§ 3.32 p.m
§ Lord Newall rose to move to resolve, That this House invites Her Majesty's Government to revoke the Licensed Betting Offices (Amendment) Regulations 1993 and to lay in their place other regulations maintaining current opening hours for licensed betting offices on Saturdays.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move the resolution as a result of the Government's recent decision to allow betting offices to open after 6.30 p.m. Between April and August they will be allowed to do business for six days a week until 10 o'clock at night. At the outset I must declare my interest, which is probably well-known in your Lordships' House. I am chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board, which is directly affected by the Home Office decision.
§ I make no secret of the fact that those involved in greyhound racing have been opposed to the extension of the licensing hours of betting shops since October 1991 when the Home Office produced a consultative document on the subject. The argument is that if, rather than going greyhound racing, more people are attracted to betting shops in the evening, attendance at the tracks will fall and they will lose a significant proportion of their revenue. Greyhound tracks are in the main in urban locations but horse-racing gathers its following from both town and country. Therefore, greyhound tracks are more vulnerable to losing some of their clientele to high street betting shops.
§ However, in respect of this measure the biggest difference between the two sports is the off-course levy. The Jockey Club and the Race-course Association are in favour of the Home Office decision because they are likely to receive more revenue from the off-course market if betting shops open in the evening during the summer months, when horse-racing stages some evening meetings. The crucial difference is that horse-racing benefits from the 1 per cent. levy on all off-course bets while greyhound racing does not. There is no off-course levy on greyhound racing and therefore the more money that is taken by bookmakers, and the more opportunities that betting offices have to compete with tracks and woo the punters away from them, the less greyhound racing stands to gain.
§ For those reasons we have opposed the deregulation of betting shop opening hours. We would not be 19 against the deregulation in principle, but greyhound racing will receive nothing for the increased use of its product in return for falling attendances. Greyhound racing track promoters make their money through the turnstiles, the bar and restaurant facilities and a percentage of the turnover from their own greyhound totalisator. A reduction in the number of punters going racing, in particular on Saturday nights, will have a devastating effect on the profit margins of all National Greyhound Racing Club tracks in the country.
§ For that reason I hope to persuade the Government today to remove Saturdays from the measure in order to give greyhound racing an even chance of survival; especially while it is still constrained by many regulations of the Government's making which prevent the industry from competing with the bookmakers on equal terms.
§ The arguments that we have put to government during the past two years about the likely impact on greyhound racing of the evening opening of betting shops have not been alarmist or over-the-top. They are a true assessment of what we fear will be the consequences for the industry. We have a precedent which is all too vivid in our memories; that is the introduction of betting shops in this country in 1961.
§ Between 1960 and 1970 National Greyhound Racing Club attendances at greyhound tracks slumped from 15 million to 7 million. Afternoon greyhound racing was wiped out without any compensation because of competition from betting shops. Greyhound racing then moved to become largely an evening sport. We predict that there will be a similar drop in evening attendances of at least 15 per cent. as a result of the evening opening of betting shops. In fact, the loss is likely to be greater because the introduction of SIS—live television—into betting shops in 1989 greatly increased their attraction.
§ When the consultative document was published, the racecourse promoters of the National Greyhound Racing Association conducted a survey of all 36 tracks in the country. The tracks were asked for the best estimates on their business if they suffered a 15 per cent. fall in attendance. All but two of the stadia which took part in the survey revealed that they would lose at least 50 per cent. of their profits. The GRA, the country's biggest greyhound racing promoter, pointed out that a loss of 10 per cent. in attendances would seriously deplete its profits, while a loss of 15 per cent. would wipe out half of its profits.
§ The fact that the evening opening of betting shops has been limited to five months per year—that is April to August —might limit some of the damage which will be caused to the greyhound tracks. We do not want to be prophets of doom, but your Lordships can imagine what even a fraction of these losses will mean for track closures and loss of jobs.
§ In order to understand the problem I must describe to your Lordships one more factor in the makeup of the commercial world surrounding greyhound racing, which will make the latest development even more difficult to live with.20
§ The big three bookmakers—that is, Ladbrokes, Corals and William Hill—own a total of five greyhound tracks between them. Therefore, they will be in a position to supply evening greyhound racing to their shops at the fraction of the true market price. Those bookmaker tracks, plus a few others, will be in a position to enter into contracts with the bookmaking industry to provide an evening equivalent of the day-time Bookmaker Afternoon Greyhound Services —which is known as BAGS—which will supply the needs of off-course betting with televised racing to the shops in the evening, leaving the remainder of the tracks out in the cold. There is a real fear that greyhound racing could become a specialised bookmaker controlled sport, even more so than it is today, existing for the sole purpose of supplying betting shop needs.
§ It is for that reason, and only that reason that I hope to limit the damage by deleting Saturday from the provisions of the order, while leaving in the other weekdays. Every track throughout the country holds race meetings on Saturday nights, apart from Wembley which does not always stage greyhound meetings when it has commitments to other sports and entertainments. Fifty per cent. of the business of greyhound racing takes place at greyhound tracks on Saturday nights when attendances are the highest of the week. The clientele is different on Saturday evenings, when more people go to enjoy the restaurant and refreshment facilities. However, greyhound racing would still be affected by betting shop competition. Twice as much money is taken on Saturdays as on weekday race days. Therefore, it costs half as much to stage a greyhound meeting on a Saturday night.
§ In making the case for this change and how it would help greyhound racing, it is not my intention in any way to cause any difficulty to horse-racing. We believe that even the opening of betting shops will not necessarily bring the bonanza which horse-racing connections seem to believe. It is questionable whether there will be a large increase in the off-course levy to the benefit of horse-racing. It is likely that bookmakers will increase their coverage of greyhound racing in the evenings where their margins are higher —they make the same deduction on greyhound bets as they do on horse-race bets without having to pass back the 1 per cent. statutory levy—and there may be a similar pattern as there has been in afternoon betting, when the ratio of bets on greyhound racing has steadily increased to the detriment of horse-racing and its levy revenue. Greyhound races take about 30 seconds and are shown on the television about every nine minutes in the shops, providing bookmakers with a quicker turnover than horse-racing. It is also probable that betting shops opening in the evening could have a negative impact on attendances at evening horse-race meetings.
§ At present the situation is that not many horse-race meetings take place on Saturday evenings in the summer months. Therefore, if the present pattern of evening horse-race meetings is maintained, the levy would not be seriously affected if the betting shops remained closed on Saturday evenings. Recent discussions with the chairman of the Fixtures 21 Committee revealed that his opinion was that most extra evening horse-racing would take place mid-week rather than on Saturdays, but perhaps that has yet to be decided. There has not been a large increase in evening horse-race meetings. In the past five years it has increased only from 82 to 88. Therefore, there is no great demand.
§ I have often argued in this House that the only future for greyhound racing is for it to be treated in every way in a similar fashion to horse-racing. That means that there should be the ability to place a bet on a horse-race tote at one track for a race taking place at another; the ability to transfer tote bets from off-course to on-course; and last but not least, the introduction of an off-course levy or similar market mechanism for greyhound racing which will ensure that betting shops contribute to the sport from which they derive £1.6 billion worth of bets each year while returning virtually nothing.
§ This is not the time or the place to go into the arguments for a greyhound levy or some other kind of compensation such as that recommended by the House of Commons home affairs Select Committee the year before last. However, it is government legislation which prevents greyhound racing from obtaining a levy such as that returned to horse-racing.
§ I do not seek to prevent betting shops opening on weekday evenings. I am speaking only of Saturdays, when the staff are most likely to want to be at home. Many workers are women and they have been forced by the strong-arm tactics of large firms to work late in the evening. Their social lives and, above all, their family lives, will be greatly affected. They have been told that they must either sign their new contracts or face immediate retirement. Therefore, many have had to sign. Many letters have been written complaining of that. In fact, 4,167 staff were consulted about evening opening of betting shops and 4,046 voted against it. It is not a popular idea. The staff do not want evening opening and 96 per cent. of independent bookmakers do not want evening opening of betting shops. Not long ago the Association of Chief Police Officers advised against it. Greyhound racing does not want it.
§ Therefore, I ask your Lordships to support my Motion to maintain the status quo at least as regards betting shop licensing hours on a Saturday so that between April and August, as well as for the other seven months of the year, they are not allowed to open beyond 6.30 p.m. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House invites her Majesty's Government to revoke the Licensed Betting Offices (Amendment) Regulations 1993, and to lay in their place other regulations maintaining current opening hours for licensed betting offices on Saturdays.—(Lord Newall.)
