HL Deb 29 November 1979 vol 403 cc531-51

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of this very small but highly important Bill is to amend the present statutory restriction on the number of races that can be held at a greyhound race meeting. The present number is eight and the Bill proposes that this figure should be increased to 10. I am not a regular racegoer, but I am convinced that the public want 10 races, because very often eight seems to be too few for an evening out. Therefore, I wish to reduce one of the restrictions which unfortunately hampers the sport of greyhound racing.

On this matter I am very pleased at the recent statement made by the Secretary of State for the Home Office in a debate in another place on 29th October, where he stated at column 847: I also concur in the Royal Commission's proposals for some modest increases in the permitted number of races per meeting and in the number of meetings allowed each year ". Perhaps I should remind the House that the final report of the Royal Commission on Gambling, which was published in July 1978, recommended that the number of races be so increased together with a small increase in the number of special betting days which could be held during the licensing year. At present the number of special betting days is fixed at four and the Bill proposes that they should be increased to six, mainly to cover the recently-created hank holidays. An enabling power is provided for the Secretary of State to designate further special betting days for any future increases in public holidays and for other reasons.

The circumstances affecting the operation of greyhound racing in this country, which is the second largest spectator sport in Britain after soccer, were fully explained to the Royal Commission by the National Greyhound Racing Club. The Commission accepted all its statistics and many of the statements submitted by the NGRC, and indeed stated: … the evidence we have received reflects the industry's view that since 1951 it has fallen on hard times ". Some clubs have closed their tracks and attendances have shown a steady decrease over the years.

The Betting and Gaming Act 1960 legalised the operation of betting shops, whereas previously horse and greyhound racing operated the only legalised betting cash outlets in this country. As greyhound racing stadia are situated in areas of high urban development, they are more easily affected by the public patronising the betting shops in the high street; if the public lose, they are disinclined to go grey-hound racing. What is more, the book-makers make a larger profit from grey-hound betting as opposed to horse betting because there is no betting levy.

I report these points merely to show that a considerable degree of sympathy existed with the Royal Commission over the plight of greyhound racing, and also in the Home Office, in that the few minor recommendations of the Royal Commission for the benefit of greyhound racing should be implemented. The background as to why the figure of eight races was originally chosen stems mainly from the Betting and Lotteries Act 1934. It must be recognised on all sides of the House that the social conditions at that time were vastly different from present-day life. In many ways the 1934 Act was experimental in nature, and since then other forms of betting and gaming have had the benefit of more modern legislation.

In 1934 eight races related roughly to the number of horseraces being held at that time and endeavoured to control the amount of cash betting that could be made available to the public. The special betting days were also established at the same time and the figure of four was chosen because it related to the number of bank holidays at that time. Since then there has been the introduction of two further bank holidays, so it is thought right that the figure of four should be increased to six. Possibly in the future there might he some extension of the number of bank holidays, and so provision has been made for the Home Secretary to increase the number of special betting days not only for bank holidays but for any other reason that might be deemed necessary at the particular time.

Greyhound managements have always been able, subject to certain restrictions, to select the days when they would hold their special betting days. It is not always necessary to relate them to bank holidays. In many cases the major races of the year, such as the Greyhound Derby, are held on special betting days which suit the local circumstances of the race-course and its patrons. The figure of 20 races on the special betting days follows the proposed increase in the number of races per meeting, which are presently related to 16 on these types of days. In practice, managements generally have a matinée meeting of eight races with an evening meeting of the same number of races or, alternatively, have an extended race meeting of, say, 10 to 14 races.

Therefore, hopefully, this Bill will improve the profitability of the sport of greyhound racing, because it is not possible at present to obtain sufficient assets to guarantee the survival of each stadium. Looking, for instance, at the position of Wembley, which is a national institution and the national football stadium, it can be kept going only by the regular operation of greyhound racing and certainly not by the comparatively few football matches which are held there.

Owners of greyhounds expect a reasonable return from prize money, but it must be remembered that the availability of prize money is limited not only by the present restrictions on the level of operating expenses from the totalisator but also on the very low charge which is made to on-course bookmakers, who will benefit greatly from the extension of races. At the moment they only have to pay five times the entrance fee, which is really a very small fee. For your Lordships' information, the turnover on the grey-hound totalisator is approximately £75 million per annum compared with on-course bookmakers who, according to the Customs and Excise figures, have a turnover of £120 million per annum. I mention this point only to show that there is a need to maintain the second largest spectator sport in the country by providing for a modest increase in the number of races that can be held on any special day. There are only 130 of these betting days in a licensing year and it is necessary for the promoters to be able to maximise their assets whilst they are being lawfully used for betting purposes.

