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Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): Does my hon. Friend agree that if, as has been threatened, the largest racing interest in this country, the Maktoum family, withdraws its racing interests from this country--totally out of character, the family have publicly gone on record to say that, if this dire situation continues, they may well do so--the effect on revenues for racing, and indeed on tax revenues and employment in this country and all its ancillary industries, would be catastrophic?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When somebody of that gentleman's standing is persuaded to consider withdrawing his horses from British racing, that is a very dire warning of which we should all take notice. His racehorses tend to be flat-race horses, and flat racing is better funded than national hunt racing. If he sees such a problem in flat racing, the problem in national hunt racing is indeed worse.

I ask the Government to recognise that government in general has tended to be the problem in the racing industry. I should like them to consider how they might offer help to the industry. I stress that no one in racing is asking for a Government handout or subsidy; all we ask is that the Government stop taking such a large amount of money out of racing, especially when they treat other forms of gambling more leniently.

A cut in betting duty and a transfer of that to the levy board--a move seen as vital by the industry--would enable racing to continue to provide employment to thousands of people and enjoyment to millions. I ask the Government seriously to consider making such a medium-term investment in an industry which is one of the hallmarks of Britain.

1.47 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), my neighbour, for allowing me to have a couple of minutes of his Adjournment debate. He presented the case for national hunt racing in a

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well-structured and professional way, and all of us who are involved and have an interest in racing are incredibly grateful to him for raising this subject today.

Although I have no direct interest in national hunt racing, my family does. Indeed, I must be one of very few hon. Members to have ridden winners under the rules of the national hunt racing industry.

I shall make a couple of points in support of what my hon. Friend said. I was talking the other day to one of the more successful owners in this country, whose horse had just won--admittedly on the flat, and not under national hunt rules--£50,000 on a grade 1 race in Milan. Apparently, in this country he would have won about £5,000 or £6,000. That is the problem. Unless an owner is one of the most successful, the prize money in this country hardly covers the training fee.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, in national hunt racing, which has always been the poorer cousin of flat racing, the situation is even more dire; unless the prize money and general conditions in racing can be improved, the situation can only go downhill. That would be a pity not only for the racing industry and the trainers but for the huge host of associated industries. The stud industry-- the pedigree horse industry--in this country is one of the most successful in the world. It would be a great shame if some of the best stallions in the world were not to stand in this country and were to stand abroad, with the implications that that would have on the balance of payments.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) made the point that one of the foremost interests in the middle east, who has spent some £500 million on the flat racing industry in this country, has threatened to pull out if the situation, particularly the prize money, is not improved. My hon. Friend will be able to attest far better than I, although I was born and bred and brought up in his constituency, the financial multiplier of that money in the Newmarket area in terms of employment and the generation of various economic activities.

Many other associated industries within the racing industry are very successful in this country, notably the horse insurance and finance leasing industry, and the veterinary research in this country is some of the foremost in the world. If we start to lose all those supporting industries, this country will be very much the poorer, because of investors in the middle east not investing in this country, and also because the rich people in this country will have to send their mares abroad for covering by stallions.

I hope that the Government will take notice of what my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury so expertly said. It is really a question of cutting off our nose to spite our face if we cannot bring about a little more deregulation in the betting industry in this country, and if we cannot ensure that a little more money goes back into the industry, through some mechanism from the betting industry, but particularly from the betting levy tax. It is not a huge amount of money from the Government's coffers, but if it were sensibly done I am sure that the advantage to the balance of payments, and indeed the multiplier effect of the turnover from racing increasing, would be very beneficial for this country in the longer term.

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1.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth): I congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) on his account of the industry's problems, and his description of its contribution to our national life. I may be corrected, but I do not remember a similar debate in the House over the past decade, so it is all the more important for us to take as much advantage of today's debate as possible. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Tewkesbury says that my memory is bad. If there has been such a debate over the past decade, I apologise, but I certainly have no recollection of it.

The hon. Gentleman placed particular emphasis on national hunt racing. I think it is true to say that no other country has a national hunt or jump racing system that is anything like ours. The grand national--which takes place in my constituency--is watched by many members of the public, both in this country and abroad. I shall say more shortly about Aintree and its role in national hunt racing.

The hon. Gentleman chose to highlight the problems faced by the industry, which is fair enough--and, as he pointed out, topical. The issues surrounding racing have been debated hotly in the past few weeks, in different forums, but, although the debate has focused on the problems, we should bear in mind the positive developments that are taking place. Cheltenham race course, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, is both charming--I know that, as I have visited it--and successful: indeed, I understand that it is doing so well that last year it had to limit the number of admissions. We should not paint too gloomy a picture.

The Tote--whose profits go to racing--has reported an increased turnover, and is in a healthy financial position. As hon. Members who take an interest in such matters will know, it is set to expand. Racing benefits considerably from the Tote's activities. Race courses receive a 5 per cent. commission on Tote turnover, and the last Cheltenham festival, for instance, generated a record turnover of £7 million. That gives some indication of the benefit that flowed from it. Racehorse owners benefit from sponsorship, which boosts prize money. The Tote will be providing sponsorship at all 59 race courses in 1998.

It is clear that the Tote is going from strength to strength. Racing has welcomed its strategy to maximise its own long-term profits for the benefit of racing and everyone associated with it. The Tote chairman, Peter Jones, summed up the position very well in his recent Gimcrack speech--made on the same occasion as the speech by Sheikh Mohammed, to which the hon. Gentleman referred; for obvious reasons, it was probably less widely reported. Mr. Jones said:


I consider that a fair reflection of the conclusion that would be reached by a number of people with a balanced approach.

However, Mr. Jones also referred to a need for improvement. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary tellingly said to a racing audience last week, there is no room for complacency. I do not want to convey the unbalanced view that we do not accept that there are difficulties and cases that must be considered, and I

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certainly feel that the racing industry and the bookmakers can build on their successes to help in the boosting of racing's share of the betting market.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth: Briefly; I have very little time.

Mr. Paice: I thank the Minister. I will be brief.

The Minister has mentioned bookmakers, and the share of the money that goes back to racing. I realise that he will have to discuss the matter with the Treasury, and that it is not necessarily his direct responsibility, but will he talk to the Treasury about the levels of betting duty on different forms of betting? I understand that this is one of the few countries in which everything that takes place in a betting shop is taxed at the same rate, whereas tax on the lottery is already at a different level. Will the Minister consider the possibility of relating tax more to the margins that bookmakers are making on individual betting products? He may find that it is possible to replace the money that the racing industry is seeking by reducing that amount.


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