§ 3.45 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord's Motion. I shall not go along the road which the noble Lord followed because he has explained clearly to your Lordships his own particular interest and objections to the Government's regulations as they affect greyhound racing. He has argued that so clearly that I do not believe it is possible 22 to misunderstand what he says; namely, that the opening of betting shops on Saturday evenings would deprive greyhound racing of an important part of its attendance and be damaging to it.
I am not as familiar with dog racing as I am with horse-racing but I am happy to say that in recent years dog racing has become more of a family activity. Racecourse authorities have done a great deal to attract families and to make facilities for children much better. Racing is expensive because in this country it does not receive the kind of financial support from government which it receives in other countries; but that is not the problem facing us today.
Nevertheless, it is a wonderful day out if you can afford it. You can take in your children at reduced cost. The general standard of catering is better and the ability to park is very much improved. As the noble Lord said in his opening speech, evening racing has not grown to an enormous extent and yet there are popular evening meetings. For example, Windsor is a very well attended Monday evening meeting. Despite the obvious problems of traffic, many people go there for meetings which are, surprisingly, often conducted in good weather. Every year more and more people attend those meetings.
The Jockey Club's position—and I shall be interested to hear noble Lords speak on behalf of the Jockey Club—is understandable. I expect noble Lords who speak on its behalf will support the regulations and oppose the noble Lord's Motion because racing is in such a parlous financial state that any possibility of raising more financial support from the levy is welcome. The Jockey Club estimates that opening betting shops in the evening from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. will generate for racing an additional £5 million of revenue per year. That is not an enormous amount taken against the amount of money required for racing, nor is it a great deal in terms of the kind of money available to racing in other countries. However, for understandable reasons the Jockey Club has not taken into account all the factors which should have been taken into account when considering the Government's action in introducing those regulations.
Before I deal with the social implications of opening betting shops in the evenings on a Saturday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., I should like to discuss the employees' position. I do not suppose that many of your Lordships have been in betting shops. The doubtful advantage of a Chamber like your Lordships' House is that there are hereditary Peers. I am not a reformed reprobate but I admit that I have spent some time in betting shops in my youth. I dare say that had I not been an hereditary Peer I would not otherwise have built up such a profile of public service to give me the opportunity to be here. However, I have a small advantage in this debate because I can tell your Lordships something about betting shops and how they operate.
By and large, betting shops are fairly squalid and dispiriting. Nobody, if they had an opportunity to do otherwise, would really want to go into a betting shop. Betting shops are largely populated by poor people who rarely have any means of transport, or indeed the inclination to go elsewhere to indulge their betting passion. Betting is without doubt not a family activity. 23 Betting shops are mainly populated by men. A few women go into them but they are mostly employees. Those employees are contracted to the big chains which now run betting shops. There are few small, individual betting shops left. Most of them are owned by Ladbrokes, Coral and William Hill.
When the betting shop employees were consulted about these changes and were asked whether they were in favour of working the additional hours from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. a staggering 97 per cent. of them voted against the changes. The reason for that vote is quite simple. Women have family lives. That applies equally to single women as to married women. They all have the same entitlement to enjoy their private lives. Furthermore, there is the problem of safety at night. I challenge anyone to walk within a one-and-a-half or a two mile radius of a betting shop in this area on a Saturday night between the hours of six and 10 o'clock and feel safe. When one also considers that late night drinking is taking place in pubs, one realises what an unattractive prospect it is for employees in betting shops to find their way home after 10 o'clock on a Saturday evening, or to deal with clients who may have been drinking in the pubs.
Most people who bet are losers. Most people in betting shops are chasing their losses. The Government are telling us we need to reconsider our attitude towards family values. Is it desirable therefore, particularly in inner city areas, that men and women should be able to enter a betting shop on Saturdays at mid-day and continue punting—that is the popular expression—with their limited funds until 10 o'clock at night? Where is the safeguard for family life in that exercise? It is odd that the Government should seek to introduce these regulations and not think of their effect on family life.
Even in this neighbourhood I believe it is asking for trouble to open betting shops between six and 10 o'clock in the evening. That action constitutes a muggers' charter. I do not know what the police or the betting shop owners think about this measure. As regards employees' contracts, it is odd that the big three bookmakers asked their employees to sign new contracts of employment which involved longer working hours before these regulations were even known about. I suggest there was an exchange of information between the Government and the big three bookmakers before these regulations became a reality. How many licensing authorities in the kind of areas I have described would have granted licences to betting shops had they known their opening hours were to be extended? I believe a high proportion of those licences would not have been granted.
This measure offers no social benefit at all. In fact, much social benefit would be gained from supporting the noble Lord as at least that would ensure that on Saturday nights punters would have to stop chasing their losses and would have to wait fretfully until Monday. They may be in a bad mood or in a good mood, depending on whether they had won—I imagine they would mostly be in a bad mood—but at least they would be with their families.
24 Successive governments have always faced a dilemma as regards gambling. They have never understood gambling. In the early 1960s there were long and erudite discussions on whether roulette was a game of chance or a game of skill. Anyone who wishes to introduce legislation to govern gambling but who does not know whether roulette is a game of chance or of skill deserves to be relieved of his duties. Some dotty remarks have even been made about the lottery. Some people have said there is a difference between a gamble and a flutter. It seems to me that people who are responsible for introducing legislation to govern gambling are usually the least fitted to do so as they have no experience of it.
I believe family life will suffer as a result of these regulations. We are all concerned about the moral fabric of society and I believe that anything that disrupts family life and encourages men to become incarcerated in smoke filled rooms and encourages them to bet, or to borrow money from friends to bet —I can guarantee that any noble Lord who entered a betting shop today and stayed there for more than an hour would be touched at least two or three times for a loan—should be discouraged.
Betting shops are full of pathetic dreamers—I do not criticise that—people in debt and petty criminals. As I said, the atmosphere in betting shops is seedy and dispiriting. The Government should not lightly consider extending the hours in betting shops. I vouchsafe my support for the noble Lord. As I said, no one will benefit from these new regulations, certainly not betting shop employees. The punters will not benefit from the extended opening hours—at least, very few of them will—and their families will certainly not benefit from them. Neighbourhoods surrounding betting shops will not benefit from the extended opening hours as crime rates are likely to increase. As we have heard, the greyhound industry will not benefit from these new regulations. There may be a marginal benefit to the racing industry, estimated at £5 million, but I doubt whether it will be as much as that. Without doubt the bookmakers will benefit from the regulations, particularly the big three bookmakers that I have mentioned. However, I have had just about enough of watching bookmakers benefit from gambling.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, I am glad of the opportunity to have this discussion, which has been provided by the noble Lord, Lord Newall. I have much sympathy with some of his arguments on the way greyhound racing is restricted, and is not treated on an equal footing with other racing. I shall return to that point in a moment. However, I do not have sympathy with his view that we should oppose the new regulations for the reasons I shall discuss.
First, I declare an interest—I am not quite certain how great an interest it is. I am a director of Wembley Stadium where greyhound racing takes place. The noble Lord, Lord Newall, may be surprised at the view I am expressing. I am pleased to follow the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. That was one of the most extraordinary statements I have heard on this 25 subject for some time. The whole of his argument seemed to consist of opposing betting in any form, at any time and in any place. That cannot be what the nation desires. I must say with respect that if the noble Viscount is of the opinion that all betting shops are squalid places, he cannot have been in one for some time. That is not my experience of betting shops. If opening betting shops on Saturday evenings constitutes a muggers' charter, that must be the case as regards opening them on any evening. If the noble Lord agrees with me, he ought to oppose the order in toto rather than restricting his opposition to Saturday evening opening.
I have a personal connection with issues concerning betting shops which goes back a long time. I served on the Watch Committee of Birmingham City Council as a young man. As a result of our experience of being unable to control illegal betting, the Watch Committee, with my agreement, and on the advice of a famous Chief Constable of the time, Sir Edward Dodds, we advised the Home Office that they should stop the nonsense of illegal betting for working people and make betting lawful. I am glad to say that was done, with many benefits for the majority of the public.
