Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.57 am

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh): First, may I record my appreciation and gratitude to the Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), for her radical and remarkable tenure in office during the past 15 months or so? Following the reallocation of her duties, she will inspire the House with her leadership in terms of the programming of the House in the future.

The subject I wish to discuss is the state and the future of the British horse racing industry. I must record my interest--not a pecuniary one--as the senior chairman of the renowned and famous bloodstock and horse racing group, Lords and Commons. Horse racing has been known as the sport of kings, but it is very different now. Satellite and terrestrial television bring sporting activity into our living rooms.

What used to be a sport a couple of hundred years ago is now a major industry. The racing and betting industry involves 100,000 jobs, with an annual turnover in off-course betting of £4.6 billion. The Exchequer is always around to cream something off: £300 million in taxation and another £150 million for racing and breeding. That is no small change. When Chancellors are looking for a bob or two, they make statements that frighten the industry.

Regular attendance at racing has topped 5 million. That is the highest figure since the 1960s. Obviously, with a Labour Government in office, there are a few more shillings to be spent, and more pleasure and adaptation to leisure to be had. After the world cup, racing is the most televised sport on terrestrial television.

Despite its popularity, the industry is in turmoil. The new chairman of the British Horseracing Board is slugging it out with the director general of the Betting Office Licensees Association. The Horserace Betting Levy Board is, in my view, an unnecessary stratum of administration, and it is rowing with the National Association of Bookmakers. There is constant verbal jousting, which is not improving the industry's image or public relations. The family is at war in the racing industry.

Unfortunately, the bookmakers cream off substantial amounts that should go to the levy board to be ploughed back into maintaining and improving the standard of British racing. One would not have said this as a Labour Member of Parliament some years ago, but I believe that Government should get out of the industry, which should stand on its own two feet, as it is no different from the chemical industry or any other.

The Government are forced to adjudicate between the bookmakers, the British Horseracing Board and all the other organisations. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who used to be Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, must know all about it. The industry needs to be competitive and to sell its product. The new BHB chairman, Peter Savill, would want to find the highest bidder and plough the money back into the industry. We could have open competition, rather than the three monopolies that we have at present.

As my right hon. Friend well knows, the Ladbroke-Coral issue is entirely clear. She referred it to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. I must talk to her successor, because, when the commission reports

29 Jul 1998 : Column 295

back, it will be for the new Secretary of State to make the decision. It is an interesting scenario, and we shall want to see what happens.

I have made it clear to all the major figures in the industry that the poor old punter is stuck in the middle. Off-course betting in local betting shops accounts for 96 per cent. of the money. The poor old punter pays 9 per cent., and certainly does not get value for money in the sporting odds offered by bookmakers.

The Exchequer takes £300 million a year, and the bookies make £100 million profit and are the majority shareholders in the satellite services company, which is a lucrative cream-off, yet the racing industry makes only about 1p in every £1 bet, which is the lowest proportion in the world.

The BHB financial plan, drawn up by Peter Savill, is to be welcomed. The racing industry never had a strategy before. There are arguments about the money. The plan is for £25 million to be raised by the sport itself, and, it is hoped, for £80 million to come from the Government; but there is no way that will happen. The money must come from the industry itself, and, frankly, the bookmakers should be targeted. They should put more money back into the industry, and give a fairer share to both the industry and those who patronise it: the punters.

Four separate Departments are involved in the racing industry: the Treasury, because of the huge tax contributions; the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, because it is a sport, although it should really be considered an industry; the Home Office, because of licensed betting; and the Department of Trade and Industry, because it is an industry. How many other industries have so many different Departments to deal with them? It is ludicrous.

Bureaucracy in the sport must be reduced. The levy board is like a middleman. It collects and redistributes the money as it sees fit--I suppose there are criteria--although it is bound by regulation and bureaucracy. To be honest, it is an unnecessary stratum of administration. The distribution of money should be put under the auspices of the British Horseracing Board. Having one board to deal with the whole industry would be far more sensible. In the coming year, there will be a reduction of £5 million in the levy takings going back to the industry.

My right hon. Friend knows very well about the merger I mentioned. I opposed it, and made a submission to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, because I believe that it would be against the public interest, especially for the punter, and that competition would go out of the window.

I pay tribute to the Tote. Under Peter Jones, a determined and dedicated chairman, it has advanced no end in a short period. It gives efficient service, and distributes the money back to those who have put it in. Nobody plays around, creaming off profits here and there. It makes a remarkable investment back into the industry. I commend the initiative taken by the Tote, and hope that it will be successful. I hope that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission allows the Tote to buy the 830 Coral shops that are for sale.

I applaud the BHB plan and hope that it will be successful. It would create 9,000 new jobs immediately. I commend the Racecourse Association. Remarkable

29 Jul 1998 : Column 296

improvements have been made at Haydock Park, a beautiful racecourse which lies between Liverpool and Manchester. The initiative that has been taken means that families can go nearly any day of the week to enjoy not only racing but other leisure activities.

