Friday, 2 July 1999
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the intent of section 3. I am sure the Minister will welcome this section of the Bill because he is a follower of various sports and has been known to participate in the activities of a racetrack. I tabled an amendment to a later section but it is linked to this section. Will the Minister tell us the current position? There is certain amount of confusion and misinformation. I welcomed the reduction in levies originally, from 10 per cent to 5 per cent, on bets placed in betting shops. There was also a proposal that the zero rate would apply from yesterday but that seems not to have been the case. A Minister seems to have made a mistake and, therefore, legislation is required. That legislation could have been passed prior to 1 July if there was a will to do so. I have heard stories on the grapevine that some members of the Irish Horseracing Authority are not satisfied with this Bill. I have also heard a variety of rumours ranging from the deferral of the tax reductions to there not being a zero rating.
Perhaps the Minister could advise us on the present position. I do not know where the confusion has arisen but if legislation was needed prior to 1 July my colleague, Deputy Barrett, my party's Whip in the Dáil, would have accommodated it. I have no doubt that my party's spokesperson in this House, Senator Tom Hayes, would have approached the issue of the zero rate being implemented prior to 1 July. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the position. I have asked friends of mine involved in racing, as opposed to colleagues in the Oireachtas, although, perhaps, there is an overlapping of interests, what is the present position. When does the Minister envisage this section will be implemented on the tracks?
Mr. Dardis: I welcome the new sense of urgency by the Fine Gael Party about getting legislation through both Houses. I am sure that when we come to consider the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill next week it will adopt the same attitude to that urgent legislation.
The Minister made an important point about this section when he introduced the Bill on Second Stage. He emphasised the difference in the dates between the introduction of the rates for on-course and off-course betting. The first rate is as a result of the budget and the Finance Bill and the second comes about as a result of this legislation. The people who wanted these matters to be introduced on the same day disregarded the primacy of the Oireachtas. It is the Oireachtas that makes laws and not the Government. We must wait until the law is passed. Senator Cosgrave pointed out correctly that had the law been passed earlier both rates could have been introduced on the same day. The law has not been passed and that is the reason the change in rates cannot be introduced on the same day.
 It is wrong for anyone to think that the Government should work by decree or for the Minister to take action unilaterally. I am pleased the Minister recognised that it is the Oireachtas who will decide this issue and not him. I am glad he bowed to the primacy of the Oireachtas in making the law. Perhaps he would mention it to others. Last week someone from the Opposition side referred to the Government making the law. It had to be pointed out on that occasion that it is not the Government that makes the law but the Oireachtas.
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Joe Walsh): I thank Senators for their contributions to this legislation. The Dáil and the Seanad contributions have been constructive and helpful and Members gave a great deal of encouragement to the industry.
As Senator Cosgrave said, this legislation reduces the 10 per cent levy on the high street booking shop to 5 per cent. It also reduces the on-course tax rate from 5 per cent to zero. With regard to high street betting, the Finance Act, 1999, contained the provision and there was no difficulty in introducing it on 1 July. The on-course reduction will be achieved with this legislation.
As I said on Second Stage and as Senator Dardis pointed out, it is the Houses of the Oireachtas that enact legislation. It would be an insult to the Houses if we deemed legislation to have been passed and introduced regulations before it went through all stages of both Houses and was signed by the President.
In an article published in today's The Examiner showed that the Minister for Finance availed of the new 5 per cent rate yesterday. He placed a £1 bet on Paul McGinley who is taking part in the Murphy's Irish Open at Druid's Glen.
Mr. Joe Walsh: He was going high risk. He also placed an each way bet on a horse called Croco Rouge who is running in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. He might have a better chance of winning with that bet. His bet is for charity and I hope the charitable organisations will benefit.
We have a 5 per cent rate for on-course and high street bets. I hope we pass all stages of this Bill today and then the administrative apparatus can be put in place over the next few days. The Revenue Commissioners, the IHA and Bord na gCon would need a few days to get the system up and running. I hoped by enacting this legislation here that we would have the zero rate in place for the Galway festival which is the next major racing event. In other words, that the regulations and administrations would be finalised by 25 July. If an amendment was conceded now the Bill would be returned to the Dáil and it would not  be enacted until next October. I ask Senators for their indulgence because we all want to introduce these measures and seek the same beneficial effect. In the Dáil, in deference to Opposition Members who tabled amendments, I went further with those amendments just to be helpful.
Mr. Cosgrave: I presume that much of the homework has been done as to how this will operate and that new provisions will not be needed. Can the Minister give an assurance that the measures will be in place for the Galway Races? Has he held discussions with the IHA or is he aware of any reservations concerning these measures on the part of members of the authority? Is he satisfied that punters will not have to pay tax? Have discussions taken place with the bookmakers, those involved with the levy, the Department of Finance and other interests?
