HC Deb 27 February 1981 vol 999 cc1078-107

Order for Second Reading read.

9.36 am
Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The last occasion on which I drew a high place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills was as long ago as 1965. I obtained a Second Reading for that Bill, but it died a natural death due to the arrival of the 1966 general election. Whatever fate befalls this Bill I pray, above all, that it will not be that fate.

We all have Walter Mitty ambitions. I have to admit that since 1966 I developed the resolve that if ever again I were fortunate in the ballot I would introduce a Bill that would have the most far-reaching effects on national life. This Bill would have been a Bill to insist that, after its enactment, all readers of The Daily Telegraph should read The Guardian, and all readers of The Guardian should read The Daily Telegraph.

Having once again been fortunate enough to draw a reasonably good place in the ballot I decided, with some regret and, I hope, with laudable realism, against trying to introduce such a Bill, simply because its social and political consequences would have been so great that I doubt whether they could have been contained even by all the resources of the Home Office and the Fleet. As I believe that it is always important to keep on the right side of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I decided not to introduce that Bill. In passing, I want to say how delighted I am to see my right hon. Friend sitting on the Front Bench this morning.

That is not to say that such a Bill would have been a bad Bill, but it would not have been suitable for Private Members' legislation. It would have been far too comprehensive and far-reaching. Instead, therefore, I looked for something less fundamental—something that I believed was important but that would not take up too much of the time of the House. From among a number of possibilities I selected a Bill concerned with one aspect of sporting life. It is a small Bill, but it is of great importance to the future of the horse racing industry.

Perhaps at this point I should declare a slightly outdated interest. I was once the owner of one leg of a horse. I had the good fortune to be the owner of one leg of a horse that won its first race, which must be unique. I imagine that few owners can claim that they have had one horse, one race and one win.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

And one leg.

Mr. Morrison

Yes, and one leg. The later record was not quite so good.

The Bill does not establish any new principle. It does no more than remove what has become apparent as an omission and weakness in the Betting Levy Act 1961. That Act set up the Horserace Betting Levy Board. It made provision for the payment by bookmakers of a levy on betting transactions on horseracing.

At that time bookmakers were anxious to be allowed licensed betting offices, and a Bill to that effect was before Parliament. However, not surprisingly, those who were concerned with the administration of racing feared that the availability of off-course licensed betting offices would reduce attendances at race meetings, with a serious loss of revenue resulting. In the event that fear may have been justified, as the average daily attendance at racecourses dropped from 7,339 in 1961 to 4,611 in 1980. I suspect that changes in social habits and televised racing are at least as responsible as betting offices for that drop in attendance. If account is taken of television, I should not be surprised if the present racing audience is not much bigger than it was in 1961.

Whatever the cause in the drop in racecourse attendances since 1961, everyone concerned with the best interests of racing, including the bookmakers, agreed that a levy was required. Hence the Betting Levy Act 1961 went on to the Statute book. The levy board that it established was charged with the duty of assessing and collecting … and of applying it, the levy, to the improvement of … horses and the advancement or encouragement of veterinary science or veterinary education and the improvement of horseracing. Since 1961 the board has financed racing generally to the extent of £97 million. It is important to emphasise that the board's income is distributed throughout racing. For example, under the prize money scheme every race-course, flat or jumping, receives a prize money subsidy from the board for each day's racing. In addition, there is special grant-aid for pattern races and other special races. In 1979–80 the prize money subsidy from the board amounted to over £10 million. Of course, that prize money percolates throughout racing. It goes not only to owners but to trainers, jockeys and stable staff. As for modernisation schemes for racecourses, a group 4 jumping course, such as Hereford, is just as likely to receive money for the construction of a new stand—as it has done—as is group 1 Cheltenham for the same purpose, or flat race group 1 Doncaster for a new hostel for stable lads and girls.

The reality is that needs are assessed objectively. Likewise, within its veterinary responsibilities the board in 1979-80, for example, granted £95,000 to he Equine Research Station and provided £221,000 for research in six veterinary schools. As for technical services, assistance is given for such items as the camera patrol, photo-finish and timing equipment, and racecourse security services. Grants totalling over £109,000 were given to horse and pony breeding societies, in addition to major sums for the National Stud. It may be incidental to the sport of racing, but it is not bad spin-off from a sport that, partly in consequence of the assistance from the board, United Kingdom exports of pure-bred horses in 1980 totalled 4,963, with a value of £42,599,000. That is not a bad form of assistance to our export effort.

It is important to realise that in the end all the money is spent and invested to maintain and improve the quality of racing for the ordinary racegoer. It appears from the most recent figures that the Library was able to make available to me that in 1976 about 22,000 persons were directly employed in racing. If the betting industry is included, the total exceeds 100,000. Thus, the maintenance of the levy is essential to the future of horse racing.

The Bill is designed merely to enable better arrangements to be made for the collection of the levy. I emphasise that it is an agreed levy and that the machinery for calculating it rests on the annual scheme negotiated between the bookmakers and the board. The Bill is an enabling measure that would permit the inclusion in schemes of provisions that cannot now be included. The Bill has no direct effect on payment. It merely enables the appropriate provisions to be included in the scheme.

I shall attempt to describe the workings of the levy in slightly more detail. Each levy scheme relates to a particular year. Liability to pay levy nowadays arises from the assessment of turnover. Obviously, turnover cannot be assessed until the end of a year's trading. Hitherto the board has been faced with a choice of three possibilities. One possibility was to use the turnover figures for the previous year. The second possibility was to use the turnover figures for the current year and to wait until some time after the end of that year to collect the levy. The third possibility was to use the turnover figures for the current year but to try to get payment in advance of the assessment, rather like pay-as-you-earn.

The levy scheme used to be based on the first option, with the assessment related to turnover for the previous year. That led to the problem of levy avoidance. Only those trading in the levy year could be assessed, and that assessment was based on the previous year's turnover. It was possible to wind up one company towards the end of the levy year and to transfer the business to another company which would be liable for levy payments in respect of only a short period of trading—possibly only a few days.

That method of levy avoidance under the original Act was not illegal. It increased to the point at which it was estimated to have amounted to over £1 million a year. It deprived the industry of much-needed funds. It was unfair to those bookmakers who did not seek to avoid their levy liability in that way. To eliminate the abuse that I have described, it was agreed between the bookmakers' committee and the board in July 1978 that the levy liability of bookmakers should be assessed on turnover for the current levy year. That change came into effect in April 1979. That was the second option. However, under existing legislation only one levy assessment can be made against each bookmaker. Now that the levy scheme is based on current turnover, the assessment cannot be made until the end of the levy year, when the full turnover is

It means that unless bookmakers make voluntary contributions in advance, no levy is paid until well after the end of the levy period, when assessments have been made. Clearly, that has serious implications for the cash flow of the levy board.

In fact, about one-third of all bookmakers have generously contributed in advance of levy assessment. Before the last levy year ended on 31 March 1980, about £9.2 million—about 65 per cent, of the total levy of about £15 million—had been paid in advance. For that the levy board was grateful.

Nevertheless, the voluntary system of advance payments had major shortcomings. Under it, the levy board can never be certain that it will receive advance payments, so it is difficult for the board to budget properly, and there is the constant worry that it may have to undertake expensive commercial borrowing to maintain its cash flow. Moreover, such borrowing would be to the detriment of the board's total income. In addition, it is unfair on the one-third of bookmakers who make advance payments that two-thirds of them do not.

Lastly, in order to encourage advance payments the levy board pays interest on them to bookmakers. In the year ended 31 March 1980, interest totalled £730,000. For those reasons, there are disadvantages in relying on the continuing good will of some bookmakers.

Thus, the purpose of the Bill is to amend the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 and the Horserace Betting Levy Act 1969 so as to enable provision to be made in a scheme for payments on account of the levy to be made during the levy year. In effect, it provides for a statutory extension of the third option, which I described as being similar to PAYE. As I said earlier, the scheme has to be agreed annually between the bookmakers' committee and the levy board, or, if there is no agreement, determined ultimately by the Secretary of State.

The Bill would enable the scheme to specify the basis on which the payments on account are to be determined and the times at which the payments are to be made. The amounts and times of payment would then be determined by the Government-appointed members of the levy board in accordance with the scheme, and a notice of determination would be served in each bookmaker who is required to make a payment on account. Provision is made in the Bill for an appeal against such a notice of determination—so there are safeguards for bookmakers—and, in the event of any overpayment being disclosed on assessment, for the repayment of any excess.

I understand that bookmakers are now in general agreement with the Bill because it ensures that all bookmakers contribute during the course of the year, instead of just those who are prepared to make voluntary payments. Several changes were made in the original drafting of the Bill to meet points that were raised by bookmakers.

However, I know that bookmakers have one or two further points that they wish to raise, particularly in regard to a possible change in bookmakers' circumstances in the course of the levy year. I have no doubt that this problem and whatever others may arise can be dealt with satisfactorily in Committee.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I fully support my hon. Friend's Bill, but does he regard it as sufficient for the Home Secretary to give assurances in his speech, or would he prefer to have the assurances that bookmakers seek written into the Bill?

