|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): Long experience has shown me that whatever I regard as a racing certainty rapidly turns into a three-legged nag; indeed, the only time that I went to the grand national was the one time that the race did not start. I therefore feel no compunction in talking only about the Olympics. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) argued that, as someone involved in sport, he could not proselytise about it, and on the other side of the coin, as I am palpably not someone involved in sport, perhaps I can.
I have gone from being very sceptical about the Olympic bid, because of what I originally thought would be a significant lack of political will, to being an enthusiastic supporter. I can see absolutely no reason why the UK, and London in particular, should not host the Olympics in 2012. I thought that we saw a typically mean-minded display of nationalism from the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart), who could not see the benefits that the Olympics would bring to Scotland. As someone who learned what little I know about sailing on the firth of Clyde, I believe that everybody should be practising their sailing there because they would then beat the pants off any competitor down at Weymouth.
There are, obviously, benefits for people throughout the UK from the Olympics, but what has not yet been truly appreciated are the opportunities for setting up training camps throughout the country. Regions, towns, cities, universities and sporting facilities of all sorts should get together and make a bid to the countries that want to compete and need to do three to six months' training before the Olympics take place. That is the most obvious way in which people throughout the country will feel a long-term benefit from the games.
I welcome and support the introduction of the lottery to help to finance the Olympics, and I support my Front-Bench colleagues in the suggestion that, if possible, the game should be introduced this summer on the back of the Athens Olympics, when enthusiasm can be built up. I recognise that there may be technicalities to sort out with the International Olympic Committee, but I am sure that we can get round those if the will is there.
As a London Member of Parliament, I think not only that we have to consider how the UK can benefit, but that Londoners need to feel that they own the Olympics. After all, they are the ones who will have a special, hypothecated council tax laid on them, ranging from £13.33 for somebody in band A to £40 for somebody in band H. Those are not inconsiderable sums, particularly as the new Labour Mayor of London is planning in the year after the Greater London assembly elections, which I sincerely hope he does not win, to impose on Londoners increases in his precept of 76 per cent., just to pay for the Greater London authority.
The problem is that people in many places in inner and outer London do not feel that they will benefit from the council tax increase; it is often seen as Ken Livingstone's project to regenerate the Lea valley. Exempting Crystal Palace, because I shall come on to that in a moment
The Secretary of State said that there should be benefits to all grassroots sporting facilities from the Olympics. I hope that the Minister can give us some indication of what will be the practical improvement in sporting facilities throughout London. We have to bear it in mind that if we assess a broad range of facilities in London, we find that there is not a high standard of provision.
That brings me, dare I say it, to Crystal Palace. Having had the opportunity of questioning the Minister about the future of that facility on Monday, I have to say that I came away more confused than when I started. There is an obvious confusion and a difficulty, which is the need to separate the running track from the sports building. I welcome the Minister's acknowledgement of the problem, as well as his commitment to put money into the running track so that grand prix events can take place this July, provided that decisions are made by the end of January.
There is confusion about the sports facilities at Crystal Palace. The Minister and other Members will know that Crystal Palace is the only site with a 50 m swimming pool. However, its sports facilities are also home to many elite athletes in various sports, including basketball, weightlifting, judo, karate and hockey. It is feared that in any transfer of the lease from Bromley council to the London Mayora project that I supportsports facilities will be closed before new facilities are provided. Some of the new facilities will have grassroots benefits, as they are community facilities, but there is also a need for top-level athletes to have training resources in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. It is not clear whether the sports facilities will be closed before any new facilities are opened.
At the moment, the development of Crystal Palace appears to be funded, in one form or another, by public sector money, including, dare I say, national lottery money. However, there is a suggestion that there could be private sector involvement to deliver high quality sports facilities as part of a regeneration package for Crystal Palace. The Mayor of London supports that proposal, as he has talked about providing hotels at the top site. That is a controversial subject, but it is not impossible to put together a regeneration package that would provide high quality facilities at Crystal Palace and would retain its existing facilities. It is crucial, not just for people in the five boroughs around Crystal Palace but for all of south London, that the impact of the 2012 Olympics on their facilities is made clear as soon as possible. That will help them to feel involved in the developments and will allow them to understand the long-term legacy after 2012. The Olympics will generate excitement and interest, and I expect the games to be hugely successful in London and the rest of the UK. However, it is important that people grasp the legacy created by the increased council tax that they will have to pay.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I do not have any interests in racing that have to be registered but, like many hon. Members, I have a long-standing love of the sport. Indeed, I have a serious constituency interest, as Prestbury Park race course at Cheltenham is in my constituency. I must correct the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel)Prestbury Park is the greatest race course in the world. The race course and the activities associated with it have a major knock-on effect throughout my constituency and, indeed, beyond, especially in mid-March when the Cheltenham festival is held. I also have a non-registerable but nevertheless close relationship with the Tote, which is partly a matter
This is an important time for racing, as has been said, with the OFT investigation, to which I shall return in a minute; various changes that the British Horseracing Board is introducing in its racing review; the levy board changes; and the Bill, which I shall call the Tote Bill, although I accept that its provisions are much wider. However, I want to concentrate on the Tote.
It is important to remember the huge contribution that the Tote has made to the country generally and to racing in particular. It has sponsored the Cheltenham gold cup, which is probablyagain, I am being parochialthe greatest steeplechase in the world. The Tote has, as we have heard, put millions of pounds into racing and given us many interesting betting products throughout its many shops. It has the placepot, a popular bet that allows people to win rather a lot of money for a small stake, although in my case it is usually a lot of stake for a little return. Nevertheless, people can bet without putting down a great deal of money. What is called the sport of kings benefits people at all levels, and the Tote is a major contributor to racing in that respect.
I pay tribute to the Tote staff, particularly the chairman, Peter Jones, and Roger Easterby, who is in close contact with many Members of Parliament to provide a great deal of information not only about the Bill, but about all the events in racing generally. Racing would not be the same without the contribution of the Tote, so it is extremely important that we get the Bill right.
This is a crucial time for racing. Given the importance of the Tote to racing, we must consider the details of the Bill. I welcome it and congratulate the Minister on introducing it. The Bill is long awaited. Many of us who were at the Tote annual general meeting quite a few years agoI do not remember how manyheard the then Home Secretary, now the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), announce that the status of the Tote would be changed.
As we have heard, there are one or two issues that concern us. The first is whom the Tote will be sold. There is no guarantee about that. What guarantee do we have that it will not just be sold to the highest bidder? What guarantee do we have that the Government's finances at that time, which are deteriorating, will not dictate that the Tote is sold to the highest bidder? We are expected to take it on good faith. The purpose of the Bill is not the nationalisation of the Tote, but to sell it on, yet the only thing certain about the Bill is the nationalisation of the Tote. I do not see why it cannot be written into the Bill that it will be sold to a racing trust.
Secondly, how much will the trust, if the Tote is sold to the trust, be charged for the Tote? The price will determine who buys itnot who wants to buy it, but who is able to buy it. How will that be decided? Who will