HC Deb 07 August 1972 vol 842 cc1404-11
Mr. Arthur Lewis

I beg to move Amendment No. 27, in page 2, line 32, at end insert: (6) In section 16(1) of the Act of 1963 for paragraph (c) there shall be substituted the following paragraph:— (c) for effecting betting transactions with persons resorting to the track or with a bookmaker or the Horserace Totalisator Board on dog races run on that track on that day".'

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

With this Amendment we are to take the following Amendments: No. 28, in page 2, line 32, at end insert: 'In section 16(1) of the Act of 1963, at end insert "and the accountant appointed by the licensing authority under paragraph 7 of the said Schedule may examine or cause to be examined all or any of the accounts of the totalisator with respect to credit betting by a bookmaker or the Horserace Totalisator Board under paragraph (c) of this sub. section "'. No. 29, in page 2, line 32, at end insert: (7) In section 16 after subsection (1) insert the following subsection (2)A:— (2)A.—(1) Regulations may be made by the Secretary of State with respect to the duties of the accountant and the manner in which all accounts shall be kept with regard to credit betting. (2) The power to make regulations conferred by this section shall include a power to vary or revoke the regulations by subsequent regulations and shall be exerciseable by statutory instrument No. 31, in page 2, line 32, at end insert: (6) In section 16(1) of the Act of 1963 for paragraph (c) there shall be substituted the following paragraph— '(c) for effecting betting transactions with persons resorting to the track or the Horse-race Totalisator Board on dog races run on that track on that day No. 32, in page 2, line 32, at end insert: 'In section 16(1) of the Act of 1963, at end insert "and the accountant appointed by the licensing authority under paragraph 7 of the said Schedule may examine or cause to be examined all or any of the accounts of the totalisator with respect to credit betting by the Horserace Totalisator Board under paragraph (c) of this subsection".

Mr. Lewis

At one time I should have had an interest to declare in that the West Ham greyhound track was in my constituency, but it is no longer there and that is an interest I am not therefore obliged to disclose.

In the course of the Bill we have heard much discussion in favour of the great sport of horse racing. We have heard about the poor race horse owners, about how they are struggling to make ends meet, and how the Horserace Totalisator Board and the Horserace Betting Levy Board must come to their aid. The Amendments are designed to give equal treatment to greyhound racing to those given to horse racing and to see that the Totalisator Board is treated in the same way and on the same basis as the tote boards at greyhound tracks.

Greyhound racing is more of a working man's sport. One does not hear of great lords and ladies owning greyhounds. I pay a tribute to the efficient and admirable way in which the greyhound racing industry is organised. I refer to the legitimate side of the sport and not to what I believe are called the "flapping tracks", which are not responsible to anyone. I say nothing in their favour or against them because I do not know much about them. The Greyhound Racing Club is a reputable organisation and it has done a great deal to clean up the sport since the early days 40 or 50 years ago, and to make it an entertaining sport which is followed by many ordinary working class people.

I hope that the Minister, if he is unable to accept the Amendments, will give an assurance that the very friendly and happy relationship that he seems to have with the Horserace Betting Levy Board, the Horse-race Totalisator Board and with all connected with the horse racing industry, including the trainers, the jockeys and the owners, will be extended to greyhound racing. One of my objections to the Bill has been that we seem to fall over ourselves to support horse racing while nothing is done for greyhound racing. Will the Minister meet representatives of greyhound racing to try to reach an arrangement with them if he cannot accept the Amendments?

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I must answer the hon. Gentleman's last observation. Dog racing has been treated as well as horse racing and even rather better. I was responsible for putting through an unamended Bill which gave dog tracks the right to add days if any days were lost to dog racing, which allowed a number of further days and which increased their returns to 12½ per cent. It is not fair to say that dog racing and horse racing have not been treated absolutely equitably.

Mr. Lewis

I appreciate that the hon. Member has been interested in dog racing for many years, as I have. He rightly says that dog tracks have been allowed to make up lost days and have been allowed 12½ per cent. for administrative costs not only to make up for losses over the last few years but to meet the depreciation of the £. But no restrictions such as a number of days have been applied to horse racing. Greyhound tracks still have the number of their permitted days limited. Horse racing does not suffer similar restrictions.