Mr. Morrison

I was coming to that matter. It should be adequate to provide an assurance in respect of payments in advance without such an assurance being included in the Bill. Apparently, it would involve drafting problems. I hope that my right hon. Friend will refer to this matter when he speaks. The levy board has told me that it has no intention of acting in an unreasonable manner.

Many Members of Parliament have been pressing for legislation of this kind to put levy collection on a secure footing and to enable the levy board to plan its expenditure so as best to serve the interests of the racing industry as a whole. Certainly, the board should not be left in the position of being dependent on voluntary payments by bookmakers.

I am optimistic that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will support the Bill. It would be extremely pleasant and helpful also if the Bill received the support of the Opposition Front Bench. I gather that the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) will take part in the debate. She, of course, has the considerable advantage of having worked in the Home Office. I suspect, therefore, that she knows something of the background to the Bill and the case for it.

I acknowledge the great assistance that I have had from the Home Office. I thank also the levy board and the bookmakers' committee for their constructive comments on the drafting of the Bill. Bookmakers have been most helpful, and that is a tribute as much to their good sense as to the leadership provided by the chairman of the levy board, Sir Desmond Plummer. He has done an enormous amount to advance the interests of racing, and if the Bill is passed he and his board will be able to do much more. Thus, I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

9.58 am
Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I listened with care to the speech of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). Having once been fortunate enough to have a high number in the Private Members' ballot, I, too, was torn by the possibilities of proposed legislation. I had always wanted to bring in an annual dishonours list, which seemed to be the ideal measure. I desisted.

When it was announced in the area around Devizes that the hon. Gentleman had obtained the fifth place in the Private Members' ballot there was dancing in the streets. They lit bonfires in Marlborough, they had cream teas in Ramsbury, they had special children's fetes in Great Bedwyn and smaller fetes in Little Bedwyn. They celebrated a unique opportunity to make the world a better place to live in.

There was great conjecture around Devizes, which I know well, about what Master Charles would bring in. Was it to be some of the important legislation that would make the world more desirable, and the parts around Devizes even better than that? I suppose that there must have been modified disappointment when the hon. Gentleman decided, with all within his reach, that he would assume the role of an honorary assistant deputy tax collector for the Home Office.

Before the Home Secretary shakes his head too much, may I say that I support the Bill. It is a perfectly good measure. If there is criticism, as there must be, it is that for a man of his proven courage and political views it must have been a disappointment not to have had a more altruistic Bill.

I believe that the Bill stems from a basic and inherent weakness in the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, which would otherwise have enabled the Government to achieve the same ends by means of a statutory instrument. As there is no procedure for that, we have to have a Bill. As the hon. Gentleman says, if all else fails one looks to see what sort of Bills are kicking around in the Departments of one's friends. To put it simply, the Bill legalises something that bookmakers voluntarily did before. Whereas the majority of bookmakers are honourable, decent and generous, it is wrong to allow others to impose on that generosity.

The hon. Gentleman said that he once owned one leg of one horse that came first. That is good news. One would have thought that that would perhaps have made him look at racing and its shortcomings and drawbacks even more carefully. Remembering that his brother represents a seat not a million miles removed from where the Grand National is run, he might perhaps have looked at the seedy stands of Aintree and tried to persuade the excellent Sir Desmond Plummer, who does a first class job running the board, to spread his money where it is most needed rather than where luxury is piled on even more luxury, as it is in Goodwood. The objections from the Opposition Benches about the modus operandi of the Government have always been that the already advantaged are further advantaged to the detriment of those in most need. One was therefore unsurprised to find that Goodwood got better while Aintree got worse.

There are aspects of the Bill that one might well discuss in Committee. As the entire income of the levy board comes from bookmakers—£16½ million a year—it would be appropriate to see whether the bookmakers representation on the distributing body is sufficient. There is now statutory representation on the part of the chairman of the bookmakers' committee. I would suggest amendments in Committee to broaden that. All those who pay should be represented. It will be known to the House that there are bookmakers who do not feel particularly well represented by Mr. Eric Barber.

My one criticism of early payment is that it does not take into account the difficulties that could be encountered by bookmakers if racing is cancelled for long periods—if there is no racing and therefore no income during January and February. Perhaps that will be looked at again. It is certainly something that the levy board will know about.

It has always seemed to me that if one is in favour of proposed legislation it is a disservice to the mover to go on and on. May I simply say that I wish the Bill well, although we shall try to make the odd amendment in Committee. As is customary, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on drawing so high a position in the ballot.

10.3 am

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I have the honour to be a sponsor of the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) not only on having the good fortune to bring it forward but on the lucidity of his speech.

I wish to make three general points on behalf of racing, which is to a considerable extent centred in my constitutency at what is still the international capital of racing—Newmarket. I also wish to underline two aspects of the measure that are of particular importance.

My first general point concerns racing as a sport. It remains one of our greatest and best. In recent years some of our other sports have lost their earlier pre-eminence. To take but two examples, English football is now too often synonymous with foul play on the field and hooliganism on the terraces. Cricket, my favourite sport, can hardly any longer, as we have just seen in the West Indies, be said to be the sport in which we excel. Regrettably, like international rugby, it has been greatly riven by politics.

By contrast, although in recent years the Americans, French and possibly the Irish have caught up and in some instances surpassed us, none the less, for variety of choice, colour, excitement, public participation, prestige and world stature, we can still assert with confidence that English racing remains the finest in the world. Thanks to the Jockey Club, to which we pay insufficient tribute in the House, racing is among the best governed of English sports. The spirit of fair play is still paramount on the turf and in the stands. However, racing is not the best financed sport, thanks largely to the unfair depredations of the Treasury and the refusal of successive Governments to undo the damage of an unfair application of VAT. No doubt we shall return to those matters in the debates on the Budget.

None the less, I wish to make one further point about racing as a sport. Hundreds of thousands of people still attend our racetracks, although, as my hon. Friend says, not as many as we should like. Millions watch racing on television and millons more bet on it through the Tote or in betting shops. Yet there is almost never any disorder or violence in racing. It is a sport that sets an example of fair play, good manners and decent crowd behaviour.

My second general point is that racing is an important British industry. It is not only a sport. By any measure, it employs more people, generates more revenue to the Exchequer, earns more foreign exchange than many of our better known and more troublesome industries. It also throws up and sustains hundreds of small businesses; for instance, vets, saddlers or vendors at the tracks. Racing is one of our success stories. Like agriculture, it does a first-class job, though perhaps it makes less noise about it.

In my constituency, the racing industry is the key to Newmarket's prosperity. The Bill will be followed with the greatest interest by large numbers of my constituents. We have other industries in Newmarket. Many people live there for reasons other than racing. But racing is still the primary source of Newmarket employment. It is, therefore, all the more fitting—if I may make a local point—that the local agent of the Jockey Club will shortly take his place on the Suffolk county council, if, as I hope, the electors of Newmarket are minded to put him there. It will be an appropriate way for racing to adopt the proper public profile that it has too long lacked in the area.

My third general point is that the life-blood of racing is prize money. Anyone who doubts that has only to read what I have always regarded as the Bible of horse racing, namely, the Benson report. British racing still lives under a serious financial handicap which the Bill may help to remedy. Thanks to the efforts of the levy board, prizes have greatly improved. I join my hon. Friend in offering congratulations and thanks to Sir Desmond Plummer, who has done a first-class job. It is also fair to say that the higher value of sterling, while it has not helped sales of bloodstock to foreign buyers, has certainly made our prize money, paid in pounds, much more attractive to overseas owners who campaign their horses in Britain. Unfortunately, however, while our prize money has improved, the costs of breeding and training have risen even faster. This, again, is partly due to VAT. Meanwhile, the prize money available in France and America, at least for the classics, continues to be, on average, nearly twice as high as it is in this country.

If racing is to flourish and to continue to provide jobs, to generate exports and to provide the Government with very large revenues, prize money must do more than keep pace with inflation. It needs to be greatly increased. One way in which this could be done, indirectly, would be for the Government to mitigate the effects of VAT. Another would be for the Treasury to return a larger share of its enormous take to the industry. It would not be appropriate for me to go into those points at this stage, although I may well raise them again in relation to the Budget. In the meantime, I believe that we can and should help the levy board at least to maintain and perhaps slightly to improve the amount of prize money available, by passing this important measure.

I turn to the two specific points about the Bill itself. The first which I have already directed in general terms to my hon. Friend I now put more directly to the Home Secretary. It concerns the safeguards for bookmakers. Like many of my hon. Friends who are to speak this morning, I have many bookmakers in my consttituency. In general they support the passage of the Bill—and rightly so. But, not surprisingly, some of them are a little apprehensive about how it will work. They are particularly concerned to ensure that adequate protection is provided for those among them who, because of changing circumstances, may not find it possible to meet the demands from the levy board for instalments at a given date and level. I need not go into all of the reasons why bookmakers' circumstances may change. Their income may go up or down. They may go out of business. They may move from one area to another. There may well be circumstances in which it is not easy for them and it is not just to ask them to meet in every particular the demands of the levy board.

