HC Deb 07 August 1972 vol 842 cc1432-9

Amendment made: No. 81, in Title, line 7, leave out from first 'Board' to 'to' in line 9.—[Mr. Carlisle.]

Motion made, and Question proposed. That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Carlisle.]

12.20 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I am amazed. The Minister is not going to give us any reason why the Bill should have a Third Reading.

Mr. Carlisle

I have heard the hon. Member at such length that I thought that I should have the opportunity of replying to him and having the final word rather than the first.

Mr. Lewis

This is amazing, because this is not the Bill which was debated on Second Reading or in Committee. It is an entirely different Bill—

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

And a much better Bill.

Mr. Lewis

Of course it is, because every Amendment suggested by hon. Members on both sides in Committee has, in the last two or three weeks, come forward from the Government.

I am glad that the Minister of State has allowed me the opportunity of saying a few words. I have been very brief during the stages of the Bill, particularly on Report. However, the House has been kept up late at night—

Mr. Wiggin

The hon. Gentleman has just called a Division without putting his name forward as a Teller. He has hardly contributed to speeding the business.

Mr. Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman had been a Member for a little longer, he would have realised that if there are not two Tellers the Division is ineffective. I could not find anyone to act as a Teller. I know that I am rather large, but I do not make up for two people. I tried to get an hon. Friend to tell with me, but, loyal and honest gentleman that he is, he had given his word that he would not vote.

A lot of crocodile tears have been shed during the stages of the Bill about the poor ailing Tote Board. It has been said that we should come to its aid and that we should rescue the poor racehorse owners. It is a crying shame that we have to stay up late at night in order to help the racehorse owners and other people who follow the sport of horse racing. I should have thought that there were much more important subjects which we could have discussed at this late hour.

My hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) will probably agree that I was about the only Member who opposed the Bill throughout because I thought it was phoney. Now it has been proved to be phoney. When the pressure was put on, the Government had second thoughts about all the most objectionable Clauses about which they were scared because a number of their supporters were talking about revolting on them. Now we have a Bill which is nothing like the original Bill, and we should not allow the Government to get away with it by a cursory nod. We should not allow the Bill to go through without castigating and attacking the Government.

I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) present because probably he is very happy. He has obtained all he wanted. He has been very successful, and his success shows the failure of the Government. He would not wish me to say that, and the Government would not wish me to say there have been failures on their part, but I can remember that on Second Reading and in Committee we were told, "We must have this" and "We must have that", "We cannot give this away" or "We cannot give that" because, it was said, the whole principle of the Bill would be lost.

So what do we find? In Committee we sat from 20th April to 22nd June. I said a few words in Committee—not very much, as I have already said. Here is the OFFICIAL REPORT, the verbatim record of our debates. There was talk of extra Sittings of the Committee. A rumour went round that consultations were going on—though there were consultations with my usual channels—about whether we should have extra Sittings to get the Bill through. The Minister had a day off the Committee to go to a conference in E.E.C., although we were told we had to get the Bill through. [Interruption.] The Minister attended a conference in Europe. The Committee was adjourned so he could go. He set a record; he will be pleased to know that that had not been done before—the Government had not got a Minister to take over and so, because the hon. and learned Gentleman wanted to go to that conference in Europe, the Committee was adjourned. But this Bill was so important!

By the way, I was in attendance all the time. I can pat myself on the back for that. I do not think I left the Committee Room even to attend to the wants of nature. At my time of life that is something to be proud of and thankful for. Some of my hon. Friends, unfortunately, had other Committees to attend. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints was a Member of the Committee on the Finance Bill. However, I was able to give the Committee my usual service and the Bill my usual diligent attention. I sat through the proceedings and battled on, and I had active help and support from many hon. Members on the other side. The Government had the active support of the Opposition Whips who rallied our people to give the Government a quorum in Committee so that they could get on with their Bill.

All this for what? So that we can have a Third Reading now of a Bill which is entirely different from the original Bill. All has been done since 22nd June. I was going to say between 22nd June and August, but most of the Amendments which have been before us tonight were put down a week or so back. The Minister said he was glad to see the change brought about in the Bill, but it all happened in the last few weeks. It is an amazing situation. It could have been done sooner.

I hope the Minister gets the opportunity to have a word with the new Chairman of the Totalisator Board. I pay tribute to the new chairman, a very good friend of mine, Lord Mancroft, who, as I said in Committee, has done marvellous work for my local boys' club, which, I am glad to say, is the best boys' club anywhere. I wish him well in his endeavours as chairman of the board. I am sure he could not do worse than the previous lot. The Minister does not get much time, because of the work which has been imposed on him in various fields, but I hope he gets time to have a word with those people who misled him, misled the Government, and, more importantly, misled this House. I hope he will tell them that when they come forward with their claims and ask for legislation and help they should see that the facts and figures they give to the Ministry are correct. I, as an ordinary back bencher, do not like —I am sure no hon. Members like—to be fed with a lot of false information.

After we have done all the work we have in Committee, what we asked for then is given us at the last moment now; it could have been given weeks ago, and saved us this late night Sitting.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Carlisle

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the meeting had nothing to do with the EEC.

Mr. Brian Walden

I do not think that the Minister, even in advanced old age, will ever forget that on one occasion during the Committee stage of the Bill he went to a conference in Europe. I am sure that, like Calais, it will be engraved on his heart.