The industry needs total deregulation, so that it can function like any other competitive business, offering the best services, standards and quality to the public and those who sponsor it. If we do not reform racing, more top racing and top owners will go abroad. We will lose our lead in the racing world, along with the revenue and prestige that the horse racing industry has always brought to the United Kingdom.

10.10 am

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): I want to discuss two issues that concern my constituents. The first arises from a visit to my surgery by Mrs. Gladys Peckham. She is widow of 85 who lives in a council flat. She feels very alone. Her only companion is her chihuahua, whose name is Penny. Gladys has a friend who lives a considerable distance away in Cobham. She wants to move nearer to her friend so that she does not feel so lonely, and she sought a transfer to sheltered accommodation. She received what at first seemed like a positive reply from the local authority involved, but she read on and found that she was being told that she would have to make alternative arrangements for her pet. She would not be allowed to keep Penny in the residential accommodation.

The bond between people and their pets can be strong, especially with older people who rely heavily on their pets for companionship. Sadly, the emotional importance of pets to older people is not taken seriously enough by many local authorities and housing associations. In some cases, official indifference can result in heart-breaking consequences. More than 140,000 pets are taken to vets or animal sanctuaries each year because their elderly owners are moving to alternative accommodation, and 38,000 of those pets, are put down.

It cannot be right for older people to be forced to choose between ensuring that they can keep their pets, the prospect of their beloved pets being destroyed or placed in other care and rehomed if they are lucky, and the desire to move into more appropriate sheltered or residential accommodation.

I hope that more local authorities and housing associations will, in the first instance, take voluntary action to review their policies and practices, consult older people and draw up and develop pet-friendly policies. There is much good practice in the voluntary and housing association sector and local government. My local authority has good practice, but that is no help to Gladys, because she wants to move to another area.

I am grateful to those hon. Members who have signed early-day motion 1573 on this issue. I hope that local authorities and housing associations that have not yet examined good practice will do so. If they are reluctant, I hope to persuade Ministers not to legislate but to advocate, persuade and be more active on the matter.

Pet-friendly policies should include entitlement to own a pet if the resident can care for it and it is no danger or health hazard to others. If the pet dies, it should be possible to replace it. Residents must take responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of their pets, and ensure

29 Jul 1998 : Column 297

that they are kept under proper control. If a pet must be rehomed, the housing provider must advise an appropriate animal welfare agency that can help. Social services departments should keep registers of private and public sector residential care providers with such policies. The worst thing is for older people to go to housing or social services departments only to be told that they must get rid of their pets, rather than being able to examine the available options.

I hope that the Leader of the House will tell her colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions that this issue affects not only my constituent but many people who feel that having to abandon their pets to get appropriate housing is unacceptable.

The second issue goes wider than my constituency. If we are honest, standard spending assessments are a mystery to most of us, and probably even to the officials who have to deal with this science, if one can call it that. A recent paper by the Association of London Government deals with some changes that are being considered by the DETR and the Department for Education and Employment that seriously affect the resources available to London boroughs and thus the services that they provide.

Three changes are being considered: to the additional educational needs index; to the area cost adjustment, which was the subject of numerous inquiries at Environment Question Time; and to the children's personal social services formula. The main changes affect additional educational needs and children's personal social services.

For AEN, it is proposed to drop lone parents, income support claimants and ethnic minorities from the index used to allocate funds. As a result, the index will under-predict inner London's unit costs for providing education services by about 10 per cent. Over the next three years, a council such as Tower Hamlets could lose up to £50.7 million from its education budget. My local education authority in Sutton could lose about £9.5 million.

The second big change affects children's personal social services. If the new methodology had been used in 1997-98, London would have lost about £88 million, with 12 London boroughs losing more than 25 per cent. of their children's personal social services SSA. Over three years, that would cost London social services, and thus the services provided to children, around £300 million. The Health Committee has rightly identified that inadequate resourcing has been a major cause of failure in children's services, but we face the prospect of a reduction in funding for those very services in the capital. We know that, in parts of the capital, those services are already failing, and need greater investment and support to do their job properly and effectively.

Taken together, the three changes could cost London and London services up to £1.5 billion over the next three years. Those resources are vital to the delivery of services. The welcome additional investment in resources for services by the Government has raised expectations that there will be improvements to services and standards. The changes will undermine the Government's efforts to raise standards in education and social services.

To put that figure of £1.5 billion another way, if councils were allowed to raise their council tax to bridge the gap--it is certain that they would not be

29 Jul 1998 : Column 298

allowed to do so--approximately a 70 per cent. increase in council tax would be required, which would add £485 a year to the average band D council tax across London. That is far too much, and would have a devastating effect on many of those who rely on the services. I hope that the Leader of the House will communicate that concern to the Department.

I understand that this subject was to have been raised in an Adjournment debate later this week, but that, sadly, hon. Members will not now have that opportunity to raise their concerns. However, the Association of London Government, Labour leaders of many councils and many of my colleagues who lead London councils are seriously concerned about the impact on children's services and education. Therefore, I hope that, before final decisions are made, our representations will be taken into account.

Next Section

IndexHome Page