The bookmakers will therefore seek to have safeguards built into the Bill. I understand from my hon. Friend that the levy board is sympathetic to the need for such safeguards. Indeed, its record in dealing with cases of hardship and the trading difficulties of individual bookmakers shows that that is the case. There can be no complaint about the manner in which the levy board has dealt with these matters. Nevertheless, for my part, I am at present persuaded that provision for safeguarding the bookmakers should be incorporated into the Bill itself. It is possible that in Committee I shall be persuaded otherwise by my hon. Friends, but at this stage I ask the Home Secretary when he replies to tell the House whether he, on behalf of the Government, believes that it would be wise to incorporate such safeguards in the Bill.

In conclusion, the advantage of the Bill to the levy board and, therefore, to the racing industry, lies in the security that it will provide for the board's cash flow. At a time of very high interest levels, cash flow is of crucial importance. It is not satisfactory for the board to have to wait until the end of the year to know exactly what its revenue will be, and thus to live in uncertainty as to whether its disposition of that revenue will lead it into deficit. Fortunately, in recent years—certainly since Sir Desmond Plummer took responsibility—relations between the board and the industry have been very good. Nothing could demonstrate this more clearly than the fact that a very large number of bookmakers—for the sake of brevity, I call them the good guys—have been willing to pay what is required on the basis of the current voluntary scheme. If, however—perish the thought—for one reason or another such voluntary co-operation were not to be forthcoming, the board's cash flow could dry up, thus placing the whole racing industry in jeopardy.

From the bookmakers' point of view, compulsory payment of levy in advance of assessment will mean above all else, that everyone—the good guys as well as the bad guys, if any there be—will be assisting racing on a common basis, rather than the burden falling only on those who are co-operative. Provided that the requisite safeguards are written into the Bill, I believe that this will be a much better arrangement for the bookmakers as well as for the levy board. Legal avoidance will be eliminated. The advantages in securing the levy board's income and in spreading the burden more fairly among bookmakers instead of placing the onus only on those who do not indulge in the practice of avoidance, will also be secured and make for greater equity.

It is salutary to note that a large number of hon. Members have come to the House on a Friday to give the Bill their support. I believe that that is a recognition of the importance of racing both as a sport and as an industry, and also a tribute to my hon. Friend for the manner in which he has placed this useful Bill before the House.

10.17 am
Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)

I shall be brief, as the main issues in the Bill have already been explained by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). I, too, should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman, first, on being successful in the ballot, and, secondly, on being prepared to bring forward in the Bill amending proposals to close the loophole in the 1963 and 1969 Acts. Anyone who is interested in racing will certainly welcome the Bill, because it is necessary to ensure proper development of the system of collection from bookmakers of the levy which is channelled into racing and on which the industry so heavily depends.

I shall not bore the House by going over ground covered in previous speeches, but a little more should be said about the function of the levy board. The Horserace Betting Levy Board was set up, following the legalisation of off-course cash betting, to collect a levy from bookmakers and a contribution from the Horserace Totalisator Board and to distribute it for the improvement of racing, veterinary education and science, and the breeding of horses. Since 1961, the levy board has financed racing generally to the extent of £97 million. More particularly, £2.9 million has been provided for veterinary education and science, £1.27 million for breeds of horses, and the remaining £92.83 million for the improvement of racing, which covers prize money, capital improvements to racecourses, racecourse integrity services and apprentice training.

It is important that the levy board should have sufficient funds to carry out its functions. Those of us who have taken an interest in racing over the years know that with the assistance of the levy board there has been a considerable improvement in the standard of racecourses up and down the country. It has made funds available for improvements. For example, the stable lads and lasses now have decent hostel accommodation on most courses. However, much still remains to be done. In addition, some of the smaller park courses need greater assistance from the levy board to develop stands and improve the conditions which the spectator at present has to put up with. If the funds are made available, I am confident that they will do just that in the future.

The Bill is necessary on two main counts—first, to ensure a steady flow of funds upon which the industry depends and, secondly, to regulate the system so that a minority of bookmakers cannot avoid payment of the levy and will be obliged to pay it on a current basis on account. The bookmaker will pay the levy by instalments during the year rather than once a year. That surely is in the interests of everyone concerned.

The vast majority of bookmakers have played the game. The Bill seeks to deal with the minority who have found loopholes in the regulations and the law as it stands at present. That is the Bill's main purpose.

About 100,000 people work in this industry. It is an industry. That figure includes 30,000 directly involved in the industry, such as stable lads, jockeys, trainers, racecourse staff and those who work on the administration of the industry. In addition, about 70,000 people work in the betting shops. Therefore, it is an important industry. I shall not make an issue of it today, but with nearly 2½million people without a job we should not jeopardise this industry through lack of funds.

This is an important Bill. It deserves a Second Reading. I hope that before the Summer Recess it will become the law of the land.

10.22 am
Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)

I am glad to be able to add my congratulations to my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). He has been fortunate in the ballot and he has put his luck to good use. I am confident that this measure will help the racing industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) spoke eloquently of Newmarket. By the same token, my thoughts this morning are very much on Salisbury racecourse. It is a course which normally ends the year with its balance sheet in credit, but for it like every other course, money is a critical factor. All of us know about the cost of repairs to stands, rails and all the rest. Moreover, Salisbury is more dependent than most courses on the weather. That is a factor which the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) referred to earlier.

We had a bad summer last year and the result was that the balance sheet was right on the margin between profit and loss. A cold, wet day means that no one will go to the course, but Salisbury racecourse is an enchanting place to visit on a fine, sunny day. There is always a light breeze as well as some excellent views of the cathedral.

Trainers also like the course. I am told that thanks to the fact that the final three or four furlongs are slightly uphill, they especially like the course for two-year-olds. They also like it as a good course to introduce a young horse to racing because it is high up on the downs and there is no traffic noise.

Above all, I cannot but be conscious of the history of the place. The longer an institution is in being, the keener I become to ensure its future. All of us know the story of Drake wishing to finish his game of bowls before engaging the Spanish Armada. However, it was a few weeks before that game of bowls that Queen Elizabeth I came to Salisbury to watch the racing. That was in the summer of 1588. The Queen clearly liked racing. She was good on a horse herself. Right up to the end of her life, she would ride 10 miles to a meet and hunt afterwards. She certainly knew a good racecourse when she saw it.

There was something of a parallel during the time of the Crimean war. The Secretary of State for War at the time was himself a Wiltshire Member. He still found time to get to Salisbury racecourse. In 1851, when the Russian threat was mounting, he was able to win five of the nine races at the two-day meeting. It was the same story with Palmerston, who was the Member for Cambridge University, in that he also won five races at a meeting at Salisbury racecourse. Members certainly had their problems in those days, and it is not for us to belittle them.

I hope that the Government Whip is listening. I suspect that in those days hon. Members were less troubled than we are by the demands of the Whips' Office. To hurry back to London after the last race at Salisbury in response to a three-line Whip, and to return to Salisbury for the second day's racing was, I sense, an experience with which our forebears did not have to contend very often.

I wish the Bill a speedy passage. I believe that it will enable the levy board to extend further help to our racecourses.

10.28 am
Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) on obtaining what appears to be general support for the principles and objects of his Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) was present earlier, and I think that he will be returning. He would like to be associated with my remarks. As the House will know, he was the Minister with responsibility for sport, and he is now the Shadow Minister with that responsibility.

The aims and objects of the Bill were the subject of considerable discussion in the Home Office under the Labour Government when for five years I had responsibility, among many other things, for horse racing. Although it was a closed world to me when I went to the Home Office, I think that I learnt a little about it and became interested in it, although I did not develop into a punter.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, like the present Administration, we suffered from a shortage of parliamentary time and were unable to introduce a Government Bill, although we were extremely sympathetic to the proposals in this Bill. We were aware of the need for all bookmakers, large and small, to make a fair contribution to the levy and to support the racing industry.

Horse racing has been described as the sport of kings, and its more glamorous and publicised features often present an image of its being an elitist sport confined to rich people. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) mentioned the activities of Members of Parliament. There was a time when, on Derby day, the House did not sit, in order that Members could go to the races and mix with the people.

Now, racing has a huge public. Although attendances have fallen, the total attendance by the public at racecourses in 1979 was over 4,105,000. They were watching 5,310 races. In addition, there is a huge audience on television, with betting taking place both on and off-course. Racing is an industry providing useful employment and good training opportunities. It is an important aspect of the life of the country.

Mr. Freud

For the sake of the record it should be pointed out that there are not 4 million people who go racing, any more than there are 1 million people who watch Halifax Town play football. It is the same few people who go over and over again who feature in the statistics.

Dr. Summerskill

I shall not get involved with my constituency at this point. Whether or not it is the same people or different people, the revenue is coming in, and that is the aspect of the business that we are concerned with in the Bill.