Mr. Carlisle

I accept that. Equally, I do not think my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench will ever forget that an Opposition whip provided the quorum for the Committee on one occasion.

Mr. Walden

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). When he says he has been diligent, that is putting it mildly. As always, he has been extremely diligent, and he may have done the Government a great service.

In the end, we have come up with the best Bill possible. I have a financial interest in the Bill which post-dates my interest in the subject. I have always thought, not only on this Bill but on other Bills in the last Parliament, that the direction in which the Government were inclined to go would he fatal in terms of the betting market. The original Bill would have done nothing but damage, and the Government would have bitterly regretted having passed it. They will not regret passing this Bill.

As a result of the Bill, the Government will be able to expand the Totalisator Board by inviting on to it people with management and financial experience, and the board will be stronger as a result. The Government will have reserve powers in Clause 3 which can be activated by Order to assist the Totalisator Board into the off-course market if the board feels that it is not getting fair treatment vis-à-vis the bookmakers. They will have got rid of the utterly odious and thoroughly dangerous practice of allowing the Levy Board to give substantial sums of money to the Totalisator Board to get involved in an agency agreement with a private bookmaker.

The Minister will think in years to come, if he does not think so already, that in the end he did the best job he could for racing. For betting the result of the Bill will be the best of all worlds, namely, a strong form of pool betting with a competitor on-course and off-course. The consequences for the betting side and for race courses, racecourse owners and punters will be much more desirable than they would have been had the Bill gone through as originally drafted.

I congratulate the Minister on getting his Third Reading in spite of the length of our debates in Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North for ensuring that Report and Third Reading are much briefer than I supposed they would be. I was quite prepared to have breakfast at about 11 o'clock. The Government have given us in the end an acceptable Bill, as a result of which this kind of trouble will for ever cease for the Tote, and the Government will not have to concern themselves overmuch with the regulation of the horseracing industry.

12.34 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I shall be exceedingly brief, because the Bill as it has emerged from Report is barely worth talking about. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden), as he openly says, represents the interests of the National Association of Bookmakers, and of course that association is exceptionally pleased with the Bill. I agree with my hon. Friend when he says that the Minister has done his best in difficult circumstances. I am sure that the Minister has tried to come up with the best solution. I do not know whether he has succeeded, and the less I say about that the better. When in the past I have supported the Minister I have always found that subsequently he has changed his mind, and I do not want to be put in that position again. However, I know that he has never misled the Committee intentionally; he has always been frank and open with it.

I am sure the Minister began the proceedings on this Bill without knowing very much about betting. I think he now knows his way around it admirably. Since the Bill is now a different Bill, we ought to be discussing what is not in it rather than what is in it. Because there is so little left in the Bill, there is nothing more I feel like saying.

12.36 a.m.

Mr. Carlisle

I wish first to say that the basic principles of the Bill remain as they were when the Bill was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) some six months or more ago. The main purpose of the Bill was then, as now, to provide for a viable future for the Totalisator Board.

The main Clause is Clause 1 which provides power for the Totalisator Board to enter into fixed odds betting as well as pool betting, and betting on races abroad as well as in this country; and it also empowers the tote to enter into pool fixed odds bettings on any sporting event. In other words, it removes the fetters on the Tote which, due to the changing social climate over the last 15 years, had ceased to enable the Tote to act viably.

The second object of the Bill was to provide the possibility of a wider and stronger Board, and that remains. A further object of the Bill was to enable the management of race courses in those areas where the Tote found it unprofitable to carry on the Tote profitably and viably, to do so. That also has been retained.

The only way in which the Bill has changed—and I concede at once that it has changed and that, as we conceded at the outset, we have listened to arguments with regard to its change—is in fact that, other than by parliamentary order, we have postponed the implementation of that Clause which provided a means of entry of the Tote into the off course market; and we have also, as a result of the improved financial situation of the Tote as against the fears as to its financial situation over the last 12 months, found it possible to remove the financial assistance which the Bill provided for the Tote through the Levy Board, and instead to replace this with the power to write off further indebtedness.

Those were the two major controversial Clauses of the Bill, and throughout I have said that I would look to see whether we could alter them. With respect to hon. Members opposite, I thought they might have been grateful for the fact that the Government, as a result of discussion, have found means to meet the varied points made on those Clauses.

I believe that the Bill as it leaves the House will achieve the aim of providing a viable future for the Tote, whose main purpose should be to provide—as the Government have always intended it to provide—pool betting with adequate outlets so as to provide an alternative method of betting to the public, though clearly indicating to the Board that, if it wishes, it may choose to go into fixed odds betting to assist in ensuring its viability. I believe that the Bill will provide that end and that the Tote has a great future under its new chairman.

I said earlier that I did not intend to be rude about the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). However, I find it a little hard to take from him the criticism that this Bill has taken up unnecessary time in this House. I make this comment more in sorrow than in anger. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he chose on Report to table 67 new Clauses and 72 Amendments, all of which required those in the Home Office to provide notes over many weeks. What is more, they followed the 60 odd new Clauses and the many Amendments that the hon. Gentleman tabled in Committee. His opposition to the Bill has not affected it in one iota as it leaves this House. All that his opposition has done is to cause a great deal of unnecessary work for many people who might well have been spared it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.