Finance Bill

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John Healey: I shall respond to the points raised by the right hon. Member and other hon. Members. The rationale for returning the concession to its original purpose is twofold. First, at venues such as rugby grounds and motor racing circuits, betting is not a major part of the attraction in the way that it is in horse racing or greyhound racing. More importantly, as I explained in my opening remarks, at greyhound tracks and horse racing circuits, on-course betting is a crucial component in establishing, altering and determining the starting prices for those races. That simply is not comparable with the sort of prices that someone would get on the result at a football or rugby match, or any other sort of sporting fixture where the prices are determined by off-course bookmakers.

A couple of hon. Members were concerned about the impact of the change. As a result of the consultation and the accompanying discussions and evidence, we are satisfied that there will be little adverse impact on the ability of bookmakers to conduct their business activities at sporting venues that will no longer be covered by the concession. There was absolutely no indication from the bookmakers during the consultation period that they would withdraw from those venues as a result. We, therefore, confidently believe that there will be very little or nil adverse impact on the venues at which the bookmakers choose to continue to operate. As far as we can estimate, the impact of the reform on the odds that may be offered will also be negligible.

Tony Cunningham (Workington): From what I can gather, the Economic Secretary is talking about horse racing and greyhound racing. I just wondered whether hound trailing, which is popular in my constituency and other parts of Cumbria and which has on-course betting that determines the price, is also covered by the amendment.

John Healey: I have to concede that I am not familiar with that sport. We do not have it in Rotherham. If I may, I will check the point and get back to my hon. Friend.

Mr. O'Brien: Will the Economic Secretary ensure that the letter is sent to all members of the Committee? As a Cumbrian by background, I am familiar with the sport. It was a good example and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) for raising it.

John Healey: I should be delighted to do that. I am not promising or making any commitment, but if I can shed any light on the philosophical question posed by the hon. Gentleman about when a horse is a horse and not a donkey, I will do so as well.

The Chairman: Order. That is more a zoological question than a philosophical one.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Amusement machines not operated by coins or tokens

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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John Healey: The Government's White Paper ''A Safe Bet for Success'' proposed a relaxation of the current restrictions on the use of certain payment methods for playing machines. By the summer of this year it is expected that players will be able to play jackpot machines using smartcards and notes. Other machines will benefit from the changes early next year. The clause ensures that any dutiable amusement or gaming machine remains liable to that duty even when it accepts payment through methods other than coins or tokens. There is a possibility that machine operators may take advantage of the current legislative definitions of payment methods, such as coins or tokens, to argue that machines accepting payment other than in coins or tokens are not subject to duty. The clause ensures that that loophole is closed. It is an administrative change only. It does not place any burdens on business or consumers. I commend it to the Committee.

Mr. O'Brien: Given the guidance, I just want to raise a small point. In the interest of time, it will not necessarily mean that the Economic Secretary has to open the whole issue up to drill down to the fine detail. I just want to establish why there is a different structure for the definition of 50p machines, compared with 2p, 5p and 10p machines. It is no more than that. Otherwise, we are happy to support the Government.

John Healey: I have not given that detail of this provision as much scrutiny as the hon. Gentleman. I am prepared to answer the question whenever I can. The reason, I understand, is that rates of amusement machine licence duty are set in those bands.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Amusement machines: use of currencies other than sterling

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

3 pm

Mr. O'Brien: We note that under new section 26A(3) references to sterling will include references to the equivalent amount in other currencies on Royal Assent, and that the date when the licence is granted rather than when the application is received is the applicable date. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify the difference between the date when the licence was granted and the date when the application was received. If it is a matter of writing a letter, that will be more than satisfactory.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): I also have a small point. In relation to currencies other than sterling, new section 26A(2) says that the exchange rate

    ''shall be determined by reference to the London closing exchange rate for the previous day.''

Can the Minister advise us whether that is defined elsewhere in the 1981 Act? If it is not, whatever it is that constitutes the exchange rate should be defined.