By increasing the profitability of greyhound racing it is hoped that more prize money can be made available to owners and, just as important, that kennel hands can be paid a good wage. Greyhound racing does not have the benefit of the special levy which is available only to horseracing. Regrettably, neither the Commission nor the Home Office feel that this levy should be extended to include greyhound racing at the moment. I hope that the Home Office will take a different view when they give consideration at a future date to the position of the greyhound on-course bookmakers.

Finally, I should like to say that the most that this Bill can do is to help the greyhound tracks still operating to keep on running. Above all, the Bill does not seek to depart extensively from the overall control which Parliament has seen fit to impose on greyhound racing, although it does seek to relieve one of those restrictions which, in the course of years, has become onerous and pressing. It is for this reason that I commend this Bill and ask your Lordships to give it a unanimous Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a(Lord Newall.)

5.51 p.m.

Viscount WARD of WITLEY

My Lords, I intervene briefly to support this Bill. Although I am no longer connected in any way with greyhound racing I was from 1963 to 1972 President of the National Greyhound Racing Society of Great Britain, and, when that was wound up, I was chairman of the policy committee of the National Greyhound Racing Club from 1972 to 1977. From my knowledge of the sport during those years I have no doubt whatever that it is adversely affected by two serious handicaps. First, there is the effect which, since they became legal, betting shops have had on race course attendances. It is said that off-course betting on greyhounds is now running at £400 million a year. Secondly there is the outdated legislation going back to 1934 which keeps the sport virtually in a straitjacket.

This Bill is not of course concerned with the first of these problems, but it does aim to bring up to date certain provisions of the old legislation. Indeed, it seeks to implement some of the recommendations which I myself submitted to the Royal Commission on Gambling in 1976 on behalf of the Greyhound Racing Club. Both the proposals in this Bill were recommended by the Royal Commission, and in my view should go quite a long way to help the promotion of greyhound racing, because more prize money will be made available to owners and to trainers. I am therefore glad to add my support to the Bill, and I hope that it will find favour with your Lordships.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to add a few words of support to the Bill which has been moved in such an able way by my noble friend Lord Newall. Before doing so, however, I am duty bound to declare an interest, in that I am the present chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board, and therefore directly connected with this Bill. The Royal Commission had evidence presented to it by the noble Viscount, Lord Ward, whose support I also welcome, and I went to give verbal evidence after-wards. I cannot have done it very well, because we did not get anything like as much as we wanted from the Royal Commission. Indeed, if I am not being discourteous, they treated us, we thought, in a rather cavalier way. They did not even bother to come and look at a greyhound racing track. I think one or two of their staff did, but if the whole commission came they must have come on my night off.

They treated us in a cavalier way because they emphasised, we thought a little unfairly, the commercial side of the sport rather than the sporting side. Of course in every sport there is now an increasing commercial side. You do not call it entirely philanthropic when you buy a centre-forward for half a million pounds. There is nothing entirely uncommercial about the National Stud or the New-market sales. So we agree that there is naturally a commercial element in this. But we have had, as the noble Lord, Lord Newall, pointed out, financially rather a rough time of late. We are having difficulty in keeping ourselves viable. We are doing the best we can. We are trying to put our house in order and make ourselves as democratic as possible, consulting as many interests as possible. This little Bill—and it is only a little Bill; it is not what we would like; we would like something much bigger, but we have not been allowed to do that—will help the sport to make better use of its resources and will assist its viability. I hope your Lordships will give it your support.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, I must declare an interest. I am not going to weary your Lordships with a detailed account of my connection with betting, which started off I think at about the age of 12, when I had 3d each way on China Cock which won the Liverpool Spring Cup, and I thought I would never be poor again. It has taken me through all the vicis-situdes of being a member of the Totalisator Board, chairman of the Horse Race Betting Levy Board, and president of BOLA. The interest I have to declare tonight is that I own greyhounds. I had a runner last night, not, unfortunately, successful, and I have a runner tomorrow night. Like all other owners of greyhounds, or racehorses for that matter, hope springs eternal. No owner of a greyhound or of a racehorse ever commits suicide, because he is always hoping that the next one will be a winner.

