Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Howarth: I hope to make some comments on the Treasury's responsibilities shortly, but I am not sure that it is accurate to say that there are not different rates for certain kinds of bet. Forecasts, for instance, are exempt from certain tax rates--I think; if I am wrong, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman. In any event, his general point deserves to be considered.

The British Horseracing Board's off-course betting development group has shown what can be achieved. Last year, prize money in Britain topped a record £60 million. The case of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury is that the prize money is inadequate in many lesser races, but I repeat that the total has reached a record level. [Interruption.] There are international comparisons to be made. I am simply commenting on the scale in this country now.

On behalf of the racing industry, the British Horseracing Board has prepared a financial plan. It was presented to the industry forum this morning, and I look forward to studying it in detail. Hon. Members will, I think, accept that it would be premature for me to comment on its contents before I have had an opportunity to read them, and I will confine myself to a personal comment. It has been widely reported that Lord Wakeham resigned as BHB chairman yesterday because he could not agree with the plan. On a personal level, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I very much regret his departure. Such disagreements will occur; it is unfortunate that this disagreement led to Lord Wakeham's decision to resign. It now falls to the board to appoint a successor, and I hope that that successor will work--and that Lord Wakeham will continue to work--for the best interests of all who are involved in racing.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth: Very briefly.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does the Minister agree that one of the reasons why the need for reform is so urgent is the

14 Jan 1998 : Column 331

increasing internationalisation of the horse racing industry, and the fact that people who participate in it have more freedom to take their horses wherever they wish if they do not like the regime in this country?

Mr. Howarth: That is absolutely true, in terms not only of that side of the market but of the punters' considerations. Those in the betting industry are very shrewd: they realise that at certain times of the year it is useful to take bets on races in South Africa and elsewhere.

Aintree race course, which is in my constituency, is very successful. On 4 April--this is just one more piece of good news--it will open a new £6 million grandstand, which forms part of a £15 million investment programme. The levy has played a part in that.

The hon. Gentleman referred to betting deregulation. He felt that there was too much regulation, and rightly said that the last Government had moved towards deregulation. There were welcome developments in that regard, and I am willing to consider approaches that are made to us, but I must add that our approach must be consistent with the rest of the Government's attitude to gambling. With that caveat, I do not rule out any further deregulation measures.

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that the betting industry had benefited from previous Home Office deregulation measures relating to print advertising, changed arrangements in shops and the introduction of amusement with prizes machines. All those measures have improved turnover. Not many industries have the support that the levy affords: as I think the hon. Gentleman said, it contributes £54 million a year to

14 Jan 1998 : Column 332

racing. So far, no one has come forward with a better mechanism, although I am willing to look at any suggestions.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned betting duty, which he rightly said was a matter for the Chancellor. I know that he will study the BHB's plan carefully; we have an on-going dialogue with the Treasury on such matters.

I shall refer only briefly to the ban on hunting, because it has already been debated thoroughly. I accept--as I accepted on Second Reading of the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill--that there will be an effect. Whether it will be as severe as those who oppose the ban claim remains to be seen, but it is no good pretending that there will be no effect.

Many of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman need to be considered further. It is important for those who care about the future of national hunt racing and racing in general--throughout the House and elsewhere--to reach the best possible consensus. If we can reach agreement across the industry, across the House and in the Government about what can be done sensibly, what is in the best interests of the racing industry and what is in the best interests of the general public who support it in many different ways, we will have done everyone a service. It is not simple, but, if we can establish some good will and understanding, and if we can engage in the sort of friendly but well-informed debate in which we have engaged this morning, I am sure that we can make progress.

