HC Deb 05 January 2004 vol 416 cc10-1
7. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)(Lab)

What discussions she has had with the Scottish Executive regarding the future of horse racing in (a) the United Kingdom and (b) Scotland. [145833]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn)

We have not had any discussions with the Scottish Executive on horse racing arrangements.

Mr. Tynan

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response. It would have been appropriate to have some discussions, because there is concern—[Interruption.] It has been suggested that I declare an interest because of the amount of money that I give to the impoverished bookmakers of Hamilton, South over the year. However, on a serious note, would the Minister take time from his busy schedule to visit the town of Hamilton and meet the representatives of the five race courses in Scotland, who are concerned about the proposals emanating from the Office of Fair Trading? If he could give assurances about such a visit, race course executives would be delighted.

Mr. Caborn

I would love to visit Scotland at some point in the future. As for the OFT, my hon. Friend is right that there are concerns about the uncertainty caused by its involvement, which are reflected in a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the chairman of the OFT, saying clearly that we want to make sure that there are comprehensive arrangements for racing across the country. We accept, however, that there must be compliance with competition law. I hope that all the parties get together because racing has a fantastic future and is on a growth path. More people now go to the races than before, and there is greater interest in horse racing. If the two parties can come together and submit their case to the OFT—I think that that is possible—my hon. Friend's fears will be allayed and horse racing will grow. It is a great sport, and is followed by all classes of people up and down the land.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)(Con)

The Minister put his finger on the problem facing racing, not only in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom—the OFT's investigation into the control of horse racing. He and the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has ministerial responsibility for competition, have expressed a great deal of concern about what is likely to be proposed. The Minister said that racing has been doing rather well recently, so will he redouble his efforts to convince the OFT that the last thing that it needs at the moment is for the baby to be thrown out with the bath water? The racing industry is improving and making plans for the future. The last thing that it needs is a heavy-handed report from the OFT.

Mr. Caborn

Many will appreciate the hon. Gentleman's words. However, I repeat that if people in racing can come together—and I believe that they can—to reach a solution to the process introduced by the OFT's rule 14, the fears that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) expressed can be allayed. It is very much in the hands of racing, not the OFT. However, I believe that the OFT will try to find a solution that complies with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked it to do, and ensure that a full and diverse national programme of racing is the end result.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland)(Lab)

I heard what my right hon. Friend said, but does he accept that thousands of jobs are at risk and small race courses throughout the country could close if the OFT's suggestions are implemented? Will he use his offices to ensure that those small race courses are looked after, and the OFT's proposals do not result in the loss of thousands of jobs?

Mr. Caborn

I can only repeat what I have already said. The statistics for the past few years on horse racing show that there is no reason for race courses to close. If anything, there is growth in the marketplace—there is no doubt that the statistics show that. If people in racing come together and make a submission to the OFT, a solution can be found. Some may disagree, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Rule 14 has been introduced, and there must be a response. We believe that there is a way out—if people in the industry and the sport come together, they can find a solution to the problem.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)(SNP)

When the Minister eventually gets around to having discussions with Scottish Ministers, will he discuss the impact of the OFT report on national hunt racing? Perth race course is situated in my constituency. It is a great example of a small but successful national racecourse. Will he give a reassurance that national hunt racing will survive what is suggested in the report?

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)(Con)

And support hunting.

Mr. Caborn

The latter comment is not the answer. If the Scottish Executive asks for discussions with my Department, we will be more than willing to have those discussions. In the light of what has been said, that is a high possibility because of some of the concerns that exist. None the less, I reiterate that, to a large extent, a solution lies in the industry and the sport themselves.