HC Deb 29 November 2000 vol 357 cc691-2W
Mrs. Golding

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the progress that has been made with his plans to abolish the Horserace Betting Levy Board and to sell the Tote. [141134]

Mr. Mike O'Brien

On 2 March this year, I announced that the Government had decided to bring to an end the statutory betting levy system, to abolish the Horserace Betting Levy Board and, in principle, to sell the Horserace Totalisator Board (the Tote) to racing.

Following that announcement, I invited the British Horseracing Board (BHB), as the sport's governing authority, to prepare a realistic plan for the future funding of racing without a statutory levy. The BHB's plan was submitted to Government on 13 October. The Government have also been considering, in discussion with the Levy Board, the BHB and other stakeholder interests, a range of practical issues arising from the abolition decision.

So far as the sale of the Tote is concerned, racing, with the support of the Tote's own management team, are continuing to develop their detailed proposals for the acquisition of the business. The Government, meanwhile, have been considering what the detailed terms of the Tote's exclusive licence might be following the sale and developing proposals for the future regulation of horserace pool betting. We have also formally notified the European Commission of our proposals in order to obtain state aid clearance, and expect to receive its views shortly.

The Government are also publishing today "A consultation paper on the proposed abolition of the Horserace Betting Levy Board and the licensing of racecourse betting and pool betting on horseracing".

This consultation paper takes account of the BHB's plan and sets out the Government's detailed proposals for the abolition of the Levy Board. Specific areas covered include the BHB's proposal that it should replace the Levy Board as racing's central funding body and take control of related Levy Board's assets; the Board's responsibilities for advancing veterinary science and education and the improvement of breeds of horses; and the future of the National Stud. It also contains interim proposals, ahead of the outcome of the independent review of gambling, for the licensing and regulation of racecourse betting, including the Tote's pool betting operations.

Publication of this paper represents the next important step towards ending the Government's direct involvement in the administration and financing of racing. The Government wish to see both racing and bookmaking flourish and we remain committed to working closely with both industries as we implement these reforms.

Copies of the consultation paper have been placed in the Library. The closing date for responses is 28 February 2001. Thereafter the Government intend to bring forward legislation, when parliamentary time allows, that will provide for both the abolition of the Levy Board and the sale of the Tote.