HL Deb 04 February 1976 vol 367 cc1295-307

3.11 p.m.

Lord CRAWSHAW rose to call attention to the present state of the horseracing industry; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This Motion was put down on the Order Paper in March last year following a meeting between Members of this House and of the other place with various representatives of the racing world, who assembled at the instigation of the Bloodstock and Racehorse Industries Confederation. On that occasion a great deal of concern was expressed about the situation facing those involved in racing, and soon after an all-Party Parliamentary Back-Bench Committee was formed under the chairmanship of the honourable Member for Richmond in Yorkshire, and with the honourable Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme as Secretary. These two, along with Members of both Houses, have been active on behalf of horseracing in Parliament and in Whitehall over the past year. I say that to show that this matter is not the sole concern of one House of Parliament or of one Party, and to judge from the attendance upstairs and downstairs, particularly upstairs, here today, that interest and concern is widespread.

I am grateful to my noble kinsman Lord St. Aldwyn for finding time for this debate today, a debate which I hope will prove valuable especially for those concerned with horseracing, as well as on occasions providing at least some sporting entertainment for your Lordships in lieu of the fixture at Windsor which has been cancelled because of frost; although, of course, in point of fact I gather that the meeting at Newcastle is still on, and I very much hope we shall hear no more jibes about the frozen North.

Following last week's lengthy debate, in which the English and Irish found some trouble in getting a word in edgeways, at least today we should be able to hold our own with the Scots and the Welsh, but I recognise that we have a fomidable treble from North of the Border in the shape of the noble Lords, Lord Kilmany, Lord Hoy and Lord Mansfield. I believe that today a lot is at stake, and it may be for that reason that this fixture has attracted an extraordinarily high-class field of maidens, a field that would bring a smile to the faces of any racecourse executive. They certainly make a record for quality and possibly for quantity. All four noble Lords, as well as having had distinguished careers in the Army and now in public life in the North of England, have devoted a great deal of their time, energy and resources to the cause of the British thoroughbred. I am particularly glad that Yorkshire is to be so strongly represented, and I know that the House will pay special attention to what the noble Viscount who follows me says in his capacity as senior steward of the Jockey Club, an exacting but financially unrewarding position.

Although, happily, Whips do not perform precisely the same function in this House as on the racecourse—I am not quite so sure about the other place—I believe there are many situations and problems common to this House and the Jockey Club, one of which must be to preserve the best of the old while allowing current thoughts and experience to be fairly represented. I believe that a good deal of success has been achieved in this House in recent years in this respect, even if it has meant opening the doors fairly widely to female persons, two of whom, in line with current racing thinking, I am very glad to see taking part today, and one of whom I respect but do not altogether envy, having been saddled with replying to this debate. It is not my intention to give her a rough ride because I want to prevail upon her to draw the attention to her colleagues in the Government, particularly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to what is said here today by people with exceptional experience of the subject. I know that she recognises this herself.

I do not intend at the moment to dwell further on the relating roles of Parliament and Government and statutory board, the Levy Board and the Jockey Club, because I want to hear the views of those who, unlike me, have first-hand experience of racing administration in one of those capacities. That includes the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and others. It is also a matter to which my noble friend Lord Trevethin and Oaksey has given much thought and of which he is going to speak. I may, however, return to this at the end of the debate when, with luck, some of the mines in this particular minefield may have been exploded. I will confine myself to making some sort of appraisal of what appears to me to be at stake, mention some of the current ills, and finally make some proposals.

I need hardly say that our famous races and racecourses are household names throughout the world and bring much needed prestige to this country at the present time. And although we cannot now match the self-assurance, bordering on conceit, of the writer of the 1821 General Stud Book when he wrote of the "superiority of the English breed of horses over that of every other country," even so, our bloodstock is in great demand throughout the world, including America, Australia and Japan. This forms the basis of a flourishing export trade worth some £28 million per annum. Nearer home, horseracing provides us with a vital and tangible link with Ireland at a time when so many seem hell-bent on defacing the Emerald Isle and when our patience is so sorely tried. We can take hope from the enthusiasm of an Irish racing crowd, which we see so often at Cheltenham and Aintree, to mention but two places, and especially from the courage and the eternal optimism of the Irish National Hunt jockeys, many of whom ride over here. Even if that catlike jumper, majestic mover and prince of entertainers, the great Arkle, was not, like Caligula's horse, an official Consul, he was certainly a wonderful envoy for his country.

