Gambling: Sport

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 11 October 2007.

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Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Liberal Democrat 2:46, 11 October 2007

My Lords, we have reason to thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, not only for introducing the debate but for the incredible amount of work that he has done to try to generate understanding of betting today, with its new technologies and the difficulties linked to human fallibility and criminality which they have created. I am surprised that the Government have not sought to counter the view put forward in the press that there has been a new development in our society and that people have suddenly become dishonest and seek to influence the results of races and other sporting events. That is not the case: there has always been dishonesty in sporting events.

It is in fact more difficult today to be dishonest in sporting events and to alter results. We can take pride in the new technologies for that. You have to be a very clever criminal to get past the close examination that takes place, but, as with all other classes of person, there are good, indifferent and bad criminals. As with car theft, only a good criminal nowadays can steal a modern car; only a good criminal today can get to the bottom of the challenge of influencing results to create fortunes for themselves. An attack on the new technologies, therefore, on grounds that they have generated new vice in our society, is quite misplaced.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, must have been a little ironic in asking the Government what guidance they will give to the commission. I do not expect him to be as vituperative as me or the noble Lord, Lord James, but there is nothing to make us believe that the Government will be able to lead; it is rather like expecting the blind to lead the partially sighted. The Government's record on gambling and betting has been disastrous. The noble Lord, Lord James, gave us the example of the FOBTs, which are dishonest in themselves because they are gaming machines. People ask, "FOBTs? What's that? They must be all right—it sounds complicated". He explained that phenomenon well.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and I, together with the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, who is in the Chamber, and the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, who will speak later, went to a great deal of effort of which we should be proud. However, the Government's response was disastrous and a bad Bill appeared on the statute book. Many questions will have to be answered at a later stage. The Government completely failed to understand how regeneration could be achieved through casinos. They never even bothered to look at it. The whole idea of regeneration was knocked on the head—although very few people remarked on it—just before we had the famous vote in this House which was narrowly won by the Minister, whom I always admire for his tenacity in some of the briefs he is given and for the agreeable way in which he carries out his job. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he then was, suddenly put a 50 per cent tax on casinos, which really meant that regeneration was out of the window.

The question of dishonesty or cheating in sport was something that we discussed at length in the pre-legislative committee. We failed absolutely to come to satisfactory conclusions on that, although the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, moved us a long way forward in his deliberations and the meetings that he set up.

I shall conclude my remarks on the subject of racing. The case of Fallon and the other jockeys is a disgraceful case that should never have been brought. I would not bet on it, but in my view he is bound not be convicted. It has been a long and disgraceful proceeding in which a lot of people have had to wait around with loss of earnings and the distresses that have resulted, going right back to jockeys being arrested in the middle of the night.

Fallon is one of the best jockeys of the past 50 years. Jockeys are a particular type of person. They are very vulnerable, although they are strong little men who have a talent for moving half a ton of horse flesh in tough races, day in and day out. They do not have much time to get involved with criminals, but criminals get in touch with them. I think that what happened with these jockeys is that criminals got in touch with them and they allowed themselves to get into contact with them, and then they found it very difficult to disengage. Criminal elements are extremely adhesive once you get involved with them.

When Fallon was riding in France, when I was over in Deauville in August, he had a look of joy about him, even with the sword of Damocles hanging over him. Presumably he was not getting calls all the time asking why that was, because during the period when he was supposed to be fixing races his percentage of winners went up from 19 per cent to 28 per cent—so there must have been some very disappointed criminals about. I foresee a result there that will surprise some people.

The sporting bodies are the ones that must deal with this. I hope that we will return with another debate on this, because there are many things to say. The Government will not be able to give any guidance, so let the sporting bodies do it along with the Gambling Commission and we might get somewhere.