The Chairman: It is extremely difficult for me to take that view because I was in the middle of taking advice. However, it seems to me that the amendments pretty well cover the clause anyway, and my instinct is to do just that. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if he wants to go wide, and treat this as a clause stand part debate, that is probably in the interests of the Committee as a whole.
Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful, Mr. McWilliam. That entirely accords with the determination that I had hoped you would make.
My party supports the Government amendment and raises no objections to it. It is clearly a sensible tidying-up. My point, which is brief, relates more to a stand part debate because it is on something that we hoped would be included in a Government amendment, but does not appear. I do not find it clear from the drafting of the Bill what the consequences will be if a provider provides both a betting exchange and premises. I understand that in the case of premises exclusively, the service involved is better understood; but it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify what happens if there is joint provision. Why have the Government not thought fit to introduce a further amendment on that?
That aside, we are happy with the current Government amendment.
John Healey: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to write to him on that narrow point.
The Chairman: I call Mr. Jack.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) rose—
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The Chairman: Order. The Chair may have seemed a little prescient there, but I was worried about the right hon. Gentleman getting back in time.
Mr. Jack: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. McWilliam. Thank you very much for your kind consideration.
I may have missed something, but perhaps the Economic Secretary could explain to me, before he closes his notes on it, precisely how the amendment works. Unless something is missing, or it leads to some greater mystery, I cannot see, having examined line 28, how the amendment fits into it. Can he explain how it will work and rather more precisely what it means? If after the word ''in'' we inserted ''paragraph (a) of'', which is on the amendment paper, we would then have the words
''of the course of a business''.
I do not understand that.
John Healey: My belief is that the amendment works perfectly adequately, but I shall have a look at it. If I change my view on that—
The Chairman: Order. I think that we are getting our ''in''s mixed up—or perhaps we visited some at lunch time, I have no idea. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should read from the first ''in''. I can understand it, and I am not that clever.
Mr. Jack: I think that I have got the wrong ''in'', Mr. McWilliam. Let us say that I shall be out, and thank you very much.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
General betting duty: restriction of exemption for on-course bets
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
John Healey: On-course betting was taken out of the scope of general betting duty in 1987. The intention was to promote a healthy betting market at race courses and greyhound tracks, which is an important factor in generating the starting prices for horse races and greyhound races. The starting prices are used to determine the odds in high street bookmakers up and down the country.
That concession was welcome, well-judged and well-targeted. In recent years, however, the on-course exemption has increasingly been used at other sporting venues where betting is not the main source of attraction and where no comparable starting price mechanism is at work. Members of the Committee will probably be aware that bookmakers are based in stalls within most football grounds, golf tournaments and cricket grounds, and it does not make sense for them to benefit from the same on-course exemption.
We signalled our intention to review the scope of the on-course exemption when we introduced the gross profits tax in 2001 and we have consulted extensively
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since then. We have received no responses to the consultation supporting the continuation of current arrangements. By restricting the on-course exemption to bets made on horse racing and greyhound racing, we are restoring and strengthening the rationale behind the original concession. We are satisfied that the measure will have little adverse impact on the ability of bookmakers at other sporting venues to continue to flourish and I stress that it will have no impact on punters, who will continue to be able to enjoy tax-free betting at those venues.
Mr. John Baron (Billericay): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. McWilliam. Although I accept the Economic Secretary's remarks, the choice of sports to benefit from the exemption is unfair. The clause amends the definition of an ''on-course bet''. As I understand it, from 1 September 2003 the on-course exemption to betting duty will apply only to bets made at horse and dog race meetings.
Because of the actions of both Labour and Conservative Governments over the years, Britain has been a world leader in the global betting market and the online betting revolution. I pay tribute to the Government for abolishing the betting tax in October 2001. Going back even further, the Economic Secretary rightly pointed out that in 1987 on-course betting was taken out of the scope of general betting duty. As he said, the intention was to promote a healthy on-course betting market for horse and greyhound racing, which importantly supports the industry's starting price mechanism.
The Committee has heard that the provisions have been increasingly used at other venues, such as football grounds, rugby grounds, golf courses and so forth. At this point, I should declare a partial interest: like many others, one of my great pleasures is watching rugby, particularly England at Twickenham, and having the occasional beer as well. Although I do not partake, I have friends who like to bet on the outcome of the match. It appears that the Government are not prepared to accept that on-course bookmakers at events, such as rugby matches and games of football, should be treated in the same way as those at horse races or greyhound meetings.
I accept that the starting price mechanism is crucial in horse racing, but starting prices also apply to football matches and rugby matches. The nature of betting has moved on because one can bet in a variety of ways on not only the outcome but the spread of points. It seems unjust that those going to rugby matches, for example, should be discriminated against and, at the end of the day, poor tax law results in costs being passed on to consumers.
I would also ask the Economic Secretary one other question. What assessment has he made of the impact that the clause will have on the odds offered by the bookmakers? I should be interested to hear whether any analysis of that has been carried out by the Treasury.
Mr. Jack: I add to what my hon. Friend has just said one further question. Why would the measure apply at a grand prix horse meeting but not at a grand prix motor race? There are examples of on-course
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betting arrangements at the latter, and I am struggling to understand why animals should benefit, while human activity is discriminated against.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West): I welcome you to the Chair this afternoon, Mr. McWilliam. Another jewel in the crown of my constituency is Molineux football ground, home to Wolverhampton Wanderers football club which, as I am sure many hon. Members will know, had a wonderful result last night at Reading and is going into the play-offs for the premier league. If the team should not get promoted, I am concerned what the financial impact of this change might be on Wolverhampton Wanderers football club.
The Chairman: Order. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Finance Bill should contain legislation that would require that result, I have to tell him that I would have to be impartial.
Rob Marris: I would welcome any amendment to that effect, Mr. McWilliam. If Wolverhampton Wanderers was not to be promoted, it would stay in the English league division one, in which there are significant financial difficulties due to the ITV Digital fiasco. I wonder if the Minister would tell me what effect the clause would have on the finances of football clubs that may be leasing out betting space to a private company for at-stadium betting, whether on the result of the match taking place at that stadium, other football matches or other sporting events. Has the Treasury made an assessment of the financial impact?
Mr. O'Brien: I have listened carefully to the Minister and the contributions of my hon. Friends, as well as to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), and it seems to me that while I accept the Minister's logic, questions have to be raised—of course, it would be very helpful to have the answers too. I am very interested to hear the answer to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) about motor racing. Oulton Park circuit is in my constituency and it is having to go through some major restructuring, so obviously the financial implications are important.
Most of us will have some form of constituency interest which might experience a potential differential or even competitive effect in relation to the future financial backing that can be found to underpin various sporting venues. It did strike me that one of the most difficult ones to square—it may seem somewhat humorous—was a donkey derby because that really is entirely animal-based. Is a donkey a horse for the purposes of the clause? I do not know whether the Economic Secretary has paragraphs of advice helpfully provided by his officials, but I dare say that the world has always wished to know the answer to that. Is he able to provide it this afternoon? That would be a world first. I say that in the presence of my right hon. Friend, who represents Fylde, which is close to one of the most famous donkey derbies on the Blackpool beach. We need to know the answer, but on the basis that we will get satisfactory answers, we will be happy to support the Government on the clause.
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