Within these shores, as I know other speakers will point out, horseracing is an important asset in terms of employment and recreation. Over 100,000 people are employed in racing's various industries. In 1960 a departmental committee of the Home Office found that attendances at horseracing meetings, other than point-to-point meetings, amounted to 6 million in a year, and that millions more who did not go to horseraces were keenly interested in the results. With the excellent coverage through the media, I can vouch for the very great interest in the hospitals and other similar institutions up and down the county. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in our last debate before Christmas mentioned the importance of this interest on morale during the last war. I believe that this interest is an important ingredient in people's lives in our present unstable situation.

The 1960 Home Office Report of course led to our present system whereby: Persons engaged in gambling transactions on horseraces should be required to make a contribution for purposes conducive to the improvement of the breeds of horses or the sport of horseracing", really on the grounds that although the gambling instinct is the main reason why people take an interest, it cannot alone account for the extraordinarily widespread appeal of horseracing. There are many more, so to speak, efficient ways of turning money over—such as cards or roulette, or even greyhound racing, and the football pools provide more glowing prospects of winning a fortune for the outlay of a few pence.

The fact is that racing provides a many-sided fascination—the glamour of the turf—which people support by means of a small proportion of their bets. This glamour is personified (if that is the right word) by the heroic deeds of a long unbroken line of thoroughbred horses from Flying Childers and Eclipse in the 18th century to St. Simon in the 19th century, and on to horses such as Hyperion between the wars and, finally, to Grundy last season. They are a vital part of our heritage, and as living creatures more important than the Crown Jewels—a verdict with which Richard III certainly agreed, and with which our present Queen might have some sympathy.

Even the wonderful pictures of the great George Stubbs are really only an impression of the real thing. From these lofty pinnacles our equine heritage extends all the way down to the humblest hacks and hunters, whose owners are now able, through the Hunters' Improvement Scheme, to use high-class thoroughbred stallions for a fee of only £20. There are now 16 million horses in this country, and while on this cheerful note I must tell the House that there are to be two new point-to-point meetings this season, both run by Welsh miners and called the Twyside and Banwen Miners. I would agree with Bernard Shaw when he said: Go anywhere in England where there are natural, wholesome, contented and really nice English people, and what do you always find? That the stables are the real centre of the household. It is from this sort of origin that my own interest springs, and although financially it has always been far from profitable, I feel I should declare it to the House in case it should help to illustrate some of the problems we are discussing this afternoon. I confess that I have dabbled in most departments of the sport and industry except, I regret to say, bookmaking. My career as a race rider was short; my career as a permit holder training under National Hunt rules was marked more by hope than by positive achievement. But I gained a healthy respect for those who are successful in a very hard game. My noble friend Lord Oaksey may still be feeling the bruises he sustained during the abrupt ending to a joint venture a year or two ago. For the past two seasons I have been the proud owner of a horse on the flat. After failing to win one penny over those two years I was able to come to three conclusions: (1) that after competing in a variety of races up and down England (it seemed only to be at Redcar) that the horse's best distance was clearly that from the stable half-door to the manger; (2) that I had a large hole in my pocket and, (3) that we had probably managed to take the wooden spoon away from the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and his aptly named horse Portman Square. My future plans, for reasons which I shall explain in a moment, are therefore uncertain.