Secondly, I have been accorded the distinction of having had one of my dogs, which was made favourite—not with my money, I regret to say, in any substantial amount—doped. I only learnt it a few days ago, but I suppose that it is a mark of distinction that one of one's dogs is doped. I thought in that connection that the trainer of the dog behaved with great integrity and competence, and I think it enables me to say that, on the whole, greyhound racing is as straight as it can possibly be made, though I think there is room for improvement—there is always room for improvement. I think too that there ought to be some organisation which carries on investigations into malpractices when something occurs that seems to need investigation.

The other thing is that, as an owner, too, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the syndicate which owned the winner of the Greyhound Derby, and I suppose no owner of greyhounds can ever want more than that. It is because I am interested in greyhound racing, and because I go to watch greyhound racing as a sport and not for profit, that I am speaking tonight in support of this Bill. There are one or two things I want to say in connection with it. I would say that I am in enthusiastic support of it, but not for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Newall.

I am not optimistic enough to believe that the proposals in his Bill, which are part, and only part, of Recommendation 44 of the Royal Commission's report, are going to produce very much more money for prize money. It does enable me to say this in support of something that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said: I thought that the Royal Commission, I will not say cavalierly, but a little mistakenly dismissed greyhound racing on the grounds that it was more commercial than horse racing. I have great respect for Lord Rothschild and for the work of the Royal Commission, but I thought that that was just a load of nonsence.

To own a greyhound today with any claims to ability will cost somewhere between £1,000 and £2,000. To get a good dog with any hope of winning an open race will cost £2,000 at least, and the price is going up all the time. But there are dozens of people, of whom I am one, who are content to own dogs that can only win graded races. To suggest that a person who would pay several hundred pounds for a greyhound that can only race in graded races is involved in greyhound racing in the hope of making a profit is quite ridiculous.

What the Royal Commission said in one place was that greyhound racing evolved from commercial practices. I think that that is broadly true, but it is part of the fun of the game to go and watch one's dog run, and one meets other people who are doing the same thing and comes into friendly contact with them. By and large there are hundreds, indeed thousands, of people throughout the country who regard racing as a sport, and to pick them out and say, "They are engaged in a commercial operation for profit ", while those who have the bank balances to go to Newmarket and bid for a yearling—and the average price is £30,000—and say they are engaged in sport, is to my mind plain nonsense.

I would assert therefore that there is a substantial case here at which the Home Secretary and Government should look, but they will not; and let us consider why. It is a poor compliment to Lord Roths-child and the many distinguished ladies and gentlemen who made up the Royal Commission, who worked for a long time and at considerable cost—it cost £500,000—that the report is published and four months later an announcement is made that a special unit is being set up at the Home Office to study it, composed of one lady from the Police Department, and then months later, allowing for a change of Government, a debate takes place in another place in which the Home Secretary is careful to say that he will do nothing about anything if he can possibly avoid it because obviously in the competition for Government time he and the Home Office have lost out.

It is true of horseracing, lotteries and casinos; all these recommendations of the Royal Commission will collect dust on the shelf until, like the previous Royal Commission report, a decade on, some Administration or other will be forced to do something about it. Then what will happen? The civil servants will take down this report of the Royal Commission and put it into operation, but by that time the circumstances which were operating when this Royal Commission were sitting will have passed. That is what happened the last time and that is what will happen again.

With regard to greyhounds there are not many recommendations. There are a few, and Recommendation No. 44 is one of them, What the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has done, and wisely, is that he with his advisers have picked out two of them which he thinks are runners and which he thinks he might be able to get away with, and he has probably judged rightly, although judging by what happened to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, in connection with linked bingo, which had a very easy passage in this place, who knows what will happen? That went to another place and was objected to last Friday, so the signs are not all that good even for the least contentious measure, though in my opinion the mixture is just about right in terms of getting it through.

However, in saying that, we must not let the Government get away with it. Clearly they have a duty to do, although they are not performing it. Whether we like it or not, we are moving into an age of greater leisure, and whether we regard greyhound racing outside the stream of our national culture or whether, as I believe, it is a very pleasant way of passing some of one's leisure time and meeting people with whom one has a common interest, whichever view one may take, one must not forget, as Lord Newall pointed out, that it is the second largest spectator sport in the country, and it is going to stay there. Furthermore, on a wider basis, if the Government go on, as it seems they will do, to sweep the Royal Commission's report under the carpet, they run very great risks indeed, and the risks are not run only by the Home Office but by the Government and nation as a whole. The taxing of betting and gaming now produces £400 million a year, and the one thing you cannot do with a cow is to go on milking it unless you feed it. This particular cow must be fed with thought and planning and having regard to the social consequences, not only of what you do but what you leave undone, and I regret to say that is what the Government are engaged in.

