HL Deb 11 March 1969 vol 300 cc398-406

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a simple amending Bill which amends two points of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963. These amendments are set out in the Explanatory Memorandum attached to the Bill. As noble Lords who have studied the Bill will have seen, it amends paragraph 14 of Schedule 3 to the Act, which provides that a licensing authority must fix the same betting days for the whole of its area. The Bill provides that a licensing authority shall fix betting days for each licensed track within its area, instead of for all the tracks in the area. The second point is that paragraph 3(a) of Schedule 5 to the Act fixes the amount which the operator may deduct from the amount staked on the totalisator at not more than 6 per cent. The Bill confers power on the Secretary of State to alter this percentage.

To take the points in that order, the 1963 Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act consolidated the 1934 Act. It was the 1934 Act which determined that all the greyhound tracks in the same licensing area should race on the same days. The licensing area is a county council area or a county borough council area. The 1934 and the 1963 Acts provide for a maximum of 104 racing days in a licensing year and the licensing year runs from July 1 to June 30. The amendment proposed by this Bill would not change the 104 days but would enable the racecourse to choose its own days, subject of course to the present requirements that racing may not take place on Sundays, Good Friday or Christmas Day. This arrangement would ease the burden of direct competition of the racecourses against each other, particularly in the large county boroughs, such as Manchester, Birmingham, the conurbations of Liverpool, the West Riding of Yorkshire and the Greater London Area. Since Parliament, in its wisdom, has made provision for betting offices to be open on every day of the week except Sundays and for bingo and gaming to take place with very little restriction as to the days on which they operate, I submit that it is fair that greyhound racing should have some slight easement of the existing control.

Perhaps I may now turn to the second point. In 1934 Parliament was anxious to control the amount of profit that might be made from betting in any medium, and imposed a limit of 6 per cent. as the maximum which could be deducted from the turnover on the totalisator for operating expenses. Taking into account all the arguments that were advanced in 1934 for fixing the figure at 6 per cent., it must be realised that there has been a fall in the value of money since that time—and if that is an understatement, it is the understatement of the year. There is no provision in the 1963 Act (which of course consolidated the 1934 Act) whereby the figure of 6 per cent. can be altered, save only by another Act of Parliament. It is proposed that the 6 per cent. , should be retained, but this Bill gives the Home Secretary power to alter this figure by statutory regulation from time to time if he is satisfied that such an alteration is justified.

At this late hour I do not wish to detain the House by giving too many details or a great number of figures. It will be sufficient to say that this is an enabling amendment, subject to the Home Secretary's being satisfied—and I wish to stress this—that such an alteration is justified. It may be that the amendment as worded is not completely to the satisfaction of the Parliamentary draftsmen. It is always difficult for anybody outside that very restricted field to put an amendment into language which satisfies any Parliamentary draftsman, and if that be so in this case I shall be only too happy to consider any other wording, or even to promote Amendments, when we come to the Committee stage. I ask that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, subject of course to your Lordships having the opportunity, when it conies to Committee stage, to consider any Amendments which it may then be thought necessary to put forward. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Lindgren.)

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that it will be helpful if I intervene at this early stage to indicate the attitude of the Government to this Bill. But first I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Lindgren for the clear and persuasive way in which he has introduced a subject which may be unfamiliar to some Members of your Lordships' House and, indeed, is of some complexity. What we are discussing this evening are two aspects of the control of greyhound racing which were first imposed by the Betting and Lotteries Act 1934, and the effect of these on the current financial affairs of the greyhound industry.

If my memory serves me aright, greyhound racing, in the form we know it to-day, first came to this country over forty years ago and in its early days it was, I believe, the runner-up to horse-racing. More recently it has become the poor relation. In 1948 total attendances were 25 million a year, and totalisator receipts were over £94 million, but by 1967 they had dropped to under 10 million attendances and a turnover of £70 million. In real terms, this drop is of course much more than £25 million, because, as my noble friend Lord Lindgren said, of the decline in money values and the fact that in the same period expenses have greatly increased.