Nor do I necessarily take the view that bookmakers are to be castigated as they have been. I conducted an inquiry for some 12 months on behalf of the Labour Party immediately before the last election and drew up a policy which suggested that the bookmakers and the Tote should be recognised as some of the main financial supporters of horse-racing and should therefore have a proper place in the ruling bodies of that sport. That has not happened yet, but I still believe that that should happen.
There is a very strong case for equality of treatment of greyhound racing and horse-racing. The noble Lord said that horse-racing is a rich man's sport. In terms of the ownership of horses, I suppose it is. One of the attractions of greyhound racing is that it allows people of more modest means to own a dog and to have an interest, through ownership, in a sport which they follow and which they support financially. I hope that Ministers will take account of that. As people can own a dog and have an interest in the sport, there is an argument for asking the Government to go much further than they have to date in ensuring equality of treatment.
My principal reason for supporting the order and the reason for my fundamental objection to what the noble Viscount said, is that I believe that in this country we have to trust the people. One has to trust them in their betting just as in their drinking, and just as one has to trust people in many other spheres of activity. One cannot lay down regulations and restrictions for the public in general because one believes that one or two people have to be protected from themselves. I accept that there is some problem in that direction; but in order to protect a small percentage of people, one has to place considerable restrictions on the whole population. I do not believe that that is right. Therefore, I have sympathy with the 26 Home Office's desire to remove the restrictions if possible and to allow people to use their own judgment in these matters.
I turn now to the difficulties which greyhound racing faces. In introducing his proposal, the noble Lord mentioned the levy deducted by bookmakers and the Tote from all bets, which in the case of horse-racing is the lifeblood of the sport. In the case of greyhound racing, that money does not come back to the sport. Therefore, £20 million goes into the satchels of the bookmakers. That cannot be right. That £20 million ought to be made available for the development of the sport of greyhound racing.
When I conducted my inquiry on behalf of the Labour Party, I repeatedly asked those who want a levy board for greyhound racing what its programme would be and what it would spend its money on. Would it develop the tracks or increase prize money? We know exactly what the racehorse industry wishes to do with its increased levy. It is a criticism of the greyhound authorities that they have not yet produced a significant programme as to how they would spend the £20 million levy, which has been mentioned, if it was available to them. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Newall, will persuade them that they ought to meet that challenge.
The question of television in betting shops has been raised. It is a problem for greyhound racing and I do not know the solution. If we extend the hours in the evening, it remains to be seen whether 10 o'clock is the right time. Although I support the order, I incline to the view that 10 o'clock is a little late. It may well be that market forces will provide the answer, and that people will not want to be in betting shops after 8 o'clock or 8.30 in the evening. I hope that the Home Office will keep the matter under review.
If television is to be available in betting shops in the evenings and greyhound racing is televised, there is anxiety that a monopoly might exist. Such a monopoly would not be in the interests of bookmakers or anyone else. That aspect needs to be considered carefully when the experiment takes place, and I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking in that regard.
I share many of the views expressed by the noble Lord in opening the debate as to what should be done. The restriction on inter-track betting in greyhound racing—which is permitted in horse racing—ought to be removed. Another small but not insignificant point is the requirement for a public auditor to be present at every greyhound race meeting. That seems to me to be expensive bureaucracy. I can see no justification for it and I hope that the Home Office will look at that matter in due course as part of their review of these matters.
There is also the question of the legislation which bans racecourse owners from involvement in bookmaking on race tracks. The greyhound racing authorities tell me they think that restriction ought to be removed because they consider that the ownership of certain tracks by bookmakers is contrary to such legislation and that there should be equality of treatment for both bookmakers and greyhound tracks.
27 Finally, I return to the point about the main clientele of greyhound racing. They do not come from the same social strata as the people who normally go to the more fashionable horse-race meetings, although I do not believe that can be said of run-of-the-mill racecourses. Racing, in my judgment, is pursued moderately and is a perfectly valid and honest interest for large numbers of people in this country. One only has to consider the amount of coverage given to these matters in our newspapers to understand what a great interest it is for a large section of our population. It is a perfectly legitimate interest which helps life along. Therefore, we ought to help our fellow citizens to enjoy the opportunity to take an interest and place a bet. We ought to do so in terms of equality between one part of the sport and another. We certainly ought to trust our fellow citizens to moderate their betting according to their means and to enjoy a modest flutter when they wish to do so. For all those reasons, I support the order which is before the House.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Leigh
My Lords, when I first received a plea from my noble friend Lord Newall for support for his amendment to the Government's draft order on the opening of betting shops to omit Saturday evenings, my first reaction was to file it away with my ex-wife's letters under "Rubbish for Burning". But yesterday I thought, "No, this is more important, and an ideal opportunity for me to make my maiden speech". I should therefore like to thank my noble friend Lord Newall for keeping me posted on this issue.
I then had to make a feverish search of my desk, which at the best of times is chaotic; but it was worse than that, after our "daily" and my wife had been at it under the guise of tidying up—at least, that is what they call it. Putting it as mildly as I can, I call it sabotage. First, I had to check that I had read correctly that the deadline for names to be included in the speakers' list for debates, etc., had been brought forward to 12 noon on the day of the debate. I then had to check the instructions for making a maiden speech, which I had put in a safe place—the trouble was that I had to find a safe place first. Having found both, and by then having forgotten most of my thoughts, I had to start again and find Lord Newall's plea, which by that time had been buried under my other searchings.
I found included in the instructions on making a maiden speech that their Lordships are not expected to refer to notes unless they are government statistics or similar. This reminded me of two separate occasions when I was invited to present a cup named after my brother to the same local village clubs for darts, dominoes and cribbage, of which I have only a scant knowledge. These invitations were something like six years apart. Having read the speech on the first occasion, I gave the second one off the top of my head. I was congratulating myself afterwards and I asked the club president how he thought it had gone. He said, "Very well, my Lord, except you said exactly the 28 same thing last time you were here." I have not spoken here before, and I hope that I shall not repeat myself this afternoon.
I do not hold myself up as a great expert on greyhound racing. Indeed, I have been only once in my life. I suppose the closest I came to it was 15 years of amateur steeplechase riding, which, together with the fact that I am a treated alcoholic, may account for a somewhat addled mind. However, be that as it may, I was shocked to learn that greyhound racing receives no benefits from the tax on betting, whereas a large proportion goes into horse-racing.
It seems that punters who bet on greyhounds have deductions made from their bets for the major benefit of other sports supported by the betting shop proprietors. I shall not insult genuine racecourse bookmakers by calling betting office owners "book-makers", especially as the betting shop proprietors, siphon a large amount of their profits into supporting holiday camps, casinos, hotels, beauty contests, besides cricket and other sports which are not associated with racing.
If greyhound racing cannot have Saturday nights solely to itself, surely it should have a share of the levy —even 1 per cent.—which might be more profitable than having a monopoly of Saturday evening racing. Having said that, I should like to again thank my noble friend Lord Newall for giving me this opportunity to speak today. I fully support his amendment and anything that will help greyhound racing flourish.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
My Lords, it is always an honour and a pleasure to congratulate a maiden speaker. As your Lordships know, it is always an horrendous experience having to speak to your Lordships on the first occasion. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, spoke with great aplomb in military terms, in military voice, and I am certain that we shall hear a great deal from him in the future. He certainly made his points pertinently. He comes from a line of true military background, his father having been in the 11th Hussars, Lord Newall's regiment, so there is obviously a link there, and he is currently married to the daughter of an 11th Hussar, which is a great tradition to carry forward.
He probably will not remember this, but he once saved one of your Lordships a great deal of embarrassment. When one of your Lordships found that he had not got the correct set of robes for the State Opening of Parliament, the noble Lord lent his robes at the last moment. It may have been his wife who did it, I am not certain. The noble Lord concerned is not at present in his seat, but he turned up appropriately dressed in Lord Leigh's robes. I hope that he will be showed the customary help and good behaviour in your Lordships' House, and we look forward to seeing and hearing him in the future.
I apologise to your Lordships for not being in my place at the beginning of this debate, but I was otherwise detained in a Select Committee. I hope that I shall not repeat a number of things that have already been covered in this debate. I start by saying that the 29 essential ingredients of any racing occasion are animals, be they greyhounds or racehorses, and of course a venue. If you have few people attending a meeting it does not make for a very good meeting. If you have a lot of people it makes for a good occasion. The race meeting or greyhound meeting goes well as a result of a good attendance, and of course the organisation benefits financially.
