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13 May 2009 : Column 230WH—continued

William Hill told me that in the last year, out of the 20,000 football matches for which it provided odds, only four were deemed suspicious. In horse racing, not one of the 10,000 races was regarded as suspicious. Therefore, we must look at this issue in context. We should bear it in mind, too, that the people who suffer the most from such instances are the bookmakers
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themselves. When it comes to betting and match fixing, the people who are the victims of any kind of corruption are the bookmakers. At the end of the day, they are the ones who will pay the price.

I reject wholeheartedly the idea of imposing a sports levy on bookmakers to deal with the problem. I want to show how such an idea makes no sense whatsoever. Given that it is the bookmakers who suffer when there is corruption, it seems perverse to suggest that they should be the ones who pay. It would be a new concept to make the victim of crime pay. Surely, the person who pays when a crime takes place is the perpetrator. The sporting bodies themselves must take the lead responsibility. If a match is to be fixed in any particular way, the only people who can do it are the players in that match or, perhaps at a push, the officials. The people who are solely responsible for match fixing are those taking part in the game. Surely, the sporting bodies themselves should be responsible for stamping out such a practice because it is the players of those sports who are committing the crime in the first place. The issue comes down to one of risk and reward. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the number of bets on premier league football, and I will return to that matter later.

I submit that the chances of corruption and match fixing in premier league football are probably considerably lower than they might be in other divisions of football because the people who play are paid so much. Why on earth would they risk losing their £100,000 a week wages for a relatively small bribe to fix a match? The chances of that happening higher up are much lower. The sporting bodies must ensure that the risk of being caught doing such a thing outweighs any possible reward. That must be the easiest way of preventing the crime in the first place.

It is also fair to say that bookmakers and the betting exchanges do more than anyone to help stamp out corruption in sport. They liaise closely with the Gambling Commission and the sporting bodies. It is the bookmakers who flag up suspicious betting patterns, which means that they are doing their fair share. Organisations such as Betfair spend an awful lot of money on integrity departments, which monitor transactions and where things may be going wrong. They are doing more than anybody in that regard. I have asked to visit Betfair’s integrity department, and I suggest that other hon. Members do the same to see how much time the organisation spends on the issue.

David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point about the incomes earned in premiership football, which would be at risk if there was corruption. The famous Swan-Kay-Lane case in 1965 possibly took place before he was born. At that time, the level of wages was very low indeed. While premiership football is highly paid and resistant to that type of approach, most other levels of football—both here and elsewhere—have significantly lower pay levels, which makes them more open to the opportunities, threats and temptations.

Philip Davies: I agree with the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s position; however, I refer him back to my opening remarks. Even given those temptations and the fact that such players may be relatively lowly paid compared with their premier league counterparts, we
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should bear it in mind that such instances are still extremely rare. Just because somebody might receive a sizable reward for doing it does not mean that they will. Most people who take part in sport do so because they are genuinely sporting people and want to do their best for their team, and we should always remember that.

Let me turn to the sports levy and why its imposition would be completely wrong. The Government have spent many years—and continue to spend an awful lot of time—trying to get out of a levy on horse racing. It would be entirely bizarre for a Government who want to do that to try to get into a levy on every other sport under the sun. I hope the Minister will make it clear that he totally rejects the idea of a sports levy.

The other issue, which relates to the points made by the hon. Members for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and for Norwich, North, is that a sports levy would make the richer sports even richer. A huge amount of sports betting takes place on premier league football—it is probably the biggest single area of sports betting. Therefore, given that we all agree that the chances of corruption in premier league football are very slim, it seems inevitable that if we imposed a sports levy, the premier league would say, “Hold on a minute: a huge amount of the money being bet on sport is bet on the premier league, so we want that money. It is premier league money, not football money.” We would end up with the perverse situation whereby poor betting shop punters in our constituencies would be putting their hands in their pockets to bump up the wages of the likes of John Terry, who is on £125,000 a week. What on earth would be fair about that? It would be a prime example of throwing apples into full orchards.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an interesting case. Does he agree that the amount of money already kicking around within football does not seem to have trickled down to clubs such as AFC Bournemouth, who, thankfully, have just managed to avoid relegation from division two? Those clubs work towards the possibility of getting just one game in the FA cup against a premier league team, simply so they can get the gate receipts that mean they can manage financially for another year.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is entirely right. I submit that a sports levy would do nothing to address that problem; it would make it worse.

It is also important that much of the corruption in sport is to do with illegal betting markets in any case, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Norwich, North for pointing that out. Therefore, charging a levy to the licensed market, which is doing its bit to stamp out corruption, is not only perverse but pointless, because it would not stop the corruption in illegal markets. For example, the Hansie Cronje case—he was captain of South Africa—mainly involved Indian bookmakers, and the Charlton versus Liverpool match case in 1999 involved Malaysian syndicates. Charging a levy on British-based bookmakers would make absolutely no difference to such alleged cases of corruption.

