Mr. Page: Does my hon. Friend agree that it would give all members of the Committee so much more confidence if the Government were to announce, during the Committee stage, the mechanism for determining the purchase price for the Tote? That would enable us to proceed with the Bill with greater confidence.
Mr. Robertson: I am certain that the Minister will not decide to put that in the Bill and announce it today. The next stage will be the Committee stage, and it would give the members of the Committee and the whole racing world a great deal of confidence if he would tell us the mechanism for reaching the price, if not the price itself.
I stress that no Government have ever put a single penny into the Tote, and I am not saying they should. The Government cannot expect any receipts from the Tote. As has already been said, every penny the Government charge for the Tote will come out of racing. There is nowhere else that it can come from. So we will end up with a ridiculous situation where the Tote puts its profits into racing and the Government take those profits out. There is no other way of looking at it. It is as simple as that.
Part of the mechanism, I suppose, will be the exclusive licence. It is extremely important to the Tote and to racing. The national lottery has been a success most probably because of the large prizes that can be wonagain, for very little money. That is how the pool operates, in so much as people can win quite a bit of money for a very little stake, as I have said. I do not think that the national lottery would be successful if it were broken down into any number of smaller lotteries, and not only the Tote but other bookmakers recognise that. I do not know whether it is widely understoodin this House it will bebut they can tap into the placepot bet, for example, which thus makes it less of a monopoly. The seven-year period seems to be accepted throughout the industry, but why is that not in the Bill? The length of the licence equals the value of the Tote business, which equals the price, and all that equals who owns it in the end.
I want to say a word or two about the levy board, not because I want to get involved in the detail of the winding up of the levy and not necessarily replacing it, but having welcomed the Bill, the timing is rather uncertain, given the OFT's investigation. I am sure that I would not be allowed to proceed too far down the road of discussing the OFT's investigation, especially as I have held an Adjournment debate in the House to discuss that, but this is an uncertain time for the racing industry and the OFT's timing is rather bad in so much as the industry is trying to improve itself. As I have already mentioned, the British Horseracing Board already has its racing reviewa root and branch look at racing. It accepts that improvements have to be made.
To repeat what I said in an intervention, it would be rather curious for the Government to give up control of horseracing, as they should, only for that control effectively to pass to an unelected, unapproachable quango, with no interest in racing, no responsibility to racing and, it seems, no accountability to anbody. The
Therefore, we must be extremely careful about what we do to racing. We could get it right and we could get it wrong. The Government are understandably changing the levy system and we could also lose money from racing because of the OFT. If the Government charge too much for the Tote, money will come out of racing in a third way. Together, all that would have a devastating effect. It does not need to be that way. We could look at the matter positively, and that is the way that I would prefer to look at it.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will address the points that not only I have made but that many other hon. Members have made. However, in general terms I welcome the Bill and I wish it well.
Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Contained within the Bill are essentially three substantive proposals: to privatise the Tote, to abolish the levy board and to create an Olympic lottery. All three elements are extremely important to the future of gaming and sports in Britain.
I wish to focus my remarks on the issue of the Olympic lottery. The reason for that is simple. The proposal to host the 2012 Olympics in London is an important part of the future development of Greater London, including my constituency of Romford. Of course, with that we must couple the fact that in 2012 we will be celebrating the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen, so I am sure that all hon. Members will look forward to that year as being a great national celebration, both in celebrating the Queen's 60th anniversary on the throne, but also the London Olympics. I sincerely hope that through tourism, regeneration and investment, Romford, the rest of London and the south-east, and the rest of the country can truly benefit from the Olympic games, should our bid prove successful. It is therefore essential that every element of the bid, including the associated lottery, should be carefully examined before being implemented.
The main body of my speech will concentrate on the Olympic lottery, but I would also like to make a few brief points about the Tote and the levy board. Since 1929, the Tote has formed the backbone of horse racing in this country, not only by providing a forum for those who wish to bet but by raising much needed resources to support the industry. At the crux of the debate on whether to privatise the Tote lies an incredibly simple question. It is the same question that was posed throughout the great reforming era of the 1980s: what is so special about this activity that it needs to be controlled by government? I would suggest that, while we all value the work of the Tote, there is nothing in its remit that could not be achieved in the private sector. After all, there are numerous reputable bookmakers in the private sector.