The Home Secretary's initiative by way of a Statutory Instrument approved by the Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments is a most welcome boost to the horse-racing industry, an industry that is suffering tremendously at the present time. Already a number of successful meetings that have been referred to will be able to expand their contribution to racing finances. We are told that the gain to horse-racing will be in the region of £12,000 per fixture, leading to an overall net gain of some £5 million. The horse-racing industry has been presented with what I would term a window of opportunity to improve its financial position.
I point out that 30,000 people rely on the horse-racing industry, which is very much dependent on people buying and owning race-horses. Despite what has already been said about horse-racing being the sport of rich people, I put it to your Lordships that there are more and more racing syndicates being drawn up and brought into existence every day. Anyone who is interested in horse-racing—and I speak about horse-racing as applied to greyhound racing—can own part of a horse, or have an interest in a horse or a greyhound. Therefore, I do not go along with the argument that it is the sport of rich people.
Having said that, facts have to be faced. There is an economic decline, which is affecting racing. In 1991–92 there was a 10 per cent. decline in the ownership of race-horses. It looks as though that decline is set to continue in 1993. I believe that the order that the Secretary of State has brought into existence will benefit those employed within the industry—which I would point out to the House is the sixth largest employing industry in the country—and it will also be of benefit to the levy.
We have already heard a great deal about the levy. We are all aware that greyhound racing does not benefit from that levy because of government legislation. I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Newall, that we should earnestly consider going back to the Government and asking for greyhound racing to be involved in that levy. I do not believe it to be beyond the bounds of possibility that there should be a levy for greyhound racing in the future.
Racing, be it greyhounds or horse-racing, is a family activity. I do not agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that betting shops are squalid places. There are squalid betting shops, but on the whole the conditions and standards of betting shops, particularly of the big betting chains, are improving. I regularly visit a betting shop opposite my office in Reading, not as a big punter but as a small punter. The shop is a small place run for the community. Although the majority of people in the betting shop are men, many are old age pensioners and those who enjoy listening 30 to the commentary and having a small punt of a few pence. I do not believe that that harms anyone; and to prevent it would be a great pity.
My anxiety relates to security and drink. Keeping betting shops open until ten o'clock at night presents a security problem for the people who work in the betting shops which needs to be carefully watched. The betting organisation realises its responsibility for looking after employees. Alcohol-related problems too could increase as a result of keeping betting shops open late at night. However, for the good of the sport, and for people's enjoyment in the future, it is right and proper that betting shops should remain open for the limited period during the summer months, otherwise betting will go underground. People will bet by telephone to bookmakers and the losers will be the sport, the levy and the bookmakers. I therefore do not go down the same road as the noble Lord, Lord Newall. I support the original Motion with a number of reservations.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ The Marquess of Zetland
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, on his entertaining and amusing maiden speech. First, I declare an interest as a current steward of the Jockey Club and as chairman and manager of a northern racecourse. Therefore to a certain extent what I say represents the horse-racing industry as opposed to the greyhound industry.
Your Lordships will be aware that our racing industry is going through hard times. That is not exclusively due to the recession. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for again going over old ground. However, I believe that it is important that we all realise that every successful racing industry in the world depends to a large extent for its finance on the betting that it generates. In the United Kingdom racing receives a far smaller proportion of that betting turnover than in any other country, due largely to the fact that large chains of bookmaking firms dominate the marketplace. Those bookmaking firms have shareholders who naturally are thirsty for profits and dividends.
The receivers of what is left over from betting turnover, once the punters have been paid out, are threefold: the Government, in the form of betting duty, the bookmakers, and racing. From a total spend of just over £4 billion last year, the Government took a sum approaching £350 million, bookmakers collectively took £160 million, and racing £47 million. Clearly there is a serious imbalance.
Racing was extremely grateful for the famous double act in last year's Budget when the Home Secretary and the Chancellor between them managed to reduce the rate of betting duty by a quarter of 1 per cent., and to pass on the benefit of approximately £12 million to the racing industry. That was hugely appreciated by racing. It was whispered that the go-between was a certain noble Lord sitting not far from me now on the Cross-Benches. However, if he and the Government can be persuaded to repeat the 31 exercise, but this time to reduce the rate of betting duty by 1 per cent., then it is fair to say that racing could get off the Government's back once and for all.
However, in the meantime racing continues to suffer serious problems of underfunding. Its case is not being helped at present by the very real worries over VAT or by the prospect of a national lottery, which inevitably will divert money away from betting on horses and will therefore deplete the levy on which racing depends.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the racing industry has welcomed enthusiastically the Home Secretary's decision to allow the opening of betting shops in the evenings between April and September. Racing is extremely popular on summer evenings. The fact that people will now be able to bet off-course on those evenings will bring a badly-needed boost to the industry in the form of increased betting turnover and, therefore, of increased levy. Saturday evening is of course the most popular evening of the week. We would not wish the betting shops to be shut on Saturday evenings.
We support the Home Secretary's measure because it will give greater choice to the punter by allowing him to bet on every race meeting that takes place. We support too the move towards the deregulation of our gambling laws which we believe are so outdated.
Racing desperately needs owners. Without owners there is no racing. There is a belief in certain circles that owners grow on trees and will always be around. Unfortunately, that is simply not so. The modern owner requires to know that if things go right he will receive at least some return on his investment in the form of a reasonable level of prize money. The increased levy which will result from the extra betting turnover generated during the evening opening of betting shops will undoubtedly help to increase prize money levels—most likely by about £6,000 per fixture as opposed to the £12,000 to which my noble friend referred. That will help enormously to retain the current level of owners. It may even help to attract new ones. It is absolutely crucial that we encourage owners to come into the industry if racing is to survive and prosper.
I confirm what my noble friend said. I emphasise the part that our racing industry plays in the rural economy. As your Lordships have heard, the industry employs 30,000 people directly and 100,000 indirectly in ancillary businesses. Noble Lords have heard that the racing industry is the sixth largest employer in the country. If racing goes any further into decline, those jobs will be threatened and the knock-on effects on the rural economy will be very damaging.
For those reasons we argue against the proposal of my noble friend Lord Newall that Saturday evenings should be omitted from the scheme.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, noble Lords may be surprised that a Scot, an accountant and an enthusiast for virtually every sport except that of four-legged racing—I refer to dogs and greyhounds—speaks today. However, my noble friend Lord Newall 32 presented his case professionally and well. Indeed, I became mildly interested when I heard that bookmakers' shops and betting shops were to be opened late in the evening on Saturdays during the summer.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Leigh on what I am sure noble Lords will agree was an outstanding and witty maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear many more speeches from him.
My noble friend Lord Newall asked that the measure before us today should give the greyhound racing industry an even chance. First, despite everything that I have heard from speakers with great experience of the horse-racing industry and consequently of betting shops, will the order give the greyhound racing industry the even chance that my noble friend seeks? Secondly, will the extended opening of betting shops do as much as we have heard to promote horse-racing? Thirdly, is the amount of evening racing on Saturdays so crucial as to require extended opening every Saturday evening in the summer months?
I was particularly struck by the outstanding remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. I am not an habitué of betting shops but I was interested in his description of smoke-filled rooms with male-dominated populations. I hope that he was not referring to your Lordships, let alone the people touching one for loans. When either walking or driving along the streets and finding betting shops one similarity comes to mind, that is, the windows tend to be blanked out. It appears to me that the only other shops of this nature are sex shops. To me, both betting shops and sex shops seem to involve an outpouring of a great deal of money to not much purpose, especially in view of what the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, has said. I accept that the bookmaking industry provides a great deal of support to the horse-racing industry. We have heard from my noble friend and others that there are five greyhound tracks that are part of the bookmaking enterprises. There is a great deal of interest in the bookmaking industry at least in terms of giving some support to the greyhound industry.
I was interested by the moving tribute paid to betting shops by the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby. He made everything appear to be sweetness and light. He was a great proponent of late opening. However, the noble Lord mentioned one obstacle, and I wonder whether the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, will be able to confirm that extended opening as proposed in the order has the full support of the Association of Chief Police Officers. That is one point on which I should like to be reassured. With that, I wonder whether my noble friend who is to reply for the Government can leave to the greyhounds the advantage that they may have and may seek with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Newall.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if for a few minutes I intrude myself into the space that is allowed on the list of speakers. I should like to say how, with others of your 33 Lordships, I enjoyed the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Leigh and was engulfed with sympathy when I heard of the terrible intrusions that had been made upon his desk. I hope that it will be better defended in the future.
