There is speedway racing, and according to an answer given by the Home Secretary on 3rd July, the total average attendance at five speedway racing meetings in London is 140,000 weekly. At Sheffield the attendance is 17,000 on Thursdays at a speedway racing track where previously, when there was mid-week greyhound racing on Friday, the attendance was 5,300. At Wembley, speedway racing attracts 65,000 against 10,000 who attended greyhound racing on the same evening at that track. At Wombwell, in South Yorkshire, there was the opening of a new speedway track, which was attended by Joe Baksi and others, and attracted 10,000 miners and their friends.

Horse racing goes on during the week and there are proposals that it should be extended We recently read in the Press about a record crowd at Hamilton Park, Glasgow, for a mid-week meeting. Lord Rosebery, the senior steward of the Jockey Club, suggested at Doncaster that horse race meetings might be considered in midweek if it would assist in encouraging local production. There is proof that that kind of thing would encourage and would not retard local production. We have seen recently in the Press suggestions for midweek football, and in the coming season we are to have mid-week matches for about the first two months of the season and the last two months. In other words, we are to have just as much mid-week football as we ever had. With regard to cricket the Home Secretary said, on 13th March:
"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."—[OFFICIAL REPOLT, 13th March, 1947; Vol. 434, C. 1499.]
With all these things going on, like ice hockey, boxing, tennis and other sports, I suggest there is no logical reason for discrimination against greyhound racing.

On 21st March the Home Secretary also said:
"If I find that the time has come when we need no longer ask those people who can rearrange their sports voluntarily to bring pressure to bear on their supporters to restrict their sports on Saturdays, then I think it would be incumbent upon me to make an order repealing the further administration of this Measure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21St March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 810.]
In view of the facts which I have jest stated, and which are within the knowledge of most hon. Members, I suggest that the time has come for a reconsideration, if not for a complete repeal, of this Act. The greyhound racing people did not oppose the introduction of the present Act on the distinct understanding that all other sports promoters were going to be placed on the same footing, and that their sports were to be restricted to Saturdays only. That has not been carried out, and, therefore, I suggest that the only fair thing to do is to put everybody on the same footing. The greyhound racing people acted very fairly and co-operatively in this matter. In fact, the Home Secretary paid a tribute in this House to their helpful attitude.

What is the alleged effect on production? The Home Secretary has indicated that certain regional boards of industry have reported against an order being made for greyhound racing in their districts. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary how many regional boards have reported in favour of it. I have information, which I think is correct, that at least two have reported in favour of orders being made, and that these orders have not been made for reasons which have been given to hon. Members in correspondence from my right hon. Friend.

To take a practical example, there is mid-week greyhound racing at Southampton, which, I think, can fairly be described as a busy industrial area. Can my right hon. Friend say whether production at Southampton has been retarded in consequence? I can tell him where production has been retarded. At Brighton and Southend he has allowed greyhound racing in mid-week, and my information is that many people travel from London to those places during the week in order to attend greyhound meetings there, and are thus losing far more time than they would do if they attended meetings in London. I could quote recommendations from Chambers of Commerce and others advocating an easement in regard to these orders. The Government's policy is to provide incentives to help production. I suggest that the allowing of mid-week greyhound racing would be such an incentive. I would like to quote what the Lord President of the Council, when Home Secretary, said in answer to a Question in this House during the war. He said:
"In the absence of evidence that afternoon greyhound race meetings have an adverse effect on production, there would appear to be no justification for the imposition of further restrictions on this form of entertainment."
I particularly want the House to note his following words:
"I do not think that hon. Members ought to confuse their objection to a particular form of entertainment with their views on absenteeism."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December 1941; Vol. 376, C. 1666–7.]
I think it is clear that there has been discrimination in this matter. Its effect has been very serious for some tracks, particularly that of Halifax, where midweek meetings used to be held on a ground that is required for cricket on Saturdays. It means that they cannot hold meetings on Saturdays, and, therefore, cannot hold any meetings at all.

Whether hon. Members like it or not, greyhound racing is a widely supported form of entertainment. My case rests on the simple point of why there should be discrimination. In view of what I have said, I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is prepared to use the powers which he has under the Act to repeal it entirely, in view of the breakdown of the arrangements for other sports, or, at any rate, to be more generous in issuing orders for special areas.

10.29 a.m.

I would like to support my distinguished constituent, the hon. Member for Central Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd) in the plea which he has made. I am afraid that I have never been to a greyhound race meeting in my life, and, in fact, I do not know what they do there, except that gullible dogs chase after prefabricated rabbits. I think that the case made out by the hon. Member is one which the Home Secretary must answer. I base my support of it merely on general principles. What reason is there for differentiation against one sport? It may be that a case can be made out for stopping all sports in mid-week. If that is so, then stop them, but when racing, football, cricket, speedways and all the rest are allowed, the Home Secretary has to make out a much better case than he has made out up to now for this ban on greyhound racing, before he can continue the ban. I hope that he will be able to take off the ban altogether. If not, if he is to say that it is interfering with production, he has to show why this particular sport interferes with production when other sports do not.

