HL Deb 07 March 1988 vol 494 cc491-6

7.10 p.m.

Lord Newall

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Newall.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Charges to bookmakers on licensed tracks]:

Lord Newall moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 8. leave out ("seventy") and insert ("fifty-five").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the first amendment set out on the Marshalled List. As is the custom, I must declare my interest as chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board. When I moved the Second Reading of the Bill I indicated that it related entirely to an amendment to Section 18 of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, which was concerned solely with the sport of greyhound racing.

That provision, which was in the 1934 Act, provides that an on-course bookmaker at a greyhound racecourse need only pay a maximum of five times the price of the admission charge for the enclosure in which he operates.

However, many bookmakers have seen the injustice of such a low figure, which produces only £10, or less, per bookmaker for each race meeting. So they had been making voluntary payments. Those bookmakers are of course extremely concerned with the redevelopment of the greyhound racecourses which is now taking place. Approximately 50 greyhound racecourses have closed since 1961 and, regrettably a further one has closed since my Second Reading speech. Greyhound racing is obviously unable to earn the profits which are commensurate with the capital value of the land where those racecourses are situated, so consequently they are being redeveloped for other purposes.

This amendment will now provide for the proposed multiple of 70 to be reduced to 55, which is equivalent to the total sums presently being paid by way of statutory and voluntary payments by all bookmakers at all racecourses. The average price of admission is about £2 per meeting. The multiple of 55 will represent the maximum that can be charged. Naturally it is up to the individual managers to set any lower fees should they wish to do so, having regard to local circumstances.

Perhaps I should mention that greyhound racing does not enjoy the benefit of the support of a levy on off-course bookmakers, and therefore it can only stand or fall on the commercial arrangements it can make to promote the sport on the track and keep it at the highest possible standards.

The purpose of the amendment is to embrace within a formula the present statutory and voluntary arrangements, which are clearly unsatisfactory from any point of view. It is quite wrong that a racecourse promoter has to rely on voluntary payments which can and are withdrawn at bookmakers' whim. It is much better to recognise that there should be proper and open funding by bookmakers whereby they can be admitted to a racecourse and operate their business. The old multiple of five times is clearly outdated. The amended multiple merely recognises the present structure which bookmakers themselves have agreed. I beg to move.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

The noble Lord, Lord Newall, has put forward a good case for the amendment; and after having thought about it, I give it my support. On Second Reading the noble Lord made the case that the sport needed extra funding. He has now reassessed that need even more by quoting how many racetracks have had to close on account of the shortage of such funding.

He also made the point, which most impressed me, that as many as 4 million spectators attended greyhound racing in 1987, which is slightly more than the number of people who went to horseracing. That figure is one that is not generally known. As an industry greyhound racing employs over 5,000 people; and so, as the noble Lord said, this is an important matter in that their jobs are at stake.

On Second Reading there was concern when the noble Lord proposed to increase the statutory multiple charge to bookmakers from five times to 70 times the public admission charge. There was worry that it was a rather steep increase and also that the noble Lord seemed to have made a rather arbitrary decision because that figure was not based on anything in particular.

However, the noble Lord has now suggested a multiple of 55 times the normal admission price. That figure rests on much firmer ground because it represents, as he said, more or less the present nationwide voluntary contribution to the tracks made by the bookmakers. It is therefore clear that the bookmakers realise the necessity for additional investment into this popular sport. I hope that they will accept this new formal measure which will ensure that the sport continues.

There is a worry that the noble Lord does not appear to have reached definite agreement with the National Association of Bookmakers. However, as I said, I hope that as they have paid this sum voluntarily up until now, they will accept the new payment in a more formal way.

The Earl of Arran

As the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has explained, at present bookmakers pay voluntary contributions to the management of greyhound tracks, in addition to the charges made under Section 18(1) of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963. Like my noble friend, we understand from the British Greyhound Racing Board that the effect of the amendment would be to produce overall an income for the managements comparable in amount to the total of the voluntary payments and the current changes combined. By contrast, Clause 1 as it stands would enable the managements to require bookmakers to pay more than they do at present.

As I said during the Second Reading of the Bill, the Government would favour a reform of the current arrangements, should that be agreed by the parties concerned. As we understand the position, the amendment, like the clause which it would amend, is not agreed by the bookmakers. Whether the reform which the amendment proposes is right is a question for Parliament to judge. For our part, we are ready to accept the amendment, if all sides of the Committee are content.

Lord Newall

I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to my noble friend for their remarks. I do not think that there is any point in going any further. There is nothing more to be said. Therefore I commend the amendment to the Committee.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Newall moved Amendment No. 2: After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:

("Amendments to maximum charge.