As my noble friend Lord Lindgren has indicated, the scope of this Bill has been limited, on the advice of his advisers, to just two proposals. The first is to ease restrictions on the freedom of tracks to choose days when betting shall take place, and the other is to allow the permitted deduction from the totalisator—which is now, and always has been, 6 per cent.—to be made variable by regulation. Both these matters are still governed by legislation passed over thirty years ago which, in turn, was based on the recommendations of a Royal Commission of 1933. I think your Lordships will agree that the legislation passed then related to different circumstances from those prevailing today. Much has changed since then, especially (and some of us regret this) the social attitudes to betting and in the open betting which the law now countenances. For instance, there are 15,730 betting shops. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that in the 1930s, when different conditions prevailed, a comparatively repressive view was taken of betting.

It is well known to your Lordships that I am not, and it is safe to say that I never shall be, a supporter of betting, but I hope that I shall always be an opponent of injustice. It is for this reason that I readily concede to-day that the two restrictions dealt with in this Bill are ripe for removal. Not only is the greyhound racing industry to-day the poor relation of horseracing but it is also struggling in competition with other forms of betting and gaming which are not hampered by similar restrictions or the same expenses. In saying this I have not forgotten what I said less than two weeks ago in this House about the effect of the extension of facilities for lotteries. But I venture to suggest that the present proposals, relating to a form of sport long recognised, which involves the breeding, training and racing of magnificent thoroughbred animals and which involves no small exercise of skill in selecting the winners, is readily distin- guishable from a lottery which depends on no more than a chance dip in a hat.

Thus far, I hope that I have shown that the Government's attitude to this Bill is benevolent. But I am afraid that I must now sound a note of warning. The effect of relaxing the two restrictions as proposed in the Bill differs in each case. As my noble friend Lord Lindgren has already explained, the first would mean that the days when racing took place would be determined by reference to individual tracks, and not to all those in one local authority area. Although overall the number of meetings will not be increased, it will mean more days racing, on different tracks, in one area. I want to make it quite clear that I do not think in equity there anything that can be said against my noble friend's proposal to grant greater freedom in this respect to the greyhound tracks, but I must ask whether his proposal is the right way to remove this restriction.

I say nothing about the proposal to take power to vary the statutory limit of 6 per cent. by regulation, but in judging the effect of my noble friend's other proposal we are bound to stop and consider the possible consequences for those living in the vicinity of several tracks, and it is the case that there are local authorities with more than one track in their area. Are there any objections which might arise on the ground of general neighbourhood amenities? I think your Lordships will agree with m e that no matter how well conducted these tracks are—and tracks under the aegis of the Greyhound Racing Association are well conducted—meetings cannot pass unnoticed by people in the neighbourhood.

While, therefore, I have sympathy with the objects of the Bill, I should be less than candid if I did not warn your Lordships that the Bill does not adequately deal with all the necessary consequential amendments which must be made if we agree to remove the requirement that all tracks in an area must race on the same day. These may be said to be mainly practical difficulties, but in considering how to right them it will be necessary for the Government to look at wider policy issues as well. If these restrictions are to be removed, therefore, we need to look closely into how the proposed amendments will work in practice. With the present pressure on Parliamentary business I cannot, I am afraid, hold out any hope that the services of Parliamentary draftsmen could be made available to look at what has to be done, or that time could be made available by the Government in another place. I am not saying to my noble friend that his Bill as drafted is not viable. What I am saying is that in order to satisfy what I I think are legitimate and proper concerns some amendment would be necessary, and I cannot offer the services of Parliamentary draftsmen, or indeed offer that Government time could be made available in another place, So, to sum up, I must advise the House that while the Government are in general favourably disposed towards the principles of my noble friend's Bill, we do not regard it as satisfactory in its present form.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the 6 per cent. deduction on dog race tracks is the same deduction as for horse racecourses?


My Lords, the deduction on the Tote for horse racing is higher.