Mr. Rees-Davies

This is a lengthy and technical argument. Dog racing has as many days as it can conveniently operate. Horse racing has a limited number of days, depending on what the track will operate. Comparing the two is a highly technical argument not suitable for this occasion.

I moved similar Amendments in Committee because I believed that they were essential as the Bill stood. They were proposed against the background of a Bill that at that time was a Totalisator Bill, a Bill that would result in some form of inequitable treatment.

The Horserace Totalisator Board is a non-profit-making concern in the ordinary sense of the expression, that is, it is set up as a public body to make a profit which is ploughed back into the benefit of horse racing. The Totalisator Board for greyhound racing is an entirely profit-making operation for those operating the tote. That is the difference.

In Committee we were seeking by these Amendments to enable the bookmaker off the course and the Tote off the course to lay off bets on the course. That was a reasonable proposal. We were seeking to increase the revenue of the Horserace Totalisator Board. The difficulty tonight has arisen because it is not a Totalisator Bill for greyhound racing although it is a Horserace Totalisator Bill. The principle that we enunciated was that all money taken off-course or on-course should go to the benefit of the totalisator on course. I am not sure that this is now a Bill for that purpose.

My hon. and learned Friend has been good enough to indicate to the industry and to me his feelings about the matter following his clear and specific undertaking in Committee that he would give careful consideration to it. He has done so, and has encountered a difficulty. On the greyhound track the punter can bet with the tote or the bookmaker, and off the course he can accept either of those prices. But what cannot be done is to ensure that all the money the punter has paid off course shall be brought on to the course.

There are two ways in which the greyhound racing industry can be saved. One is to get the people to come back on to the course. I think that that is the right method, and that the right way to do it is through the Finance Bill. Considerable assistance has been given by reducing the differential on-course for the greyhound racing industry by bringing it down to 4 per cent. on-course. This will help it a great deal. If it had been brought down 1 per cent. to 3 per cent., that would have helped it a great deal more, and would probably have achieved what the industry needs. The other way is to try to get all the off-course money on the greyhounds treated as if it were on-course. But that is a very important principle, and to deal with it in a Bill which is not a "dog" Bill but is a Totalisator Bill for the horses is asking rather a lot of the House. I hope that next year the Treasury will be prepared to go a little further and give the final advantage which is necessary.

For a long time the greyhound racing industry has carried a substantial tax burden, which should be reduced. If it is not done in that way, I hope that it will be done in another way, because it is still an industry with a great many followers. I do not think that it is a lame duck. I think that its followers are prepared to pay a substantial tax. The tax is still too high, but I incline to the view that it would be better to change it by way of a Treasury Amendment in due course rather than by pressing the Amendments tonight.

Mr. Albert Roberts

I support my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), and I accept some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). Whether we are dealing with horse racing or not, the matters involved are all tied up together, because the Bill will give certain powers to the Totalisator Board which could affect greyhound racing to some extent.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the clean, efficient sport and how well it is conducted. I would sooner attend a greyhound meeting than a horse racing meeting at any time. There is better service and comfort, and it is over in two hours and so does not involve extended betting.

We must bear in mind that greyhound racing has suffered from off-course betting quite a deal. It must maintain its facilities, and if he wants to see a high standard maintained the Minister must be interested particularly in my hon. Friend's Amendments. I hope that he will approach them in the same spirit as he approached our Committee proceedings, when we all tried to solicit support and be co-operative. I thought that he gave me a wonderful assurance about the off-course betting then, but I understand that he will not be too forthcoming tonight. However, I hope that he will give us a primose that will give us some hope for the future, because if greyhound racing is to keep up the standard of its facilities it must be protected to some extent.

No one can say that greyhound racing is prosperous. It has carried the load for a long time. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet says that perhaps the tote does more for greyhound racing than for horse racing, and I agree. After the war, Sir Stafford Cripps to some extent penalised greyhound racing in order to soak up money but now greyhound racing is going through difficult times and it is expecting more favourable consideration from the powers-that-be. I hope that the Minister of State, if he cannot go the whole way on this Amendment, will at least go some way.

