HC Deb 18 September 2003 vol 410 cc1052-4
2. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

What discussions she has had with representatives of the British Horseracing Board about the Office of Fair Trading investigation into the control of British horse racing. [130816]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe)

A number of written representations have been received from a variety of organisations in relation to that matter.

Chris Grayling

I represent one of the highest profile race courses in the world. My constituents will not suffer because Epsom will always be the home of the Derby, but those involved in racing are profoundly concerned about the impact of these proposals on the industry as a whole. Will the Minister ensure that the Office of Fair Trading report and any action taken as a result of it does not do irreparable damage to horse racing in this country?

Mr. Sutcliffe

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter and I understand that he represents Epsom. Clearly, however, he knows the rules of the competition regime that the Government have put in place, and that it would be wrong for me, as the Minister with responsibility for competition, to become involved in OFT investigations. I have worked closely with colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and have put forward the concerns raised by the industry and on both sides of the House. I am sure that the OFT will take them into consideration, but, at the end of the day, it is the OFT's decision. I should clarify that this is not a Government-inspired investigation. It came about because the British Horseracing Board went to the OFT to secure a decision on certain practices within the industry. I hope that, as the process continues, hon. Members on both sides of the House will make contact with the OFT to express their views.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough)

Is the Minister aware that there are currently 59 race courses throughout Britain, nine of which are in Yorkshire—my home county and his? Under the current Office of Fair Trading proposals, up to six Yorkshire courses could be closed in the next few years. Does the Minister share my concern and agree that a sport such as horse racing requires a certain amount of central regulation, particularly in respect of the fixture list?

Mr. Sutcliffe

Again I welcome my hon. Friend's interest in the horse racing industry. I know that he is cochairman of the all-party racing and bloodstock group—although I am never too confident about his forecasts on some of the horses that he tells us about. Clearly, he is right that horse racing is prominent and a large employer in Yorkshire. However, the position is that the sponsors of the industry fall within the remit of the DCMS and the competition issues fall within that of the DTI. As I said, it would be wrong for me to influence the outcome of the OFT report in any way, but I am sure that all the concerns will be passed on to the OFT.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

The Minister will be aware of my Adjournment debate on this matter later today. For now and for the record, is he aware of the letter sent to me by the Minister for Sport, which says I share your view that full implementation of the OFT's rulings, as far as we understand them, may damage the fabric or integrity of the sport"? That is quite a profound statement. Is he aware of his powers under section 3(3) of the Competition Act 1998, which states that the Secretary of State may at any time by order amend schedule 3 with respect to the prohibition by providing for one or more additional exclusions? Does the Minister not accept in general terms that sport should qualify for such an exclusion?

Mr. Sutcliffe

I look forward to debating the issue with the hon. Gentleman in greater detail later today, when I hope we can get to the heart of the matter. The letter that he received from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport is entirely appropriate. The DCMS covers the horse racing industry and the hon. Gentleman has expressed his concerns. My responsibility in the DTI is for the competition regime and we are still awaiting the outcome of the OFT deliberations.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

Is the Minister aware that small but extremely successful national hunt courses, such as Perth race course in my constituency, are deeply concerned about what is being included in the Office of Fair Trading report? What words of comfort can he give to Perth race course that national hunt racing will not be a casualty in this process of change?

Mr. Sutcliffe

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point and I refer him to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport. National hunt horse racing—and, indeed, the welfare of all courses—is important. Clearly the words of comfort will have to await the outcome of the OFT report.