10.31 a.m.

I do not want to pass any comment one way or the other on the case which my hon. Friend has made. I wish to refer to a point fundamental to Parliamentary democracy and the conduct of this House in connection with the method whereby the propaganda campaign in regard to this matter has been pursued. Hon. Members are familiar with the many ways in which constituents and others seek to represent to them their views on certain issues, and the right of constituents to do this, and their habit of doing so, is a valuable part of our democratic system. I fear that in this matter that valuable part of our democratic system has been subjected to abuse. When one receives letters from constituents who feel so strongly about a point that they sit down of their own volition and dash off a letter to their Member, one must be gratified and impressed by such action.

When one gets handwritten letters which all follow the same form—which has clearly been sent out—one feels that constituents cannot feel quite so strongly when they cannot make up their own letters. But when one receives printed postcards, obviously prepared in advance, and distributed by some organisation interested in the matter, so that all the sender has to do is to write his own name and address on one side, and that of his Member on the other, and for this small expenditure of trouble he has the effrontery—I say "effrontery" advisedly—to say to his Member "I now call upon you to be present in the House to support this when it is raised," that trade association is treating its supporters as being possessed of that same gullibility as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) ascribed to the dogs in greyhound races. Without commenting upon the case of my hon. Friend, I protest at these methods of propaganda being used by interested parties to endeavour to affect the decisions of this House.

10.33 a.m.

I trust that no attention will be paid by the House to such a protest as this being made in regard to the refusal to allow greyhound racing in the middle of the week. When I look round in the City of Liverpool at the recreation that can be given to men there, and the necessity for labour to be fully utilised at this critical time through which we are passing, the question of greyhound racing vanishes completely so far as I am concerned. When it is possible to get out on a Saturday afternoon, I think that is enough. Greyhound racing is a ramp of money-getting and plucking the public. I have only seen one meeting, but I notice any number, which take the money away from the fools who go there. Recreation is the greatest game of bluff on the boards today. [Interruption.] I would put horse-racing, the whole lot, on the one basis, but I do not intend to advocate that special attention should be giver to one activity to divert workers from their job. If absenteeism is likely to come, it is likely to do so where there is a chance of something for nothing, where bookies are "playing the game," and men are putting their money on something in the hope of making a few pounds. We have had enough of this kind of business. In every corner I see men congregating instead of being at work, and this kind of thing is going on. If they were as anxious to go to work as they are to go to greyhound racing, it would be an admirable thing for the country. I am just about fed up with it, and I hope this House will have nothing whatever to do with it at all. It is the greatest ramp in the country today.

10.35 a.m.

I shall be only a minute or two, as I know the Home Secretary wants to reply. I do not believe the House will heed the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan), who made no case whatever in the argument he presented in regard to workers who want to bet in the daytime. That is a fact with regard to horse racing, and not only dog racing, and it is carried on by street-corner bookmakers or on the telephone. That has nothing at all to do with dog racing. An important point—which was not elaborated by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd) because he had to be so brief—is that the dog racing referred to is in the evenings. A number of letters which I have received—granted, some of the type mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo), which are, nevertheless, genuine—refer to the fact that there is no impingement whatever on the hours of work. In the summer, racing ended, I think, at about seven o'clock or half-past seven. I have not been to dog racing for many years. Many of those who go are, to use a colloquialism well known to themselves, "mugs." But that is as may be. If people want to go to see Hollywood films—which I do not like very much— while we allow them to be imported, I do not think this House is in a position to discriminate between one sport and another. I want to add my word of support for this plea, and I hope the Home Secretary will accede to the request made by my hon. Friend.

10.37 a.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd) told me that if the Debate which has just concluded went on till 12.30, he did not propose to raise this matter on the Adjournment. Perhaps I ought to have asked him if he meant 12.30 a.m. or 12.30 p.m. But I make no complaint about that. I am an old hand at all-night Sittings; in fact, I rather enjoy them.

I hope my right hon. Friend does not say that seriously. We have been in consultation throughout the night and during the morning, and, in fact, I offered to withdraw only about an hour ago.

I am bound to say that I had no offer of withdrawal an hour ago. What my hon. Friend said an hour ago was that he was sorry that he was keeping me from a Cabinet meeting. Let us be quite clear as to what discrimination there has had to be against greyhound racing. There is discrimination, because it is the only pastime which was previously regulated by legislation, and if anything was to be done with it, it was necessary to amend that legislation. Under the old legislation the greyhound people had io8 meetings a year. I amended the legislation so that they still have 108 meetings a year. That is better than anyone else who has approached this matter has done on this restriction of mid-week sport. The football people met me very well. They extended their season right up to 14th June so that they could move their league fixtures from mid-week to the weekends. They have asked permission in the coming winter season, during the very limited periods at the beginning and end of the season, to have a limited number of midweek matches, so that they shall not be compelled to run over the season, and thus interfere with other sports in the summer of 1948. That seemed to me to be a very reasonable compromise, and I have thanked them for the way in which they have endeavoured to meet me.

