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I said that our reserves are held in high regard. From what has been said in this debate, I believe that all of us agree that we are fortunate to have such a body of dedicated men and women. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, they are an important link between the armed forces and the community at a time when an increasing proportion of the community has no direct experience of military life. They stand ready to provide vital support to our regular forces in times of crisis and are eager to do so. That is why this Bill is important. It enables the flexible employment that these committed personnel seek in order to play a full part in our future operations. This is a Bill which meets today's needs and which is welcomed by those it addresses. I commend it to the House.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is the first order of its kind to be made under the new powers in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. It represents a significant improvement in our ability to bring forward speedy legislation to ease the regulatory burdens on industry. In bringing the order before the House, the Government are fulfilling the commitments given during the passage of the Bill to give priority to deregulatory measures to assist the greyhound industry.
Turning to the detailed contents of the order, Articles 1 and 2 provide for the interpretation, territorial extent and commencement arrangements for the order. It will automatically come into force 28 days after it is made. We hope to be able to implement the order early in the new year so as to enable the greyhound industry to derive maximum benefit from the deregulatory changes. The order extends to Scotland, but not to Northern Ireland which has its own controls.
Article 2 will allow the use of permanent betting structures on greyhound tracks. Such use will only be allowed on days when the public are admitted to the track to attend racing. This is to ensure that this concession is not used to undermine the wider requirements of the system for licensing premises used for conducting betting transactions. Similarly, the types of events on which betting may take place via on-track structures is limited to events at other tracks, so as to preserve the viability of the on-course betting market. The restriction on track owners having a financial interest in such permanent structures is also lifted.
The ban on tracks taking bets in advance of the day of the race is removed by Article 4. This will be of benefit to the industry and will facilitate the introduction of inter-track betting which is covered in Article 5.
The order provides for the operation under licence, of inter-track betting schemes--that is the linking of computerised totes so that punters can place their bets into pools on races held at other licensed tracks. The detailed arrangements for the control and licensing of this type of betting by local authorities is set out in Schedule 1 of the order. This is perhaps the most significant measure in the order, enabling the industry to take advantage of technology to create bigger pools for the benefit of punters. Greyhound promoters have banded together to form a company to administer this scheme and will be applying to the Bristol local authority for a licence as soon as these provisions come into force.
The supervisory regime for this form of betting is via the approval by the local authority of a specific scheme drawn up by the inter-track operator. This scheme is required to set out operational details such as the arrangements for the pooling of bets, security of equipment and other related matters. The scheme is also specifically required to meet the criteria of affording reasonable protection to customers placing bets. The licensing authority is empowered to refuse a licence application if the scheme does not provide adequate protection for punters against potential fraud or equipment failure. The criteria for the grant of a licence also include tests of the applicant's fitness and propriety
The schedule also provides for oversight of the operation of the scheme by a local authority-appointed accountant who must consider information supplied by the inter-track operator and who has rights of access and inspection to all relevant records and equipment. The accountant has to report any irregularities or breaches of the scheme to the licensing authority. Provision is made for revocation of an operator's licence if the licensing authority considers that the operator is no longer a fit and proper person to operate the scheme or that he is not capable of ensuring compliance with the terms of the scheme.
The order provides for a five year renewable licence and empowers the local authority to set and recover fees for the grant and continuance of the licence. Article 6 allows track operators to have an interest in bookmaking at their own tracks, but only in respect of events taking place at other venues. Article 7 relaxes certain of the requirements controlling the operation of single track totes. In particular, consumer protection is improved by requiring that the statutory notices giving customer information are displayed in all tote betting areas.
A number of other changes are also made. The statutory ceiling on the level of deductions a tote operator may make from bets is removed (but as I have said, the charges must be displayed). New provision is made for the rounding of tote dividends.
A sensible change, which has been commended in this House in earlier debates, is the removal of the requirement that local authority accountants must attend tracks in person when the tote is operated. I am sure the accountants will be pleased to be freed from the burden of having to give up their evenings and Sundays to attend the tracks. This requirement dates back to the early days of totalisators and has been made redundant by the advent of computerised totes. This is exactly the sort of unnecessary burden on industry which the deregulatory power was designed to remove.
The order represents a significant modernisation of the controls on betting at greyhound tracks. It will enable track operators to improve the range of betting opportunities to customers. The industry will be freed of many of the outdated controls and the whole sport will benefit from a freer commercial climate. I commend this order to the House.
Lord Newall: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for introducing the order. In so doing, I must declare my interest, having been chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board for over 10 years. It is, of course, a non-profit making organisation representing the industry, and I am very proud to represent it today.
Some think that greyhound racing is still a cloth cap entertainment. However, it now covers all aspects of society, people from all walks of life. There are a large number of solid, lower-paid people but the audience continues upward to a great number of diners sitting at tables behind glass, watching the racing, enjoying excellent dinners and making discreet wagers on the estimated order of dogs passing the winning post. This, of course, is known as betting; and now it will be easier to lose your money if you so wish.
