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Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I welcome this long overdue Bill, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that the Bill does not guarantee that the Tote will be sold to the racing trust. The Minister says that he cannot foresee any circumstances in which that would not happen, but one factor that might prevent such a sale would be if the Government asked for too much money. No Government have ever put money into the Tote, so this Government cannot expect to make too much money from its sale.
Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman has gone a little beyond the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), but I shall deal with his questions as I make progress with my remarks. However, if the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he will be able to say more about these matters later in the debate, and also in Standing Committee.
We believe that it is in the long-term public interest to open up the pool betting market to effective competition, but we also believe that a reasonable period of preparation is necessary if the Tote, when it is owned by the racing trust, is to continue to provide a reliable income stream for the sport. I assure the House that I, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and our officials would not have spent as much time trying to secure a satisfactory arrangement if we did not believe that the Tote would be sold to a racing trust.
The sale will bring benefits to the betting market through safeguarding a competitive pool, and it will benefit the public by increasing consumer choice and consumer protection. That is why we announced to the House, on 27 November last year, our plans to sell the Tote to a racing consortium. Our current intention is to issue the successor company with an exclusive licence to operate horse race pool betting for British racing for seven years.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): Those of us who have followed this issue closely are grateful to the Minister for his efforts in ensuring that the Bill provides for a licence exclusivity period of not less than seven years. However, does he accept that alternative points of view have been raised elsewhere, and that the future of
Mr. Caborn: I do not believe that that needs to be included on the face of the Bill. What I am saying today at the Dispatch Box is, according to the conventions of the House, a clear statement of the Government's intentions. That is why I do not believe that the provision needs to be included on the face of the Bill. I hope that the House will agree that a seven-year exclusive licence strikes the right balance between the two priorities that I have outlined. I am convinced that it is the best way forward for racing, the betting industry and the punter.
Mr. Cawsey: My right hon. Friend has been very patient. I take his word about all the people who will benefit from the Bill, but I wish to make a point about the horses involved. Some animal welfare groups have said that the current system raises funds for the long-term welfare and care of racehorses, and they want a guarantee that any new legislation will maintain that system in the future.
The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to require the Gaming Board to issue the licence and be responsible for the regulation of pool betting on horse racing. If during the licence period Parliament approves our plans to reform the general law on gambling, it will be for the new Gambling Commission to take over the job of regulation. The seven-year licence will not be extended, and at the end of that seven-year transitional period there will be a new regulatory regime that will allow other operators to provide pool betting as well.
Part 2 of the Bill provides for the abolition of the Horserace Betting Levy Board and its associated levy appeals tribunals. It provides for the transfer of its assets, the abolition of the horserace betting levy system and the issuing of certificates of approval to race courses by the Gaming Board. The Government's intention is that local authorities will take over the Gaming Board's proposed responsibility for the licensing of race courses for betting purposes in due course, as set out in the draft Gambling Bill that is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.
The Government undertook two consultation exercises in March and November 2000 to consider whether a statutory system for funding horse racing was necessary. I am sure hon. Members will agree that it should not be for the Government, or another body, to dictate how much bookmakers should pay racing for the use of its product. Therefore, we recommended the abolition of the levy board and the levy system, to be replaced by commercial agreements between the horse racing industry and betting companies.
The Bill helps to end the Government's unnecessary involvement in funding horse racing, while still safeguarding the important work that the levy board does to support veterinary researchmuch important work is done around Newmarketand the improvement of breeds of horses. We seek to ensure those are maintained to at least current levels after the abolition of the board. Therefore, the safeguards that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) requested will be in place, as he will see if he reads the Bill carefully.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that race courses have benefited from loans at favourable rates from the levy board capital fund. Indeed, every major capital development at York race course, even though it is one of the biggest and best in the country, has been supported by the fund, including a third of the cost of its new Ebor stand. When the levy board capital fund is transferred to a successor body, can my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that it will enjoy the same tax advantages as at present, so that the benefits to race courses can be maintained at the current level?
Mr. Caborn: I shall take that point on board. I do not wish to give a misleading answer now, but I will ensure that that question is answered fully in the course of proceedings on the Bill. I know that it is important for race courses such as York, which has done a fantastic job of upgrading.
I would like to make it clear that the decision to sell the Tote and abolish the levy board is in no way a reflection on their performance. The staff and board members of both bodies have carried out their duties to a very high standard and I am grateful for their efforts.
I turn now to the other subject area covered by the Bill. Part 3 will enable dedicated Olympic lottery games to be established as part of the national lottery, in the event that London is chosen to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. It also creates the necessary structures for holding the proceeds from those lottery games and a distribution mechanism that will enable those proceeds to be used to meet expenditure in connection with the staging of the Olympic games.
As hon. Members will be aware, we announced the Government's intention to support a London bid for the 2012 Olympic games in a statement to the House on 15 May 2003. Staging the Olympic and Paralympic games in London in 2012 would bring the opportunity to inspire greater participation in sport, increase the medal success of our elite athletes, and, importantly, leave a lasting legacy of community facilities across the country. But it would also bring benefits beyond the sporting sector. A London games would have a positive impact in terms of regeneration, investment and tourism, and we want as many of those benefits as possible to extend across the UK.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I strongly support the London bid for the Olympics, but as the Member of Parliament who represents Picketts Lock, I am aware of what an uphill task it will be for the Government to win the bid. If we are to gain the
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions are becoming mini speeches, which means less time for genuine speeches later. I would be grateful if interventions could be brief and to the point, and if the Minister's responses could be in the same vein.
Mr. Caborn: If my hon. Friend catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he will be able to develop his point further. It will be discussed during the proceedings on the Bill, in any event.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): We need to ensure that the benefits of a London bid accrue to the whole country. If we are to win the bid, it will be essential for the Government to be involved in ensuring that every part of the country supports it, and that will require proven benefits for every part of the country, not least Wales.