It is the sports bodies’ responsibility to clear up their sports. In fact, it has been suggested to me by a number of bookmakers and exchanges that asking bookmakers to pay for integrity services would be akin to asking Boots the chemist to pay for drugs testing for sportsmen, which would clearly be a complete nonsense. It would
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also be unfair to suggest that bookmakers make no contribution to sport: they actually make a massive contribution. We should not underestimate the extent to which bookmakers promote sports by offering odds on them—I would have no interest in some sports if I had not placed a bet on them. Additionally, bookmakers are among the largest sponsors of some sports, including many of those that have so-called corrupt matches. For example, snooker has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years—when I was a bookmaker, our family business was affected by a dodgy match involving a chap called Silvino Francisco—and yet Betfred was one of the biggest sponsors of the recent world snooker championships. Bookmakers are putting their hands in their pockets and providing money to sports.

We would be in dangerous territory if we claimed that British bookmakers and the British betting industry in some way encourage corruption in sport. We are trying, as the Minister is, to help the betting industry to access some of the European and American markets. What are the chances of our businesses accessing those markets if we send the message that our betting industry is involved in encouraging corruption in sport? It would kill their chances before they had even started.

What lies behind the idea of a sports levy is that sporting bodies see it as a way of getting some extra money from the gambling industry. In effect, they want a share of the profits that bookmakers make from betting on those sports, which I reject entirely: it would be like bookmakers demanding money from tipsters because they make money from the odds being laid on racing and other sports, which would be a complete nonsense.

On the Minister’s proposed expert panel, I support his case that the Gambling Commission is not particularly well equipped to deal with such matters. My submission to him is that the commission’s biggest fault is that it knows nothing about gambling. Setting up an expert panel that bypasses the commission would certainly be welcome. The commission should be avoided wherever possible in anything to do with gambling, because it does not have the industry’s capability and understanding.

I shall draw my remarks to a close because others wish to speak. I hope the Minister makes it clear when he speaks that he totally rejects the idea of a sports levy.

10.5 am

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on introducing this timely and important debate. I also commiserate with him as a Norwich City fan. A week last Sunday, he will have been sitting on the edge of his settee. Barnsley were the other team in the frame, and when they went 1-0 down to Plymouth, I thought it was curtains for us. However, we have a certain fighting spirit, like this Labour Government, and we pulled the iron out of the fire at the end to win 2-1. That could be an analogy for next year’s general election.

I am speaking primarily in my capacity as joint chairman of the all-party racing and bloodstock industries group. There is no doubt that betting on all sports has grown exponentially with the development of the internet, which has been accompanied by increased risk to the integrity of sport. Betting is a serious issue for all sports and for Governments worldwide.

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The British Horseracing Authority has led the way in tackling the threat of corruption and has assisted many sports to deal with the challenges. It stands willing to help any sports that approach it and lends its expertise whenever it is called upon. As the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, in the past 12 months, there have been no corruption incidents to do with horse racing in this country, which is a feather in the industry’s cap.

Dame Elizabeth Neville, a former chief constable and a director of the Serious Fraud Office, led an independent review of British horse racing integrity operations in 2008 and concluded that the BHA was a model for the effective investigation of corruption in sport. Four key principles underpin the BHA’s integrity operations: clear rules and regulations for all participants, accompanied by robust disciplinary processes and penalties; a partnership approach with the Gambling Commission and betting organisations, which includes information sharing; a high level of intelligence and investigative capability; and, finally, education across the sport, which is absolutely vital—my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North referred to that.

Since 2002, the BHA has invested significantly in infrastructure and modern processes, including employing a new director of integrity services and licensing, and two full-time betting investigators, who enable seven-days-a-week monitoring of betting markets on course and fully informed analysis of betting. It has agreed a memorandum of understanding with betting organisations that allows the sharing of information and intelligence, and it has established a fully resourced and funded intelligence unit.

The use of information and its conversion into evidence is crucial, and the system used to grade the information and its source is the same as that used by all UK police forces—many people involved in ensuring integrity in the racing industry are former police officers, as the Minister will know. Finally, the BHA has invested in sophisticated IT systems and a team of seven full-time investigators.

One outstanding issue that remains to be resolved as far as the BHA is concerned is overseas betting operators. The Government recently announced a review of such operators. A growing number of companies locate their online operations outside British regulatory and taxation regimes, yet they can advertise freely to British punters. That means that they do not have to comply with the regulatory arrangements applied by the Gambling Commission or pay the horse racing levy that funds the integrity arrangements that I outlined. The BHA believes that the loophole needs to be closed urgently. Will the Minister say something about that?

