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Future of Horseracing

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2023

[Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of horseracing.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and to open this debate on the future of horseracing. As we can see by the sheer number of colleagues who have made the time to come today, it is an issue that affects the whole country, and there is a great deal that we need to do to secure the future of horseracing. That is why I was motivated to call this debate.

We all know that British horseracing is essential to this country’s culture, to our language and many of the idioms that we use, to our heritage, and of course to our economy. It means a huge amount to many, many people. Horseracing is the UK’s second-largest sport, in terms of those who watch it and those who go. It provides great joy and excitement. There are 5 million race-goers annually, with almost 100,000 jobs and more than £4 billion-worth of economic activity in the industry. That ultimately means jobs and pay for those who are employed in horseracing. For those on the Treasury Bench, there is more than £300 million in taxation, which I am sure would not go amiss.

There is also a global significance. British horseracing is the pre-eminent horseracing industry in the world, but it is also under significant challenge. Modern technology has improved British horseracing enormously, but ultimately it is the most ancient of sports. As with many other successful things, many places claim to be the first in the world to have horseracing: some in the Gulf, some in the downs of southern England, and also near Chester, where I grew up—there is a case for saying that the first known horserace, or at least the first on which there was betting, was held near Eaton. Of course, betting is integral to the sport of horseracing—I will come to that in a moment.

My right hon. Friend mentions history, but we believe we have had racing since 1800 in Market Rasen, in my constituency. It depends crucially on betting. Lincolnshire people are sound, sensible and prudent people. The whole future of smaller racecourses such as Rasen is now being put in jeopardy by these affordability tests on betting. I hope my right hon. Friend will give a really powerful speech defending the industry.

I certainly intend to. My right hon. Friend will be the judge of whether I manage to give a powerful speech, but there is certainly a very powerful case for saying that there is a really serious policy error going on that we need to fix. It is having a really serious impact, especially on the mid-size and smaller racecourses.

I am lucky enough to represent Newmarket, in my West Suffolk constituency, which is home to two of the finest—in fact, the two finest—racecourses in the country. It is the global headquarters of flat racing, and it has grown over the 12 years that I have represented it. It is an incredibly important sport for the whole town, with more than 7,000 people in and around Newmarket employed directly and indirectly in horseracing. It generates over £250 million in my constituency, and obviously attracts thousands of others, positively impacting and supporting local businesses, the hospitality trade and the like. It is also integral to the town. The horses walk through town every morning on the way from the stables to the gallops. As my right hon. Friend suggests, I will speak about the problems that affordability checks have brought.

Of course, Stratford-on-Avon racecourse is one such racecourse that has been adversely impacted. I would really welcome the Minister being cognisant of the fact that there is a problem here, when his Department and the Gambling Commission seem to be peddling what I would only describe as drivel about affordability checks being frictionless or racing not being damaged. Clearly, there is damage being done. On the point about how we support racing globally, there is a straightforward lever that we can pull now on the overseas element of the levy—on bets placed here on overseas racing. It is a no-brainer that we should get that done. I think the right hon. Member promised it back in 2018, and it should happen now.

I feel very strongly about this subject, not only because I represent Newmarket but because I had the joy of riding in races at Newmarket. I was the first MP in modern times to win a horserace at Newmarket in 2012. Since then, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who has been an incredible advocate for horseracing and does jumps, which are much harder, has also ridden winners. He always sends me a photograph of him at the winning post. The Minister should note that the fact that another Minister has turned up to support this debate, even though he cannot speak—[Interruption]—although he can cough—shows the strength of feeling on this issue.

I feel incredibly strongly about this; it is personal to me. It is personal to me for two reasons. First, I represent Newmarket and love the sport; and secondly, I have personally participated. I underwent a weight-loss programme almost as exaggerated as that of the former Chancellor, who has just spoken, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), in order to do that.

Three things need to happen. The first is the levy reform that I promised as Culture Secretary in 2018.

Before the right hon. Gentleman moves on to the detailed point, there is a slight danger that the debate is becoming very internalised to racing, racing towns and the immediate racing industry. We also ought to acknowledge that this is one of the big attractors to the UK in a broader sense, in the same way as our cultural offer, other sporting events and architecture are. It is part of the whole scene that makes us attractive for inward investment and inward workers. Is it not important for our country, to attract investment and people, to have that broad range?

I totally agree and could not have put it better myself. That shows the cross-party nature of the work needed to ensure that racing has a bright future, for the reasons the right hon. Gentleman set out and those that I have set out. I completely agree with every word he has said.

I commend the right hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. He said he would outline three reasons why this is important. Can I add a fourth one? With the costs of stabling and even learning to ride escalating, does he agree that there is a danger that the sport will soon be enjoyed only by the elite? Does he agree that steps should be taken to ensure that people of all classes should have access to the sport and the opportunity to take part? In my constituency, we have that. I hope we can agree that as well in this debate.

I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman’s intervention shows that this is an issue for the whole United Kingdom, and for people of all backgrounds across the country. In my constituency, I have Heads of State rubbing alongside those from every background who love horseracing. It brings people together, and we should celebrate that. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point.

These are the three issues I want to raise with the Minister. The first is levy reform, which was promised. Critically, although we legislated a decade ago that anyone betting on a horserace through an offshore platform counts for the levy, we should also say that anyone betting on an offshore race counts for the levy. Otherwise, people will be increasingly driven to betting on races that happen overseas, and the international problem is significant. Prize money, which entices people to put horses into GB races, at an average of £16,000 per race, is lower than in Ireland, at £22,000, and France, at £24,000. That is not sustainable.

Levy reform is critical, and it is vital that the horseracing and gambling industries come together, shepherded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and bring forward a strong, credible proposal. I say to those who are in and support the gambling industry that they need people to bet on races—that is, real betting, on unknown outcomes, as opposed to computerised betting on a smartphone, where everybody knows they will lose money if they keep going. Horserace betting is a joy and a pleasure for millions. It is the best way to defend gambling, and supporting the horseracing industry is massively in the interests of the gambling industry.

The second issue, which deeply affects my constituents, is the importance of ensuring that some of the necessary occupations for horseracing are on the Migration Advisory Committee’s shortage occupations list. I have written to the Home Office about this issue and they said, “Speak to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.” The DCMS Minister is here today, so this seems an opportune time to raise the issue.

I thank the right hon. Member for securing this important debate. My constituency, Somerton and Frome, contains Wincanton racecourse, alongside many successful training yards and stud farms—including Paul Nicholls Racing and Joe Tizzard Racing. The industry plays an important role, but it is facing a shortage of workers due to our rural location. As the right hon. Member has said, the Migration Advisory Committee has recommended six horseracing roles to be added to the shortage occupation list, but we are waiting for approval from the Home Secretary. I am sad to see that horseracing has become yet another industry paralysed by these inflexible immigration rules. Does the right hon. Member agree that the Home Secretary should urgently approve these recommendations and help British sport?