It is essential that the House should ensure that the levy board, upon which the whole sport of racing depends, should be adequately funded, and that its cash flow should be maintained. It is equally essential that the system whereby the levy board receives 90 per cent, of its total income—that is, through a levy from the bookmakers—should be both a fair and a workable system.

Mention has been made of the use of funds. As much as 69 per cent, of the funds of the levy board goes towards prize money, racehorse transport allowances, and assistance to racecourses. Less goes to assistance for other purposes, and only 3 per cent, goes towards veterinary science.

Assistance to racecourses is obviously an important factor, but I trust that the money will be spent as much upon facilities for the average racegoers as upon new grandstands for the wealthier spectators.

There is some concern also that too much levy money is being put into the big prizes for top-class races, at the expense of the bread-and-butter meetings. The Royal Commission on gambling reported: The punters who pay are mainly drawn from the lowest paid members of the community. The owners who would principally benefit from an increase in prize money are among the wealthiest. But it is the broad mass of punters who provide the levy and they should benefit from the levy expenditure.

Having made those points about the levy board, I wish to associate myself with the thanks and tributes that have been paid to Sir Desmond Plummer.

I should like to make one comment on the Jockey Club. Its representatives play an influential role as members of the Horserace Betting Levy Board. The Jockey Club is a private club and is an exclusive but powerful organisation, but its membership is extremely narrow, even though it has at last got round to admitting women as members. I hope that the Home Secretary will use his influence to encourage the club to develop a membership representative of a wider cross-section of people.

There are several important reasons why the Bill is necessary. I welcome the fact that legal levy avoidance will be eliminated; that the levy burden will be spread more fairly on bookmakers, instead of placing the onus on those bookmakers who did not indulge in the avoidance practice; and that the levy board's income will now be secured.

The Bill will not, I understand, be implemented straight away. Its provisions will not come into force for another two years, because the next two levies have already been agreed. But I trust that the board will be able to manage for that time.

I recognise that whereas some bookmakers have been co-operative and constructive in their response to the problems of the board and the needs of racing, a large number of the less public-spirited among them have been evading their responsibilities. Furthermore, the voluntary co-operation of the bookmakers could in theory always be withdrawn at any time, and the financing of racing could then be put at risk.

I should like to make some constructive criticisms of the Bill. Clause 1 is the crux of it. It deals with the bookmakers' levy scheme. The scheme and what is in it is really what this Bill is about, in that it will require bookmakers to make payments on account of the levy in advance of assessment of the levy. But I note that the Bill does not specify either the basis upon which a payment on account is to be determined or the times during the levy period at which the payments are to be made.

I appreciate that for these purposes different provisions may be made for different categories of bookmakers, but in this and other matters it appears that the scheme will still be largely a matter of a gentleman's agreement between the levy board and the bookmakers' committee.

The scheme's details will not be written into the legislation for all to see, but has it not been the case—I hope that the Home Secretary will answer this question, even if the promoter does not—that the present voluntary system of payments has been based on just such a gentleman's agreement, that the present voluntary system of payments has failed, and that that is why we have the Bill before us today?

It is because certain bookmakers have not co-operated in the voluntary scheme that we need the Bill. So, surely, if the Bill is to be both fair and workable, the system of payments for the future must not be vague. They must not rest on behind-the-scenes letters and undertakings but should be written down in black and white in the Bill for all to see.

That is really the essence of the criticisms that the bookmakers' committee has the make. I emphasise very strongly, however, that the bookmakers' committee wants to see this legislation on the statute book and that it strongly supports the1 principle of the legislation, but, if possible, it wants four safeguards to be written into the Bill. Those four safeguards appear to me to be extremely reasonable and sensible, and I feel that they should be incorporated in the Bill. If the Home Secretary and the promoter of the Bill support any or all of these four safeguards, perhaps they will explain why they should not be incorporated in the Bill for reasons of greater clarity and easier and fairer enforcement.

The promoter mentioned drafting problems. Perhaps he will say exactly what they are. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the parliamentary draftsmen to overcome them. This is not a terribly complicated Bill; on the contrary, it appears to be an extremely simple one.

The first safeguard that the bookmakers' committee would like to see is that the scheme shall not require any payment on account to be made before the completion of that part of the levy period in respect of which the payment is to be made. We understand that there in a letter in the background, giving assurances. I would not consider as adequate a letter that no member of the public or anybody outside this House has seen. Indeed, if the Home Secretary does not read the letter to us, even the House will not be aware of its contents. The second safeguard is that a bookmaker shall be able to appeal against the provisions of a notice of determination at any time throughout the year. That seems most reasonable.

The third safeguard is that the three Government-appointed members shall be required to consult the bookmakers' committee when an individual's determination is estimated by the three Government-appointed members before the start of the levy year. That is important, because we are entering a different scene. This legislation is different from the present Act in that it concerns what is going to be done rather than what has been done. Therefore, the members will be required to consult. There will be no "may consult", as at present. Finally, provision must be made for the levy board to be able to amend notices of determination, once issued, in the light of changing circumstances throughout the levy year. I suspect that the sponsor of the Bill is sympathetic to that safeguard, because he mentioned it.

We should like those safeguards to be included in the Bill in Committee, and we shall table amendments accordingly. We support the Bill. The bookmakers' committee strongly supports it. However, we should like those four safeguards to be included in the Bill in order to make it a fair and workable piece of legislation.

10.41 am
Mr. Michael Welsh (Don Valley)

I rise to support the Bill. I shall be brief, as it is a Private Members' day and no one wants to take more time than is necessary. I declare an interest, because I come from the Doncaster metropolitan district. The racecourse is owned by the local authority, and as a ratepayer it is only right that I should declare an interest in the Bill.

Doncaster's racecourse lies almost completely in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walker). However, a few yards of the course near the five furlong mark may fall in my constituency. This Bill can help Doncaster and racing. Doncaster is mainly known for the St. Leger, but it is also known for its chairman of the racecourse committee—who has been chairman for over 20 years—Mr. Albert Cammidge. When men such as councillor Cammidge support such a Bill, they are supporting racing and the areas in which it takes place. It is important that the Bill is not against bookmakers. Some countries do not have bookmakers and everything depends on the Tote. In Britain, bookmakers make the racecourses more colourful and enjoyable for those who participate.

The Bill is basically a tidying-up measure. Therefore, there can be very few objections to it. I am pleased that no objection has been lodged against the Bill, as it will help the levy board to gain its rightful deserts, which it can then distribute accordingly. The Bill will also help racing in places such as Doncaster. Racing is an event in which the family can participate.

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge the great contribution that the levy board has made in Doncaster? It has provided new hostel accommodation for the stable boys. In addition, I understand that accommodation for the stable girls will be improved.

Mr. Welsh

I had been about to mention that. We are very grateful to the levy board for the help that it has given us. It is not for me to say that Doncaster has one of the best racecourses—if not the best racecourse—in Britain. I leave that to others to judge. As a result of the great help that we have received, Doncaster can provide amenities for racegoers that it could not otherwise afford. As racing is a family event, there are swings and slides for children that they can play on while their parents are enjoying the racing. There are colliery brass bands which are paid to entertain people while they watch the races. As a result of the great help that the levy board has given, the stable lads and lasses have good accommodation.

Although I am not a member now, I was a member of the race committee for many years. I was one of those who discussed that accommodation. I am pleased that the work has gone ahead and that the lads and lasses will be provided with the high standard of accommodation that they deserve when they come to Doncaster to look after the horses. As the Bill helps racing, it will help Doncaster. It will also help those families who enjoy going to the races. On behalf of all racegoers and their families, I support it.

10.45 am
Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

Quite rightly, we have heard a good deal about the valuable work undertaken by the levy board. I join those who have paid tribute to the work done, in particular, by the chairman, Sir Desmond Plummer. All those interested in racing owe him a considerable debt of gratitude.

It was a great pleasure to be able to agree—for once—in general terms with the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). I warmly welcome the hon. Lady's support for the Bill. I shall continue the argument that she put forward to the effect that the levy board should not forget the smaller courses or the smaller owners, particularly in relation to steeplechasing. I do not think that the hon. Lady was right to assume that racehorse owners, particularly those who own steeplechasers, are very wealthy. Many of the owners are farmers who do a good deal of the preparatory work on their farms. They send the horse to a trainer only just before it starts racing.

For a long time I have been concerned about this less spectacular and perhaps less important end of the racing spectrum. It bears a relatively heavy burden, partly because of the inadequacy of prize money. I have never owned a "flat" racehorse, but I was once rash enough to own a successful hurdler. In the first year that I had it, it ran eight times. It won four times and was second on two occasions. That is not a bad record. However, the prize money did not begin to pay the trainer's bills, despite the fact that I minimised the amount of time that the horse spent in training. The levy board still has a certain amount to do at that end of the trade. However, I admit that it is not easy to make progress.

I wish to take up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). Not only does prize money go to all those concerned; as a result of the custom of sharing the prize money it goes indirectly through the owner to the trainer, to the lad who looks after the horse and the yard, and to the jockey. I am not against that, but it is an indirect method of distributing prize money more widely and it diminishes the amount that a small owner gets to help him pay the trainer's bill.

