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Mr. Holt : Has the Minister and our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary taken into account the latest deliberations of the Horseracing Advisory Board, which has said that it is firmly against any form of inquiry?
Mr. Patten : We take careful account of the views of the horseracing world. I am aware of the matter to which my hon. Friend refers. In recent months there have been some substantial shifts of opinion in the horseracing world about the desirability of an inquiry. Sometimes it is rather hard for the innocent Minister to keep up with the shifts in fashion about whether to have an inquiry.
We have not reached a decision about an inquiry, but if one is held it will certainly encompass the relationship between greyhound racing and off- course bookmaking. That is a pledge if we go ahead with the inquiry. It would be extremely odd to consider bookmaking separate from its relationship to horse racing which accounts for the majority of off-course betting turnover.
Greyhound racing and horseracing are also alike in being subject to constraints and in enjoying privileges under legislation for which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is responsible. That is not to say that an inquiry is inevitable, because many of the issues that might be covered were explored in depth and with considerable authority by the Rothschild Royal Commission on gambling which reported 11 years ago, in 1978. It is not right to say that racing's interests have been neglected in the intervening years. For example, greyhound racing and horseracing were certainly helped by the abolition of the on-course betting duty in 1987. That help by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was widely welcomed.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : I accept much of what the Minister has said about how the industry has progressed. However, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) said, in the last 12 months a substantial amount of money--approximately £11 million--has gone astray. It has been taken from punters in off-course betting shops and continues to be deducted from punters who presume it is being paid in tax. To me, and probably to the majority of hon. Members, that is deception by off-course bookmakers of the punters. Will the Minister see if he can find a way to direct some of that money into the greyhound industry?
Mr. Patten : I shall do my best to respond later to the general tenor of the intervention by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not give way again because I wish to give as full a reply as possible before the debate finishes at 12.16.
I welcome the view of the hon. Member for Mansfield that he has seen some improvements. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield and for Langbaurgh, he will have noticed that the Government supported private Members' legislation in 1985, the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Act, which abolished the limit on the number of days on which betting, and hence racing, was allowed on each greyhound track. That was a substantial advance. In addition, means exist for exploring concerns about bookmaking, ill founded or not. It is interesting to re-read the Royal Commission's report of 1978. One passage caught my eye and I shall read it to the House and thereby run the risk of bringing to his feet again my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh. It says : "As Jane Austen might have said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that bookmakers make too much money in fact, one might say that this opinion is held by everyone except bookmakers." I do not hold those views myself.
Claims such as the manipulation of odds or betting information and alleged domination of others within or by
Column 683the bookmaking industry will, I suspect, continue just as long as bookmakers and punters do business. It shows something of the vitality of the racing industry, both horse and greyhound, that these feelings run so strongly. Such claims were considered exhaustively by the Director General of Fair Trading in 1986 and 1987. As a result, early last year, he decided not to refer the off-course bookmaking industry to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission as a potential complex monopoly.
Continuing and suitable action under current arrangements--for example, by the Home Office, the Office of Fair Trading or Customs and Excise--might, therefore, remain the best means to address the concerns and claims of the racing industry. The arguments for a comprehensive review are also strong. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary hopes to announce his conclusion on an inquiry before the House rises for the summer recess, or, if not, in the spill-over session.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield made a cluster of arguments for a levy on off-course bets for greyhound races, and asks two specific questions. He referred to Satellite Information Services. The greyhound industry has variously alleged that SIS is dominated by the big bookmakers, and argued either that it should be entitled to a holding in SIS, or that the placing of unissued shares in SIS should be deferred until there has been an inquiry into racing and betting. I understand the strength of feeling on this, but the Government are not answerable for SIS's conduct as a commercial company. I understand that, at present, the big bookmakers do not control the SIS board. Under the terms of the proposed sharing placing- -I have gone into this with some care--the bookmakers' shareholding will reduce to less than 50 per cent. I also understand that the Racecourse Association, which also is independent of Government, is not sympathetic to the call for it to block the share placing unless or until there has been an inquiry. The current investigation by the Office of Fair Trading into the relationship between SIS and the
Column 684Racecourse Association is a matter for the Director General of Fair Trading, not my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I understand that the outcome of the investigation will be made public.
My hon. Friend then referred to section 19 of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, and suggested that the spirit of this section might be being abused by the ownership of some greyhound tracks by off-course bookmaking companies. That section prohibits the proprietor of any greyhound track from having an interest in bookmaking on that track. That is because the proprietor can also operate his own totalisator. If he could also conduct the on-course bookmaking, he would have a monopoly of on- course betting. This does not apply to the ownership of tracks by off- course bookmakers. This was looked at in some depth by the Rothschild commission. In the absence of any evidence of abuse, it did not support the case for prohibiting off-course bookmakers from owning tracks, and nor has the Office of Fair Trading made any recommendations about it. If anyone has any evidence of malpractice, such as the fixing of races, by virtue of ownership, it is extremely important that it is brought to the attention of the Office of Fair Trading or the Home Office, and we shall deal with it urgently.
There are six principal reasons why the Government believe that the law relating to the levy on off-course betting on greyhound races should not be changed. First, it is argued that greyhound racing is entitled to a levy because horseracing has one. The arrangements for the horseracing levy are in question at present, following the dispute about the 28th levy scheme and the resulting call from members of the levy board for an inquiry. Looking back at the origins of the levy, the extent to which it was the product of several special factors that applied back in 1960 is striking. The viability of English racing--
The motion having been made after Ten o'clock on Monday evening, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned at sixteen minutes past Twelve o'clock.
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