I agree that the Home Secretary should sign off on the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations; they are based on analysis and fact. If she signs off on them, it shows the system actually working rather than not working. The Migration Advisory Committee has agreed that there is a problem and it is proposing to fix it—and fix it we must.

What assurance has the right hon. Gentleman received from the racing industry as to what training programmes they have got going into the future, when they will not need this to be a permanent feature?

There are significant training programmes already in place in the horseracing industry—for instance, at the British Racing School in my constituency, another British Racing School in Doncaster, and apprenticeship programmes right across the industry. In fact, horseracing is brilliant at taking youngsters, who might not have succeeded in mainstream education, and giving them a wonderful, different career—I know this as a great supporter of those with dyslexia. Horseracing is really good at that and good at the training, but that is not enough; we need to make sure we can hire people from overseas as well.

My third and most important point for the Minister is that the recent gambling review set out to the Gambling Commission the need to ensure that gambling is affordable. Nobody speaks more strongly about the need to control problem gambling than me. As the Secretary of State for DCMS, I brought in the reforms to fixed odds betting terminals, which effectively got their scourge off our high streets. As the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, I expanded the gambling clinics to ensure that there is direct NHS provision for gambling addiction, which is a very serious problem. However, the way that the Gambling Commission is bringing in these so-called affordability checks makes people move from gambling on reputable platforms into unregulated gambling. That is therefore having the directly opposite effect to the intention.

I understand the intention to tackle problem gambling; I have long supported that goal. The problem here is that, in order to tackle the problem of online games designed to hook people in with an adrenalin rush—and give them a certain loss—instead, those who love to have a flutter at the bookies, online, or at the racecourse are being caught in this net. Many people have already closed their betting accounts because they refuse to give highly personal data to the Gambling Commission—and frankly, I can understand why they have done that. This is already happening. It is happening before the Minister has set out his view. It is happening in response to the White Paper, not to Government policy. It is ultra vires from the Gambling Commission—it is getting this wrong and damaging the very objectives it set out to achieve. The Minister can already act on this by simply setting out that the current way that the affordability checks programme is being put in place is counterproductive. If Members want proof of that, I will give them it.

Research by PwC found that the number of customers using unlicensed betting websites more than doubled in one year, from 210,000 in 2019 to 460,000 in 2020. Billions of pounds are now staked on unlicensed betting websites, which do not have support programmes or any identification of people who might have suddenly lost a large amount of money or who display erratic behaviour. They do not contribute to horseracing in the way that they need to, nor do they offer support for problem gambling. This policy has been a mistake, and the Minister needs to change it.

The right hon. Member talks about illegal betting, and a lot of that comes through the use of illegal drones to film races in the first place, which means that the racecourses do not get any revenue. We need to make sure that there is integrity in the filming of sporting events, so that the revenue goes to the right places. The technology is moving on, and there is illegal use of data through the tools he talked about earlier. We must stop illegal drones and betting sites, and make sure that the revenue is going to the right places.

I totally agree. That point is another problem that needs to be addressed, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. All these problems drive down the amount of money going into horseracing, which has two consequences. One is that there is less prize money, which means that there are fewer horses coming forward and that the UK will lose its pre-eminent position, as well as the tax revenues, jobs and prestige that comes with it. For instance, in 2022, the average number of horses competing in a race was at its lowest since records began in 1995. There is a problem that needs to be fixed.

The second consequence is that there is less money for problem gambling programmes, which we know are needed to help the minority of people who have a problem and need support. This is not only ultra vires from the Gambling Commission, but counterproductive to the goals of those who, like me, care about supporting people who have a gambling addiction. The websites to which people are being driven do nothing to promote safer gambling, do not support sports and do not make any contributions to tax, and the intrusive affordability checks happening right now—let alone what might be threatened in the future—are reducing betting turnover. They are impacting on horseracing and on people’s ability to have a flutter on the horses, which is a leisure activity for the vast majority of people who do it.

In a recent survey of over 14,000 punters, 28% said they will stop betting on horseracing altogether if the current plans for affordability checks are implemented in full. That would be a catastrophe for horseracing, and it would be detrimental to the Chancellor’s wish to sort out the nation’s coffers. Most importantly, it means that those who enjoy gambling responsibly—and who do so in what is now a pretty well-regulated overall framework for ensuring that people get the support they need before the affordability checks are put in place—do not have the opportunity to exercise their right to that pleasure.

I will stop there, as I know many people want to speak. I hope to hear cheerful and positive encouragement from the Minister and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), because our great sport of horseracing needs their support. Critically, we need to make sure that the Gambling Commission supports gambling that people enjoy while also effectively tackling problem gambling, rather than driving people into the darker regions of the internet, where they can get away from any regulation whatsoever. As the Member who represents Newmarket, I am proud to make this case.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on tabling this important debate. I start by declaring an interest: I am a board member of the Racehorse Owners Association. I have been to the races at the kind invitation of a number of people whose names are in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I am a modest owner of racehorses; it would probably be better to say that I am the owner of modest racehorses.

I completely forgot to also draw the Chamber’s attention to my registered interests. I have been kindly supported by many people from across horseracing over many years. They support me because I make these arguments; I do not make these arguments because they support me.

I am sure that we are all grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his declaration. Unlike him and my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), I do not seek to ride any winning horses; I just try to back a few, with mixed results. At least when I lose, I know that I am contributing to the levy, as the right hon. Gentleman has encouraged us all to do.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, horseracing is a very successful sport in this country, but it is under increasing threat from foreign competition, particularly from the middle east. Many of our best horses are now sold to race there, where racing is much more profitable than in the United Kingdom.

Whether people like it or not, the vast majority of income for the racing industry comes through betting, one way or another. Owners put an awful lot of money into it without much expectation of return, and I can certainly vouch for that. Betting brings around £350 million a year into the industry. That is much more than the total prize money in the UK. If racing loses that betting income, the problem of horses moving overseas will only get worse. British racing would cease to be the best in the world. That would be terrible for the country as a whole, as well as for individual constituencies.

The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to focus much of his remarks on the issue of affordability checks, and I want to concentrate on it in the short time available to me. There is an issue of principle here. Who decides how much people can afford to bet on anything? Who decides what people can afford to spend on anything? We are in an interesting situation where the Government are deciding that people should have an affordability check on their betting, but on nothing else. People who spend a modest amount on betting—for example, those who lose £2,000 over 90 days—will undergo enhanced affordability checks.

I will illustrate how absurd the situation is. A racehorse owner might buy 10 horses, and spend £1 million each year at the sales buying those horses. None of that is subject to an affordability check. They then put those 10 horses in training, and pay fees of around £250,000 a year. None of that is subject to an affordability check. But if they were to spend £2,000 betting on those horses over a 90-day period, they would, at the Government’s behest, be subject to an enhanced affordability check. It is complete nonsense. Surely nobody here thinks that those people should be subject to an affordability check on that basis.