In considering the smaller courses, those of us who have ever been racing in France will have noticed a marked difference in the general attitude. That is due to a fundamental cause—that the French have always regarded racing as a town activity. As the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Welsh) will know, Doncaster racecourse is virtually in the town and French courses are designed to serve large towns. For the English, on the other hand, racing has developed where people used to exercise their horses. Racing has always been regarded, therefore, as a country activity, and if one is foolish enough to participate in winter one does not deserve much protection from the elements. Just as people who went hunting had to face the rain and those who went shooting had to face the snow, so those who went racing had to face the weather.

That has all been changed, and quite rightly so. The hon. Member for Don Valley said that racing had become much more of a family affair, but that depends on the ability of the levy board to help the racecourses make the necessary improvements throughout their enclosures.

Those are the two specialist sides of the levy board's work which the Bill gives me the opportunity to stress—the helping of the small owners, especially in steeplechasing, with prize money and in other ways, and the improvement of the smaller courses so that they can become more of a venue for a family outing which it is possible to undertake, even in winter, without undue exposure to the elements.

Most of the important points to be raised on the Bill have already been made, but I emphasise one other. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes mentioned co-operation between the bookmakers and the levy board. In an industry which includes gambling—gambling is not noted in all countries for being conducted with the utmost respectability and honesty—it is a tribute, both to the work of the board and to the bookmakers, that there is such a high degree of co-operation in making voluntary payments. The purpose of the Bill is to extend that throughout the industry and to all bookmakers without putting additional burdens on those who are co-operating already. Those aspects are important.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) mentioned the need for consideration of certain changes, including some of the safeguards asked for by the bookmakers. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes to consider those carefully, if only because all the operations of the levy board—its capacity to raise money from the bookmaking industry and, above all, to make a success of the changes included in the Bill—depend to some extent on the continuing good will of the bookmakers and the continuing high level of co-operation between them and the levy board. If such alterations can be made without weakening the whole purpose of the Bill, they will be sympathetically considered when the Bill is in Committee.

It is a great tribute to my hon Friend that he has introduced a measure which has succeeded in getting the agreement of all concerned—the levy board, the bookmakers, and both sides of the House.

10.53 am
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) is exceedingly fortunate in winning a high place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills. I wish that I were as fortunate. I am not imputing any dishonourable motives in Mr. Speaker's Department, but the law of averages does not seem to apply to me when it comes to drawing balls out of hats or boxes. Whether one should ask the Tote to organise the ballot—perhaps to improve my chances or not improve my chances—is a matter for debate. If I had been successful, I should not have introduced a Horserace Betting Levy Bill. I should have been tempted to introduce a greyhound racing betting levy Bill. That may not be the sport of kings, but it is a sport meriting far more attention than it has been given so far.

In deference to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White), who will later be introducing the important Homeworkers (Protection) Bill, I shall not speak at length. I regard the Homeworkers (Protection) Bill, on balance, as being more important to most of my constituents than this Bill. I hope that the Bill to develop tourism in Scotland also goes through swiftly. I should like to introduce a Bill to develop tourism in Walsall, which because of de-industrialisation is becoming more attractive. People are able to wander around where factories once stood in far less smoke than there used to be, thanks to the industrial policies of the Government. There is a big attendance in the House today and I hope that many will stay to support the Homeworkers (Protection) Bill.

I do not have an interest to declare. I am not being sanctimonious when I say that I do not gamble. I do not have moral objections, but I can do better things with my money than gambling. I visited Newbury about two years ago and I was relieved by the Tote of some of my hard-earned money and that reinforced my prejudice against spending money in that way.

I do not oppose the Bill. It is hardly epoch-making and surely any Bill that relieves the bookmakers of some of their money is to be welcomed and not opposed. I am not attacking the bookmakers. I am not the bookmakers' or the Tote's spokesman in the House, but I hope that the bookies will be consulted on any changes that may be made. They have a vested interest and should by right be consulted.

I support the concept of a levy and endorse the view that a levy should benefit all concerned and racing as a whole. The hon. Member for Devizes said that the levy percolates throughout racing. I wonder whether percolation is anything but a haphazard process and whether the money will go to all the right places. I see that in the nineteenth levy £10.34 million went in prize money. Many would; argue that that is not enough. I argue that in some ways it may be too much. Ordinary people are having their money transferred through the bookies to wealthy owners. I do not have a share- in a horse, a leg or even a smaller part of the anatomy, but no one forces a person to own a horse. I wonder whether alternative methods of financing might be found. I have heard it suggested that suitable sponsorship might be found for the classics. If money is to be spent, some of it must go into prizes. About a year ago I attended a greyhound meeting at White City and the first prize was about £50 in one race, so there is hardly big money in the prizes. Those who complain about prizes for horseracing should thank their lucky stars that they are not greyhound owners.

No one compels a person to be a racehorse owner. If money is to be allocated to various items, it could be better allocated than it is now. In the last levy £2¼ million was allocated for the integrity of racing. Goodness know that much is needed and more. Many punters are convinced that racing is bedevilled by non-triers and by betting coups and that the rules devised by bookies are squeezing punters and are only in the interests of bookies.

If money is to be spent on the integrity of racing, I hope that some of it will be spent on maintaining or improving the integrity of the Tote, because of the clear evidence of fraud and misappropriation of public money more recently revealed in the Tote's racecourse rails operation. Will the Home Secretary tell me whether there are to be any prosecutions? He is the Minister responsible for law and order. Some of the malpractices recently revealed should be properly investigated. I hope that we shall have a statement from the Home Secretary in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Walter Johnson

Because I thought that the issue of the Tote might be raised in this debate, I got in touch with it to find out just what its levy payments are. The much-maligned Tote, which my hon. Friend has been attacking for some time, pays a levy 25 per cent. higher than that of the largest bookmaker. That means that it voluntarily pays £300,000 a year more in levy than it needs to. Moreover, the Tote always pays levy on a current turnover basis. This shows it to be an example to the rest of the industry, rather than to deserve to have people denigrate it, as my hon. Friend is doing again today.

Mr. George

I do not denigrate the Tote per se. I have merely commented frequently on the way in which it is being organised. I have no intention of turning my contribution into a debate on the Tote. I have briefly alluded to what I regard as misappropriation and fraud. I have no intention of commenting on the gross inefficiency that pervades the operation of that important organisation.

Mr. Freud

But it has not committed rape or murder, as far as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr. George

Having moved away from that subject quickly, I add that I think that the levy must be distributed better than it is now. Only £300,000 goes to veterinary science. Far more could be put in. Although the hon. member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) eulogises the industry, I wonder whether more money could go to improve the pay and working conditions of stable lads and girls.

As one goes around the country talking to punters one hears a great deal about how money could be spent on improving what the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) called the seedy racecourses. I was pleased to hear that some of the good racecourses are municipally owned. They include Doncaster and Uttoxeter. Perhaps they could set an example to others that are struggling to maintain facilities.

I have just seen the Jockey Club and levy board "Blue Report", the blueprint for racing in the 1980s. In essence, as I see it, it means that those that have will have more, because money is going to the best. As someone who believes that it should not always go to the best, I wonder how much is going to courses such as Wolverhampton. I sought advice from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) about how good a course Wolverhampton was. I do not wish to embarrass with his reply my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) by repeating his assessment. She has already been embarrassed by comments on attendances at Halifax football club. Money could be channeled far more to the poorer racecourses to improve facilities there.

I understand that the levy board has loaned just over £3 million to Goodwood, which is not an impoverished racecourse. Those who use the new grandstand have a magnificent view. Each box has adjustable colour television, and I am told that there are exceedingly good catering facilities. Racegoers are saved the trouble of walking up as they can travel by lift. The stand was built with an interest-free loan of £3,025,000, repayable over 28 years. Many companies in my constituency would like to participate in a scheme that gave them £3 million repayable over 28 years, interest-free.

I wonder whether the levy board had any veto over the construction of the new stand. It appears that those who are not in the boxes have a worm's-eye view of what is going on. They may be able to see the one leg owned by the hon. Member for Devizes passing by. I wonder whether the money should be loaned exclusively to the elitist racecourses.

The Home Secretary's presence has given a seal of approval to the Bill. Not only is he supporting it, but he assisted in its conception. In the debate on the report of the Royal Commission on gambling, he said: I would be very ready to help a Private Member's Bill of this kind. Indeed, I would go even further. If I could be absolutely assured that a very simple Bill could be provided and that it would have the full suuport of all those concerned and of the House and that it would get through very quickly, I would be ready to move."—[Official Report, 29 October 1979; Vol. 972, c. 845.] There is clear evidence of widespread support. There is not a great deal of evidence of opposition. I do not want to oppose something that will bring a small but not insignificant benefit to racing as a whole.

I wish that some of the enthusiasm that the Secretary of State shows for the sport of kings could be transferred to greyhound racing. I have often proposed a proper levy scheme for the benefit of that important sport. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give similar encouragement to hon. Members to introduce a Bill to improve that sport, too. The Royal Commission on gambling denied that greyhound racing was a sport, but we have heard often today that racing apparently is an industry. Therefore, there is a strong moral and economic case for extending the concept of a levy to the sport of greyhound racing.