We are concerned here with the second minor recommendation of the Royal Commission; Lord Birkett was concerned with Recommendation No. 219 and this is part of recommendation No. 44. They will do nothing else, leaving it to the enterprise of Private Members of this House and another place to put forward Bills which they think may reach the statute book; the Government will leave it like that. That is quite disastrous on the broad front because it leaves social problems which should be tackled, and they will not go away. They will be the worse for having been left and some of the social evils which the nation has avoided through the Butler legislation of a decade ago will, as sure as night follows day, raise their heads again. Therefore I support Lord Newall's Bill: I am critical of the Government's lack of action and I believe a great deal needs to be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that greyhound racing in this country was having hard times, was doing the best it could and so on. But that is only part of the story. In 1958 in Ireland a different course was taken from the one which has been pursued in this country. I cannot speak Gaelic and therefore cannot possibly pronounce the title, so 1 will simply call it the Irish Greyhound Association. As greyhound racing in this country has gone down, attendances, money bet, prize money, the value of greyhounds and the development of an export industry there have all gone up. Why has that been the case? The answer is that the Irish Government—not a Socialist Administration by any manner of means—decided to set up a board, as a result of legislative action, and that board has taken control of greyhound racing with the immediate result that, whereas the really top-class greyhounds used to be bought in Ireland and brought here to race, no longer is that the case. The top-class greyhounds now are racing in Ireland because the prize money, tracks and amenities are that much better. As we go down, they go up, and this Administration, who believe in laissez-faire even to the point of not getting their hair cut, will do nothing; so greyhound racing in this country must inevitably go down, in terms of quality and as a breeding industry which produces valuable currency—that applies not only to Britain but to the United States, where it is on the way up and prospering.

There is another reason for it. The NGRC in terms of its evidence claimed to speak for the industry as a whole, but it did not. The proper name for the NGRC is the Greyhound Track Promoters' Association; it is concerned primarily with the viability and prosperity of the greyhound tracks. Of course, it is true that if the greyhound tracks are not viable they cannot provide increased prize money, but there is another side to that story. The Greyhound Association engaged in property speculation and lost a great deal of money. One reason why the NGRC and greyhound racing is now having a rough time is that the industry—the ordinary working chap who goes racing—is paying off the debts of the property speculators who still own the greyhound tracks. That is the story and it cannot be denied. The past buries the past, but we must not forget—and certainly the Government should not forget—that a Conservative Administration in 1958 introduced the legislation of 1960. They could have introduced that legislation a long time before, but they did not.

So if greyhound racing in this country is not as prosperous as it ought to be, if horse racing here runs into difficulties, if the sporting facilities in this country are not what they ought to be, the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves. We have had successive Conservative Administrations who have not done their duty any more than this Administration are doing their duty. The speech of the Home Secretary in another place was a disgrace. They have had months, indeed years, in opposition to study this problem. The Home Secretary did not understand it. His officials do not understand it. They do not listen. They do not learn.

Therefore I believe that the difficulties of greyhound racing, and indeed of all British sports, will not be lessened under this Administration. The matter will be left and left until it can be left no longer. In the meantime, industries such as the breeding of greyhounds and racehorses, as well as the building up of amenities which can be enjoyed by our young people, will be left as they have been left in the past. May I say that the record of the Labour Party is not very much better. The speech of the late Home Secretary, Mr. Merlyn Rees, in another place was in terms of nonsense a dead heat with that of the Home Secretary. The difference between the two is the difference between 11½ and a shilling. This is a field which the Labour Party ought to regard as their own because it is the ordinary chap who pays the piper, even though he does not call the tune.

So I support the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Newall. I shall support him in the Division Lobby, if there is a Division. I shall support him at the Committee stage. But do not let it be thought that by supporting the Bill I am in any way indicating that I am satisfied to go away and say, "That's the end of the story ", because it is not.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has performed a service to the House in explaining his Bill with such clarity. In fact, he has matched the clarity of the final report of the Royal Commission on Gambling, which in presentation at least was a masterly report, and which set out in its two volumes a vast amount of highly complex material—fact and argument—in such a splendidly clear way that even someone with a knowledge of gambling as meagre as mine could follow.