The racing industry worries that people who spend an awful lot of money owning and buying horses, and who enjoy having a bet on their horses when they run, will leave the sport, because that betting part will be at risk if the Government go ahead with their plans. That would be tragic for the racing industry and for those people, and it cannot have been the Government’s intention when they introduced affordability checks.

This blanket number is wrong, and why would it apply only to betting? Why is betting frowned upon to such an extent that the Government want to stick their nose in and find out whether I can afford to spend my money—it is my money, after all—on betting? They do not check whether I can afford to buy a pair of shoes, a coat, a suit or anything else. They want to interfere only if I am betting on anything, including horses. There is an important matter of principle here.

The intention behind some of the rules is ridiculous. For example, if someone loses £2,000 over 90 days, they get an enhanced affordability check, but they can offset only seven days of winnings against that. People’s losses are mounted up over 90 days, but they can offset any winnings made over only seven days. That is absolute nonsense. People could literally win £10,000 on the placepots at Cheltenham in March, go to the grand national at Aintree and lose £2,000, and then have to have an affordability check, even though they are £8,000 up. No account is being taken of how much is won in the previous month or two months—only of what was won in the previous seven days. Those arbitrary figures are ridiculous.

People want proportionate checks. We are basically treating everybody who bets on anything in this country as a potential problem gambler, even though the rate of problem gambling in this country is very low, at about 0.3%.

We are very proud to have two racecourses in the Windsor constituency. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that if the checks are introduced, all that will happen is that reasonable people who occasionally bet on horses will go to a black market site, where there will be no checks whatsoever? In fact, they will be exposed to all sorts of risks that we do not want, and there will be no revenue to UK horseracing.

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. How many people will go to the black market is a matter of dispute; it is impossible to know. However, people like a bet, and the chances are that they will keep betting. If they cannot bet on legitimate sites, they will go to illegitimate sites. There is a lot of truth in what my hon. Friend says.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government’s policy on this matter has a Conservative philosophy behind it. We believe that people should be free to spend their money as they wish, and we should not have bookmakers, the Gambling Commission and the Government deciding how much each individual can afford to bet on something. Let people make their own judgments and decisions; we have to have some individual responsibility. Any decisions must be proportionate to the problem, and we are very blessed to have low levels of problem gambling in this country. Those decisions have to focus on the wider impact on the horseracing industry, which cannot cope with the kind of reductions in betting that the right hon. Member for West Suffolk spoke about. That would be a disaster.

Many people in the racing industry think—I would be interested to know what the Minister thinks—that betting on horseracing is a game of skill; it is a matter of checking out the form, the draw, the ground and so on. When I back a horse, I do so scientifically. I can vouch for the fact that they do not always run scientifically, but I pick them scientifically. Does he think that games of skill should be treated differently from games of chance when it comes to betting? I would be interested to know his thoughts on that, because some people think that horseracing should be treated differently.

Many people make a living out of betting—professional gamblers. They go through good runs and bad runs. They will lose more than £2,000 over 90 days on many occasions, but they have won far more than that in the past. We cannot have blanket rules that are not sensible and that do not look at people’s overall patterns of behaviour. On the back of the consultation, I urge the Minister to think again. I urge him to think about making affordability checks proportionate and about Conservative principles, and ask him to have at the forefront of his mind the future of the horseracing industry, which I know he does not want to damage in any way.

If hon. Members can keep their speeches to around eight minutes or less, we should be great with time. I call Laura Farris.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on securing the debate. I take issue with him on only one point: I think he described Newmarket as the finest headquarters of racing, but as the MP for Lambourn, I have to boast that we have some of the best trainers in the whole of the country. We also have Newbury racecourse, which is probably the best-known destination in my constituency. Collectively, the Lambourn industry employs over 1,000 people and raises nearly £20 million a year for the local economy. Much more than that, it is part of our heritage and our story, and it is a sport that many people in West Berkshire feel incredibly proud of and connected to.

One of the biggest misconceptions about racing arises from a lack of knowledge about animal welfare. I am very proud of how seriously we take animal welfare in my constituency. We have the Valley Equine Hospital, an exceptional veterinary facility that is essentially dedicated to racehorses recovering from races. We also have centres working to retrain racehorses and prepare them for private ownership and a much more sedentary life, such as Retraining of Racehorses, just outside Lambourn, which is run by David Catlow, and HEROS, run by Grace Muir.

On the observation made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk, HEROS, which retrains racehorses, works with a large number of young people—often of school age, but maybe nearing the end of school—who have had difficulties at school and may have troubled backgrounds or other significant obstacles in their life. It has transformed these young people’s lives. Sometimes, working with animals allows people a channel of communication and development that no other channel in their life has afforded.

I say all this because I want to align myself with what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said about racing’s uncertain future as a result of the affordability checks proposed under the review of the Gambling Act 2005. As a starting point, I think the general ambition to tackle problematic gambling is laudable. Problem gambling can ruin lives; it can suck people in. Gambling is highly addictive and can lead to a terrible downward spiral, in which people can lose everything: their marriage, their job, their home, and, in extremis, their life. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is correct to say that it affects a tiny number of people—I think it is 0.3% of the population.

That kind of pernicious gambling has distinct features. It is far more closely connected with the sort of casino-type game typically found online, such as roulette or poker. Problem gambling has far less connection with horseracing, or many other sporting events. Horseracing in particular takes place at sporting events that many people will go to once or twice a year with their friends. They will have a big day out. They will have a flutter and a few drinks, and possibly push the envelope a bit. Greg Wood, the racing correspondent for The Guardian, put it this way in an article last month:

“The basic aim of affordability checks is a reasonable one…But the Gambling Commission’s proposals make the same basic mistake that has plagued the regulation of gambling for the past 20 years. They fail to appreciate the significant differences—in staking patterns, margins, cycles of profit and loss and more—that distinguish betting, on racing and other sport, from fixed-margin gaming products like roulette and online slots.”

There is a deep concern in the racing industry that the measures proposed are disproportionate and will have a significant impact on horseracing overall. It has been said, quite reasonably, that affordability levels are set too low. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley mentioned the £2,000 red flag moment, but the very first affordability check actually kicks in at a loss of £125 over 30 days—a loss that someone could easily incur at one race meeting alone.

By setting out a fixed figure, the proposal fails to take into account income differentials, or previous winnings made outside a very narrow window. It is also unclear how, if at all, affordability checks can really be “frictionless”, as the Gambling Commission has suggested, when there is no real mechanism to ensure that they are. The head of the Lambourn Trainers Association wrote to me yesterday, and said that bookies in Newbury have already started to bring in the checks, which require proof of earnings, such as payslips, even before any legislation has been brought in. The Gambling Commission has said that the most intrusive checks will apply to around only 3% of gamblers, but think about that: there are just under 32 million active gambling accounts held in the UK. Three per cent of that is still hundreds of thousands of people.

