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Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to intervene. His remarks are very interesting; however, I assure him that we have quite a lot of reserves, some £30 million, so we have no worry about not being able to pay our debts. We are also the biggest sponsor of any betting organisation in this country, running now at £1 million a year. We have a very cautious approach to our finances. Our debt ratio in the credit betting business is 0.1.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that comment. It is extremely reassuring. All noble Lords must be reassured to know that the good housekeeping of his organisation has resulted in reserves of this kind being available. However, will he be allowed to use those reserves to underpin liabilities of this kind? That is my question to the noble Earl. And how will the mechanics of that work? However, should these concerns be met, I shall be extremely glad to hear that the totalisator board, even without the noble Lord at its helm, is moving into new and more fruitful areas.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am glad that I waited. I apologise to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. I wanted to say that the list shows that my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey would normally be in his place, whereas tonight I am in his place. My noble friend apologises for his absence. The House would expect it to be due to an important event, as proves to be the case. My noble friend had to leave to be present at the induction into the Royal Television Society's hall of fame of his wife, Professor Naomi Sargant. She has a most impressive record of achievement in the world of television and in higher education, not least with Channel 4 and the Open University. I know that the whole House will wish to join me in offering her our congratulations.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, my noble friend left confident in the knowledge that I should be here to deputise for him, and that I would prove a worthy deputy. He and my noble friend Lord Donoughue, who has a watching brief in these matters as our heritage spokesman as well as other experience not unrelated to this matter, both asked me to tell the House that they wish the Bill full speed and raise no objection to its passage.
As I listened to the points made, it was quite clear that an anomaly has arisen which can be put right. It is not huge and if this adjustment did not take place it would not be catastrophic. However, if it assists the totalisator board, I am certainly very happy to support the Bill. The snags in the betting industry are recognised. If it is not too onerous to deal with one disadvantage as against another, I have no objection. In the spirit in which the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, asks legitimate questions, we on this side of the House consider the Bill to be fair in that it puts a matter right. We very much hope that the Minister will do the most that he can ever do in relation to a private measure; namely, not oppose it at Second Reading and give it a fair wind in the other House. We certainly do that from these Benches.
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, first I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, on his initiative in bringing forward and explaining the Bill. We know that this subject is very dear to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, and we do not underestimate the importance of the measure to the Tote. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. They have been both informative and interesting.
I am sure that the many supporters of racing will agree with the Tote when it says that it must be allowed to compete with the bookmakers on an equal basis. We have heard that the Tote cannot take fixed odds bets on non-sporting events. That may seem a little curious. It dates back to the 1972 Act. It was the intention at that time to put the Tote as far as possible in the same position as a bookmaker. It was
But, as we have heard, the Tote's powers to offer such bets on non-sporting events were restricted. It may strike many now as rather quaint, but it was thought at the time that it was undesirable for a statutory body to take bets on such matters as a general election or on Royal matters. The Home Secretary's approval was therefore required in the case of non-sporting events. I think that today most people would expect the Tote itself to decide as a matter of taste and good judgment what bets it should offer.
In those days the restriction was not seen as irksome. The demand for bets on events other than sporting events was minimal; indeed, the Home Secretary has never found it necessary to exercise his power to allow bets on specific events. In fact, I think I am right in saying that the Tote has never really pressed hard to be allowed to take bets on non-sporting events until this year.
The reason that matters have changed is the new area of business which the bookmakers have ingeniously created; that is, betting on the Irish lottery numbers or "Lucky Choice" as it is called. The bookmakers saw that in Ireland betting on the Irish lottery numbers was very popular. The bookmakers here are, of course, prevented by law from betting on the UK lottery. "Lucky Choice" has turned out to be very popular and most bookmakers are finding it a lucrative slice of their business. In fact they can make more from this type of bet than the traditional horserace bet because they do not have to pay levy on it.
So that leaves the Tote once more trailing behind. I can well understand why the Tote is up in arms. If its customers like to play "Lucky Choice" and they cannot do so in a Tote betting shop they will go elsewhere. And if the Tote loses income, so does racing.
I am very pleased to inform the House that the Government are happy to lend their support to the Bill. We will do our best to ensure that it receives a speedy passage through both Houses. This is a modest change which simply brings the Tote into line with other bookmakers.
I should make it clear that it is not the Government's intention to allow the Tote to take bets on the National Lottery. I know that it is not the Tote's intention. We will look at the drafting of the Bill to ensure that the Tote is placed in the same position as the other bookmakers in relation to the National Lottery. Under the law, bookmakers are prohibited from taking such bets.
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, mentioned Home Office delay. I understand the point that the noble Lord made about the time the proposal to allow Irish lottery bets has been before the Home Office. It has raised some difficult issues for government. I appreciate that the delay has been frustrating.
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, also asked the Government in the meantime to bring forward an order by secondary legislation to allow the Tote to bet on the Irish lottery. I can confirm that the Home Secretary has the power to bring forward an order, by negative resolution, to allow fixed odds betting by the Tote on a specified non-sporting event. It should be possible to allow the Tote to take bets on the Irish lottery by this means.
The Government will wish to see the views expressed in the debate today and to consider in the light of that what the prospects are for this Bill. The Government will then seriously consider whether an order should be introduced meanwhile.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, was concerned about liability for the Tote. No public funds are involved, as I am sure the noble Viscount is aware. The Government would not bail out the Tote if it got into difficulties. The Tote is responsible for its own liabilities. However, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, the Tote has been commercially successful for many years and there is no reason for concern.
The noble Viscount also mentioned the anxiety of the bookmaking industry. We have no reason to believe that the Bill will be opposed by the bookmakers; it should not be. This will not give the Tote any competitive advantage.
Lord Kimball: My Lords, I am most grateful to all your Lordships for the support from all quarters of the House. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend who wound up the debate for such a positive expression of support for the Bill. I now ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.
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