I confess that I have attended a greyhound meeting only once in my life. It was when I was taken to one of the annual Greyhound Derbys at the White City 30 years ago. I found it most exciting and thoroughly enjoyable, but I suppose that I have to admit that it probably could not have taken possession of me exactly because I have not been to a meeting since, nor have I placed a bet on a greyhound race since then. It is probably my loss and nobody else's. It is also perhaps a little inconsistent of me in not having pursued it, in at least one sense, if not more, because I can be taken to have been going to the dogs constantly over the past few years, living, as we do, on the Isle of Dogs.

So your Lordships will appreciate that I feel more inadequate than usual after hearing from noble Lords with vast experience and expertise, and with connections with the sport over many years. I have in mind my noble friend Lord Wigg, and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, as well as the experience of the noble Viscount, Lord Ward of Witley.

As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has said, the Bill itself proposes some modest changes in the law—changes which would be mainly in line with recommendations made by the Royal Commission itself. Those recommendations formed part of the evidence to the Commission of the National Greyhound Racing Club and, I believe, of the more broadly based, more representative, body associated with it, which came into being while the Royal Commission was actually sitting—the British Greyhound Racing Federation.

Before saying something about the individual proposals themselves, I should like to say a word about the background against which the proposals are put forward. Whether one supports it or not, greyhound racing is indeed a major spectator sport. As the report itself recognises, and as the noble Lord, Lord Newall, mentioned, it is indeed the second most popular sport in the country. So the sport is here, and is established. That being so, unless one is aiming to abolish it altogether, it seems right that it should be enabled to operate in a satisfactory way—and this seems to be partly Parliament's job—and should include suitable conditions for those taking part in it as well as a reasonable living for those running it.

The report of the Royal Commission clearly shows that the industry has dwindled over the years, as one or two of your Lordships have mentioned tonight, and indeed some of those in it have come up against problems and even hardship. It would appear that part of the purpose of the proposals in the Bill would be to help, if only in a comparatively small way, the sport to be rather more soundly based, as well as to provide a better service to its supporters.

I should like to add in passing a reference to Chapter 10 of the Royal Commission's report on greyhound racing, which has also been alluded to by one or two of your Lordships this evening, and which seems to have come in for a certain amount of criticism elsewhere as well, not least for the distinction that it draws between horseracing and greyhound racing. This is in paragraph 10.10 of the report. If one were to paraphrase that paragraph, I hope not unfairly, it seems to emerge from that chapter of the report that the Royal Commission is regarding horse-racing as more of a sport, while regarding greyhound racing as a commercial operation only. As we have heard from some other quarters, there is also criticism that the Royal Commission was biased in favour of horseracing. This matter has been mentioned tonight by my noble friend Lord Wige and by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft—


It is very important to get this right, my Lords. The paragraph from which the noble Lord quotes—paragraph 10.10—says that greyhound racing is organised on commercial lines, and in another place it says that it evolved on commercial lines. But because it is organised that way, or it evolved that way, it does not follow—it is a non sequitur—to assert, or to accept the idea, as the noble Lord seems to be going on to do, that as a whole greyhound racing is less of a sport than is horseracing. I know them both intimately, and I give the noble Lord an assurance that if he will pay one or two more trips to greyhound racing tracks and visit the New-market sales, he will quickly alter his views.


My Lords, I am obliged to my noble friend for his intervention because it gives me an opportunity—should the point that I was making not have been made sufficiently clearly—to point out that I was in fact by no means accepting the interpretation that in my view the Royal Commission has appeared to place upon those two sports; and to draw that distinction between the two. It is not of course for me to judge the extent to which that is or is not justified, but that somewhat gratuitous sideswipe at greyhound racing (as some people have regarded it, understandably) appears to have caused considerable resentment among supporters—and understandably so. Some of those supporters seem to feel it was a pity that the Commission took that unnecessary line, especially as many of its recommendations—there were not many in toto, of course, concerning greyhound racing, but many of those recommendations—were approved and, indeed, suggested by the sport itself.