.—(1) The Secretary of State by order made by statutory instrument, further amend the said section 18(1) by deleting "fifty-five" and substituting such multiple as he may determine.

(2) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall he subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: In view of the previous amendment just passed, it seems wrong and unnecessary to continue to bring small Private Members' Bills to this Chamber in order to amend parts of this long and complicated Act.

The controls which were imposed in 1934 are to a large degree out of date and unnecessary in 1988. There is a strong feeling that the Secretary of State should have the power to alter Section 18 if he thinks fit so to do. I can see the day when he may be persuaded to abolish Section 18 altogether. In my view that would be a satisfactory state of affairs. It would enable the organisations running greyhound racing—and probably horseracing too—to get on with their job without many controls. However, I gather he is not prepared to do so at present. But, if he is unable to do so now, I should like him to have the power to make changes to avoid the necessity of having further Bills.

It may be felt invidious that the Government should have to intervene at all in the marketplace. However, they have already done so by passing Section 18 and controlling the negotiations in regard to both dogs and horseracing; so there is a precedent in this. I hope that the Government will see a possibility of allowing the amendment to go through. I beg to move.

The Earl of Arran

We cannot commend the new clause to the Committee. I take the argument to be that it could be easier and better in future to vary the multiple of the ordinary public admission charge which bookmakers may be required to pay by order than by primary legislation. We do not believe that to be so.

As a preliminary observation, we should say that the clause seems defective technically. The drafting of subsection (1) is such that the power to make an order could be exercised only once. The power would be spent once an order substituting another figure for that of 55 had been made. We doubt whether that is the intention of my noble friend, Lord Newall. But even were that defect remedied, the order-making power would be beset with difficulty.

That is because it provides no safeguard or guidance as to the circumstances in which the Secretary of State should exercise the discretion to vary the multiple. It is our clear view that a necessary condition would need to be that the interested parties were agreed that a variation was desirable and on what the varation should be. It is extremely difficult to envisage on what other criterion my right honourable friend the Secretary of State could decide whether or not to make an order and justify that decision to Parliament. The new clause does not provide for this prior agreement between the operators of greyhound tracks and the bookmakers; and it would be wrong for my right honourable friend otherwise to determine that he would not make an order in the absence of such an agreement. If he did he could be judged to have fettered his discretion.

If on reflection my noble friend wished to propose a power the exercise of which was explicitly contingent upon a prior arrangement with the interested parties, we should be ready to consider it and give our views by the Report stage.

Lord Newall

I am most grateful to my noble friend for explaining his reasons. The amendment gives the Secretary of State the power to lay an order under the Bill. I gather from legal advice that the power to do something means power to do it from time to time. That is according to strict legal interpretation. Therefore in my view the Government are incorrect to say that the Secretary of State can only exercise it once; he can exercise it more than once.

On my noble friend's second point, the Secretary of State is always entitled to consult whomsoever he wishes. It does not have to be put into the Bill. Sometimes persons to be consulted are written into a statute but more usually they are not. I can find no precedent for naming the parties to be consulted. Of course even if he has consulted people and does not come to a decision, he may or may not wish to alter the figure. I merely want the Secretary of State to have the power.

Does my noble friend accept the principle of using secondary legislation by an order rather than heavy-handed primary legislation to amend the Act if the multiplier becomes out of date? That seems to be a much more expedient way to go about it. In my experience the wording is similar to that of other Acts which give power to the Secretary of State. Will my noble friend answer that point?

The Earl of Arran

My noble friend has suggested that there is a precedent for an order-making power contained in Schedule 5 to the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963. With respect, I do not think that the analogy holds. Schedule 5 enables my right honourable friend the Secretary of State by order to vary the percentage which Tote operators may deduct from bets laid with them. That power has been exercised following representations from the track operators, but the circumstances of that power and that proposed in the new clause differ in the important respect that bookmakers are hardly likely to object to requests for increases in the percentages taken from bets laid with their competitors. In contrast, bookmakers could be expected to want, and deserve, an explicit say in charges levied on them. I must repeat that if my noble friend wishes to propose a power the exercise of which was explicitly contingent upon the prior arrangement of the interested parties we should be ready to consider that and give our views by the Report stage.

Lord Newall

If the Government always tried to get both parties to agree, half the legislaton on the statute books would not be there. That makes it clear to me that there are many times when the Government will not make a decision. However, in view of what my noble friend has said, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment on the understanding that after further legal advice and discussions with the appropriate bodies we may bring forward an amendment in a slightly different guise on Report. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with an amendment.

Lord Hesketh

I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 10 minutes past eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.26 to 8.10 p.m.]