With regard to horse-racing, I never thought, as a native of Epsom, that I should be the first person who would arrange for the Derby to be run on a Saturday, but I saw the stewards of the Jockey Club and the members of the National Hunt Committee, and they agreed to shift the main racing fixtures from the middle of the week to the end of the week. We had the Grand National, the Chester Cup, the Manchester Cup, the Derby—and we shall have the St. Leger—on a Saturday. I was astonished when I got the figures for the mid-week attendances at the Chester Cup. One hundred and four thousand people attended the Chester Cup in 1946 in the middle of the week. I was at once met by the stewards of the Jockey Club and the members of the National Hunt Committee with every endeavour to meet the situation that I have described.

My hon. Friend asked me about the reports which I have received from the regional boards. On this question of greyhound racing, the Scottish Regional Board asked that there should be no exceptions to the rule that greyhound racing must be confined to Saturdays. The East and West Ridings said the same thing. The South-West Region made a general objection, and South Wales also made a general objection, adding, "No exceptions in colliery areas." When I have suggestions like that from the main industrial areas of the country, I do not think that I can afford to neglect them.

One of the reasons this legislation was passed, and why an endeavour has been made to secure elimination of mid-week sports generally, is the desire of the Government, which we are just managing to bring to a satisfactory position with regard to public opinion, to have staggered shifts during the week. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour came to the House only a day or two ago and announced the very severe action that the Government are going to take to ensure that that arrangement of industry shall be brought about. There is no doubt that greyhound racing in the evenings is a very considerable attraction to a large number of people who are engaged in productive industry. I was very careful when I introduced the Measure to the House to say that I was not singling out miners for absenteeism. The only thing about the mining industry is that a careful check on absenteeism has been kept for some years and we know weekly the number of absentees from the mines. We have no similar statistics with regard to any other industry in the country, but the reports I have given from the various regional boards will indicate to the House the view that they take of the impact of this particular form of recreation on production.

Will the Home Secretary say a word on this point? Where he has stopped greyhound racing in mid-week, and the ground is now being used by some other organisation for speedway racing, in what way is he encouraging production when the resulting crowd is bigger?

I will deal with speedways in a moment. I have given the House the reports from the various production councils, and the Government feel that the need for production and for the staggering of shifts is greater now than was the case when this legislation was passed. Other sports have been mentioned, speedway racing in particular. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney came to me the other day with a deputation of greyhound racing people so that he should hear my case before he presented his views to the House. The question of speedway racing was mentioned by one member of that deputation, and I said that the report made to me was that the speedway racing crowd was a very different one from the crowd that goes to the other sports which have been mentioned, and is in fact—[Interruption.] Really, I listened quite attentively to hon. Members who have spoken and gave them as much time as I could, limiting my time so that they should have the fullest opportunity of putting their point of view. The speedway racing crowd is, in the main, a crowd of adolescents and of family parties, and when I said that to the deputation from the National Greyhound Racing Society who came to see me, accompanied by my hon. Friend and two other colleagues, they agreed. I do not say that the hon. Members agreed, but the members of the National Greyhound Racing Society said that it was so. They said the same criticism could not be applied to that crowd from the point of view from which I have approached this matter as could be applied to the crowd that goes to greyhound racing. I also have the evidence of the police who have the job of watching the assembly and the dispersal of these various crowds. Their report with regard to speedway racing and greyhound racing is the same as that which I put before the deputation, and which I understood was accepted.

I am not clear whether the right hon. Gentleman, when dealing with this distinction between crowds, is referring to the case I put about Wembley, where mid-week there is greyhound racing and then it is tuned over to a speedway. Does the right hon. Gentleman say that the crowd is different?

Yes, Wembley is the place with which I am most concerned. I sent a member of my staff to see that crowd as recently as that very wet Wednesday evening we had about a fortnight or a week ago. The report I had was that on that evening there was a very large and excited crowd, mainly of young people. The distinction between the excitement of speedway racing and the excitement of greyhound racing is that, as far as we can discover, there is no betting on speedway racing.

No, I am not basing my case on betting, but it would not be fair of me to give other than the full information which I obtained. Let us he quite clear. Greyhound racing can take place every night in the week if there is no betting. If people want to see dog racing bat do not want to bet, they can have greyhound racing every night in the week. The dog race betting Act deals with that matter. It is entirely the question of betting which has brought it within the purview of legislation at all. I am assured by people who frequent greyhound racing tracks that hardly anybody goes there except to bet. The people who go 10 Epsom Downs to see the Derby, who do not bet but have a little family party on the Downs—that type of person is entirely absent from greyhound racing. That does not affect me in this matter, but it ought to be stated, and stated publicly. I do, not desire to prevent any sport from taking place all the while that it does not interfere with production and does not stand in the way of getting the necessary staggering of shifts, so that production can be stepped up as much as possible. Where I get a report from a production council and learn, after consultation with my colleagues who are engaged in the task of supervising production, that production will not be interfered with by the opening of a dog racing track for racing mid-week, I issue a permit for it.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock on Wednesday evening and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Order made upon 13th November

Adjourned at Ten Minutes to Eleven o'Clock a.m.