HC Deb 16 February 1990 vol 167 cc625-8

Order for Second Reading read.

2.17 pm
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House know of my concern with this issue. I am pleased to see that the Minister of State, Home Office is here. I remind him that on 12 June 1989 he said that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary hopes to announce his conclusions on an inquiry"— into the racing and betting industries— before the House rises for the summer recess, or if not, in the spill-over session."—[Official Report, 12 June 1989; Vol. 154, c. 683.] It has not yet been done. Part of the purpose of today's debate is to ensure that it is done some time soon.

The purpose of the Bill is straightforward; it is to amend the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 to enable payment of a levy to the greyhound industry from moneys already deducted from punters for that purpose by the bookmakers in off-course betting establishments.

There is a great need for this legislation. Greyhound racing is the second most supported spectator sport in Britain. As census figures show, more than 5 million people support the sport by going along to tracks every week. They attend 83 tracks, 48 of which are independent and 35 of which are registered with the National Greyhound Racing Club. The membership of that club and of the independents now amounts to more than 15,000 greyhound owners. More than 20,000 greyhounds are registered and in training. At least 10,000 race meetings are held every year, accommodating over 120,000 greyhound races.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I have been reading the Bill, so I should like to refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraph 24(1) of the schedule on page 3, which states: There shall be a Horse and Greyhound Betting Levy Board … (referred to as 'the Levy Board') which shall be charged with the duty of assessing". I do not see how that assessment is to be made. Will the hon. Gentleman explain how the duty of assessing will be covered by the Bill, if it is enacted?

Mr. Meale

Yes, certainly. I have only a short time, but I hope to get to that point later in my speech. I shall try to iron it out as I go along.

I return to the fact that greyhound racing is extremely popular. Two extremely popular daily newspapers, The Sporting Life and The Racing Post, produce individual newspapers on greyhound racing six days per week. Today, they include full coverage of the racing that is to take place at Bristol, Wimbledon, Shawfield, Wembley, Oxford, Romford, Brough Park and at many other race courses, at which betting will take place in off-course betting shops.

Unlike the horse racing industry, the greyhound industry receives no levy money whatever, although moneys are deducted at source in betting shops off-course, throughout Britain. That is a scandal of huge proportions because 10 per cent.—10p in every pound—is deducted from bets, under the legislation to which I have referred, with the purpose of 2 per cent. of that 10 per cent. coming back into the sport. Most punters are having that money deducted fraudulently because at present the only money that goes back into the greyhound industry returns via the Bookmakers Afternoon Greyhound Service, known as BAGS, which is a payment of about £2.8 million per year for 10 tracks, covering 620 individual race meetings. On my calculations, that works out at about £4,500 per meeting and £380 per race.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I like the idea of a levy on greyhound racing so that a lot of money can be raised. However, to what purposes will that money be put? Many of the greyhounds suffer enormous stress during racing. Will the money be spent on the veterinary aspects of racing?

Mr. Meale

I am pleased that my hon. Friend has raised that matter because that is, indeed, the whole purpose. We have just spent some time dealing with the farming industry and with the support that it receives. Indeed, some farmers are involved in horse racing. The fact is that a huge amount of money—about £38 million this year—will be paid to the horse racing industries via the Horserace Betting Levy Board, whereas nothing will be paid to the greyhound industry. That £38 million is not purely for the Jockey Club to spend as it likes, because much of it is to be invested in new equine research. The greyhound racing industry needs a levy so that the 20,000 greyhounds that are in training at present can reap the benefits from the research establishments and thus help people to enjoy the sport.

I am pleased that the Minister is taking great note of this. I have just referred to BAGS. Everybody thinks that £2.8 million a year is not a bad amount of money to pay for those services, given that 620 races are covered by the service. However, the problem does not stop there because six of those 10 tracks are owned by the big three bookmakers, who pay themselves £1.6 million for the use of the service. Therefore, in real terms the other four main greyhound tracks in Britain received only £1.2 million per year for the whole of the service.

Conservative Members might not appreciate the fact that 4 million people per day use and gamble in betting shops. The current value of off-course greyhound betting is more than 27 per cent. of all gambling in a multi-billion pound industry.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Will the Bill have any impact on right hon. and hon. Members'? Conservative Members in particular take an interest in placing bets on the stock exchange. Could the Bill affect our behaviour?

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

What a frivolous remark.

Mr. Meale

It was not a frivolous question. There are many different ways of gambling. As my hon. Friend says, Conservative Members usually gamble on the stock exchange, while other right hon. and hon. Members gamble in other ways. I can give the House details of two gambles that I have undertaken in the past 24 hours. First, I gambled by going to the Members' Tea Room a short while ago, where I sat down and succeeded in ripping the trousers of my suit. I hope that the Serjeant at Arms will do something about that. Secondly, in connection with a social event in my constituency in support of the ambulance workers' dispute, I purchased a couple of bottles of whisky from the House of Commons Shop. Unfortunately, when I left them on a cabinet outside the Members' Tea Room last night, they were purloined during the course of the evening. That gamble was also a terrible mistake that I hope the Serjeant at Arms will put right.

It is not good enough for the Minister to pop along for the last few minutes of a speech on a private Member's Bill on a Friday. There is a serious need for an inquiry into the greyhound racing industry, and an even greater need to stop the fraudulent acquisition by off-course bookmakers of a 2p in the pound deduction that is not going back into the industry.

Legislation is in place to ensure that a similar deduction benefits horse racing. Twenty-seven per cent. of all off-course betting is on greyhound racing, yet not one penny of that money goes back into the industry. Instead, it all goes into the pockets of bookmakers, who do nothing for that magnificent sport.

2.27 pm
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

I hope that it will be considered in order for me to welcome two guests of mine in the Strangers' Gallery——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make such references.

Mr. Marshall

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. They are guests of mine from Israel——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Right hon. and hon. Members must not refer to persons who are in other parts of the building or in the Strangers' Gallery.

Mr. Marshall

I apologise most sincerely for referring to those two individuals against the rules of the House.

Mr. Leigh

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Marshall

No. I am trying to develop an argument. My hon. Friend must allow me to make a start, or we shall never reach the kernel of the debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) on his luck in the lottery for private Members' legislation. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on his very temporary stay on the Opposition Front Bench. It would have been appropriate had he remained there for the entire debate because Walthamstow stadium, which holds a large number of greyhound race meetings, is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

The hon. Member for Mansfield proposes the introduction of a levy that is really a tax. My advice to him, in the words of Edmund Burke, is, To tax and to please, no more than to love and be wise, is not given to man. I hope that it is in order to give that quotation so soon after St. Valentine's day.

My late father always advised me that gambling comprises three activities. First, part of the stake money goes to the Treasury. Secondly, part of the stake money goes to the bookmaker—none of us has ever seen a poor bookmaker. Finally, the rest of the stake which had not gone to the Treasury or the bookmaker was redistributed among those who were fool enough to put it down in the first place.

It was with some regret that I heard the hon. Member for Mansfield say that about 4 million people gamble every week. That is a slightly lower figure than the number of people who gambled by voting Labour at the last election, and the number who may gamble by voting Labour at the next election, but it seems far too high a figure. I wish that the Churches, when they give a moral lead to the country, would tell people how stupid and foolish it is to squander resources on gambling. It is a feckless, stupid and ineffectual way of life.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on 23 February.