But in spite of the active interest of a very large section of the public (which includes me) I realise that there is the odd person who looks at the racing industry's contribution to our national life purely in terms of hard cash flowing into the Exchequer. To quote the psalmist, Psalm 147: He hath no pleasure in the strength of a horse, neither delighteth he in any man's legs. I cannot help wondering—I probably should not—whether he would have taken such a dim view of the jockey's legs in these days of girl riders. But, my Lords, it is just as well that— some put their trust in chariots and some in horses "— because the Exchequer derives over £100 million a year from people's occasional successful hunches, but mostly from their errors of judgment. That is at present 7½ per cent. of the bookmakers' turnover, which was increased from 6 per cent. in 1974; but there has been a marked drop in the rate of increase in that turnover since that date. In other ways (from VAT, PAYE, corporation tax, income tax, and other taxes) the Treasury receives an amount which can only be estimated but which exceeds the £100 million pounds I have mentioned which comes from the punter.

I am aware that the horseracing industry is not the only industry feeling the pinch at the moment and, indeed, that in the past it may or may not have cried "wolf"; but I sincerely believe that racing's special contribution to our international status and relations, the domestic heritage, employment and interest, and a very large sum of money accruing to the Exchequer are all equally at stake, and I shall say why.

I earlier mentioned exports. While these in themselves are to be encouraged, the fact is that from Tattersalls 1974 December sales of breeding stock the 25 top priced lots were sold abroad. Exports are one thing—the creaming off of our best breeding stock is something else. And unless something fairly drastic is done, the odds against British people, suffering the high rates of taxation we do, being able to afford to have a horse in training in this country are very great. Jockey Club figures show that in 1975 the average horse, after winning the average amount of prize money, cost his owner £3,000 to keep in a year, which is £1,000 worse than a figure mentioned by my noble friend Lord Oaksey in our last debate. I think that his figure is probably based on the 1974 costs. Put another way, the cost of keeping 11,000 horses in training in this country was £43.7 million, but these horses earned a net total of only £6.14 million for their owners. In France, with roughly the same costs, for reasons that are well known and to which other noble Lords will refer, the prize money won per horse is three times what it is here, and in Japan it is nearly ten times. I do not intend any reflection on our trainers and their staff in this country, most of whom have a skill unequalled anywhere else in the world, but (apart from simple patriotic reasons) we are reaching the stage where to keep a horse in training in this country at the moment "borders on the ridiculous" to quote the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. That is why I say my plans for any further ownership are "uncertain". I should very much like to hear what plans other noble Lords, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, have for the future.

Noble Lords may ask, "Why do we still see in the papers so many horses, some of which are still owned by Englishmen, entered for races?" Total numbers have kept up surprisingly well, partly due to the widespread feeling that if one does not spend one's money it will be taken away in tax anyway—hardly a healthy, even if realistic, approach to personal finance. But although the total number of horses in training on the flat dropped by only 130 between 1974 and 1975 the two-year-olds dropped by 10 per cent. Furthermore, the number of mares covered dropped by over 10 per cent. between those two years, and worst of all on 19th January this year in London at a sale of shares and nominations to stallions only 45 out of a total of 165 lots were sold and most of those went for derisory prices. This shows a complete lack of confidence in the future by breeders on whom everything depends.

If racing is to prosper and if those involved right down the line are to be fairly rewarded, I and a great many other people feel that there must be a substantial increase in prize money which will percolate down through the industry. Horses have always been expensive to keep and no one expects to have all his sport and interest paid for, but I believe it reasonable to hope that an average horse winning an average amount of prize money might pay for half his costs. I should like to see £10 million per annum put into racing. I know it sounds a lot, but is it in terms of what the industry helps to generate and if it will help to save the industry? Partly for selfish reasons I should like to see that money spread among all types of races. It seems to me that this sort of figure must come as a further contribution from the punter or from a reduction of taxes, particularly on the punter.