I support the Bill, which tilts the balance of power back to the levy board, something that must be supported. I hope that there will be time—if not in this Session, the next—for a Bill that deals not simply with one tiny aspect of the Royal Commission's report but with the many other aspects that cry out for legislation, aspects that are far more important in the public interest than that dealt with by the Bill before us. I hope that time can be given to legislate much more comprehensively instead of legislating piecemeal, as we seem to do so often.

I hope that the Bill will reach the statute book, but with amendments made in Committee. I hope that it will be for the benefit of racing—not simply a tiny minority of the racegoing public, but punters and racegoers in general.


Sir Timothy Kitson (Richmond, Yorks)

It is most encouraging when there is so much agreement and accord in the House over a Private Member's Bill. I join my colleagues in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrision) on being fortunate enough to draw a Private Member's Bill out of the hat. I have been trying for 21 years and have never been in the first 20. I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) that there does not seem to be much fairness in the system. I believe that those who have won in the past five years should be excluded, and then some of us would have a better chance.

One of the matters on which I disagreed with the hon. Member for Walsall, South was the channelling of money. It is often easy to criticise the fact that the levy board gives substantial sums to the larger courses. But it is a fair argument that where there are the large attendances, where there is the greater number of people, that is where the large amount of money should be spent.

If anybody stuck a pin in the most central place in the country for going racing, it would be in my house. That is fortunate for me. I have Catterick five miles away; Ripon and Thirsk about a quarter of an hour away; Wetherby 35 minutes away; York 40 minutes away; Stockton, Redcar and Beverley all less than an hour away; and Sedgefield not much further away. If one is prepared to make a long journey, one can reach Newcastle in an hour and 10 minutes. Not everybody is as fortunate as I am. In the past 20 years I have seen welcome improvements at nearly all of the smaller racecourses—small and helpful improvements, not the large and grandiose schemes that there are at York, Doncaster and Newcastle, but valuable improvements, which include better accommodation for stable lads.

My hon. Friend said that he was very fortunate in that the first horse of which he had a share—he said that he owned a leg—won a race.

Mr. Freud

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Aintree is probably as seedy as any racecourse in the country and that it receives more in ante-post bets and therefore contributes more to the levy than possibly any other racecourse?

Sir Timothy Kitson

That is a fair comment. a large percentage of the take for the levy board is raised on the days of the Derby and the Grand National. People all over the country who have little or no interest in racing like a bet on the Grand National and a bet on the Derby. One of the tragedies of Aintree has been the management which have, allowed the racecourse to deteriorate. I can see all the problems of trying to buy it from the levy point of view.

Because the Grand National is so much a part of British life, I hope that a method will be found to retain it. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, one often wonders, from the top of the stand, when there is a large crowd, whether one will fall down before the last horse jumps over the fence. The conditions are appalling. I should like to see an improvement. It must be difficult, however, to justify spending a large amount on a racecourse where racing takes place on only four days a year. This is one of the problems that faced the levy board when it considered the position of Aintree.

I had intended to be brief, but I have been carried away a little by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I have a comparable story to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, who said that the first leg of a horse that he owned won. I was suffering with jaundice when a trainer telephoned me to say that he had a horse, very cheap, which would win in a week and which I would then be able within a fortnight to sell to Trinidad for three times the amount I had given for it. I remarked that I could not afford to miss this chance. I bought the horse. It won at Catterick. It was sold for three times the price paid for it. It went to Trinidad. I regret to say that it never won another race. I have been trying to emulate that achievement on a much smaller scale ever since that without any great success.

I should like to say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that one of my disappointments is that a Private Member has had to introduce the Bill. It would have been better if the Bill, which is amending legislation, tidying up Government legislation, had been introduced in Government time. As all hon. Members know, however, Government programmes are always so full of legislation that there is never time to do anything.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Too full.

Sir Timothy Kitson

Too full, as my hon. Friend says. It is important, as hon. Members have stressed, that we get this legislation through the House to ensure that the financial position of the levy board is guaranteed in a responsible manner. The bookmakers are to be congratulated on helping the levy board in the last couple of years to ensure that it did not face serious cash flow problems, which would have meant that large sums of money, destined for the racing industry, were spent on servicing bank overdraft facilities. It is creditable that the bookmaking industry has assisted in this matter.

What is fair for one bookmaker is fair for another. It is, therefore, necessary to approve this legislation to ensure that everyone is treated in the same manner. I believe that £750,000 was paid back to bookmakers last year to service the money that had virtually been paid in advance. That will be a benefit and will remain in the racing industry if we are successful in getting the legislation through the House. There will be some advantages in passing the legislation to ensure that a little more money goes into the racing industry. All those interested in racing feel that it gets a pretty paltry sum compared with France, Australia, America or even Hong Kong. It is sad that a larger sum does not go into racing to improve the facilities that are needed.

It has been argued that money goes to rich racehorse owners. The fact is that the finances of the industry are not in a good condition. The prize money is not comparable to that of many of our competitors. It would be much better if prize money represented a larger slice of the cake and the Government took a little less.

Many alterations have occurred in racing in the 20 years since the original legislation was brought to the House. There has been the growth of betting shops. There has been the innovation of lady jockeys. Much greater efforts have been devoted to racecourse security, together with many general improvements. It is necessary now for us to pass this legislation so that the levy board may continue, under the leadership of Sir Desmond Plummer, to whom many hon. Members have paid compliments, to do the job that it was given to do 20 years ago.

I welcome the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing it forward. I am delighted that it seems to have the general accord and approval of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

11.15 am
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I am grateful for this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) on having drawn fifth place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills and, more particularly, on having decided to use this opportunity to introduce what I think the whole House feels is a short but nevertheless valuable Bill. Some hon. Members will know that I had hoped, like my hon. friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson), that the Government could have found time in their own legislative programme to introduce a Bill along these lines or, even better, as the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) stated, to have included these provisions in a comprehensive gambling Bill giving effect also to some of the useful recommendations of the Rothschild Commission.

In the event, it was not possible for the Government to find time for either Bill in the present Session. I can only remark to those who wish otherwise that it is easy for any hon. Member to say that he wants legislation on a particular subject but less legislation overall in the Government programme. The Government are not in that happy position. They have to choose what goes into the programme and to keep it within bounds. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) is anxious that we should adopt this approach.

I am particularly pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes should have decided to introduce this Bill now. It is right that this matter should be dealt with as soon as possible. I am glad that the Bill has strong support on both sides of the House. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who had responsibility for racing in the Labour Government, for her support, in principle, for the Bill. I shall be dealing with some of the points that she made.

Against the background of this debate, hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that the Government fully support the objectives of the Bill and hope to see it on the statute book. The cynics wil perhaps say that my personal presence on a Friday would seem to indicate that this was likely and that if the Government had not been so favourable towards the Bill, I would have left the matter to one of my Ministers to come and tell the House that it could not have the Bill. I came myself not for that reason but because I believe it is important for the racing industry, which I strongly support for the part that it plays in our national life.

The Bill should also enjoy the support of all those who love racing and who wish to see it continue to play such an important part in the economic and social life of this country. This is because the aim of the Bill is simply to ensure that British racing continues to be able to rely on income from the betting levy and that the machinery devised for collecting that levy should operate as effectively and fairly as possible.

The financial needs of horse racing are considerable. These needs, it should be said, are met entirely by those who love racing and betting. Our racing industry employs nearly 100,000 people and brings great pleasure to the more than 4 million who attended race meetings last year, as well as to the countless others who enjoy racing through the media and in the betting shops. The depth of the quality of our bloodstock is still the envy of the world and attracts great overseas interest. In addition, British horse racing—through the betting which takes place on it—makes a substantial contribution to the Exchequer. In the year 1979–80 alone, more than £272 million was collected in betting duty on horse racing.

The purpose of this Bill is to ensure that racing continues to be able to support itself as effectively and fairly as possible. It will achieve this by strengthing the existing machinery through which the industry taps its own resources to meet its own financial needs. I refer, of course, to the annual levy scheme established under the Betting Levy Act of 1961 as consolidated in the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963.

Here, as Home Secretary, I add my thanks and congratulations to the levy board, under the outstanding chairmanship of Sir Desmond Plummer, for what it has done to help the racing industry and for the way in which it has allocated the funds made available to it through the levy. There was some evidence of its success in the number of hon. Members who thought, very properly, to use this debate as the occasion to advance specific ideas about how the money should be spent. No doubt Sir Desmond Plummer and the betting levy board will consider those claims very carefully.