Greyhound tracks are very smart places to be, and a great many charities use the restaurants to make money for their charities. It is definitely family entertainment, especially on Sundays. That is not only true of London. Tracks such as Wimbledon, Walthamstow, Hackney and Wembley, about which people may know, all have excellent facilities. So also do many provincial tracks--a total of 37 in all.
So much for the advertising, my Lords. The order is an important step forward. As my noble friend the Minister said, it is a new measure. However, it is only a first step which I hope will soon lead to horse racing and greyhound racing having the same starting point. The horse racing industry and ourselves agree on many issues. And the racing world as a whole hopes for further easing of restrictions. I took two Private Member's Bills through this House in 1979 and 1984. They became Acts in 1980 and 1985. Their purpose was to ease the strict and unnecessary regulations on greyhound racing.
Over the past 10 years the industry has been most grateful to the Home Office for its co-operation and understanding, although in earlier years it allowed us only small crumbs and titbits as regards what we wanted. Today we have good news. The Chancellor has listened to our pleas and has reduced betting tax by a further 1 per cent. That should bring in a considerable amount of extra money to the industry to pay for improvements in integrity, safety, homing of greyhounds, prize money and the good of the whole industry which has been so strapped for cash for so long. We thank the Chancellor very much.
Today's order will also make an enormous difference to the greyhound industry which is, after all, the second largest spectator sport after football. I offer my congratulations to the Government for their initiative in arranging the new procedure and to the Members of both Houses who made up the deregulation committees. The greyhound industry welcomes the order emphatically, especially as it is the very first one.
Lord Airedale: My Lords, we have heard reference to the "totalisator". If you have a machine which adds up, and do not wish to call it an "adder" for fear that it might be confused with the poisonous snake, you might, I suppose, call it a "totaller". To call it a "totaliser" would be superfluous. To call it a "totalisator" is grotesque.
We on this side look upon this first essay into what deregulation means with appreciation. One starts from the basis that the regulations which are being deregulated were at one time seen as necessary. At some stage the Government, prompted by industry or individuals, made regulations because they felt that they were fit and proper at the time. We now have the first essay by Parliament to remove from legislation matters which the Government believe are extraneous or even injurious to the industry. The noble Lord, Lord Newall, has the great respect not only of the industry but also of this House. He stated fairly that the industry would benefit from the order and we, who take an interest in the subject, not only see nothing wrong in it but also a great deal that is right.
The Government are to be congratulated not only on their first attempt to make the legislation understandable and digestible, but also for the fact that they listened to the pleas and the case made for various amendments. I am glad that the Government did that.
From my limited knowledge of the benefits that will flow from the order, I can see that the inter-track betting aspect will be of great use to those who enjoy the sport. I shall certainly not stand at this Dispatch Box and welcome the liberalising of the betting regime with its encouragement for more people to spend more money on betting. There are good illustrations of problems--for example, the National Lottery--where one needs to be exceedingly careful because a good idea may run away with itself. There are consequences which, to be fair, no one may have foreseen. However, I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Newall, made that greyhound racing needs to be seen--to use a clumsy phrase--on a level playing field. I had to get that one in! Greyhound racing is entitled to receive the same benefits. I am unaware of what the Chancellor may have done on a wide range of matters, but the proposal about which the noble Lord, Lord Newall, told us must be welcomed by the industry and many other people.
This is the first order to come before the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It shows how valuable the committee is to the House and to Parliament. I believe that it is to be welcomed. I wonder whether the Minister can help us in regard to the Keeling schedule. I understand that at one stage there was to be a Keeling schedule relating to the 1963 Act, but it does not appear to be in the order as finally presented to us. I may have misunderstood my notes, but I raise the matter and perhaps those who assist the Minister will be able to throw some light on the absence of the Keeling schedule. It was considered that it would be helpful to the legislation, but it does not appear to have been included.
We on these Benches recognise that the industry is satisfied that the Government have acted properly and I believe that the House also should be satisfied. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, is not here because he is not backward in coming forward and drawing the attention of the House to the value of the Keeling schedule and explaining what it is. I cannot do so and would be grateful if the Minister could help us. Meanwhile, we give a warm welcome to the Government's action.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, first perhaps I may say how grateful I am for the general welcome to this deregulatory measure. I claim no responsibility for the ugly words contained in my speech: I am attracted by the criticism made by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, but I cannot apologise for it.
My noble friend Lord Newall enjoys the greatest possible respect from an industry which I believe he represents extremely well in this House. I accept what he said with some pleasure and am glad that we have
The noble Lord, Lord Graham, was worried about encouraging people to bet. The stand which the Government have taken is that the order represents sensible deregulation but, as regards betting, it is very much a matter for people to make their own choice and they should be free to choose.
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