Half of all racegoers who responded to a survey conducted by British racing this October said they would either bet much less or stop betting altogether if they were required to provide proof of income. Most significantly, four out of 10 said that they would explore black market options instead. All that has the potential to be devastating. As the Minister will know, the White Paper estimates that the new protections would reduce horseracing betting gross gambling yields by somewhere between 6% and 11%, and that is before we take into account the behaviour of punters who do not particularly fancy a day at the races at which they have to prove their earnings.

This change will affect prize money, when British racing already pays out far less than its nearest competitors, such as Ireland and France, not to mention the middle east. If people cannot have a flutter, that will affect numbers going to the racecourse. It will also affect the value of media rights, which are integral to racing, the British Horseracing Authority says that it will seriously affect the levy and set horseracing on a path to financial decline.

I will make a final point about the levy. At present, racing receives a return of just over 2.8% of the total £10 billion that is spent on sport overall. That is the lowest of any major racing nation. The BHA estimates that the cost of affordability checks will result in an 11% reduction to the levy. That is money that would go directly to activities such as animal welfare, veterinary science and education—things that are crucial to helping the industry to develop and thrive.

I close by saying that if the Government wish to see British horseracing thrive, as I believe they do, they should remove racing from the affordability threshold test, recognising the difference between betting in sport and online gambling. Secondarily, the Government should increase the percentage of the levy that is paid to British racing, to support more competitive prize money, funding for equine welfare development and all the other things that I listed at the beginning of my speech, and to bring us in line with our international competitors.

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on securing this debate. He is a passionate champion of British horseracing.

As an equine vet, I am absolutely passionate about this sector; I believe that it has a strong future, but we firmly need to look out for it and protect it. I should declare my professional and personal interests in this area. I am a veterinary surgeon, a fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and a member of the British Equine Veterinary Association. I was a member of the BHA’s whip consultation steering group and a part of the BHA-convened horse and society group. In my past career, I have received research moneys from the Horserace Betting Levy Board and from the Horse Trust for veterinary research in equine health and welfare. I have chaired the World Horse Welfare conference for the last couple of years. Finally, I am an officer of the all-party parliamentary group on the horse.

I firmly believe that the future for this sector is strong. As we have heard in previous speeches, it provides £4.1 billion to the economy; it employs 20,000 people directly, and perhaps over 80,000 indirectly; there are 5 million racegoers a year, making it the second largest sport after football in this country; and there are 59 courses in the UK, hosting some of the great races, including the 1,000 Guineas, the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby, the Oaks, the St Leger, the Cheltenham gold cup and the grand national. In addition, there are 550 training yards, 660 stud farms and upwards of 14,000 horses in training.

I will restrict my comments today to certain areas. I will touch on money and finance, but I will focus on the people, the horses and the social licence. On the people involved, as we have heard, there are significant staff shortages in this sector, and the Migration Advisory Committee recommended earlier this month that certain parts of the equine sector be added to the shortage occupation list. I encourage the Government to accept that proposal. Also, there is potentially a shortage of vets, so we need to increase capacity and the training of vets, but we must also work to increase retention in the profession.

There is also the issue of people coming into the horse world. Many young people who come into this world do so through riding schools. However, there has been a 15% reduction in the number of riding schools since 2018, so that is also something we need to look at. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, produced a report on rural mental health. That involved talking to people in rural communities about their connectivity, transport and housing issues. People who work in the sector that we are discussing are affected by those issues, which we also need to look at.

To have a thriving horseracing industry, we need healthy horses, so we need to look out for their health and welfare. Biosecurity is absolutely pivotal in that regard, as is disease surveillance. Sadly, a few years ago we lost the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, but the Cambridge vet school had the foresight to take in the trust’s senior workers—Richard Newton, Fleur Whitlock and Máire O’Brien—so the equine infectious disease surveillance unit still exists. That is so important as an early warning system to keep the equine population safe.

Over the last few years, in the coronavirus pandemic, we saw the impact of a disease that is infectious to humans. In 2001, in the foot and mouth epidemic, racing was shut down, even though horses are not affected by foot and mouth virus.

During the equine influenza outbreak in 2019, British horseracing shut down for a short period, and in 2022 there was a shortage of flu vaccines for horses; so we need to keep an eye on the availability of medicines and vaccines. Heaven forbid we get an exotic disease such as African horse sickness coming into our country, but if we did the impact would be catastrophic—the level of magnitude of foot and mouth disease—so we need to be very, very clear on that.

I realise this is not the Minister’s responsibility, but the future of horseracing needs to be looked at by DCMS and also the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and across Government. We need to adequately fund the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which needs a rebuild and redevelopment. The Government have committed £1.2 billion, but it needs another £1.6 billion. We had the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary in front of the EFRA Committee yesterday and they are clear that the agency needs to be redeveloped. Again, I put that on the record.

On EFRA we produced a report on the movement of animals across borders. Some of the key recommendations included improving the equine identification system in central databases. People involved in the horseracing industry will know about the free, safe and practical movement of horses. Prior to leaving the EU there was the tripartite agreement between the UK, France and Ireland. We need to get a good replacement for that, so that the high performance élite animals can be moved safely and practically.

Equally, we need to improve identification so that we can stop the abhorrent practice of horses being illegally exported to Europe for slaughter. We must clamp down on that.

I will say something briefly about money, although that has been covered by colleagues. On the Horserace Betting Levy Board, there is a need for reform. It is important to make sure that part of the moneys coming in gets put back into the sector to support the people and the horses in terms of improving racing and breeding and also the advancement of veterinary science and research. The HBLB does great work in producing codes of practice in infectious diseases.

On the social licence, it is so important for horseracing to have that contract with the public and the public consent for that great sport to be allowed to continue. I believe that racing gets that. The British Horseracing Authority’s whip review has started that work. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) mentioned equine welfare. Some great work has been done by the BHA’s Horse Welfare Board, which produced the “A life well-lived” document.

We need to ensure that we support foals from birth to the start of their racing career and through to retirement and beyond. I firmly back my hon. Friend’s comments on the Retraining of Racehorses charity. We must look after the animals throughout their entire journey.

On safety and welfare, there are increasing veterinary checks in racing to make it a safer sport for the horses and the jockeys. That is an important part of the social licence as well. In Australia they have had lots more pre-racing diagnostic imaging panels set up for the Melbourne cup, which is something that is being looked at internationally. There is increasing research into injuries and fatalities.

I very much welcome the grand national’s changes for next year. Over the years we have seen changes in the jumps, but next year they will be reducing the number of runners from 40 to 34. The first fence will be brought closer to the start and there will be a standing start to reduce the speed of the horses when they take the first jump. It is important that the industry is aware of that, so that that social licence granted by the public continues moving forward. I believe the racing industry gets it, and we need to move forward on that.

If we look after the people and the horses and have sensible and pragmatic financing, and put some of that financing back into supporting those people and horses, the future of racing will be bright.