Mr. Carlisle

The Amendment is similar to one moved in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I said then that I would consider what had been said, but held out no hope that it was likely that the Government would be able to accept the principle.

It was argued in Committee that attendances at greyhound racing had dropped and in particular that as a result the amount of money being placed with the totalisator on the course had dropped and there was therefore a weak on-course market. It was further argued that whereas the bookmakers and, under the Bill, the Totalisator Board, were able to take bets at greyhound totalisator odds, and while they could if they wished use an on-course representative to place a cash bet with the track totalisator, they could not transmit off-course bets they received direct to the track totalisator, and that if they could do so it was likely to strengthen the on-course market.

I have considered the arguments but I must point out the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet when he says that since the Committee we have had a change in the betting duty rate in the Budget, which, by reducing the betting tax on the on-course market, will in itself have the effect in part of strengthening that market. Secondly, as my hon. Friend also said, the Government have not been unreasonable or unmindful of the plight of greyhound racing expressed by the greyhound racing fraternity. We have supported a private Bill introduced for the purpose of increasing the number of permitted days and have allowed the deductions from the totalisator for greyhound racing to be increased from 6 to l2½per cent. The strength of the arguments in Committee has therefore weakened to a degree in the meantime.

My second argument in Committee was that I conceded in principle that there appeared to be little difference in allowing the bookmaker to place money on the track totalisator if he happened to be on the course, and ringing it through from his office by means of credit.

11.0 p.m.

On reflection I must say that I believe that to have that situation would make major inroads of principle into the basis on which betting on greyhound racing takes place. The dog track totalisators are entitled to accept only bets paid in cash on the course. The inevitable consequence of accepting these Amendments would be that dog track totalisators would be able to accept credit betting from the Horse-race Totalisator or bookmakers off-course. It would be difficult, if we accepted that breach of principle, to stand up against the demand that might shortly follow, that if we can accept credit betting on the dogs from the bookmaker why cannot we receive telephoned-in credit bets from the individual?

The effect of that would be that whereas greyhound racing takes place in the evening and the fact that the betting shops are not open then in itself limits the volume of betting on greyhound racing, if there were the power, despite the fact that betting shops were not open, for individual members of the public to telephone in and bet on credit on the dogs in the evening as they sat in comfort by their fireside or drinking a pint of beer in their local, there could be the risk of an upsurge in the volume of betting on greyhound racing which I do not believe any of us would in principle, for social reasons, desire.

I do not think that there is any advantage in these Amendments but they could open the way to a much greater volume of betting on the dogs than exists and I do not think that we wish to be seen supporting measures which could lead to a far greater volume of such betting. For those reasons I must tell the hon. Gentleman that on reflection I cannot accept the Amendment.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

By leave of the House. May I thank the Minister for the courteous way in which he replied? Can I get the record straight? I am sure that he did not mean to put it this way but when he refers, as did the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), to the addition of up to 12½per cent. for administrative costs, it is only fair to point out that this is what could be called arrears of compensation for the depreciation of the £under both Governments over many years, and the exceptionally high cost of administration. I have not my figures with me but I think it was 20 years or more. It is not being given anything; it is just catching up with arrears.

The other point is that I do not believe that this is a question of increasing betting and making greyhound racing a social evil. This would only he a transfer. At the moment the greyhound tracks are open for limited periods of two hours during the afternoon or evening. The tote on the greyhound track is limited to money going in on the track in those two hours whereas the Totalisator Board can and does draw in money from the whole of the day and night up to the closing of the betting shops. Therefore it is milking it from the track. If I want to put on a bet at a greyhound track but cannot get there because I am at the House, there is nothing to stop me going along to the Totalisator Board and putting it on there.

Will the Minister discuss with the industry the possibility of totalisator offices on the tracks being open to receive bets during off-peak periods and not when the tracks were operating, so that they could compete on equal terms with the Totalisator Board and the outside bookmakers? It may not be possible to do it on credit, although I do not see why, but it might be possible to devise a system under which bets could be taken to the tracks or, as in football pools, sent in by post. That would give greyhourd tracks the opportunity of getting some of the money that now goes to the Totalisator Board or outside bookmakers, and it would help to increase attendance at dog tracks.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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