I would have supported this Motion had it not been for my recently-expressed conviction as to the jeopardy in which horse-racing now found itself and my very strongly held view that something needed to be done about it. Therefore, even this marginal measure of support is to be welcomed, but I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will warn the Commissioners of Customs and Excise against extending what I have previously described as the catalogue of piffling measures that they have put forward to help racing, as opposed to taking effective action.
I was interested to hear by way of some interpolation the noble Viscount's account of the horrors of betting shops. I am not a regular frequenter of betting shops, but I recall that when the measure was first going through Parliament I listened with fascination to the debates that took place in another place. They seemed to be indicative of the schizophrenia that regularly affected governments when they embarked upon dangerous reforms. At one and the same time they were resigned to the need for betting shops but determined to make them as uncomfortable, repulsive and unwelcoming as possible.
The Government's amendment of the regulations will undoubtedly benefit bookmakers. What is less certain is how much of that benefit will be passed on by bookmakers to racing. Very few people love bookmakers, for the obvious reason that bookmakers are regular winners and punters are regular losers—I speak for myself. I am not sure how much the bookmakers are concerned with the present parlous state of the industry or, if they are concerned, how much it has led them to increase their financial support, or even to support those arguments put to the customs and excise to relax their present narrow view. I make no apology for repeating the view that has already been expressed in this House that if the racing industry and all those whom it employs are allowed to go into terminal decline—and it is nearly in that state already—the epitaph carved on the gravestone of the industry will undoubtedly be "17.5 per cent. VAT did for them". The Government and the Commissioners of Customs and Excise will be cast in the role of monumental mason and undertaker and will be remembered for the way in which they performed that role.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, perhaps I may also be forgiven if I intrude into the gap in the speakers' list. I should declare an interest. I am chairman of the Horserace Totalisator Board and I also sit as a member of the Horserace Betting Levy Board.
I begin by joining others of your Lordships in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, on his most instructive and entertaining speech. I hope to 34 hear him often. I do not think that P.G. Wodehouse could have described better the state of his desk or his family fight over it. I am sure that the noble Lord will be able to illuminate us with wit as well as information.
I was amazed by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, who seemed to be recounting some visits to queer places in Victorian times. He was completely out of date about betting shops. It is true that there may be some "grotty" ones here and there; but the punter is provided for by bookmakers—and we have 160 betting shops of our own—by way of entertainment. Consequently, as the Government started to relax the rule which determined that betting shops were to be squalid, hole-in-the-corner places that people went into furtively and one was not to know what was going on inside, so the shops were allowed to serve non-alcoholic beverages and provide television screens showing the position race by race. The quality of the betting shops dramatically improved.
The noble Viscount said that he did not see women in betting shops. I go to a great many betting shops. The percentage of women going into betting shops is rising all the time. In the main, the shops are very comfortable and quiet places. One does not get very much roughness or violence in betting shops, apart from those occasions when people come in with guns, or mock-guns, in order to try to raid the till, as happens with any other establishment.
The idea that in some way betting is immoral is absurd. Bookmakers are part of the entertainment industry. After deduction of the levy and tax, the gross amount that the punter may expect to lose is about 20 to 21 per cent. or just a little over one-fifth of what he has bet. We know from experience that the remainder that is left to the bookmaker after all the tax and expenses that he has incurred is probably not more than 3 per cent. per shop. Betting is a high, moral occupation. Your Lordships may laugh, but I have even convinced an archbishop of that point.
Somebody who spends his time in a betting shop is not spending it in a pub—one is not allowed to drink alcohol in a betting shop. Placing a bet is one of the few democratic decisions a person can make. He is told what to do by the foreman; or he is told (or used to be told) by his shop steward to go on strike, and his soul is not his own; when he gets home, he is probably told to do the washing up. In a betting shop he can do exactly what he likes, and can study form. It is much more difficult getting that right than doing The Times crossword puzzle. He studies form, the course, the nature of the owner, the trainer and the jockey, and whether the horses are trying that afternoon. He makes his own mistakes and starts again next time round having learnt from his mistakes. Every now and again he gets a dramatic coup and tells you: "I have been following that", or, "I believe the horse is really trying today; it has a really good chance", and "My God, it's marvellous! Odds at 15 to one". That makes him very happy, like the fisherman who catches the very big salmon.
It is harmless entertainment. I have been told of dramatic cases of people touching you for money in betting shops. But all they ever touched me for was a 35 tip. They seemed to think that I would know what was going to win. If I knew what was going to win, I would not bother to go round betting shops.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his courtesy in giving way. I invite him to come to some of the betting shops that I go to; I shall certainly go to some of those that he visits. The point is surely that, even given the satisfactory environment described by the noble Lord, should not the women and the men who go to his betting shops be somewhere else other than a betting shop between six o'clock and 10 o'clock on a Saturday night? Are there not more desirable things that they could be doing, such as going home to their children and their families?
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
My Lords, I understand the noble Viscount. He belongs to that great tradition of the middle and upper middle classes, like Beatrice Webb and others. They thought that they knew better how the working classes should spend their money and their time than the working classes themselves did, and that they should be protected against themselves; therefore all temptation must be removed from them, otherwise they would get into severe trouble. That has always been great nonsense. But it is endearing to see that the Liberal Party still retains its wonderful intention to reform everybody and prevent them ever doing anything wrong.
To go back to what happens in a betting shop, it is a harmless entertainment of an intellectual kind. A chap can make up his own mind and profit from his mistakes. That is why so many people go to betting shops—and, incidentally, why so many women go there. The atmosphere has altogether changed from what it was some 10 years ago. We should stop believing that betting is an awful thing. By the way, not only does it stop people going into pubs but possibly stops them from doing things that are much worse, such as stealing motor cars and driving them recklessly, and killing other people while they do it. Betting shops are one of the good things in our society, not one of the bad things.
I turn to what the noble Lord, Lord Newall, said. I am very fond of the noble Lord. I believe he would agree that I have tried to help as best I can to get the greyhound racing fraternity a fairer share of what is going. Indeed, we got the extra bit taken off the tax. What the bookmakers and the Tote are giving to the greyhound racing club is mainly voluntary. I led the way and put the cat among the pigeons by saying: "Nobody else is going to do it. We have already set aside our quota and the Greyhound Racing Association can do what it likes with it. Let us get it off the ground".
Roughly speaking, I believe the greyhound racing club will get some £3 million a year as a result of that reduction in the tax. It already gets about £4 million a year from the "BAG" (the bookmakers' afternoon greyhound racing service). I should mention that I am also a member of that organisation and declare my interests. We pay certain selective greyhound tracks large sums of money to be allowed to take pictures and 36 so forth from them. I know that some of the tracks are owned by bookmakers. It does not make any difference who owns them. All bookmakers contribute to the amount that goes under that agreement to the greyhound track owners.
When we get evening betting, as I am sure we shall, there should be another substantial amount available to the greyhound side of the business. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Newall, would disagree with that. The Tote estimated—and we have rather good statisticians—that there will be an increase of leviable turnover of something like £5 million, arising from the levy board. Out of that, I reckon that greyhound racing will get up to £200,000 of the addition. So it is not doing quite so badly as the noble Lord was anxious to portray it as doing. He was quite right to fight his corner and make sure that everybody understands that it has not altogether had a fair crack of the whip.
I do not believe that showing greyhound racing in the evening in betting shops will make the difference he fears to attendance at greyhound meetings. It has usually been the case that when you show anything on television people get more and more interested in seeing it live, as they do Wimbledon, football, or whatever else it may be. I suspect that, contrary to his pessimism, we may find that more people become interested. It will very often be a different kind of person going into the betting shops in the evening —one who will say: "I shall go to a greyhound track and have a look to see what it is like. It is rather fun". Indeed, it is rather fun. It is very agreeable to eat in some of the restaurants provided at the better tracks and watch the greyhounds go by very speedily. I do not think the noble Lord needs to be as worried as he appears to be at the moment.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to point out that speeches in the gap are by convention, brief, short and to the point. The noble Lord has already spoken a lot longer than many people who put their names down to speak.
§ Lord Wyatt of Weeford
I apologise; but I think I have a certain knowledge of the matter and it might be of interest to the House.