My Lords, I should like to make the point again. I think it is being unfair to the Royal Commission to say that they took that view. They made two statements of fact, both of which, I believe, are correct. One was that it evolved, if you like, on commercial lines, and the second was that it is organised on commercial lines. But it does not follow, and they did not say that it did, that it was commercial. That is what people are putting into it. It does not necessarily follow that it is more or less commercial, if I may put it that way. The Royal Commission just made those two statements; but what has happened is that the Press have got hold of this and it has been repeated time and again until it has come to be accepted as a fact. With great respect to the noble Lord, I would suggest that if, after this debate, he reads the two paragraphs again—and he can talk to me if he likes—I think he will come to the conclusion that the Royal Commission were just making two statements of fact and were not drawing the conclusion which he has been drawing.


My Lords, if what my noble friend, with his experience, says is right, then that may well come as some considerable reassurance to some people; but it was certainly my impression that it was not only the Press which had been led to take that view, to put that interpretation on what was said; it was indeed some people associated quite closely with the sport itself.

My Lords, I should like to turn briefly now to the individual proposals in the Bill. Some of the points I would make are perhaps Committee points, if there is a Committee stage, but the noble Lord, Lord Newall, might value the opportunity to have this sort of notice of them in advance, anyway, so that he can consider them if he wishes to do so. I apologise to your Lordships if a little repetition is necessary, but it is better to say precisely what it is one is talking about in the Bill before one makes a comment upon it. Clause 1 would first of all increase, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Newall, the number of races on which betting may take place on any day—that is, any ordinary day—from eight to 10. That is in line with the recommendation of the Royal Commission at paragraph 10.48, it was advocated by the club and the federation, and it is referred to in the report at paragraph 10.47(iv). Then, Clause 1 would increase the number of races on which betting could take place on any special betting day from 16 to 20. I understand that that particular recommendation does not appear to have been made by the Royal Commission itself, and it does not appear to have been put forward in the evidence of the club to the Royal Commission. The noble Lord, Lord Newall, has gone some way, I think, towards explaining that, but I am wondering why that did not form part of the evidence to the Royal Commission, and perhaps that is something which we can have a further look at if we are given the opportunity.

I also see that under the present law—that is to say, specifically, the 1963 Act—there are two limits to the races on which betting may take place. On any normal day (if I may call it a normal day) it is eight races. The Act also states that the meeting must last for not more than four hours. On any special betting day, it is 16 races. The Act also says that the meeting must last for not more than eight hours. To the uninitiated, among whom I must put myself, it might have seemed logical, if the number of races were being increased, to propose increasing the number of hours of the meeting, the duration, as well; and I was wondering why the opportunity was not being taken to seek changes there, so that the maximum duration was kept in line with the number of races on which betting was permitted on normal and special days.

Then, my Lords, Clause 2 of the Bill deals with the only other proposed changes in the law. It would, as the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has explained, increase the number of special betting days from four to six, for the reasons he has given; and it empowers the Secretary of State to increase that number further by order, which order would be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure in your Lordships' House and in another place. The proposal to increase the number of special betting days from four to six was recommended at paragraph 10.48, it was put forward by the club and the federation, and it is referred to at paragraph 10.47(ii) of the Royal Commission's report. But in referring to those proposals the Commission makes it clear that the increase suggested was, … to cover the recently-created Bank Holidays ", and that the power to order further increases was, … to cover any future increases in public holidays ". But the Bill itself does not make any reference to bank or public holidays, and so does not seek to restrict the increases simply to those covering such holidays. I wonder whether that is intentional, and, if so, why; or, if not, whether it might not be right to put in a reservation of that kind.

My Lords, the Royal Commission, in recommending the proposals in this Bill (save for one exception to which I have referred) described them as harmless and as providing for flexibility. It is obviously a matter for your Lordships to decide upon, and from this Bench I would only add that I certainly would not wish to urge your Lordships to deny a Second Reading to this Bill, which seems to have the interests of the sport at heart.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all indebted to my noble friend Lord Newall for the helpful explanation that he has given of the purpose of this Bill and of the way in which these modest changes will assist greyhound racing. He was ably supported by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is able to speak with such authority on greyhound racing; and also by my noble friend Lord Ward of Witley, who speaks with such knowledge and with great conciseness on this subject. In parenthesis, I felt, if I may say so, that both my noble friends put the situation with admirable brevity.