These are problems which my colleagues and I in the All-Party Parliamentary Committee and representatives of the racing world have discussed with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury only this morning. We also discussed the problems of capital transfer tax and VAT which, as other noble Lords will show, operates so harshly on our industry compared with France and Ireland. I believe there is now an increasing realisation of what is happening, from which I hope good will and help will flow. For the reasons I have stated it is vital that it should. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to address you for the first time I hope I may receive that kindly indulgence which it has ever been your custom to extend to those who find themselves in the position which I now occupy. My reason for venturing to speak today is that in my capacity as senior steward of the Jockey Club I desire to make a few observations on the role of the Jockey Club at the present time, and to refer to one or two matters which have a bearing on the state of the horseracing industry, the subject of the Motion which the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, has most kindly introduced. Historically, whenever concern has been voiced about the state of horseracing in this country it has been taken by some as an opportunity to call into question the way in which the Jockey Club administers the sport. I am the last person to claim that the Jockey Club is above informed criticism, but it would be wrong to miss this opportunity to describe briefly how and why the Jockey Club holds the position which it does today.

The present role of the Jockey Club cannot properly be described without some reference to its historical background and development. The Club was founded about 1750. At this time there were regular race meetings throughout the country, including, of course, at New market. Without any real control, practices we would abhor today were rampant and it had become increasingly clear that some form of authority for the sport was badly needed. Therefore in 1770 the Jockey Club appointed from its members three stewards with full powers to conduct racing affairs at New market. Subsequently, and at the request of other courses, their control extended throughout the country to wherever "New market rules" were adopted. The Jockey Club's power and influence grew throughout a century and a half due largely to three great men: Sir Charles Bunbury, Lord George Bentinck, and Admiral Rous. It was under their leadership that the Jockey Club's reputation for impartiality and integrity was founded. In particular, Admiral Rous was the first great codifier of the Rules of Racing. It is his rules, revised from time to time, which in scope and form not only substantially determine the conduct of horseracing in this country today but form the basis for the rules of most overseas racing authorities.

My Lords, if I dwell on the historical aspect it is because it is important to realise that the authority of the Jockey Club has grown not so much because it sought to enlarge its powers but that racing men outside New market were persuaded by the Jockey Club's example and evident success at New market to accept their rules and judgments. Five characteristics of the Jockey Club were epitomised by the three men I have already mentioned: a deep love for the racing of thoroughbreds; a profound knowledge of the needs of horseracing; a willingness to devote time and energy to the benefit of racing; impartiality of judgment and a passionate commitment to the integrity of the sport.

Today, after 200 years, when racing has become an industry as well as a sport, when the administration of racing has assumed a complexity that would have seemed overwhelming to our forebears, these same qualities characterise the Jockey Club. They give it the moral authority and wide acceptance which has enabled it to carry out its task of administration in this country. I do not wish to imply that any infallibility is inherent in the Club today, or indeed has been at any time during the past 200 years, but the characteristics to which I have referred have resulted in the organisation of horseracing bearing favourable comparison with that of any other sport or recreation in Great Britain. Nor can I fail to notice the esteem with which the conduct of racing in this country is held overseas. Each year delegations from foreign racing authorities—most of them based on our own—come to seek the advice of the Jockey Club here in Britain.

The scope of the administrative problems facing the Jockey Club has grown steadily for two centuries. Its ability to meet these problems and to devise solutions derives in no small measure from another decision which the Jockey Club made all those years ago—the appointment of a Mr. James Weather by as secretary. The continuity and stability of the Jockey Club's administration has ever since been linked with the Weather by family who have served the Jockey Club and racing, father and son, since 1770. To quote a racing historian, "They are the very machinery of the Turf".

Clearly, the prime duty of the Jockey Club—the day-to-day task—which occupies its nine stewards and the 150 men and women who serve them, is the administration of the rules of racing. Surely, however, there is a duty beyond that. The Royal Charter granted to the Jockey Club in 1970 includes among the objects for which the club is incorporated: All such responsibilities as may be necessary or convenient for the proper conduct and due encouragement of horseracing. Today, horseracing has grown into an industry. It is an industry with many constituent associations, all pressing the interests of the people whom they represent. It is for that reason that the Jockey Club, when considering what should be its role today, feels that it has an important part to play in co-ordinating and reconciling the varying views and needs of all those whose livelihood or interest is racing. In doing so, the Jockey Club continues to be motivated solely by the interests of the sport. It believes itself to be qualified for this task not only by the authority granted under the Royal Charter but also by its traditional characteristics of impartiality, integrity, experience and voluntary service.

