Orders of the Day — Emergency Powers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr William Rees-Davies Mr William Rees-Davies , Isle of Thanet 12:00 am, 18th December 1973

I wish to refer to Regulation 21, which deals with the Secretary of State providing for the regulation of the supply, acquisition or consumption of solid or liquid fuel and the supply and consumption of electricity. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry tonight gave a most unsatisfactory reply about those who supply their own generators and, more particularly, their own fuel. I have already seen about half a dozen Ministers on this matter. We are faced with a situation in which the Department is imposing upon us a dictatorship. We are told that those who were far-sighted enough to provide generators and the fuel which they need are, without previous notice, to be refused the opportunity to run them.

The horseracing industry is essential in many ways. In the event that it had to close down there would be large-scale unemployment, quite apart from the loss of pleasure to a great many people at a time of great difficulty. If the Government are set upon the course which my right hon. Friend announced tonight of cutting out recreational and sporting pleasures it will mean that they are drawing a great distinction between outdoor sports and indoor sports. Not only will there be discrimination against horse-racing, greyhound racing and football, but these will be discriminated against in favour of bingo, chemin de fer, and blue films. It is intolerable that the Government should consider themselves entitled to dictate to this country that those who have been far-sighted enough to make themselves totally independent should be denied the right to use the resources they hold in their own command.

In the case of horseracing, Weatherby's some time ago provided its own generators. It also provided its own fuel. Races cannot be run without the Racing Calendar. With a profound knowledge of the subject I have tried to persuade Ministers that we should be allowed to run horseracing provided that it does not ask that even one gallon of precious fuel is consumed to the detriment of the people of this country. But I am not prepared to accept the claptrap argument that the people so lack common sense that they cannot understand that certain industries have made arrangements well in advance, as did Weatherby's. The company knew that there might be a fuel crisis and therefore arranged to have a generator. One cannot run racing without the Racing Calendar—a registered newspaper which publishes in advance all the entries, which is essential to racing with a handicap.

The Government have arranged that computers shall be exempt, but they have forbidden the use of generators, and they have even forbidden anyone to use the fuel supplies which he has. I am net concerned with the moral argument whether it is right or wrong that racing should continue, but if it is decided to refuse to have racing, bingo should be stopped, films should be stopped, theatres should be stopped, concerts should be stopped, and all the other entertainments which the nation enjoys. One cannot draw a distinction between one and the other. It is intolerable.

What is more, I see no reason why one should pick on greyhound racing for attack. Six or seven years ago, I advised those concerned in greyhound racing, among others, to provide a generator for each of the 42 tracks operated by the National Greyhound Racing Club. The operators of these tracks found themselves, last Friday, without a word of notice, confronted with an order which, quite contrary to what they had believed, literally stopped them in their tracks. None of them could run. They had to close all their night meetings at once. To switch to afternoon meetings means economic death. At Wembley the day before yesterday, a mere 400 people attended. If greyhound racing is killed economically, it puts out of work 10,000 people who are permanently employed on those tracks, and over 30,000 casual employees.

The trouble is that, despite my efforts, Ministers simply do not understand this case. They refuse to understand it. This is quite wrong. I have spent as much time as I can in trying to explain the case to Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry. They really must accept it from those of us who have far longer experience of these matters than they have.

One of the main criticisms of Government today is that Ministries, and especially civil servants, totally fail to understand a case that is put to them. They will not believe that one has a case to put. They do not believe that one has no axe to grind. I have no axe to grind here. I do not hold shares or any interest in either of the industries for which I speak tonight.

I am very angry about what has been done. I find it intolerable to have to criticise my own Government in this way but I shall continue to criticise them until they give way on the matter. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has arrived, because I had the opportunity to speak to him about it. I must tell him straight that he is not a Minister of morals. His ministerial responsibility is to conserve fuel and power. If we are to talk about morals, let us talk about beer, about spirits, about drugs. I am quite prepared to talk all night about them. But I am not prepared to accept that he, the Home Secretary or any other Minister has the right to dictate to this country what shall be our moral code. It is intolerable.

Greyhound racing is as much entitled to earn its living as any other industry is. Fuel rationing has not been introduced, and I consider that a perfectly correct decision. But let no one try to introduce it by a back-door method. That is quite wrong.

At present, there are 42 greyhound racing tracks. Many years ago, as a result of their foresight, they introduced generators. Over six months ago they decided to obtain a sufficient supply of fuel oil so that they would not interfere with the country in the event of fuel rationing. They have sufficient to carry them through to next April. They do not ask for any favour from the Government. They do not ask that they shall have one kilowatt of electricity. They do not ask that they shall have one gallon of fuel oil. But they do ask that they may be entitled to use their foresight to ensure that they maintain their industry, and are not economically crippled. If they are closed now, they will not be able to reopen satisfactorily.

The effect will be twofold. First, there will be a great deal of unemployment among people who have served the industry for many years. Secondly, there will be a considerable loss of revenue to the Government in the form of the taxes that would have flowed from the industry. I do not suggest that that is of particular importance, but it is wrong to suggest that the Department of Trade and Industry has a superior understanding of the attitudes of the British public. I have talked about the matter to many people in the street—taxi drivers, and ordinary people—and the general attitude is that if it is explained to the public that the greyhound racing and the horseracing industries have been far-sighted enough to provide the generators and the fuel to enable them to carry on, it would be wrong to stop them.

I turn to the question of the football industry. I know that some grounds have not been able to provide the generators and the fuel required. I am sorry, but that is so. There are a few that have, and they must have the advantage of having done so. It is a tough life.

I have raised this matter with almost all the Ministers concerned. It is, unfortunately, the Home Secretary who is to reply tonight. The mistake lies with the Department of Trade and Industry, which has for long failed to understand the whole background of both tourism and sport. We have tried for a long time to make it understand the interests of those people who are engaged in the leisure industries. Somehow, it has never been able to equate leisure with heavy industry—nor has the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins). I remember years ago debating with him the difficulties that arose when he was dealing with totally different matters, such as the amusement and catering industries.

I appeal to the Department to understand that we are dealing with only one principle, namely, that we should save fuel. We are not dealing with a ragbag of suggestions that we should try to dictate the morals of this country. That is wholly wrong.

I am speaking because I could not intervene earlier and because I have not been able to put this case across to the Cabinet Ministers who are responsible for making the decision. If we are to arrive at the right decision for the state of the nation as a whole we must recognise that in the control of both electricity and fuel we should not be prepared to attack those who have been far-sighted enough to make the necessary preparations.

In the case of the horseracing industry, all that is required is that we should be able to continue to publish a registered newspaper. The computers used at Wellingborough by Weatherby's are protected For three days a week they can obtain supplies, but for the other three they cannot. Weatherby's does not want to use the electricity supplies in the slightest degree. It wants to have the opportunity to use its own generating power when there is an acute shortage. It wants to be able to use its own fuel, of which it has 35 days' supply, in the event of this emergency. It is not seeking to oppose the Government or their policy; it is merely asking that it should be allowed to use the fact that it has conserved its own fuels by bringing them into use without causing harmful effect to anybody in Britain, and at the same time, to be able to maintain an industry which provides employment for many and fun throughout the world.

It would be a sorry day for Britain if they had to close down racing in Britain today merely because of the Government's lack of understanding of the problems of the day.

The same consideration applies to the greyhound racing industry. One may not like it, or one may think it a luxury sport. One may think that bingo, casinos, or all forms of entertainment are luxury sports, but it is not for the Government to differentiate between one industry and another. I detest classical music, but if I suggested closing the Royal Opera House there would be an appalling outcry.