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4 pm

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) (Lab): In view of all the sporting implications of the Bill, I cannot help but reflect that it is a wee bit of a pantomime horse, in the sense that its front end is not very well connected to its back end. That is also a fair description of the horses that I tend to back. I think that most Members who are waiting to speak want to join in the very interesting and necessary dialogue on the future of the Tote, so I apologise for the fact that I am going to talk about the back end of the Bill—the part that deals with Olympic lottery funding. In mitigation, I would say that I want to make just a few brief points.

I warmly welcome the Olympic and—it is always important to remember that that term includes this—Paralympic bid being made in London's name.

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Logically, therefore, I strongly support the measure that is being introduced today to provide the necessary funding to support that bid. This will obviously have implications for other beneficiaries of lottery funding right across the country. I know that that point has already been made on Scotland's behalf by its First Minister, Jack McConnell, who has had a meeting with the Secretary of State and, doubtless, my right hon. Friend the Minister.

Perhaps my next point is so obvious that it does not need saying, but the corollary of the fact that the bid will have national implications is that it should bring national benefits to every part of the United Kingdom. A number of people have raised that point today, and it is surely non-controversial, involving, as it does, common sense and common justice. The reason why I thought that it was worth emphasising is that over the Christmas period, I heard the first murmurings of what I am afraid is the inevitable response from a political minority in Scotland that cannot see a gap without trying to drive a wedge into it. We have heard the first utterances to the effect that this is really not Scotland's business, that Scotland it going to lose out, and that it has nothing to do with Scotland. That is all utter rubbish.

My general feeling that I should say something about that was reinforced a few minutes ago, when I was sent a copy of a press release put out today by the Scottish nationalists under the inspiring headline, "Scotland Faces 'Olympian Rip-Off'". It contained a sentence that, even in the mean-minded world of nationalism, is something of a classic:

for them.

Pete Wishart : Hear, hear!

Mr. Wilson: That is the hon. Gentleman's point of view. It is not, however, the point of view of the vast majority of people in Scotland. It is a narrow-minded piece of thinking that should not be allowed to make an inch of progress in the House or anywhere else. I was pleased to find that the only survey, so far as I know, carried out to determine support for the London Olympic bid showed that 80 per cent. of people supported it nationally, and that two parts of the United Kingdom in which support was at its highest were Scotland and Northern Ireland.

That might seem surprising if we approach this from a narrow political perspective, but for anyone who knows anything about these societies and their commitment to and interest in sport, it is entirely logical. For the vast majority of people in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and any of the English regions, this is the closest that they will ever get to having Olympic and Paralympic games on their doorstep, so of course they want them to come to the United Kingdom. Of course London is the only credible standard bearer for the United Kingdom, so let us all get behind it, from every corner of the United Kingdom.

The Scottish nationalists' approach is not only wrong in terms of generosity of spirit and recognition of what is best for the United Kingdom, but wrong for Scotland,

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and profoundly so. Scotland can, and I have no doubt will, get substantial benefits if the bid succeeds. Here, I want to move on to my more parochial, constituency point. Most attention concerning the possibility of locations around the country being used has tended to focus on football and using the best stadiums in the United Kingdom for that competition. Incidentally, I also welcome the prospect of a British team being in evidence there. Let us see how a British team compares with those in the rest of the world. There is nothing new about that concept, as has been suggested somewhere, because, historically, it was always a British football team that took part in the Olympics.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North) (Lab): Queen's Park.

Mr. Wilson: As my hon. Friend says, to all intents and purposes the team was Queen's Park with a couple of Corinthians thrown in to make up the numbers. As football was amateur, nobody thought it remarkable that a British team was involved. The idea of having a professional British team taking part in the modern Olympic context is very exciting. I hope that we see those games in Scotland as well as in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Football offers the obvious opportunity, but my constituency point involves sailing, as there is real potential to bring some events, and certainly a good share of the preparation, to the firth of Clyde. I want to put my remarks in an historical context, because there is nothing new about that idea. Indeed, at the last but one London Olympics—I emphasise that they were held in London—in 1908, when, fortunately, there was nobody putting out press releases with noble-minded headlines such as, "Scotland Faces 'Olympian Rip-Off'", the sailing events were shared between Ryde on the Isle of Wight and the firth of Clyde. Obviously, the scale of the event and the infrastructure required have changed beyond recognition.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows this, but in 1948 the yachting events were in Torquay, in my constituency.

Mr. Wilson: There is nothing against a tripartite split.

Mr. Sanders: But the events will be going to Weymouth.

Mr. Wilson: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's constituency could have a run-off with the Isle of Wight and Weymouth.

The point is straightforward: the scale of the event has changed beyond recognition since 1908, or indeed 1948, but the firth of Clyde was used because it is one of the best sailing areas in the United Kingdom and Europe—and, some say, the world.

Pete Wishart: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to read out my press release headline once again in case anybody in the Press Gallery missed it.

Mr. Wilson: I do not quite catch the wit and wisdom of that point. The only other line that I will quote from the hon. Gentleman's press release is this, said through gritted teeth:

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I suspect that the truth is that he would be happy to support the Olympics going anywhere in the world except London, but that is the rather miserable political philosophy that he represents.