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John Healey: Like clause 10, the clause flows from our proposed relaxation of the use of certain payment methods for play machines, following the recommendations in the White Paper, ''A Safe Bet for Success''. Therefore, in future, as well as using sterling coins and tokens, it will be possible to use bank notes, so it may be possible to use foreign currencies for play machines in the UK. The clause ensures that any dutiable amusement or gaming machine remains liable to that duty, even when it accepts payments in foreign currencies. That closes a possible loophole in the current legislation.

The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) asked about the date on which the provision comes into effect. The date will be when the application is received. I hope that that clarification is helpful.

Like clause 10, the clause makes an administrative change only and does not place any burdens on business or consumers.

The definition is as the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) read out. The rate is the closing price on the London market on the day prior to the day when the application is received. I hope that that helps him.

Mr. Djanogly: What London market is referred to? Is it the London inter-bank rates or Barclays bank's rates?

John Healey: That is an interesting, and slightly esoteric, point, but I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes it, because we want to be as precise as we can. As I said earlier, these are essentially technical and administrative changes, which we are putting in place in anticipation of deregulation, so that amusement machines can operate more effectively in future.

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to answer his detailed points. I shall type the letter to make it extremely clear and very readable, and I hope that that will satisfy him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 12 to 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Duty at higher rate: exception for tractive units

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. O'Brien: We have moved from betting and gaming to vehicle excise duty. We have passed through clause 15 on Northern Ireland and reached clause 16. The clause provides that an articulated lorry is not chargeable at the higher tax rate if used with fewer axles than when licensed. Provided that actual weight, rather than plated weight or design weight, is used to determine the tax rate, the vehicle will not fall into a higher tax band than when licensed. That will take effect from 9 April.

I am sure that the Economic Secretary will be as aware of that matter as I am. He will not be surprised that I have been made aware of it by the Freight Transport Association, not least because it has been

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instrumental—and successful—in making representations on the matter. I generally support the clause, but there is useful background material, and I shall place just some of that history on the record.

I am grateful to the Freight Transport Association for having ensured that the provision is well understood. That is important because, as a constituency Member, I have had many cases on it. I dare say that that is the case with Members across the Room, and I see one of my neighbouring Members of Parliament from across the border in Wales in his place, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas). He is aware that there are many trunk roads in our part of the world, but not that many motorways. Since the introduction of the 44-tonne limit, an increase under European law, the question of axle weight has become key.

Axle weight is causing concern because, clearly, lorries can now be larger. Many of our roads were built after houses were already there, which had been built when the road was a track. There is much grave danger. People have recognised the importance of axle weight as they have come to understand the cost to the Exchequer and to local councils and highways authorities. These heavy lorries are, unquestionably, the greatest determinant of road maintenance costs. With the company for which I used to work, I used to be the leading supplier of aggregates in the FTSE 100, so that situation was very advantageous to us; but it is very poor in terms of the competitive economy of the nation.

The change that the clause contains will protect operators from prosecution if they opt for the flexibility provided by the seven bands of vehicle excise duty introduced in the 2001 Budget. There is a slight history to that, which is building up. I agree with the Freight Transport Association that the change is sensible and will prevent articulated vehicle operators from being prosecuted because of the previous somewhat ambiguous legislation. That is not intended as a criticism; this is a sensible tidying-up. It will also avoid extra administration for the Vehicle Inspectorate and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Those costs could be quite significant, and the clause will assist to temper the administrative burdens that there would be on the public purse if operators were required to up-plate and down-plate vehicles according to their circumstances.

It would be gilding the lily to go through the history from 2001—those who wish to know more can always look it up—but the new vehicle excise system introduced that year gave operators of articulated vehicles the choice of seven taxation bands. The main thing to recognise is that as a result of the sensible and determined representations of the FTA, among others, the Treasury has included in the clause an addition that is helpful in relation to the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994. It confirms the flexibility for articulated vehicles to operate at maximum weights with trailers that have fewer axles without attracting a higher rate of duty.

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I hope that all that is not as clear as mud. It is enormously important to recognise changes in road usage, even if they may be somewhat unwelcome. It is a fact that weights have been allowed to increase, thereby putting trunk roads under much more pressure. The more we can do to reduce the administrative costs of up-plating and down-plating for such vehicles, the better for all of us.

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