The method by which the Jockey Club co-ordinates the views of the various associations in racing derives from its obligation under Section 24 of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 to appoint three members of the Horserace Betting Levy Board. It is the Jockey Club's view that these three members are appointed to represent not only the club but racing as a whole. Those appointed are expected to be conversant with the problems and needs of the industry and to make sure that that is so, the three appointees each serve only for a period of three years. In addition, the Jockey Club established in 1964 and has recently enlarged its Joint Associations Liaison Committee. Its purpose is to enable the stewards of the Jockey Club to hear the views of all the associations in racing and, equally important, to let the Jockey Club members on the Levy Board hear those views at first hand.

The membership of the committee covers all the associations in racing, including representatives of the Tote and the National Association of Bookmakers. The only significant body in racing which is not represented—and it is a source of regret not only to the Jockey Club but to the whole committee that this should be so—is the Betting Offices Licensees' Association. An invitation was extended to the Association but it felt unable to accept. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, the president of the organisation, is a man who has devoted years of his energy and skill to the great benefit of horseracing, both as chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board and since. Not least important is the part he has played in securing the future of the Grand National. Despite a devotion to racing which they share, the Jockey Club and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, have not always seen eye to eye over the years. None the less, the Jockey Club recognises and is grateful to the noble Lord for his achievements, to which I should like to pay tribute today.

There have been suggestions in recent months that racing is unduly favoured in having a levy of its own and that the proceeds of betting on horseracing should form part of a larger levy for the benefit of all sports. I should like to make two points on this matter, which will no doubt be referred to by the Royal Commission on Gambling, to which the Jockey Club will be submitting papers at the proper time. The first point is that one of the original objectives in establishing the levy on horserace betting was to compensate racecourses for the decline in attendance which, as expected, followed the introduction of off-course betting. If that compensation were to be withdrawn or even reduced, it would have a serious effect on the viability of our racecourses, some of which are already in a weakened state.

Secondly, the present levy on horserace betting plays a vital part in sustaining the racing industry as a whole. It must be stressed that that industry provides substantial revenue to the Treasury, creates work for some 30,000 people and indirectly promotes employment for a further 70,000. Beyond that, racing provides recreation for millions, both on and off the course, and, through the medium of television, for the aged, the infirm and the disabled. It is an important part of our whole leisure and recreation. While not wishing to anticipate the submission which is being prepared for the Royal Commission on Gambling, I urge your Lordships to recognise that to sustain the industry of horseracing requires a greater not a smaller levy and that any reduction will seriously jeopardise the employment, tax revenue and leisure opportunities which I have described.

Before concluding, I should like briefly to refer to the position which Great Britain holds internationally in the field of horseracing. The racing and breeding of thoroughbreds and high-class bloodstock is an international commodity. Yet this country—the birthplace of thoroughbred racing—has now slipped to a position in which, by the end of 1974 and despite having the second largest betting turnover in the world, its prize money is little greater than that of Italy and less than a third of that available in France.

The fact that Great Britain is still considered a major racing country is based on such factors as the quality and integrity of its racing administration, the variety and beauty of its racecourses, the quality of bloodstock being produced and the number of people who are still willing to race thoroughbreds despite the escalating costs. All these factors have historical origins. All are increasingly undermined and discouraged by current levels of taxation and prize money. What keeps British racing in the highest levels of foreign competition is based upon this historical impetus—a heritage which could easily be lost. What is essential is to provide conditions of taxation and prize money which will allow this country to compete on more equal terms with other racing countries.

In conclusion, I shall not conceal from your Lordships that the Jockey Club shares the widespread concern for the future of horseracing in this country. Yet I speak to your Lordships not in a spirit of defeatism but with a sense of resilience and determination. I apologise for having detained your Lordships for so long and I end by thanking your Lordships for the very kind way in which you have received my remarks.