The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson), my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury, the hon. Member for Walsall, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, all spoke about how the money should be used. I notice too, that my hon. Friend for Salisbury advocated the great attractions and advantages of Salisbury racecourse, in his constituency. He also commented on the weather in Salisbury in a vein which those of us from the far North of England found surprising. I could suggest some competitors in the weather stakes. My hon. Friend may talk like that, but I do not wish to, for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, it is very important that this House should have the opportunity to express these views, and I know that the betting levy board will welcome them greatly.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes has already explained with commendable clarity and lucidity, under the existing legislation the Horserace Betting Levy Board and representatives of the bookmakers sitting as the bookmakers' committee agree between them an annual scheme for collecting a levy contribution to be used for the improvement of racing, veterinary education and science and breeds of horses. The essence of these arrangements and the reason why, on the whole, they have worked so well is that they are the product of a joint agreement between the bookmakers who contribute the annual levy and the board responsible for collecting and spending it in the interests of racing as a whole.

The Horserace Totalisator Board is not directly concerned with these arrangements as its levy contribution is determined by a separate procedure.

Mr. Freud

Does the right hon.Gentleman accept that, whereas the decision is a joint one, the bias is so vastly in favour of one organisation that there are six representatives of the levy board and only one from the bookmakers, who provide all the money, and that much misery is caused thereby?

Mr. Whitelaw

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. However, it is a rather surprising statement that much misery is caused thereby. In any event, these are matters which can properly be discussed in more detail in Committee.

It is for the reason that I was describing that this Bill does not apply to the board. The hon. Member for Walsall, South appreciated that and said that he did not propose to refer to the Tote because it was not relevant to the Bill. However, he went on to talk about misappropriation and fraud in that organisation. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that that is not exactly not referring to that organisation, to put it mildly. It is not for me to continue this argument at that moment. All that I say about the Tote, as the hon. Member for Derby, South said in an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, South, is that it should be noted with satisfaction that, under its present chairman, the Tote has made contributions to racing which increased from about £400,000 in 1976–77 to more than £1.5 million in the last financial year.

It is only when the two sides are unable to agree on a levy scheme that the Government, in the person of the Home Secretary, is brought into these arrangements. I am happy to say—and this is some answer to the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr Freud)—that this has occurred on only three occasions since these arrangements began, and never since I have been at the Home Office. When it happens, it falls to the Home Secretary to determine the scheme for that year, either by introducing a new scheme or by continuing or modifying the scheme then in operation.

This Bill does not alter the arrangements by which the levy is agreed or determined. It will still be for the bookmarkers and the levy board to decide between them haw best to collect the levy, and, on what I hope will continue to be the rare occasion on which they canot agree, it will still fall to the Home Secretary, in default of agreement, to determine the scheme and to ensure that racing has the money it needs when it needs it.

This Bill simply enlarges the framework within which these levy schemes may be agreed. It increases the options open to the bookmakers and the levy board when considering the kind of enforceable levy scheme they wish to introduce. Let me explain in a little more detail what I mean.

Under the present law, a levy scheme may provide for only one levy assessment to be raised against each bookmaker in respect of each levy year. Such an assessment, when based on turnover—which has been found to be the most satisfactory basis—can, as a matter of practice, be made only in respect of trading figures which are actually known; that it to say, after the end of a year's trading. But, since enforceable liability to pay levy arises only from the assessment itself, this means that, under the existing law, enforceable payments cannot be required in respect of the current year's trading because the assessment in respect of that year's trading can be made only when the year has come to an end. For this reason, levy schemes were originally based on the turnover in the previous year. But that meant that the basis of liability depended on the fact of trading in the current year but on the turnover figure of a previous year.

This separation between current trading and previous turnover opened the door to a form of avoidance. To overcome this, it was decided to shift the basis of schemes to current turnover. This, however, meant that final liabilities could be determined only after the end of the year to which the scheme related. To prevent the loss of a full year's levy, instalments on account in advance of the final assessment were needed. But such advance payments could not be made enforceable under the existing law.

I want to stress the word "enforceable" because, as some hon. Members have said, a levy scheme involving advance payments in anticipation of a final, formal assessment of levy liability has been operating on a voluntary basis for the past two years. But this scheme has worked only because a relatively small number of bookmakers had agreed to make these advance payments and because the board had made it worth their while doing so by agreeing to pay interest on these payments. Under the eighteenth scheme, which covered the year 1979–80, £730,000 in interest was paid by the board to bookmakers.

As hon. Members will appreciate, these voluntary arrangements have meant that, over the past two years, the levy board has been entirely dependent for its finance on the good will of a limited number of bookmaking firms which have been willing to make advance payments on a purely voluntary basis. These firms have been carrying a burden which, I agree with my hon. Friend for Richmond, Yorks, should have been shared by all.

Under this Bill, if the two sides agree that a levy scheme should involve advance payments on an instalment basis, all bookmakers would have to bear their fair share of these advance payments. That is because, under the Bill, such a scheme would be enforceable through the courts. This would provide the levy board with a secure basis on which to plan its expenditure throughout the year. I am grateful to the House and all hon. Members concerned for the way in which they have supported that principle and the value of it.

The Bill will not affect the basic arrangement by which the annual levy scheme is agreed by both sides or, failing that, is determined by the Home Secretary. I understand however, that some bookmakers have expressed a fear—as the hon. Member for Halifax and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) said—that by extending the framework within which levy schemes can be agreed, the Bill makes it possible for me to determine a scheme which would require them to pay the whole of a year's advance payments in one lump sum at the beginning of the year. I understand also that they would like the Bill to prohibit my doing that. That was mentioned by the hon. Member for Halifax. This and other matters can be discussed in Committee. However, I do not think that this difficulty could easily be resolved in principle by putting it in the Bill, because it is best left and needs to be left to be agreed in the scheme, which is negotiated by the parties. That point is important, and I am sure that the Committee will consider it carefully.

However, I want to reassure the House, as my hon Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds asked, that any such scheme would not be supported, let alone advocated, by the levy board. The chairman of the board has written to me on behalf of the full board giving a firm undertaking, without pre-empting what Parliament may decide in considering this Bill, that the board will not seek to incorporate into levy schemes, under which the turnover in the levy period itself forms the basis of levy liability, any provision which would require bookmakers to make a payment in advance of the business to which that payment relates. I think that the following will answer the hon. Lady's question. Sir Desmond Plummer made it clear in his letter to me that: instalments in respect of business in a particular month would be due for payment at the end of that month and not at the beginning". I welcome Sir Desmond's undertaking. I am sure that it will remove any fears which bookmakers may have that the levy board might be tempted to seek to use the increased flexibility provided by this Bill to demand payments in advance of business done.

As far as my responsibilities as Home Secretary are concerned, I can, of course, speak only for myself. But I cannot imagine any future Home Secretary determining a scheme in the event of a dispute without taking full account of the commitment which the levy board has now given to me and without taking full account also of what Parliament has said about these matters in the course of the Second Reading of the Bill today.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am sure that what the Home Secretary has said will go a long way towards putting at rest many of the anxieties which have been expressed. Does he agree that the matter would be more acceptable if the Bill required consultation with the bookmakers' committee rather than saying that the board may have such consultation? If the Bill said that it should or that it must have such consultation, it would be much easier to accept the assurances to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.

Mr. Whitelaw

Any such points are for my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes and for the Committee. That matter should be considered and no doubt it will be.

My next point was mentioned by the hon. Member for Halifax and by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes. I understand that the bookmakers have asked that the Bill should make provision for a notice of determination to be varied in the course of a levy year, in accordance with an agreed levy scheme, so as to reflect a significant change in a bookmaker's circumstances. Contrary to what I said about the previous point, it would be appropriate for the Bill to permit that, if that is what my hon. Friend would like. I understand that he has it in mind to introduce such an amendment in Committee. If that is so, I assure him and the Committee that the Government would support that.

The other points raised by the hon. Member for Halifax should be considered by the Committee. I hope that the clear assurance which I have given on one of the points will be welcomed.

By strengthening and extending the arrangements by which British racing finances itself, the Bill will ensure the continued prosperity of an industry which plays an important role in our national way of life. Everone would agree that it gives great pleasure to many people. I was pleased to hear the support which was given by all hon. Members to my hon. Friend's Bill. I once more congratulate him on having introduced the Bill, which will do great good to the racing industry and which, at the same time, has commanded general support in the House. On that basis, I strongly commend the Bill to the House.

11.36 am
Mr. Edward du Cann (Taunton)

My hon. friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) has asked me to wind up the debate on his behalf and to comment on some on the points which have been made. As a sponsor of the Bill and as one of his supporters, I am more than pleased to attempt to do so.

On behalf of my hon. Friend, and I am sure of the House as a whole, may I say how much the presence of the Home Secretary is appreciated today? As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) said, it has been a disappointment that we have not been able to obtain legislation from the Government in this matter. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) referred to that. There is no one, especially among those who have been privileged to serve in the Government in the past, who does not appreciate the enormous pressure on the Government's legislative time. It is all the more satisfactory, therfore, that my hon. Friend should have chosen this measure and has repaired an omission. It is splendid that the Home Secretary should come to the House on a Friday to speak on the Bill. It is good to see my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport here. His presence is also greatly appreciated.

