Tote — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:03 pm on 8th December 2010.

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Photo of Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Lord Evans of Temple Guiting Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 8:03 pm, 8th December 2010

My Lords, I rise not as a private banker but as somebody who has listened with enormous interest to this debate. I knew very little about the Tote before I started the research for this evening. I found the speeches fascinating. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, on initiating this debate and in particular on the very interesting ideas that he came up with during his speech. Some of the number of topics that I wish to question the Minister on have been raised obliquely by other speakers. I will try to be as direct as possible.

John Penrose MP, the DCMS Minister, said that the Government would seek bids for the Tote this autumn-as we have heard. We now know that the bids have to be in by Friday. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, said and wants confirmation that the Tote will be sold next June. Fascinatingly, the noble Lord, Lord James, suggests that the Government do not have the right to sell the Tote because they do not own it. I would be particularly interested-as I am sure you all would be-in an answer to that question.

Given that the operating profit of the Tote was £13 million, up considerably on the year before, it is critical-and I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten-that the money from the proceeds should go back into horseracing. Related to that, will the Minister confirm what will happen with any sale proceeds? George Osborne said in a Budget Statement that the Government would,

"resolve the future of the Tote in a way that secures value for the taxpayer while recognising the support that the Tote currently provides the racing industry".-[Hansard, Commons, 09/10/10; col. 41W.]

It is a rather different view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Patten.

What commitment can the Minister give in regard to the staff who work at the Tote's headquarters in Wigan and the other 4,000 estimated staff who work for the Tote? The Government must say what they plan to do with the Tote to resolve the uncertainty for the staff and management as well as the horseracing industry. One of the themes that has emerged this evening is the lack of certainty about the future.

My final point is one that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord James. How will the Government satisfy the EU that any money from the sale ploughed back into horseracing will not be ruled as an illegitimate state aid to the horseracing industry? Again, thank you all for such an interesting and informative debate. I look forward to the Minister's reply.