As to the difficulties of the staff working in the evening in betting shops in the summer, I agree that is a serious point. We shall certainly be taking precautions at the Tote to make sure particularly that female staff—and it may apply to male staff as well —are sent home in cabs, or that other measures are implemented to protect them in the rougher areas. Nobody will be compelled to work terrible shifts. It will all be done by agreement. People will not be put in a desperate position thinking that they will lose their jobs if they do not do exactly what the betting shop owner says. That will certainly not be the case so as far as we are concerned. I am sure that will be the general approach in the business.
As the noble Marquess, Lord Zetland, very effectively said, there is a case in the difficult time that horse-racing, which is an enormous employer, is having, for that additional help. It will be a real 37 benefit. It will be another £5 million or so going into the levy. It does not in any way damage my view of greyhound racing. It gives it more money as well. I hope that the House will not agree to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Newall, much as I admire his stance.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Weinstock
My Lords, the gap in the list of speakers is becoming a little crowded, and I apologise for intruding further into it, but I shall not keep your Lordships long. This has been a wide-ranging debate and I wish to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, on his maiden speech. A great deal of ground has been covered by your Lordships, but the Motion is about whether betting shops should be open on Saturday night. I have heard nothing from your Lordships which suggests that Saturday night is, in principle, different from any other night. Nor have I heard anything which suggests that people working in betting shops on Saturday night would be exposed to any more danger than people working anywhere else on Saturday night.
It was suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that people who go to betting shops, these Dickensian dens of vice and depravity, are in some way inferior to people who go to other places. That seems to me slightly insulting. I am sorry that it should have been suggested. I do not know that the people who frequent greyhound racing tracks on Saturday nights would, from social or other points of view, be considered to be "better class" people. I see no reason to suppose that it should be so.
The fact is that horse-racing is in serious financial straits, as we have heard, and badly needs the extra revenue which may accrue as a result of the Saturday night opening of betting shops. If I may say so with respect, the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Newall, does little more than suggest that people should be driven out of betting shops into greyhound-racing tracks. Of course, that argument could be applied to any occupation. If greyhound racing needs the money and that is a good enough reason, why should we not close cinemas at six o'clock on Saturday night or any other form of entertainment? It seems to me to be a parti pris argument which is not sustainable. Essentially it involves infringement on the liberty of choice of the individual. I urge your Lordships to reject the Motion.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will permit me not more than three minutes to clarify something which I thought I understood before I listened to the debate. Can the Minister, in his reply, tell me whether I am right in the following proposition? British people are greatly dedicated to racing various kinds of creatures, particularly pigeons, dogs and horses. However, those who race pigeons do it under their own resources; and those who race dogs and horses need some kind of subsidy for the benefit of the sport. That subsidy comes from the pockets principally of those who bet. In the case of horses, it comes indirectly by means of a levy, and in the case of 38 dogs it comes directly by people coming through the gate and paying for entrance principally on nights when betting shops are shut.
Is not this debate about whether people will desert greyhound-racing in sufficient numbers on Saturday nights, for the betting shop, and so entirely disable that industry? If that is the question before the House at the moment, as I believed it to be and still hope that it is, can the Minister tell us—and give great satisfaction to my noble friend Lord Peyton in the process—whether the way of rescuing horse-racing is not by removing the subsidy from greyhounds and placing it on horse-racing but by removing value added tax? It seems to me that that would be a constructive way of avoiding this difficult issue and we should not have to pursue the Motion at all.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord Plant of Highfield
My Lords, on these Benches we are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newall, for facilitating this debate on an issue of substantial importance which will affect the lives of significant numbers of people. It is particularly important since the proposed changes in the regulations went before another place on 10th February as a statutory instrument. I think that it is vitally important that the proposals are fully debated in your Lordships' House and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newall, for giving us the opportunity to do so.
Unlike many noble Lords, perhaps I may declare a more or less total lack of interest in both horse-racing and greyhound-racing. That is not for moral reasons, it is just that I spent three years as an undergraduate studying the theory of probability. Having been set a number of essays on the Monte Carlo fallacy, I assumed that betting and gambling was, in the proverbial phrase, a mug's game and I was not going to get into it. Therefore, I am afraid that all the impartiality I bring to this debate is as a result of more or less total ignorance.
What I bring to bear on the issue is a general principle in favour of the libertarian outcome, that on the whole people should be free to live their lives in their own way provided that in doing so they do not harm the interests of other people. In this case, it seems to me, we are concerned with extending the freedom of choice to the consumer or the punter. The question is whether that extension of freedom of choice to the punter will harmfully affect the interests of others.
What we have to do, in judging the Motion, is to consider three kinds of harm that have been identified by noble Lords in the debate. The first is the potential harm to the greyhound industry; the second is the potential harm to those employed in betting shops; and the third is the potential harm to the environment within which betting shops operate and are situated—in inner cities and on estates.
There is no point in my repeating in detail the point made by the noble Lord in his opening speech, explaining what he thought would be the likely consequences of the proposed changes on the greyhound-racing industry. I shall reiterate one or two 39 points from the range of comments he made because they are worth bearing in mind when noble Lords reflect on how to vote, if the noble Lord presses his Motion.
First, as he pointed out—and this is undeniably true—the 15 per cent. drop in attendances at greyhound-racing meetings in the two years following the introduction of betting shops in 1961 wiped out afternoon greyhound-racing. Attendances at those meetings dropped from 15 million in 1960 to 7 million in 1970. Of course, it may be difficult to say that the introduction of betting shops was the sole cause or factor. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to deny some significance to that development.
The industry expects a similar drop of at least 15 per cent. in evening attendances as a result of the evening opening of betting shops. The loss is likely to be greater since the introduction of television into betting shops in 1989. That greatly increased their attraction. That is the first point: the likely effect on the industry itself. The noble Lord made a good case, I thought, for being seriously worried about it.
It is easy to say that that is just a defence of producer interests and that we should be more concerned with the interests of the consumer. On the whole, I sympathise with that general point. However, the fact is that if the pessimists in the industry are correct that the future of the industry depends upon the proposal not going through, then it is in the interests of the consumer of greyhound-racing. If there is no industry to consume, it can hardly be in the interests of the consumer.
Thus, although that looks like a defence of producer interests, there is a case for saying that it is also in the interests of the consumer. I believe that the main reason given to the greyhound-racing industry as to why it should not enjoy equal levy status with horse-racing was that the races were primarily in the evenings when betting shops were not open. But that situation has now changed and the key plank of the argument of those who do not wish to see greyhound-racing have an off-course betting levy similar to that enjoyed by horse-racing has been removed. There is now, it seems to me, a strong case for considering the extension of the levy to greyhound-racing.
I turn now to the likely effect of the changes on staffs employed in betting shops. First, as was pointed out by my honourable friend Mr. Graham Allen, who speaks on these matters for my party in another place, at least one of the three large bookmaking firms has insisted that employees in its betting shops should sign new contracts relating to the extended hours on pain of dismissal or retirement. That seems to be rather harsh behaviour in the circumstances and, as he pointed out in another place, might be a premonition of what could happen under the extension of Sunday trading. Certainly there is a case for saying that the working conditions of those working in betting shops might deteriorate under those circumstances. That is another potential harm to the interests of a particular group of employees.
40 Secondly, as has been pointed out, many of those who work in betting shops are women and they work in small groups of two or three. There must be concerns about their safety, even accepting the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Weinstock, both in terms of their safety within the office itself and also on the journey home. Those concerns were relayed, as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, said, to the Home Office by the Association of Chief Police Officers. If ACPO is making such representations to the Home Office, we need some reassurance from the noble Viscount about the response that his right honourable friend the Home Secretary made to ACPO's representations on those points. We cannot just dismiss them as being irrelevant or unworthy of consideration.
Finally, in terms of the potential harm to interests, we have to be concerned about the environment within which betting shops are situated and the effect of the current proposals on that environment. Betting shops are situated in all kinds of places; in urban centres, in large villages, on estates and in suburbs. As any casual observer can see, groups of people, particularly young men, congregate around such offices, and they will do so late into the evening if the proposals are accepted. Alongside that is drinking late into the evening. Those living close to betting shops are not likely to see the noise, the litter and the associated behaviour adding to the quality of their lives. We need to be concerned about that in the context of the current general worry about the level of crime in society.
Overall, therefore, there are three kinds of potential harm that we should weigh in our minds when we think about how to vote if this issue comes to a vote —the harm, or the potential harm, to the industry; the impact on the working conditions of those who work within the shops; and the impact on the environment of the areas in which betting shops are situated.