Another issue that has yet to be resolved satisfactorily is list positions in the on-course betting ring and the continuing dispute between the Federation of Racecourse Bookmakers and the Racecourse Association. Before the Gambling Act 2005 came into force, many on-course bookies paid high prices for their pitches in the belief that that investment would buy them their list position in perpetuity.

I am sure that all Members who like to go to the race course—as I did on Saturday at Thirsk with one or two hon. Members, in particular those who sit on the Opposition Benches—would agree that the bookmakers’ ring adds
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to the atmosphere at a race course. It makes the difference between racing in Ireland and Britain, and racing on the continent in countries such as France.

A certain amount of progress looks to have been made. I do not know whether the Minister saw the article in this morning’s Racing Post written by a good Doncaster Rovers fan, Howard Wright. It reads, “Shake-up in store for on-course bookies at Northern racecourses—Proposal for scheme to guarantee positions for 35 years”. The article puts the current position in a nutshell:

On the face of it, that looks to some extent like going down the right road. However, the FRB would like me to make a number of points about the issue, because it is not quite as clear and straightforward as Howard makes out in his article.

The FRB is concerned about the working party set up by the Minister. He was quoted in the Racing Post on 18 March as saying that he would

by re-convening the working party and would consider using secondary legislation if agreement was not reached. I understand that that meeting has not yet taken place. Will he comment on that and tell us whether there will be one?

The next point concerns the UK-wide solution for tenure. The tenure of list positions must be agreed UK-wide, as it was before the passing of the 2005 Act. Although commercial access fees may vary, it would not be fair for some bookies to keep their assets for longer than others. If a negotiated agreement cannot be reached UK-wide, surely legislation is the only option.

The article mentioned the fact, which the FRB opposes, that there will be no dispute resolution mechanism. The FRB feels that agreement on tenure means nothing if access charges are not fair and reasonable, and a dispute resolution mechanism is essential to ensuring fairness for both sides if agreement is not reached. The FRB strongly advocates such a mechanism, but the RCA has
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strongly resisted it until now. In my opinion, a dispute resolution mechanism for forward negotiations must be seriously considered.

There are few industries in which this country can truly be described as the world leader, but betting and gambling is one of them. That is primarily due to the high levels of integrity encouraged in all UK sports. I believe that the leading best practice model is the one employed by the BHA. I hope that all major sports in this country will seriously consider adopting similarly high levels of integrity to those that operate in the British racing industry.

10.15 am

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate and I hope that he did not bet at the start of the season on Norwich to win promotion to the premier league. Sadly, it looks as if my bet on Celtic to win the Scottish premier league will not come to fruition either.

Obviously, the main subject of the debate is integrity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) did, I wish to mention briefly the integrity not of certain layers or of the sports themselves, but of the Racecourse Association and those who have followed its line. Having been present in the House during Culture, Media and Sport questions on 19 January and, like my hon. Friend, having read the Racing Post of 18 March, I am convinced that the Minister shares my concerns.

As some hon. Members will be aware, back in March 2007, the RCA unilaterally announced that race courses would cease to recognise on-course bookmakers’ list positions. Despite hon. Members’ repeated criticisms and calls for the RCA and race courses to alter their stance, two early-day motions and a Select Committee report, the RCA still has not withdrawn its announcement and race courses refuse to budge to a reasonable position. We have heard today about just one race course, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough that we need a UK solution.

What is a reasonable position? It is not right of first refusal. Under that system, race courses will hold bookmakers to ransom to use their own list positions. If a bookmaker cannot pay what the race course demands, the race course will offer the same position to somebody else, leaving the bookmaker with nothing. Tenure must be tenure. There must be two-way negotiation on access charges, rather than diktat.

To ensure fairness to both sides, a dispute resolution system, as my hon. Friend mentioned, is essential. I hope that the Minister will deal with that issue. As has been said, a UK-wide solution on tenure is necessary. We must protect all bookmakers, not just some. As list positions are assets conferring a priority order of pitch selection, it is also critical that new betting areas are allocated according to existing lists. It would be unfair for assets bought in good faith to be devalued.

There are three main points to address: duration of tenure, a UK-wide dispute resolution system and new betting areas. The matter is fairly straightforward and should not be complicated by more incidental issues. After the working party ended, it was hoped that discussions between race courses and bookmakers would be undertaken
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in good faith and without interference from the RCA. As the Minister said, that has not happened. Last October, the RCA wrote to its members, effectively advising them to delay agreement, resist the continuance of tenure rights and refuse dispute resolution.

Correspondingly, although race courses have had more than a year to make an offer to bookmakers, no concrete proposals have been made. For that reason, I urge scepticism about how the RCA and race courses portray the situation to the public, and note that its gambling group note from November states that

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