In your Lordships' House there is very much expertise on this particular subject on all sides of the House, and it is therefore with much pleasure that I come forward to represent the point of view of the Home Office. As my noble friend has said, the restrictions on greyhound racing date from 1934—the date of the Act referred to by my noble friend Lord Ward of Witley—when the greyhound racing tracks provided the main opportunity for cash betting in urban areas. By limiting the number of greyhound race meetings and the number of races per meeting, it was possible to limit the opportunities for cash betting; but now that there are licensed betting offices in every town, providing ample opportunity to place a cash bet, the restrictions on greyhound racing no longer have the same significance. Moreover, the financial situation of the greyhound racing industry has suffered considerably from the introduction of off-course cash betting.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in a debate in another place on the report of the Royal Commission on Gambling, said that he knew that many of those concerned with greyhound racing were disappointed that the Royal Commission had not recommended a greyhound racing levy, but he agreed with the Commission that a case had not been made out. He did, however, concur with the Royal Commission's proposals for some modest increases in the permitted number of races per meeting, and in the number of meetings allowed per year, which he understood would help significantly the profitability of the sport. I totally reject the point of view, suggested to your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has done nothing. He has made very positive proposals. However, at the present time the Government are unable to find time for legislation which they are at present framing. I am now able to confirm that the Government support the principle of this Bill. Indeed, it would have been the Government's intention to make these changes in more general legislation on gambling when opportunity permitted.

My noble friend Lord Newall referred to the power that the Bill would give to the Secretary of State to increase further the number of special betting days. Perhaps I might explain that the power is in fact to vary by order the number of special betting days, not necessarily in an upward direction, although I appreciate that the greyhound racing industry would have strong views on any decrease.

My noble friend also referred to the very low charge which can be made to on-course bookmakers at greyhound race courses. The charge is limited to not more than five times the normal entry fee for members of the public. While in theory the charge is inflation-proof, since it increases as the price of admission increases, it is claimed that admission charges for the public have to be kept as low as possible so as not to deter custom and that the bookmakers benefit considerably from this.

Reference has been made in a considerable number of speeches this afternoon to the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission considered both the National Greyhound Racing Club's representations on this point and the National Association of Bookmakers' opposition to any change. They rejected the proposal that by increased admission charges the bookmakers should provide more financial support for greyhound racing. They recommended instead some relaxation of the restrictions on greyhound racing such as we are considering today—which is Recommendation No. 44. If these charges are made in the near future they will provide, in advance of more general legislation on gambling, an indication of the financial assistance that the greyhound racing industry can expect from additional races.

As your Lordships will be aware, there is no prospect of Government time being available for a Bill on gambling this Session. But the Government are in agreement with the principle of this Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Newall and are prepared to support it.

A number of points were raised by your Lordships, especially of criticism of the Royal Commission in its findings. I think it would perhaps he inappropriate in a Second Reading debate to dwell at any length on this but I must deal with the particular points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. He raised a personal issue in regard to one of his sporting interests and, although this whole issue is outside the terms of this Bill, he made a very positive suggestion, which was that an organisation which might pursue an investigation into malpractices should be considered. This is not part of the purport of the Bill, but I have no doubt that the NGRC will consider this. His further point was that the prosperity of the greyhound racing industry in Ireland was due both to prize money and to the fact that their legislation and the arrangements in Ireland promoted the industry to a greater extent than we do in this country.

My Lords, I hope that from what I have said it is clear that the intention of the Government is both to support this Bill and to introduce legislation on betting and gambling in a more major Bill in a future Session. We look forward to the further stages of the Bill if your Lordships' House accepts it this afternoon.


My Lords, I shall be brief. I should like to say how grateful I am to noble Lords on all sides of the House who gave the Bill such a good welcome. I am particularly indebted to my noble friends, Lord Ward of Witley and Lord Mancroft who, with their great experience and knowledge, have shown that this is a worthwhile Bill. I was very encouraged by the welcome given by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. I think we can all agree that this Bill does not go far enough and that there is a long way to go; but we must take it step by step to cover the things which we think can be dealt with satisfactorily. I was interested in the historical aspects that the noble Lord raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, brought up one or two slightly "Committee" points; but I agree that there may not be too many opportunities to discuss them and I would mention one of them. It is not necessary at the moment to hold the four special betting days on Bank Holidays. That is clearly laid down and therefore there is no need to make any change in that at the moment. Lastly, my noble friend Lord Sandys also gave the Bill a very kind welcome from the Home Office. For that I am grateful and I trust your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.

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