The Minister will no doubt argue that the proposed changes will extend consumer choice. In that sense there is a great deal to be said for them. We accept that. It is just that that extension of choice has to be balanced against the possibility of harm. One of the points that my honourable friends in another place raised when they were debating this subject in the Fifth Committee on Statutory Instruments earlier this month was the measurable demand from punters for this development. It was clear that many of those on the producer side of the argument—the employees, the betting shops, the small bookmakers, and so forth —definitely did not want the change. But if one is looking to balance those producer interests against consumer interests, what kind of evidence is there on the part of consumers for the deregulation that is the subject of the debate today?
The Betting Office Licensees Association commissioned a poll, conducted by Gallup, which showed that 56 per cent. of punters were in favour of evening opening. However, it was a rather small sample. Without wanting to go into the details, some rather telling points were made in another place about the validity and design of the poll that Gallup had conducted. It had been taken back by those who commissioned it for a certain amount of remodelling. 41 We should like some assurance from the noble Viscount that there is a strong surge of consumer demand for this proposed level of deregulation.
Overall, these are clearly matters which involve deep feelings. We have had a good debate which has brought out most of the issues. It is a case of striking a balance between consumer demand and the potential harms that I have mentioned. It is a matter of judgment for noble Lords. For that reason we on these Benches do not seek to impose a Whip. If there is a vote, it will be by a free vote of my noble friends.
§ 5.5 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Leigh on an excellent and interesting maiden speech. I am sure that both your Lordships and indeed the greyhound industry look forward to his participation in future debates.
I should like to explain to your Lordships why the Government have decided that the changes which are proposed in these regulations are justified. Before I respond, however, I should like to say that I realise that my noble friend Lord Newall, who has spoken against the regulations, reflects the very strong views which have been raised by the greyhound industry and others about the changes in betting office hours. My noble friend has set out very clearly many of the objections which have been raised against evening opening and we took serious account of those views.
The Government's proposals have not, though, been sprung on an unsuspecting industry and public. The possibility of evening opening has been around for quite a long time. Indeed, it was even considered by the Rothschild Royal Commission which reported back in 1978. Times have moved on. In 1978 there were only 62 evening horse-race meetings. By 1992, that had more than doubled to 144.
There are, therefore, many more horse-races which are now being held in the evening. A quarter of all meetings from April through August are held in the evening. As a result, the horse-racing industry, off-course bookmakers and consumers have continued to urge the Government to allow evening opening of betting offices.
Evening race meetings became the subject of renewed attention by the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place in 1991. Two reports—one on the horse-race betting levy and one on the financing of greyhound racing—both recommended in principle that evening opening should be allowed. The Government's view was that all interested parties should be consulted before a final decision was made. They were consulted.
In October 1991, we issued a consultation document setting out the issues both of principle and of practice on which views were invited. We received responses from all the interests who would be affected by it and we made ourselves available for subsequent discussions and representations, including meetings with my noble friend Lord Newall. The final decision by the Home Secretary was based on a full and careful consideration of all the views which had been put forward.
42 I should now like to address some of the main arguments which were advanced during that long consultation process, and to which my noble friend and other noble Lords have referred in this debate. First, why should we allow evening opening at all? The answer is simple. Removing unnecessary regulations encourages competition and it gives all businesses, large and small, the flexibility to meet the changing requirements of their customers, and that means greater consumer choice. Gambling must, of course, be properly regulated, to ensure that it is conducted honestly. But the Government also believe that adequate facilities should be available for those who want to bet when they want to do so for the benefit of racing and the punter alike. Whether bookmakers decide to open in the evenings and, if so, whether their customers make use of their services, is a matter which is best decided by the bookmakers themselves—and not by the Government. It will be their choice.
There are those in the off-course bookmaking industry—and not just the big three—who believe that their businesses and their customers will benefit from evening opening. If they are right—and that is a commercial judgment for each bookmaker to make —evening opening could help to secure jobs and to create new employment opportunities.
The prospect for betting offices of increased turnover from evening opening will offer them new opportunities. There are those who also argue that the change will benefit the big bookmakers disproportionately. Also it will adversely affect the working conditions of their staff, which is something which concerns the noble Lord, Lord Plant, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, who quite rightly felt strongly about the anxieties of the betting office staff in that they would be forced to work longer hours against their will or for no extra benefit.
I noted the sharp criticism of the way in which some companies have dealt with their staff. I would wish that all bookmakers treat all employees in a positive and sympathetic manner. It is in the interests of both to maintain good relations. I hope that the industry will follow the Tote's attitude to its staff.
It is a fact of life that businesses have to respond to changing circumstances; betting offices cannot be exempt. Changes in conditions of service are a matter between each company and its staff: they are not a matter for the Government. But any sensible employer wants to retain his experienced staff and will take account of their wishes as far as possible. Satisfactory arrangements will be made in most cases, but if an employer acts unlawfully there are remedies available under the existing employment protection law.
If the employer unilaterally imposes new terms which the employee is unwilling to accept, employees who have completed at least two years' continuous employment may resign and take the employer to an industrial tribunal. Any employee, however short his service, can sue the employer for breach of contract. I believe that it is not the function of parliamentary regulations to attempt to control the structure of the bookmaking industry. The function of the regulation is to regulate the activity of betting.
43 Evening opening will provide additional income for horse-racing. Evening racing has increased because it has proved popular with racegoers. If it increases further, that would be good both for racing and for bookmakers, and also for the public who will be going to the racecourses. The racing industry needs to be competitive to maintain its market and for the industry to prosper. How this new opportunity is developed is a matter for negotiation between both sides, horse-racing and bookmaking. The Government's role is just to remove unnecessary regulations which stifle initiative.
Set against the arguments in favour of evening opening, the Government had in mind the objections to which my noble friend Lord Newall referred. Greyhound racing fears that it will suffer because its customers will prefer to go to the betting office rather than to the dog track. That is a very pessimistic view of the attractions of dog racing and the loyalty of its present clientele. It is not one which is shared by all sections of the dog-racing industry.
Perhaps I may now turn to attendances to which noble Lords referred. Attendances at greyhound racing peaked in the late 1940s and declined throughout the 1950s before betting offices were legalised. The fall in attendances after 1961 simply continued the established pattern. It is really not possible to attribute the decline simply to the legislation for betting offices.
I should declare an interest. I go to evening race meetings at Wembley when I am able to escape from the long hours that your Lordships' House imposes on me.
My Lords, an evening greyhound racing offers a night out combining live racing with dinner and tax-free betting. An evening spent in a betting shop—even one operated by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt—is really not a comparable form of entertainment. Greyhound racing has much more to offer: an exciting, varied and enjoyable evening. I will, however, leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, to expound the view that betting is a high, moral occupation.
Greyhound tracks have a range of facilities which betting offices cannot possibly offer. It is clear that some track owners, at least, intend to market those attractions vigorously and reports in the press suggest that attendances have risen recently.
Even so, we did take account of the concerns which were expressed by greyhound racing and that was a significant factor in the Government's decision to confine evening opening to the five months of the summer horse-racing season. That is the period when the greatest demand for evening betting is likely to exist. We believe that this represents a very fair compromise between the claims of all parties. Greyhound racing's future now rests in its own hands. It is up to the sport to develop and to market its attractions. We want it to flourish.
My noble friend Lord Newall is now seeking to substitute regulations which would force betting shops 44 to remain closed after 6.30 p.m. on summer Saturday evenings. My noble friend argues that this would protect greyhound racing from competition from the off-course betting industry on Saturdays, which is greyhound racing's most popular night. Closing betting offices early on Saturdays would, he has argued, protect the industry's revenue from track attendances and Tote betting.
The Government canvassed opinion on this in their consultation document. Of those who expressed an opinion on this question, most favoured a uniform closing time for every night of the week. In particular, the police anticipated enforcement difficulties if betting offices had different closing times on Saturdays. The Government clearly had to accept their advice on that.
My noble friend Lord Lye11 asked me about the Association of Chief Police Officers. I can tell my noble friend that in a letter to the Home Office dated 12th November, that organisation said:The general principle of evening opening is acceptable to ACPO and there is no reason to suppose that the level of policing commitment to licensed betting offices would increase significantly as a result, although extended hours could increase the risk of robberies and theft, but to what level is a matter for conjecture".It is an important factor against closure on Saturdays that Saturday nights are the popular evenings for horse-racing. There are horse-races on most summer Saturday evenings. To close betting shops early on Saturdays would be to deny punters the freedom to bet on occasions when there is popular demand for off-course betting and it could lead to illegal betting. That is why we chose 10 p.m. as the closing time for all nights of the week. The last race is often at 9 p.m. or later and it must make sense that punters can collect their winnings on the same evening and not, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, suggested, wait fretfully until Monday.
