Dog racing bill

Memorandum from William Joynson-Hicks, Home Secretary on John Buchan’s Dog Racing Bill, 30 April, 1928 (Catalogue ref: CAB 24/194)


This is the property of His Britannic Majesty’s Government


C.P. 143 (28)


Mr. Buchan’s Dog Racing Bill



The Prime Minister has been asked by the promoters of this bill to give facilities for a Second Reading and I hope my colleagues will agree with my view that facilities should be given for a debate, with a free vote, so that the opinion of the House may be elicited as soon as may be. Mr. Buchan’s Bill has already received a first reading without opposition, on introduction under the 10 minute rule.

For many months past the subject of dog racing has aroused much interest in the press and the country. I have received many representations, also a very large number of resolutions, both from religious bodies and from the local authorities, in favour of prohibition or restriction or control of dog racing; two representative Deputations, one of M.P.’s and one of Bishops, Mayors and other dignitaries, have been received and have expressed similar views, and recently I received on the other hand an influential deputation from the Greyhound Racing Society, representing the sporting and financial interests of those involved and asking that interests should be borne in mind.

In the meantime I have made careful inquiry of Chief Officers of Police in all districts where dog racing tracks are in being and in this memorandum I summarise the results of those enquiries, as well as the various facts and considerations that have been advanced for and against dog racing.

The principal objection urged against dog racing is that it is a mushroom growth which threatens to add enormously to facilities for betting and, in particular, for betting by many whose means would not permit of their attending horse-races.

It is alleged that 175 companies have been formed to promote dog racing tracks; that the sole reason for opening of tracks is to afford facilities for betting and, eventually, opportunities to financiers and other promoters either to make huge profits for themselves by the conduct of the tracks, or to dispose of the shares to their own advantage. Many people are said to have been ruined by betting on dog races; resort to moneylenders and pawnbrokers is said to have increased, thrift to have diminished, and destitution and neglect made more common; young persons and children are said to attend and make bets; drinking and disorder are said to have increased, and it has even been suggested that greyhound racing leads to crime.

In favour of dog racing on the other hand it has been suggested that it is a clean, exciting humane sport, which does not lend itself to ‘pulling’ or other tricks that sometimes occur in horse-racing, that it can be carried on, under cover, at hours when busy workers have leisure to attend and that therefore legislation against it would be ‘class legislation’; that there are not more than 40 tracks in being or in contemplation (the other Companies having formed for breeding, or to preserve names for the use should new tracks be required); that drink is not sold at tracks, with one possible exception; that there is less drunkenness when tracks are open, that there is no disorder at the races; that destitution has not been caused; that there is as much thrift now as before dog racing came in, or even more. As regards betting, the friends of dog racing say that they would favour and enforce any rule of general application forbidding betting, on any kind of race track, with children or with any young persons under a certain age; concerning betting generally, they say that there is no more betting on dog racing than there is on horse racing, or on football; and that there is far less street betting, or other betting by persons who do not witness the events on which they bet.

In short, the contention of the opponents of dog racings is that it is a new and special development, the attendant evils of which require special measures; while the friends of dog racing say that it is not attended by special evils, but has several meritorious aspects, and that it would not therefore be fair to propose special measures discriminating against it (although they defer for the present any proposal that it should, for instance, be brought within any new enabling measures, such as that for legalising the totalisator).

Opinion being thus sharply divided, an attempt has been made to get at the facts. In January a questionnaire was addressed to the chief Officer of Police in every district where dog racing tracks were in being. 17 replies were received concerning 22 tracks, of which 4 were in the Metropolitan Police District.

The general effect of these replies is-:

I. There is much betting at dog-races (including some betting by persons in receipt of unemployment benefit, just as there is at horse-races; but there is no evidence of any street betting, or betting-house betting on dog-races.

Few children or young persons attend dog-races unaccompanied by their parents. There is very little betting at dog-races by young persons and none by young children, nor do young persons or children bet away from the tracks; on the other hand young persons do bet on football and, to a less extent, on horse-racing.

II. There is no evidence of increased pawning or debt; and next to no evidence of increased destitution.

III. There is no evidence that drunkenness, disorder and drinking have decreased rather than increased. But some public houses near tracks have had extra customers who have been drawn from public houses further away.

IV. There has been no disorder at the tracks.

V. Dog-racing in the open air has drawn people away from public house, cinemas and theatres, but not from football matches or horse-races.

It may be said that these replies effectively dispose of any case for measures specially directed against dog-racing, but it must be remembered that dog-racing goes on at each track for 3 or 4 nights each week and that, as time goes by, it is almost certain that dog racing will familiarise an increasing number of adults and many young person and children with betting.

Not much light is to be gained from experience in other countries. In two countries where bull-fighting is popular, Spain and Mexico, there is prohibition either on the one hand of grey-hound-racing or on the other hand of betting thereon; and so also in three States of Australia where horse-racing is popular. But in the Free State, France and Germany there are said to be no restrictions. Our own law already discriminates in favour of horse-races (betting at which is not prohibited so long as no ‘place’ is localized) for, under existing law, betting at dog-races is illegal, not only if any ‘place’ is localized (e.g. by making a fixture of a bookmaker’s box) but also if the track is unenclosed or if the promoters or the owners of the land exhibit notices prohibiting betting. If the totalisator is legalised for horseraces only, there will, for the time being at any rate, be still further discrimination against dog-races.

I have already made it clear that I intend at the first opportunity to introduce legislation prohibiting betting with children or young persons under a certain age of any kind of race or event. Personally I favour, further, what I take to be the principle of Mr. Buchan’s Bill, namely, that local authorities should have a discretionary power to licence, subject to conditions, or not to licence, a proposed dog track. In any second reading Debate with a free vote I propose to state that as my personal view, expressly reserving however the right, at a later stage, to suggest various amendments, e.g. to make it clear that there must be a real exercise of discretion by licensing authorities, and no harsh or unconscionable closing of existing tracks.

I think it is high time that the whole question should be ventilated in the House and I hope my colleagues will support the view that facilities should be given as soon as practicable for a Second reading Debate with a free vote and, if the Bill obtains a second reading that facilities should be given at a later date for further stages if possible.


30th April, 1928

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