I apologise for being a couple of minutes late, Mr Hosie; I was taking part in the Select Committee Chair vote, which was delayed because of the main vote. May I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on securing the debate and say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship? I need to declare that I am the joint chair of the all-party parliamentary group on racing and bloodstock. I have Cheltenham Racecourse in my constituency. I also have an entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I receive occasional hospitality at racecourses, and up to the end of June I was an adviser to the Betting and Gaming Council.

I do not want to repeat what has been said, other than to say that I agree with pretty much every word spoken so far. British horseracing is the best in the world but, rather paradoxically, it is probably the worst funded. The money it generates for a constituency such as mine, in just four days in March, was estimated at the last count to be about £270 million for the whole area. That is not just the racecourse, but the hotels, restaurants, pubs, taxi companies and everything else, and that is replicated across the country. It is important that we understand what we are dealing with here. It is easy to see Royal Ascot and the Derby with people in fine clothes, top hats and everything else and think that horseracing is a very rich sport. It is known as the sport of kings—it is in some ways—but that is the top 1%. The rest of the pyramid is very poor indeed.

We have heard some figures already, but I want to mention how, quite often, at the lower end, where horses start, the prize money can be as low as £2,000 per race. When we take the jockey and trainer’s cuts out of that, along with other costs, the owner is left with very little, and to break even at the lower level, an owner would have to win about 12 or 13 races a year. They are not going to do that, so they have guaranteed losses. This is no exaggeration: the whole sport’s future is dependent on owners being prepared to continue to lose money and we cannot make that situation any worse. The prize money in this country is lower than in France and Ireland. When I last checked, the prize money in Hong Kong was 15 times the prize money in this country. We really do have an issue and it is important that we understand the starting point.

Secondly, the link with betting is crucial. As we have heard, betting companies pay about £365 million into racing every year through the statutory levy, picture rights and sponsorship. They will only continue to do so as long as racing is a profitable product for them. It is very important that they do. I only have a slight caveat to add to what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk said about the reform of the levy. I understand where he is coming from, but we must not think we can mop up the losses that will be caused by the affordability checks with the levy. That is not a trade-off worth considering and I must stress that it will not work like that.

These days, Governments have very little say in or influence on the running of horseracing, except with regard to the levy and, rather unfortunately, some of the rules that the Government are considering setting out for gambling. I must say first that I have known people who have suffered addictions. I have also been heartbroken, as we all have, by some of the stories I have read about people who have taken their own lives because their gambling habits got out of hand. I am horrified by those stories and am firmly with the Government in wanting to address those terrible situations. The question is: how do we do that best?

We have to understand that somebody who loses more money than might be good for them is not necessarily an addict. The two things are different. Addiction is a very different thing and has to be properly addressed. I suggest we make sure that gambling companies put systems in place that detect people who have or who might develop problems and then take action to prevent those problems occurring. I am not convinced that we will achieve that with the proposals. Indeed, paradoxically, we could actually end up missing the people who need most of the help. I want to see the Government take a step back on this, have a look at what we are doing and see the damage that could be done to horseracing without actually helping the people we all want to see helped.

The Government have frequently said that the checks will be frictionless and that people will not even notice them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) said, they will apply to just 3% of punters. To start with, it depends how we calculate the 3%. However, I am really concerned about how, in a recent survey of 14,000 people who bet, more than a quarter said they had already had affordability checks carried out on them even though the system is not in place yet. How bad is it going to get if the Gambling Commission is allowed to run away with this? I just do not know how much damage it could do to horseracing.

British horseracing is the best in the world. We have the iconic races: the grand national, the Derby, the Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham gold cup. That is how people view this country. It is a fantastic sport, but it is under threat. I know for certain that the Government, who I support, would not want to do any damage to the horseracing industry. The Minister is always available and very willing to have discussions. I thank him for that, but we need to have more detailed discussion to see how we can help those we all want to help. No one wants to see people harmed as a result of any kind of addiction. Lots of people go in pubs, but the last person we want in a pub is someone with a drinking problem. That is how we must view this. I ask the Minister and the Government to be prepared to hold even further discussions with us beyond the consultation, so that we can get this right together.

Thank you, Mr Hosie, for chairing this debate, which has been fascinating. I have learned a huge amount about British racing. I declare an interest: I do not represent Newmarket or Cheltenham, but Fakenham—a fantastically formed, albeit small, national hunt course—is in my constituency. The topography is such that one can see the entire race from the stands. It is a really lovely place, and it employs 132 people on race days, all from Fakenham and the surrounding area. It is not just about the direct employment; the beneficial impact of having a course like Fakenham in my constituency is more widely felt like that in the town—

I have a confession to make: Fakenham was the first racecourse I ever went to. When I went, it had a chase course that went out beyond the point. Would my hon. Friend agree that the supply chain for British racing extends out of training centres and the courses we know about, into the countryside and studs? Its tentacles go right through towns in this country into those licenced betting offices that are features of all our towns. There are people employed in that wider industry on high streets everywhere around this country.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is quite right. It is not just about the betting offices in towns, but the restaurants and hotels that are supported by Fakenham race days. I declare an interest: I have enjoyed a day’s racing at Fakenham courtesy of the racecourse’s trustees. I think they threw in a sandwich as well. That should be included on the record. It was delicious. I hope to go again later this year—[Laughter]—depending on the outcome of this debate.

Many Members have spoken about the benefits to the national economy of racing. I will not repeat them; they have been well rehearsed. I want to focus on the local benefits of racing to rural communities like mine. The Gambling Act review is causing Fakenham huge concern. The proposed enhanced checks for problem gamblers will be incredibly important for two communities: problem gamblers—they must be assisted, not hurt, by this decision—and the racing industry. It is a truism that, like any important decision, it should be based on best evidence, not ideology.

Judging by this debate, which I have listened to, there appears to be a massive conflict of evidence. It depends on who one listens to. According to the racing industry, the existing checks to reduce problem gamblers have not had a minimal impact and have not been taken in the industry’s stride. In fact, they have cost it about £1 billion. It is argued that as a result of this withdrawal of cash from the industry, about 1,000 racehorses have been taken out of training, bringing the number in training comfortably below 15,000 for the first time in a long time. That is a very heavy impact on the industry.

Perhaps it is worth it. Perhaps the benefits of the current checks on problem gamblers are so positive that it is worth imposing a cost of £1 billion on the racing industry. But they have been in place for two years now. What does the evidence show us? There were nine characteristics of harm from gambling that were associated with the assessment of the efficacy of these new rules. Have they changed? I am sorry to say that despite costing the industry £1 billion, of those nine measures of gambling-related harm, not a single one has improved during that period.

At the very least, this should cause the Government to pause for consideration, rather than doubling down on yet more of the same seemingly failed approach. Losing £1 billion for no measurable impact on the nine metrics that the Gambling Commission considered were the right ones to measure is not a result that would lead one to think, “Oh yes, we need to go further in the same direction.” The Gambling Commission tells us that the current proposals will also have very little, or minimal, impact on the industry. As one of the other contributors has mentioned, it says that about 3% of the accounts will be affected. But the evidence from the industry is that this is already incorrect. Somebody only has to read the front page of the Racing Post, of which I hope many Members here are subscribers, to see the multiple accounts of people changing their betting habits even before the new restrictions come in.