I fully accept that pool betting is distinct from fixed-odds betting, but their regulatory needs are not dissimilar. Indeed, senior officials at the Tote have argued that they are disadvantaged by being outside the private sector because they are unable to make "independent commercial decisions". In some senses, this could be compared to the situation faced by some of our old public monopolies, most of which are now flourishing in the private sector.
Fundamentally, the proposal to sell the Tote is a good one, although I am concerned that the Government have not put a sale price into the Bill. Many other hon. Members have also made that point. I cannot believe that it is wise to remain ambiguous about that, when we are talking about something as significant as the future of racing and the Tote. Concern has also been expressed about the lack of any real assurance that the proposed sale will be to a racing trust consisting of groups from the racing industry. We have heard the aspiration; now we need the guarantee. I repeat that it is potentially deeply damaging to the racing community to allow this proposal to remain so ambiguous. The Government have a duty to the racing industry to clarify those two points, and I sincerely hope that they will do so.
The proposed abolition of the levy board suffers from similar problems. Yes, it is right that the changes should be made, but we must remove the ambiguities. Thousands of racehorses rely on the money raised by the board for veterinary costs and care after they retire, for example. It is vital that the Government end the uncertainty and give a guarantee that welfare funding for horses will not be cut. Self-regulation must not become a free-for-all.
Turning to the Olympic lottery, it concerns me that the Olympic bid will rely to a great extent on the lottery, not because I oppose the idea in principle, but because of the way in which this Government have tarnished the idea of lotteries in general, and our national lottery in particular. It is a widely known fact that the national lottery is falling in popularity and that this has had a serious knock-on effect on the sums raised for good causes. Most people have become disillusioned by the fact that the Government have allowed lottery money to be allocated without regard to the needs of so many real people. A number of very worthy groups have been turned down for funding, only to learn that money has instead been handed to organisations that appear to lack any relevance to the vast majority of British people.
I hope that by supporting the Olympics we can restore the public's confidence that the money raised for good causes through the lottery is no longer likely to be squandered. If we cannot, the proposal will simply mean, once again, that more and more good causes are competing for smaller and smaller sums. More worryingly still, it will leave a huge budgetary hole that this Government will almost certainly not hesitate to fill with yet another tax hike for hard-working families in my constituency and elsewhere. If the Government do not do that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) has already pointed out, the Labour Mayor of London will not hesitate to use his power to raise extra revenue that can fill any deficit that might occur.
Again, I issue a warning to the Government: if they do not take action to improve the image of the lottery by making it more relevant to more people, its decline will jeopardise first-rate projects such as the proposed 2012 London Olympics. If we are to have an Olympic lottery game, I firmly believe that we need to launch it when the Olympics are in the national spotlight. What better time than during this summer's Olympic games in Athens? All British people will be inspired to support our British sporting endeavours.
The problem is, of course, that the International Olympic Committee has said that no scratchcards should be produced and no lottery fund raisers should take place until it has announced which city will host the 2012 Olympic games. That announcement is scheduled for July next yearlong after the interest in Athens will have faded. On the face of it, that seems to be an insurmountable problem. We will miss a great opportunity if we fail to capitalise on the Athens Olympics, but even if we want to proceed, it seems that the IOC will not permit it.
I believe that a compromise could and should be made. We should go ahead and launch the Olympic lottery game at the start of Athens 2004. That money would not be ring-fenced for the 2012 bid. Rather, it would be raised to support the development of athletes whom we hope will compete in the games wherever they are held. I also fully endorse the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who suggested that money could be used for disabled athletes. That would be an excellent solution to the problem that we face.
Under that proposal, sports would benefit either way. If we got the Olympics, we would have more resources; if we did not get them, we would have injected a large amount of money into developing our sportsmen and sportswomen. That would no doubt pay dividends in future sporting competitions.
The Bill is worth the cross-party support that it is being given, but that is not to say that the Government are getting things completely right. We must have fears regarding the uncertainty over the Tote and the lack of clarity over the levy board. Of course, it also seems that we will miss the best opportunity to launch our Olympic lottery. I urge the Minister, and Her Majesty's Government, to consider those important points of concern before the Bill is dealt with in Committee.