To return to the point about the firth of Clyde, although the scale of the event has changed, the area's quality as a sailing venue has not. I make no overblown claims or demands, but the firth of Clyde should be considered seriously to see whether it is still possible to hold events there. Largs in my constituency is a well-known centre for major international sailing events, and the Isle of Cumbrae is the Scottish Sports Council's chosen location for its water sports centre, so this possibility is real. Even if events are not held there, the strong possibility should exist of preparation being carried out there.

Let me point out to Members from throughout the country that this will not be a one-off "big bang" event in London. It will require long-term preparation, and an infrastructure allowing a couple of hundred teams from all over the world to make their own preparations. The arrangements must be of a high standard, and there is no reason why they should not be decentralised. I believe that when the Olympics were held in Australia much of the preparation took place in Queensland, and the distance between Queensland and Sydney is every bit as great as any distance that could be conceived of in the United Kingdom.

For all those reasons, this is very much a national undertaking. Although it is in the nature of the Olympics that bids are presented in the name of a city, every corner of the country can benefit—and "the country" includes the four nations of the United Kingdom. Let us all get involved, let us all benefit and let us all support the bid. I welcome the Bill.

4.10 pm

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): I have been involved with horses virtually all my life. They have given me a great deal of pleasure, a great deal of frustration and a sizeable dent in the wallet. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis)—I was about to call him my hon. Friend, but I do not want to damage his chances—I am also joint chairman of the all-party racing and bloodstock group.

I welcome the Bill. The Minister dealt with it in three parts and I shall do the same, but in reverse order. I regard backing for the Olympics as a legitimate use of lottery money. I may be a bit more interested in this than most Members, because Camelot is on the edge of my constituency and employs several hundred people, and the success of the lottery affects their employment prospects. The trouble is that in my view, the Government have not always used lottery money for the right purposes in the past: things that should have been funded by a central exchequer have been foisted on the lottery.

We all know that lottery, raffle and tombola ticket sales are enhanced if people think they support a good cause, and reduced if they think it is a bad cause. Unfortunately, in one or two instances people have thought the latter, the Dome being an example. When that happens, sales fall and Camelot gets the blame,

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although it is not Camelot's fault at all. I hope that people will consider backing for the Olympics to be a legitimate use of lottery money and will flood in, buy tickets and improve my constituents' employment prospects.

Let me make a specific point about the general subject of bureaucracy. Over the years, various lottery distribution groups have grown up. I am sorry to say that I feel they are hoop-builders. There are so many complicated forms to be filled in that a sub-industry of lottery application advisers has evolved. I therefore welcome what the Minister said about the development of a lean and mean bureaucracy. I only hope that that will rub off on the existing lottery money distributors.

As many Members have pointed out, we are taking the Bill very much on trust when it comes to the levy board and the Tote. I am pleased with the work that the levy board has done: I think that the improvements to race courses and the veterinary work have been marvellous, and must not be lost to racing. Many is the time that I have gone to a race meeting and stood on a concrete slab under a leaking corrugated iron roof, with the wind whistling around me, watching my horse come last again and telling myself that I am enjoying it when I am not. The levy board has behaved very responsibly in raising standards for all racegoers.

I have had ponies and horses for some 54 years, and I have attended one or two of the seminars run by the levy board. I now realise how little I know about racing and racehorses—but I do know why, all other things being equal, a second foal from a dam will probably be the best. If any Member would like to know the details, I am available for consultation.

However, I certainly understand why the Secretary of State wants to get shot—if I may use that phrase—of the levy. I agree with the Government's natural reluctance to remain involved in what is a commercial arrangement, so I welcome all the lovely words in clause 16, which effectively says that the Secretary of State can direct how such a transfer scheme might be operated. It states:

for certain specific purposes. That is fine, but here I detect a little problem coming, as other Members have suggested. I can do no better than quote from the Racecourse Association, which might be thought to benefit from the administration of the Office of Fair Trading. It says:

It continues:

In examining the arrangements, the thought is that the levy board will be passed to a commercial operation, which will be administered and run by the British Horseracing Board. But if the BHB is to be hamstrung by rule 14, it will not have the money to continue to fund the levy. If so, racing will suffer, and none of us wants to see that. I am afraid that the problem originates from the ignorance of the OFT, which just does not understand.

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The right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) used the phrase "creative tension", and that is absolutely right. Racing is a series of strong elastic bands pulling in all sorts of directions, but those bands do create stability. Through its actions, the OFT is cutting one of them, and heaven knows where racing could go. The BHB's revenue source comes from the allocation of fixtures, and from data rights. If that is lost, the funding for racing will be put seriously at risk.

I am not going to discuss the value of racing to this country, which other Members have mentioned, but it certainly numbers among our top 10 industries. That indicates how important it is, and it must not be lost. I bear scars that were caused by the OFT back in the early 1990s, when it introduced its beer orders. For those who are devotees of Harvester, Chef and Brewer, Blubeckers and so on, that was marvellous. But those who, like me, welcomed the different styles and qualities of our public houses throughout the country regarded the beer orders as a disaster. I am desperately worried that exactly the same thing will happen if the OFT is allowed to lurch on.

It was stated in 1928 that the Tote was to be created in perpetuity. I have often wondered how long perpetuity was, and I now understand that, from the Government's point of view, the definition is 75 years.

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