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, from this side of the House we should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, for his exposition of the purpose of the Bill, welcome Her Majesty's Government's benevolent attitude towards it and hasten to add our support. It is some thirty years, back in the 'thirties, when I last had any personal experience of greyhound racing. It was the Slough track which I was interested in, as I was at the time spending a little time at an educational establishment not far away. But I do not think it requires any experience of this sport to be convinced by the noble Lord's arguments that the two amendments proposed are basically sound. It is surely reasonable to allow this measure of flexibility for the local authority, the licensing authority, to choose on which day of the 104 days on which there can be racing, racing will in fact take place on each of the racecourses for which they are responsible. I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, carried me with him when he pointed out that there are people living in the vicinity of two greyhound racing tracks. I should like to know where there are two tracks close enough for racing on each of them to have an effect on the amenities.


My Lords, may I deal with that question now? There is, for example, the Greater London Council, and the Inner London Council, too.


I will not pursue this matter further at the moment, because it is really a case which has to be presented by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, but I suspect he will be able to count on my support on this point. Furthermore, is it not true that although this flexibility has been introduced under the Bill, it will be up to the local authority to control the different days on which racing takes place, and the kind of amenities which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, is anxious about fall within their purview. So much for that point, With regard to the second point, about the increase of the percentage, I think both noble Lords have fully made the case that an increase is now justified, and it is my own personal feeling, which I think will be shared by other noble Lords throughout the House, that Parliament can now safely leave to the Home Secretary the adjustment of this percentage whenever it is necessary.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene for one moment. I must declare my interest in that I am the President of the Greyhound Racing Society. I did not mean to intervene because I felt that I was too close to the business. I do so now only to express to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, the hope that he will not allow the point he made about amenities to interfere too much with his blessing for the Bill. I am advised that the only tracks which are likely to be near enough to each other to give rise to the objection which he has mentioned are Clapton and Harringay. I think those are the only two. There is no other in the country which fits the bill of the objection which he has raised. I should like to take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, for his presentation of the Bill. It is quite a simple measure, but it will, I feel, go a long way to help an industry which is going through a very difficult time and is likely to face even greater difficulties in the future unless something is done to help it.

6.29 p.m.


My Lords, If I may have permission to speak again, I count myself as extremely fortunate in presenting this Bill, because I think there can be few occasions on which a Minister who says he knows nothing about it is prepared to support it, and when it is supported from the other side by a minister of the Church of England who admits at least that in the distant past he had some connection with a track in the Slough area.

Because of the late hour I did not expand what I would have said. Of course these tracks are lungs in an area, and most of them are, I agree, in densely populated areas. But because of the cost of running a track, and because there is so much profit to be made from property development, many of the tracks up and down the country (I think there have been about 30 or 40 in the last few years) have simply gone out of existence. These tracks are not only lungs in thickly populated areas but are in fact sporting arenas used for other sports. If I may take just two cases, one is the White City and all that arises in the White City. I am not going to be too dogmatic about it, but I read in the Press a little while ago that the White City was being sold for property development. Then there is that great sporting stadium at Wembley. Wembley could not exist on the basis of seven, eight or ten international football matches in a year. The revenue arising from such events could not by itself carry the costs, the rates and all the rest of the expense arising in the Wembley Stadium. That stadium is really carried by the dog race track.

I agree that if there is an area in which two tracks are close together some nuisance may arise, and Parliament has every right to protect the ordinary citizen who is not of the sporting type against interference with the amenities of the area in which he resides. The noble Viscount, Lord Ward of Witley, referred to two tracks which he considered were close together, Clapton and Harringay.


My Lords, I am sorry: I did say "Harringay" but I meant Hackney.


Clapton and Harringay would be a little closer together. But what I was going to say is that the average fellow who lives near Harringay Stadium would rarely get over to Clapton, or even to Hackney. I repeat what I said in my first speech, that I am quite prepared to consider Amendments to the Bill, and if it is possible to obtain some expert assistance of people to prepare the Amendments, then I will do it. I ask that your Lordships be good enough to give this Bill a Second Reading this evening in order that we may go forward to the Committee stage, to see what can then be done.

On Question, Bill read 2ª, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.