As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary rightly said, this is a short but valuable Bill. I think that it would be the wish of the House that it should be put on the statute book at the earliest opportunity. We do not want to waste any time, if we can avoid it. It is important to remark, as the Home Secretary did, that the debate has been characterised not only by some significant speeches but by a unanimity which, alas, is somewhat rarer when we debate matters in this Chamber.

I should like to pay tribute to those who have spoken. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) made one of the most amusing beginnings to a speech that I have heard. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who is privileged to have the headquarters of British racing in his constituency, spoke well about what racing means to all of us in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson), as always, made a notable contribution. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton) has a keen historic ear. The hon. Member for Halifax made a most constructive speech. I shall comment on some of the matters to which she referred. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Welsh), my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks made some interesting remarks on matters about which they were particularly concerned, not least local matters as referred to by the hon. Member for Don Valley.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) referred to some interesting general matters. The intervention of the hon. Member for Derby, South in the hon. Gentleman's speech was particularly effective.

There has been unanimity about several matters. The first was congratulations to my hon. Friend the Minister for Devizes, in which I would join, on his success in obtaining so high a place in the Private Members' stakes, on choosing a sensible measure to introduce, and, not least, on the excellent and clear speech that he made.

There has been unanimity about the important part that racing plays in the British economy. There are many contributors to that. I am glad that the Jockey Club received favourable mention. It does not often get the credit that it deserves. It was interesting also to notice how many hon. Members referred to the dependence of this great industry on the public, without whose support there would be no racing.

Finally, and by no means least, there has been unanimity on the excellent work done by the Horserace Betting Levy Board, so ably led by its most competent chairman, Sir Desmond Plummer. The purpose of the Bill is to try to allow the board better to do the job which Parliament placed upon its shoulders some time ago—to improve the quality of racing in the United Kingdom for the ordinary racegoer. The work that it does follows certain clear patterns—improvement of courses, breeding and veterinary work.

It is remarkable that the board spent almost £100 million over the last 10 years. That is a great sum of money and it is a great achievement to have spent it so well. The hon. Member for Halifax raised particular questions about this, as did the hon. Member for Walsall, South. I agree that it is possible always to question the allocation of funds—we all have our priorities. Personally I should like 100 per cent. of the money that the board has available to go to two causes which I hold dear—animal health, and racing in the West Country—but, of course, it cannot be like that. We all have our priorities—whether it is animal health or accommodation for stable lads, about which so much is now being done. What matters overall is that we improve standards.

It is well worth taking a moment to consider the nineteenth report of the board to see what is done in two particular respects. The first is prize money. This year the amount was £8.85 million. Next year it will be about £10 million.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Not enough.

Mr. du Cann

As so often, my hon. Friend is entirely right. It is not enough, and it would be splendid if more could be allocated, but it is not an inconsiderable sum.

What is remarkable about the list of where the money goes is the wisdom with which the board has been able to make its allocation. Of course, substantial sums go to the group 1 courses. We need substantial amounts of prize money there if we are to compete internationally. The group 2, 3 and 4 courses on the "flat" include such courses as Bath, Beverley, Chepstow, Hamilton Park, Leicester, Nottingham, Pontefract, Windsor, Yarmouth, Carlisle, Catterick, Edinburgh, Folkestone, Stockton, Warwick and Wolverhampton. It must be admitted that the board's jam is widely spread.

When it comes to jumping, leaving out the group 1 and 2 courses, group 3 and 4 include Catterick, Folkestone, Huntingdon, Leicester, Market Rasen, Nottingham, Plumpton, Stratford, Uttoxeter, Warwick, Wincanton, Windsor, Wolverhampton, Worcester, Bangor-on-Dee, Carlisle, Cartmel, the Devon and Exeter—a splendid course—Fakenham, Hereford, Hexham, Kelso, Ludlow, Perth, Sedgefield, Southwell, Stockton, Taunton—perhaps the finest of all—and Towcester. It is splendid that the board is doing its utmost to ensure that courses all over the United Kingdom are helped.

I have an interest to declare as a director of the racecourse at Taunton. We have 11 meetings a year. Usually, up to four of them are rained off. It is a hard job keeping these little courses going and my experience is that we could not have had more help than we have had from the board. It does an admirable job with great conscientiousness and skill.

We have heard about the improvements at Goodwood and the report gives details of the £70,0000 spent on improvements for stable lads at Doncaster. At Folkestone, Fontwell, Hereford, Taunton, Uttoxeter and many other courses, £770,000 has been spent on minor improvements. I do not think that the board does a bad job.

It is always possible to question an allocation, but what is needed is to improve the standards everywhere. It is all very well being a little envious of Goodwood or some other course, but it is essential in the general interest to ensure that the best in the United Kingdom is equivalent to the best in the world.

We can all agree or disagree about how the cash should be spent. The point is first to get the cash; that is what the Bill is all about. Many other countries rely exclusively on the Tote. They have off-course Tote monopoly systems. In the United Kingdom, we have a mixture—the Tote and the bookmakers. We have a system of levy to raise money and channel it into racing. It is essential that that system should be effective. That is what the Bill is all about. It is exactly in the spirit of the old Betting Levy Act 1961 and the Acts of 1963 and 1969, which give effect to these arrangements.

I have always taken the view that no legislation is so good that it will not require re-examination and possible amendment at some time in the light of experience. That is what we are at today. We have discovered that the system is not working perfectly and it is appropriate that it should be amended. Equally, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, who has taken such trouble over the Bill, to discuss it with the interested parties and get it right, will not mind my saying that no Bill is perfect either.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely mentioned the representation of bookmakers and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds mentioned hardship. The hon. Member for Halifax mentioned a series of matters. It was extremely helpful to hear what the Home Secretary had to say by way of general comment, from his great experience arising out of his substantial responsibilities.

I should like to say on my hon. Friend's behalf that he made a careful note of the points raised by the hon. Member for Halifax. They follow those made in public by the bookmakers and were clearly reported in the issue of The Sporting Life for 10 February. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary put it exactly right when he said that all these matters were appropriate for consideration in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes suggests that we should study exactly what has been said. He will give all views careful consideration in Committee. If he is able to meet the wishes of right hon. and hon. Members, he will do so.

The situation has been bad because the original legislation plainly was defective and there has been the possibility of avoidance. Complete avoidance would be wholly unacceptable. It is not satisfactory that the Horserace Betting Levy Board can be without income unless voluntary payments are made. It cannot be satisfactory that it can pay out interest amounting to £730,000. That amount of money could be more usefully employed.

I am shocked at what I have heard in the House today. Hon. Members have described the way in which the bookmakers—my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds calls them the good guys—are contributing. About 1,700 bookmakers, or one-third of the total, are contributing a large sum of money, which amounts to 65 per cent. of the levy, on a voluntary basis. However, it is unsatisfactory that two-thirds of the bookmakers are not contributing.

It must be right to endeavour to establish a system which is fair to all bookmakers. It must be appropriate to make some revision of the present unsatisfactory scene. I support most strongly my hon. Friend's aim to put the levy on a secure footing. That must be in the interests of the industry and therefore in the interests of the public.

If an early cash flow can be assured for the board through advance payments by bookmakers, the board will no longer be dependent entirely on good will. It should not be, and it is wrong that it is. Because of the good work that the board does, it is essential that its income is regular and certain. It is essential that the whole of the income available to the board should be used.

The list of people who want commitments to be made is long. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds said that more prize money is needed and that improvements are needed here, there and everywhere—at every racecourse in the country. Much more needs to be done. If the hon. Members for Derby, South and for Walsall, South and others want racing to continue, if it is right because it is an ancient sport in our nation that we should do all that we can to encourage and help the sport, it is insufficient merely to go along with the present arrangements.

Everything has to be worked at all the time. We live in an era of rapid change. This modest attempt to bring the law up to date is a splendid example which the House could follow in other respects. I hope that the House will give the Bill an immediate and enthusiastic Second Reading.

11.53 am
Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) for not realising that he was about to reply to the debate. If I had realised that, I would have tried to make my speech much earlier.

Having sponsored two successful Private Members' Bills, it would be wrong for me not to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). There is a racecourse in my constituency, and I have been left in no doubt about how important the Bill is for the well-being of that course. It is not one of the most luxurious courses in the country. Over the years attempts have been made to close it. Thanks to the help of Sir Desmond Plummer and his associates, the course has been maintained.

Our racecourses are a tourist attraction. Many of the more important owners are diffident about sending horses to Folkestone because they say that it is at the end of the road and a long way from training centres. It is now becoming a more popular course and a better class of horse races there. One often hears about the result of races at Folkestone on television. I have never backed a winner at Folkestone so I cannot go into that in detail.

Courses such as that at Folkestone need a good deal of improvement. We hope that in the next few years the Channel tunnel will be built. If it is built according to the current plans, one of the entrances will be close to Folkestone racecourse. That could bring many tourists from the Continent to visit the racecourse. However, compared with the courses in France, Folkestone is a joke. It is important to have a course which will attract the tourist trade. That would also benefit hotels in the area. Our roads from London have been improved and we hope that they will be further improved. I support the Bill with all my heart because I think that it will belp my constituency.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).