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Race Course Pitch Tenures

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011

1. What progress he has made in resolving the dispute between race course owners and race course bookmakers on pitch tenures. (52624)

I am sure that the House will remember that in 2009 the previous Government brokered an agreement in principle between race course bookmakers and race courses. It is fair to say that progress since has been stately rather than swift, but I am pleased to report that so far 17 race courses, including Towcester and those owned by Northern Racing and Arena Leisure, have agreed terms of one kind or another.

The Minister is right that some progress has been made, but there is very slow progress, if any at all, with some other race courses. He will be aware that the Select Committee report issued in the previous Parliament found very firmly in favour of race course bookmakers. I hope he will take steps to encourage race courses to give a fair settlement to race course bookmakers who felt that they were buying their pitches in perpetuity.

I am sure that most Members, and people in the racing family more widely, would agree with my hon. Friend. I think that everyone is collectively anxious that this matter should be resolved quickly. I am sure that as a good free marketeer, my hon. Friend will agree that it is better for both sides to agree this between themselves rather than have political interference to push it along. The official form of words is that all options remain open to me. I would say to those involved that they do not want politicians of any stripe turning up to try to do this for them, because the chances are that the result will be less good than one they have brokered for themselves.

I congratulate the Minister on using his powers, because he might have to. Seventeen out of 59 courses have signed up already, but that is not enough. There is a time constraint, and some courses hope that the time will lapse and that they will not have to do anything. I hope that he will keep his eye on the situation and make sure that he reminds them that a deal was about to be done.

That is absolutely right. A deal was agreed in principle and, as I said, all sides in racing expect a solution to be reached. I am keeping a close eye on it, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would expect.

The Minister will be aware that I had a question on the Order Paper about the grand national, which was transferred to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Will he explain why betting on horse races is the responsibility of his Department, but what happens in the race, including horses being ridden to their deaths, is not? Before he says that the welfare of horses is an animal welfare matter, will he explain what would happen if I had asked about the welfare of jockeys?

Order. I am sure that the Minister will not forget the relevance of pitch tenures when answering.

Thank you for that reminder, Mr Speaker.

As the hon. Lady is pursuing the point specifically about animal welfare with DEFRA, I will not go into that. More broadly, matters to do with racing governance generally, which will include health and safety for jockeys, are part of this Department’s responsibilities. The historically close link between racing and gambling is the reason the two areas are linked in the same portfolio.