I must remind your Lordships that the regulations governing greyhound racing have been relaxed in recent years; for example, the removal of the restrictions on the number of racing days, and allowing prize money to roll over. Proposals for further changes have been accepted in principle; for example, track-to-track betting. The industry has also recently come forward with other proposals which we are considering. And we will have further discussions with the industry about off-course post betting.
The Government have played their part too, as my noble friend Lord Zetland reminded us. Last year my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer cut betting duty by one quarter of 1 per cent. Following that reduction, the greyhound and bookmaking industries have agreed to a voluntary mechanism to collect and administer the money released in respect of greyhound betting turnover. A new body, the British Greyhound Racing Trust Fund, is expected to raise up to £3 million a year in additional funding for the greyhound industry. As a result, greyhound racing will receive a direct benefit from every additional bet struck on the sport as a result of having evening opening.
I am sure that the Chancellor has also taken note of the regular and close interest taken by my noble 45 friends Lord Peyton and Lord Elton as regards VAT on bloodstock. As both my noble friends know, it is a matter for the Chancellor and I certainly cannot say anything more to your Lordships this afternoon.
However, that is not the only benefit accruing to the greyhound industry. The introduction of a Bookmakers' Evening Greyhound Service similar to the afternoon service, could provide additional fee income for the sport which will also benefit from the increased public exposure of evening race meetings. Of course, the televising of evening race meetings is a matter for negotiation between the greyhound industry and the bookmakers.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who brings to your Lordships' House a wealth of experience of all sporting matters. He discussed both a levy and track ownership. Gambling legislation does not regulate the issues of track ownership, but the usual rules of competition policy apply.
Let me turn to the question of a statutory levy. The Government's position is quite clear. A levy can only be justified if, as is the case with horse-racing, that is the joint wish of racing and bookmaking. There is no such voluntary joint agreement between dog-racing and the bookmakers. I am afraid, therefore, that I have to tell my noble friend that I do not think that it would be right for the Government to impose one, and we do not intend to do so.
I hope that I have been able to allay some of the fears which your Lordships have expressed. I believe that your Lordships welcome the changes to extend opening hours, but that issue is separate from that raised by my noble friend Lord Elton in relation to VAT.
No sport or business can afford to stand still, and evening opening will enable bookmakers to improve the service which they offer to their customers, and that means greater consumer choice, something which is dear to the Government's heart. To close on Saturday evenings would be to deny punters a popular betting opportunity to the detriment of the whole industry.
In the light of the explanation of the Government's reasons for this change, I hope that my noble friend will see that this is not an attack either intentionally or unintentionally on the industry that he represents. As I have said, we want greyhound racing to flourish—we believe that it can—and we are looking carefully at the proposals suggested by the industry. I hope therefore that my noble friend will now be able to support these regulations, and withdraw his Motion.
§ 5.21 p.m.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate this afternoon and I am most grateful to all noble Lords, from all sides of the House, who have taken part. I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lord Leigh for his witty and amusing maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear him on many occasions in the future.
I am sure that your Lordships will be glad to hear that I have no intention of mentioning all those who have spoken, but I should like to make one or two 46 small points to put the matter straight. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked what we would spend the levy on if we had one. I am sure that he realises that no politician answers hypothetical questions and we do not have a levy. However, I assure him that there is a list in the office and that there are many things that we could spend it on, such as integrity services, security, dope-testing, or the Retired Greyhound Trust. There are lots of things on the carpet, but we do not talk about it because we do not have a levy.
Many noble Lords have referred to the parlous state of horse-racing, to which I shall return in a moment. As my noble friend Lord Lyell said, greyhound racing does not have an even chance, but I think that I have explained that carefully.
The noble Lord, Lord Wyatt, is one of the House's best-known bookmakers. He is always very kind to me and I am grateful to him. Obviously, he will know that a great many betting shops are now located alongside pubs, so there is a danger. I am not trying to close down betting shops—far be it from me to try to do that—I am simply trying to prevent too much betting, particularly on a Saturday evening. I am afraid that his comment that £4 million comes to greyhound racing from BAGS is rather sad because greyhound racing receives only about £350,000—all the rest goes to the BAGS tracks which are mostly owned by the bookmakers themselves. That is the answer to that point, but we can talk about it again.
The noble Lord, Lord Weinstock, made a brief contribution and apparently does not know the difference between a cinema and a betting shop. I can assure him that betting shops have far more screens than cinemas.
Finally, I come to my noble friend the Minister who sounded extremely reasonable and gave all the usual government answers. He probably knows that it takes two years to get an answer from the industrial tribunal, so anybody who is sacked for not signing on may have to wait two years. That is not a satisfactory situation. As most of those concerned are non-union members, that does not help them very much.
My noble friend also mentioned the 0.25 per cent. reduction in betting duty—a marvellous idea—but it was introduced in April and greyhound racing has not yet seen one penny. Although some agreements have been made with the bookmakers, at the moment nothing has come through. On the point about the levy needing an agreement between the bookmakers and the greyhound industry, I can assure him—I realise that he knows this—that when the original levy was introduced the bookmakers were under great threat of being wiped out altogether and of there being a Tote monopoly. That is why they gave in to a levy. There is no such threat now, so why should they give up all those millions of pounds just to help greyhound racing which they can run in their own way, if they want to, just by using their own tracks. That is not a very satisfactory method.
I said that I would return to the point about racing being in a parlous state. All racing—horse-racing and greyhound racing—is in a parlous state. I am a great fan of horse-racing as many of your Lordships know. Indeed, for many years I was an amateur steeplechase 47 jockey and enjoyed it very much. As I said, I am keen on all racing and it is not just horse-racing that is in a parlous state. The horse-racing industry is sad that it is getting only £47 million. Now it will get another £5 million, making £52 million. Greyhound racing gets absolutely nothing. Therefore, if I can use that ghastly expression, it is not a "level playing field"; but it is an important point. Greyhound racing does not have the same weight. It is therefore important to try to save greyhound racing from going under by not opening betting shops in the evenings.
It is government legislation that has meant that there is no levy and it is government legislation that confines greyhound racing in all sorts of ways. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will support me. I hope that I shall not impinge on our next debate, but I should like to test the water and to take the mood of the House.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 56; Not-Contents, 110.48
|Division No. 1|
|Addington, L.||McNair, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Moran, L.|
|Bridges, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Clanwilliam, E.||Munster, E.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Newall, L. [Teller.]|
|Dainton, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Elton, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Plant of Highfield, L.|
|Falkland, V. [Teller.]||Rankeillour, L.|
|Geraint, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Rennell, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Richard, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Judd, L.||Spens, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Swansea, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Leigh, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Macaulay of Bragar, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Acton, L.||Carter, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Charteris of Amisfield, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Clark of Kempston, L.|
|Astor, V.||Craigavon, V.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Croham, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Cumberlege, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Davidson, V.|
|Borthwick, L.||De La Warr, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Dean of Beswick, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Denton of Wakefield, B.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Devonshire, D.|
|Butterworth, L.||Dormand of Easington, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Erne, E.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Fairhaven, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Orkney, E.|
|Finsberg, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Peston, L.|
|Gowrie, E.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Plumb, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L|
|Hayhoe, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Hesketh, L.||Reay, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Renton, L.|
|Hothfield, L.||Rippon of Hexham, L.|
|Howe, E.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Howell, L.||Romney, E.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||St. Davids, V.|
|Ingrow, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Jay of Paddington, B.||Selborne, E.|
|Jellicoe, E.||Shannon, E.|
|Jenkin of Roding, L.||Shrewsbury, E.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Johnston of Rockport, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E. [Teller.]|
|Lindsay, E.||Sudeley, L.|
|Long, V. [Teller.]||Swaythling, L.|
|Lucas, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|McAlpine of West Green, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Manton, L.||Wakeham, L.|
|Marlesford, L.||Weinstock, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Westbury, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Wise, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Wyatt of Weeford, L.|
|Mountgarret, V.||Wynford, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||Zetland, M.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.