Just this month, there was a survey in which 15,000 racing gamblers took part—so a very substantial survey. More than 50% said they would stop betting or significantly reduce their betting because of these personally intrusive checks, which include one’s job title and postcode, while 40% of them said that they would consider moving towards black market betting, which 10% have already done. What outcome are the Government seeking to achieve for those with problems in gambling? Is it to drive and increase the size and scope of the black market industry, where there is no regulation at all, and where problem gambling is actively encouraged because it maximises profitability? If that is what they want to do, just the threat of this consultation review is already causing that to happen.

My hon. Friend is making a very good speech and I agree with everything that he is saying. Does he also recognise the danger of driving people towards international gambling organisations online, which, although perfectly legal, have none of the checks that we would have, and where, as he is describing about the black market, they have all the incentives in the system to drive people into addiction?

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s contribution. Of course, he is absolutely right. There are many seemingly unintended consequences of the current proposals. I have yet to see any worked examples backed by genuine evidence, as opposed to the expressions of hope from the Gambling Commission, that support an alternative interpretation.

If we are worried about unintended consequences, I encourage the Minister during this welcome consultation to follow the evidence and not ideology; to support rural employers like Fakenham; to support the fantastic day out that racing provides to 5 million people a year and the pleasure that it gives them; to support the economies that rely on racing in places like Fakenham and around the country; to support fun betting, which in itself provides revenue to help the 0.3% of the gambling public that has a serious problem; and to support the long-term future of this fantastic racing industry in our country.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hosie, and for a change, I actually mean that this time around. Can I start with an apology to Members for being a little late for the start, and particularly to the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) for missing the opening couple of minutes of his remarks? From the Australian jungle with Ant and Dec to the Vietnamese jungle with the SAS to plain old Westminster Hall, it is indeed a pleasure to see him here. I agreed with a chunk of what he said, but I have to say that I disagree with what he and many others on the Tory Benches said about affordability, which I will come to later.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and I seem to have found ourselves on different sides of just about every argument since I was elected in 2015. He made a comparison between spending on gambling and spending on suits and shoes and other forms of expenditure. The contribution from the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris), who spoke of how severe the issues are with problem gambling, shows how ridiculous that analogy actually is.

In my first year as an MP, one of the first cases I took was from a chap in Linwood who had lost absolutely everything because of his problem gambling. He then spent a long time campaigning to try to improve the lot of others and some of the safeguards around gambling. I very much remember that case and have obviously stuck up for that.

Given that he is particularly concerned about the damage that certain things do, and affordability checks are therefore important in that, does he believe that affordability checks should be brought in for people who buy alcohol, since alcohol does far more damage to people than gambling?

When we talk about gambling, we often compare it with alcohol and tobacco, so that is a perfectly fair challenge. The Scottish Government have tried to recognise the harms of alcohol, with our minimum unit price on it.

But it is a problem, so that supports my argument, not the hon. Gentleman’s, I would suggest. I will come on to affordability checks later and if he wants to intervene then, he is more than welcome to do so.

With that all being said, the Scottish Government obviously recognise the benefits of racing to the economy and the positive impact that it has had on employment in communities across Scotland. The 2018 annual review highlighted that the sport generated more than £300 million to the Scottish economy, as well as sustaining nearly 3,500 full-time equivalent jobs. Who can forget that, yet again, Corach Rambler brought home the grand national to Scotland earlier this year? According to Scottish Racing, by 2025, the impact of Scottish racing is projected to rise from just over £300 million to half a billion pounds of revenue for Scotland’s economy, with £50 million in tax revenues. Each year, most of that goes to the Scottish Government.

Racing remains the second most popularly attended sport in Scotland after football. It attracts a diverse section of society, with nearly nine out of 10 racegoers comprising people from both middle and lower socioeconomic groups. Females account for over half of all race-goers in Scotland, and it is set to support 3,700 jobs, including in employment across Scotland’s racecourses and tourism activities supported by race-goers. It also supports or sustains jobs through the development of racehorses such as Corach Rambler, media coverage of race days and off-course betting.

From time to time, all of us will receive, particularly around the grand national and what have you, a number of emails about animal welfare in relation to horseracing. The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) can speak better than the rest of us combined on this issue, given his depth of knowledge, so it was good to have his input, too.

Animal welfare is covered by devolved legislation, which makes the keeper of an animal responsible for its welfare and permits the prosecution of those who do not ensure such welfare, such as the need for a suitable environment, and so on. The British Horseracing Authority, which I have met a couple of times over the years, assures us that it complies with all aspects of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 through its rules of racing and the licensing and inspection of participants. It works closely with a range of animal welfare organisations, such as World Horse Welfare, to maintain and promote horse welfare. The BHA also seeks to minimise the risk of injury and fatality to thoroughbred horses on racecourses, and it records and analyses such incidents.

Much of today’s discussion has been about the gambling levy and affordability. We in the SNP think that the gambling levy should go further to tackle gambling-related harms, such as by dealing with advertising, regulating online bookmakers and ensuring that the levy funding is allocated properly. As the Minister will know, this is a completely reserved matter, and a review took place that generated some 16,000 responses. Forty-seven per cent of people surveyed in the UK had gambled in some way in the four weeks before the survey. Most gambling—I am happy to admit that I very occasionally dabble, although it has been a number of years since I have done so—is done without any harm. However, for those who face problem gambling, the impact can be harmful and addictive, with one person committing suicide in the UK every day because of gambling-related harms. Thankfully, the Gambling Act will be modernised and made more effective for the digital age by providing adequate protections, notwithstanding a lot of the very good points made about some of the overseas websites, which we need to do more to address.

I think I heard the hon. Gentleman repeat the figure of one person committing suicide every day as a result of gambling. He should know that that figure is not accurate but has virtually been plucked out of thin air. If he wants to give a quote for the basis of the figure, I would love to hear it. The figure, which has often been quoted by Gambling with Lives, has been debunked, not least by the Gambling Commission. I hope he will not rely on that dodgy information.

That is the other side of the argument. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I am happy to write to him with the source of the figure I am using.

Two million families in the UK are blighted by problem gambling, and more than 55,000 children aged between 11 and 16 are addicted to gambling, with 60% of the gambling industry’s profits coming from 5% of gamblers. A poll by Clean Up Gambling found that 72% of the public supported affordability checks for those who want to bet more than £100 a month, and 74% supported limits on how much money can be staked on a single online bet. Without affordability being addressed, individuals suffering from gambling harm will switch between online operators and continue losing money, with potentially catastrophic consequences, as I outlined by mentioning my constituent and, indeed—

I bow to no one in my support for tackling problem gambling. I went toe to toe with the gambling industry by introducing FOBTs as Secretary of State, to its great unhappiness, but is the industry not right on this? The hon. Gentleman just said that the public want action on online gambling, but it comes down to this point: gambling on horseracing is materially different from gambling on games of pure chance, whereby people know they are going to lose over time because the technology is designed in such a way that there is no fluke, no luck and no skill. The two are materially different. If we do not understand that, we will simply end up destroying a sport to try to protect people from something completely different.