It being Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

14 Jan 1998 : Column 333

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

RUC Officers

1. Rev. Martin Smyth: If she will list the perceived religion of (a) all officers and (b) officers above chief inspector level in the RUC in percentage terms. [20851]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): The perceived religion of all officers in the regular Royal Ulster Constabulary at 1 December 1997 was 88.5 per cent. Protestant, 8.26 per cent. Roman Catholic and 3.24 per cent. undetermined. At superintendent level and above, the figures were 80.95 per cent., 17.26 per cent. and 1.79 per cent. respectively.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I am sure that the Minister will join me in expressing sympathy and at the same time understanding something of the tension in north Belfast following this morning's tragic incident. I welcome the figures that he has given because they show that, if only about 8 per cent. of RUC officers are from the Roman Catholic community, at least attempts have been made to promote people whether on merit or otherwise, causing the perception to develop and the concern that there may be disproportionate promotions in the RUC.

Mr. Ingram: I share the hon. Gentleman's sentiments about this morning's incident. We all wish the injured RUC officer a speedy recovery. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman's concerns about promotion arise from, because the majority of people in Northern Ireland want a balanced police force that represents the spread of communities. That is also the view of the RUC and its senior officers. I suggest that a large majority of RUC officers want to be accepted in the wider community. One way to achieve that is for the RUC to represent a wider cross-section of the communities in Northern Ireland.

Policing (Public Confidence)

2. Mr. Savidge: What steps are being taken to increase confidence in policing in Northern Ireland. [20852]

Mr. Ingram: The Police (Northern Ireland) Bill currently before Parliament introduces planning and objective-setting mechanisms and other measures aimed at increasing confidence in policing. It includes the establishment of a police ombudsman for the independent investigation of complaints against the police. The Police Authority and the Chief Constable have also introduced community police liaison committees and initiatives on the promotion of a neutral working environment, recruitment processes and lay visiting.

Mr. Savidge: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree with me that everyone, including the RUC, recognises the importance of changes to policing in Northern Ireland? Does he also agree that the

14 Jan 1998 : Column 334

Government's Bill merely provides the framework for those changes? Will he inform the House what plans the Government have to ensure that all sections of the community are properly consulted about the future of policing in the Province?

Mr. Ingram: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I pay tribute to the RUC, who do a very good job in extremely difficult circumstances each and every day. My hon. Friend is right that the Bill provides a framework for the future of policing in Northern Ireland, but it is an important foundation on which new structures can be built if the people of Northern Ireland want more change. Obviously, the talks process provides an ideal opportunity for all sections of the community to have a say in the future of the policy. The Bill offers great opportunities for the future and poses a threat to no one.

Mr. Maginnis: Does the Minister agree that the confidence of both traditions in the community in the police is manifested regularly in a very practical way? Does he also agree that one must be careful not to carry forward arguments that are propounded by the most extreme elements in society when looking at changes that may take place within the RUC? Does he further agree that society's confidence in the police requires, first and foremost, a police force that is confident in itself?

Mr. Ingram: Clearly, the hon. Gentleman's last point is undoubtedly true: the police force should feel confident in itself. The Police (Northern Ireland) Bill will help the force in that objective because it is about increasing the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability and, therefore, the acceptability of the RUC in the wider community. That is why I said in response to the question from the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) that it is about improving the basis on which the RUC operates because that is what the RUC wants. It wants to be a normal police service within a normal society.

Mr. McGrady: Will the Minister join me in sympathising with those who were injured in the two incidents last night in Belfast? In one of them an on-duty, out-of-uniform lady soldier was shot and critically wounded by an RUC officer after hot pursuit. In the second, an SDLP councillor, one Martin Morgan, was assaulted physically and verbally by the RUC in attempting to dispel a riotous situation. Does he agree that it is not sufficient for the RUC to investigate those two incidents and will he immediately put in hand investigations into both incidents to restore the great deal of public confidence that has been lost in the past 24 hours?

Mr. Ingram: Obviously, we all regret incidents in which people are injured. There are details about the second incident to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and that is not yet a proven case. There have been allegations, and all members of society in Northern Ireland have the opportunity to pursue allegations against the police through the normal process. If the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill is accepted by the House, there will be an independent ombudsman to deal with such complaints against the RUC, and I am sure that I can count on the hon. Gentleman's support for that measure.

14 Jan 1998 : Column 335

Next Section

IndexHome Page