I accept the premise of the right hon. Gentleman’s point, but that is why the SNP is calling for a smart gambling levy that is scaled to the damage that gambling does. There has obviously been cross-party agreement on FOBTs over the past couple of years, but the levy would be higher. We can agree to disagree on many things, but we can certainly agree on others.

I have another couple of points that I would like to make, but time has defeated me. I should perhaps not be so generous in taking interventions next time around.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) on securing this important debate. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, I attended Donny races along with many others from Barnsley, South Yorkshire and across the country.

Horseracing is our country’s second largest sport—second only to football. Each year, races attract over 5 million spectators across the country, but it is not just people who attend the races that benefit from the sport. Horseracing supports 80,000 jobs and generates more than £4 billion a year for the country, giving it a wider economic importance, as the hon. Member for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew) and many others said. That is without mentioning the impact the industry has in generating a positive view of our country across the world, with events like Royal Ascot attracting international competitors and spectators. With that in mind, the future of racing must be protected for generations to come.

In recent years, however, horseracing has been at risk of decline. Further to the pandemic, which cost millions in lost revenue, trainers are now also bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis. That has impacted everything from the price of feed to the cost of transportation, but British horseracing was facing serious concerns even before these challenges. The UK has experienced a drop in the percentage of grade 1 races that it holds, as well as a crisis in equine talent moving abroad.

One of the underlying causes of the decline is the level of prize money available to British competitions. Despite reaching record highs in 2022, British prize levels are still significantly lower than rival competitions in France, Ireland, the USA, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, as the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) mentioned. A poor prize pot means poor incentives for everyone in the racing industry—from owners to spectators—to compete and take an interest in British competition.

The racing industry has gone to great efforts to prevent decline and to see the sport grow. For example, as part of their new long-term industry strategy, the BHA has worked hard to secure a boost to prize funds and to publish a 2024 fixture list that includes 170 premier race days. Likewise, the betting industry has continued to foster its relationship with racing, including spending £125 million on marketing to promote racing. Despite that, more must still be done to ensure the future of British racing. For many, that change will start with the horserace betting levy.

Currently, the horserace betting levy is funded directly by bookmakers at a fixed rate of 10% of the gross profit made on British horseraces. Since its introduction, the levy has delivered around £80 million to £100 million of funding annually for the sport—a level that has been maintained in recent years despite declining turnover. Compared with other countries, however, the overall percentage of return that racing receives from the betting industry is on the low end of the scale at 3%. It is welcome, therefore, that the Government have committed to reviewing the levy to ensure that it delivers an appropriate level of funding for the sector. That review must answer the many questions being asked about the levy’s current structure.

I ask the Minister for a clear update on the progress of the review, including whether the Department has made any judgment on whether the levy should be raised, linked to inflation or adjusted to cover all bets by British customers, including those on international races. It is essential that the review looks to protect racing and its relationship with the gambling sector in the round. In that vein, I also ask the Minister for an update on what the Department is doing to ensure that money paid by gambling firms for racing media rights is actually benefiting the sport. For example, what meetings has the Minister had specifically with media rights companies to ensure that money is moving from betting to racing in a way that positively impacts the sport?

Concern has also been raised about the impact of the gambling White Paper and particularly—as has been mentioned a number of times in the debate—affordability checks on horseracing. Although I have only recently been appointed as the shadow Minister with responsibility for gambling, I have already met a number of charities and organisations that work to prevent gambling harms, providing a range of treatment, education and advice. Although there is, of course, a spectrum of gambling harm, I have seen at first hand that gambling addiction can have a devastating impact on the lives of individuals and their families. It is therefore important that gambling regulation is updated. Indeed, the last Gambling Act was introduced back in 2005, long before the huge growth in online and mobile gambling opportunities. An update to that is well overdue, and the Government must waste no further time in introducing a modern system of gambling regulation that is fit for the future. Affordability checks will form an important part of that and must be set independently, rather than by the industry. These checks must be accompanied by online stake limits, data sharing between gambling firms and a crackdown on black market activity funded through the regulator.

However, as well as ensuring that the law protects children and adults vulnerable to gambling harms, it is important to ensure that the regulation recognises that millions of people enjoy betting safely and without harm. The Government must therefore be very clear on how they will go about ensuring that affordability checks are frictionless for consumers, as they have promised. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) used the word “proportionate”, which I think is a good one. That is important for the sustainability of the gambling industry, which we know racing relies upon, and for ensuring that customers are not incentivised to leave the regulated market and turn to the black market. The safety of racehorses is also fundamental.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I agree with the overwhelming majority of what she has said, and I commend her for it. I wonder what she thinks of the issue that a number of Members have raised about whether games of skill should be treated differently from games of chance when it comes to gambling regulation, whether it is affordability checks or any other measure.

That is a very valid point, and it is one for the Minister to address. A balance needs to be struck. We have to recognise that gambling, whatever form it is in, can devastate lives. I have acknowledged in my comments that there is a spectrum and that not everyone who gambles has a problem, but we need to ensure that the regulation is fit for the modern day.

I want to talk briefly about welfare. When I was at Doncaster races, the British Horseracing Authority showed me round and explained some of the vital measures that were in place to maximise the welfare of racehorses. I was really interested to hear the contribution from the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson), who spoke with great experience and knowledge of the issue.

Following the tragic events at this year’s grand national, which left many distressed, it is welcome that the industry has come together to implement a package of safety measures before next year’s race, including reducing the maximum number of runners, investing in course infrastructure and ensuring that participating horses are in good enough condition to compete. I welcome that. Equine care must be at the forefront of the industry’s concerns, and the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) spoke about the veterinary centre in her constituency.

To conclude, the Labour party acknowledges the huge contribution that horseracing makes to both our culture and our economy. I have a number of personal memories of the races, in particular of attending the Yorkshire cup last year, where I watched the super stayer horse under Frankie Dettori win. I was there with my very good friend, the late Jim Andrews, who passed away not long after that. It was one of the last days we spent together, and it is an incredibly fond memory of mine. I know that people across the country will have similarly fond memories, and that is why it is really important that we protect the future of the industry.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) for securing this important and timely debate, and I appreciate his support for horse racing not only in his constituency but across Britain.

The Government acknowledge the significant contribution that racing makes to our economy. As has been rightly mentioned by Members from constituencies across the country, it plays a central role in the livelihoods of many people in our rural communities. The employment that it supports across racecourses, training yards, breeding operations and related sectors reflects a powerhouse industry that is respected at home and abroad, and it is one that I am keen to explore even further through a forthcoming visit to a training yard. We absolutely agree that British racing is a substantial asset to the country and remain committed to supporting the industry.

As many Members have said, horse racing is the second biggest sport in the UK in terms of attendance and contributes £4 billion annually to the economy in direct, indirect and associated expenditure. The fact that so many people go to the great races—some 65,000 to 70,000 to the grand national, and 200,000 over the four days of the Cheltenham festival—shows how important it is. I have seen that at first hand during my visit to Newmarket this summer and in discussions with the Jockey Club and Arena Racing Company, as well as the measures around welfare, which were particularly interesting to see in Newmarket. The industry enjoys a reputation as a global leader and is part of the GREAT campaign, which recognises that horse racing is a valuable asset and has a tremendous amount of soft power.

My hon. Friends have noted the importance of the levy. As has been said, in 2017, the levy was extended to online bookmakers and fixed at the rate of 10%, so that it no longer had to be negotiated each year. That has seen a significant rise—almost doubling in amount from £49 million to £95 million—and the forecast for 2022-23 is around £100 million.

On the horserace betting review, the British Horseracing Authority has presented its case that there is a significant gap in its funding that means that it cannot compete with jurisdictions such as France and Ireland. The authority has submitted suggestions on how to close the gap, and we are considering those proposals as we undertake our review, which is due by April next year. Of course, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of that at this stage, but I reassure all colleagues that the decision will be firmly based on the evidence.

Changes would require legislation, so a sensible first step is to explore a voluntary agreement, especially when there are so many competing demands on parliamentary time. We are looking at all options and encouraging racing and betting to work together in the best interests of the sport. Reaching a mutual agreement on the way forward for the levy would be beneficial for everybody. To support that aim, the BHA and the BGC were invited to submit evidence over the summer and have been given extensions to come to an agreement. I met both groups in early September for an update on the discussions, and I look forward to hearing more from them when I meet them again in the next few weeks.

The levy is not the only source of funding for racing. It represented just 6% of racing’s total income in ’22, and far greater proportions were earned from owners, breeders, racegoers, media rights deals and sponsorship. While we review what the levy provides, we have also asked racing and betting to explore jointly how they can maximise other sources of income for racing. I am encouraged by the close engagement that has taken place and welcome the recent changes to the fixture list, which should bring an additional £90 million to racing by 2028.

The BHA and other industry stakeholders have raised concerns about the impact of the financial risk checks that were set out in the Government’s White Paper in April. As the darling of the Racing Post, as I seem to be these days, I want to reassure everyone that I have heard those concerns and take them very seriously. I have already met many Members who are present today, including members of the all-party parliamentary group on racing and bloodstock, and we have many more meetings to come. Given that the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is next door to mine, I cannot avoid him, as much as I may try, but I commit to those meetings carrying on long after the consultations have been completed.

Given that the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock) and I actually agree on this issue, which does not happen very often, does the Minister accept that we really must be on to something?

If only I could have achieved that when I was the deputy Chief Whip—that would have been great, but there we go.

I have also met with horse racing bettor forums to hear about this from a customer’s perspective, which is incredibly important, and I will continue to engage with all those stakeholders. Let me also take this opportunity to address a couple of important points. The first is to distinguish between the checks that many operators are currently doing and the future system that was set out in the White Paper. At present, the Gambling Commission has not set specific thresholds or requirements for how or when operators must consider customers’ financial circumstances. There has only been an ask to prevent a repetition of the cases in which operators allow rapid losses that would be life-changing for most of us. However, that has led to inconsistency across the sector, with different operators seeking proofs at different points, often in the form of onerous documentation such as payslips and bank statements. We also know that many operators are requesting personal financial information for a range of reasons that are not necessarily related to safer gambling. I have heard concerning reports that some operators are using checks as a way of restricting the accounts of successful bettors. As a result of listening to all of this, I have spoken to the Gambling Commission CEO about these issues. I asked him to challenge operators to be more transparent with customers and more consistent in how they apply the checks now. They are looking at that and I am waiting to hear back in the coming weeks.

My focus is also on the new coherent national framework underpinned by data sharing, which was outlined in the White Paper and the consultation. We want it to be a significant improvement for customers and companies, to have clear requirements and a much smoother process for assessments, and crucially to bring uniformity rather than the process that people are seeing now and which has been described by Members here today. It will ensure that we see no more of those terrible cases where people lose tens of thousands of pounds in a very short time. As the Minister for gambling, I have also had to hear the awful stories that families have raised with me, and it is right that we act in that area.

I agree with many Members who have pointed out the need to be proportionate. The White Paper was clear: we only want checks for those most at risk of harm. We want the checks themselves to be painless for the overwhelming majority of customers, and neither the Government nor the Gambling Commission should put a blanket cap on how much money people spend on gambling. That will be at the forefront of our minds. The point about being frictionless is essential. I reiterate my commitment that proposed checks will not be mandated across the sector until we are confident that they are frictionless for the vast majority of customers who will be caught by them. The Gambling Commission will continue to work closely with gambling operators, the financial services sector and the Information Commissioner’s Office to develop the checks. We are also exploring options such as pilots and phased implementation. I am pleased that the Gambling Commission has agreed to host a series of workshops with the industry to explore these in detail.

It is important that the wider public have their say too. It is great that the Gambling Commission’s recent consultation received over 3,500 responses, many of which focused on financial risk checks and the relationship with racing. The regulator is working hard to analyse those responses and, notwithstanding its statutory independence, we will continue to work closely with it as it refines proposals before introducing new requirements. The consultation was on all aspects and all details, including the levels at which those checks will come in and how we consider the previous winnings.

The Government are keen to ensure that measures such as these checks do not adversely affect racing or interrupt the customer journey. They also cannot push away high-net-worth individuals such as owners and trainers who invest in the sport. We want to protect those at risk of harm, but with minimal disruption to the majority who, I recognise, place bets on horseracing with no ill effect. I also want to point out that the proposals the Commission are consulting on will apply only to online gambling accounts; they will not affect betting shops or on-course bookmakers.

On the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk about the workforce, the Migration Advisory Committee has recommended adding six racing roles to the shortage occupation list. That recommendation is currently being considered by the Home Office, but I will ensure that I write to my colleagues there to highlight this debate.

The Government remain committed to supporting horseracing in this country. It is vital to the rural economy and a source of great pleasure to many people. I look forward to further discussions on these important issues, especially as the review of the levy continues.

Very briefly, I welcome the Minister’s confirmation that the levy review will happen by April 2024. However, overwhelming concern has been expressed from Fakenham to Bangor, from Newbury to Newmarket, from The Guardian to the Racing Post, and across the House, by Labour, the Lib Dems and the DUP, as well as the Conservative party—and, within the Conservative party, from the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) to the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris). When they agree, they must be right. I cannot see how we can ever have frictionless checks—how we should ever have frictionless checks—if the checks involve looking at someone’s income or bank account. I urge the Minister to take away this key point: there is a difference in different types of betting, and there is a serious risk of unintended consequences in the current approach, which is going to make things worse.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).