Mr. Joe Walsh: Section 3 concerns the reduction of the 5 per cent rate to zero per cent. Two amendments are tabled to section 16 which is a related section. I will wait until we discuss that section to put on the record the precise situation referred to by the Senator.
Mr. Cosgrave: In the case of a winning bet in the UK, the bookmaker has to pay out on the declaration of the weigh-in but Irish bookmakers pay out on the winner all right. Is the Minister aware of the practice whereby Irish bookmakers do not pay out until after the following race? This practice has built up over time and bookmakers may have reasons for it. However, UK bookmakers pay out almost immediately – if a horse has easily won a race they will almost pay out before the weigh-in. Was any consideration given to this issue or did any discussions take place with the bookmakers as regards their adopting the UK practice? The Minister may not have responsibility for this issue but this practice has developed. Some Irish bookmakers offer a wider range of on-course bets. The situation in the UK is much more rigid where the win only system operates and they do not offer without one, without two, each way bets and so on. Has any thought been given to the practice here? Will the Minister consider initiating some discussion on this matter which has some merit?
Mr. Joe Walsh: I discussed this issue with the bookmakers' association. I told them that, in the context of improving the betting situation by reducing off-course tax and eliminating it on-course, the bookmakers should also pull up their socks and move into the modern era of electronic betting, e-mail betting and so on. I stated that my top priority was that they display their prices on time. Some bookmakers do not display their prices until just before the start of a race.
The second issue I raised with them was that punters should be provided with the details of their bet. If they bet £5 or a monkey, they should receive a card displaying the odds, the number of the horse or dog and the pay out. UK bookmakers have a machine at their stands which produces cards detailing such information and they also pay out in the case of winner all right or after the weigh-in. Irish punters who are short of money have to wait until after the following race before receiving their pay out, thus preventing them from placing a bet on the subsequent race. There is no reason for this practice. Bookmakers will pay out where they know the punter, but that is not always the case.
Visitors to Ireland wonder about the card they receive which gives them no information. When they attempt to collect their pay out after a race they are told they have to wait until after the next race. We must bring the entertainment business, because that is what it is, up to date. The bookmakers undertook to introduce a voluntary code of practice to allow for these measures in conjunction with the provisions of this Bill. I intend to hold them to that assurance and I am confident that there will be a more punter friendly atmosphere at racecourses over the coming months.
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the Minister's initiative on this issue. Some bookmakers in the UK record all bets and there is merit in updating facilities rather than receiving a ticket. There have been a few disputes over the years but most bookmakers are very straight in their dealings. I hope we will see the fruits of the Minster's initiative.
Mr. Dardis: During his Second Stage speech the Minister referred to the levy the authority might charge and made the distinction between a stallion standing at £100,000 and one which was much cheaper. I have no objection to section 5 which is very sensible. However, one way of approaching this issue may be by using a percentage. Has this been considered? Why was this  approach not taken rather than stipulating that the rate shall not be more than £1,000?
Mr. Joe Walsh: The industry wants this to help provide resources for its modernisation and development. In light of that position we inserted an enabling provision in the Bill. We asked the industry to make a proposal and we decided to provide for the size of the levy, from £25 to £1,000, which would be proportionate to the cost of the stallion. When this legislation is passed we will await the industry's proposals. We will insist on the levy being proportionate by way of a percentage so it would be fair and equitable to all.
Acting Chairman (Mr. R. Kiely): Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 2 and both amendments may be taken together.
Mr. Cosgrave: I move amendment No. 1:
In page 15, subsection (2), line 30, after “Act” to insert “with the exception of section 3”.
Mr. Joe Walsh: I dealt already with the issue of the commencement of this Bill on Second Stage yesterday and again today. I am anxious to implement all of its provisions as soon as possible. The drafting and publishing of the Bill and its passage through both Houses have been completed in record time.
Assuming that the Bill passes all Stages today, it will be referred to the President for signature. It will then be necessary to make the administrative arrangements to discontinue the 5 per cent levy and commence the new betting turnover charge at the rate of 0.3 per cent. It is highly desirable that these two events take place on the same day. Given that the betting week for bookmaker returns to the Revenue Commissioners operates from Sunday to Saturday, it is further desirable, from an administrative point of view, to commence the new off-course charges from a Sunday.
The Revenue Commissioners, the IHA and Bord na gCon have already commenced the process of putting in place the new collection arrangements. Therefore, the new collection arrangements for off-course charges will come into effect from Sunday, 25 July. The Galway festival starts the following day and I hope to the see Senator Cosgrave there. I will at that point try to publicise the new levy because the people involved with the Galway festival do a tremendous job.
The other provisions of the Bill will also come into effect on 25 July, in time for the Galway fes tival. I assure the Senator that these will be introduced in good time. Given that no major race meeting will take place prior to the Galway festival, I am unable to accept amendment No. 1 because section 3 would come into effect immediately on the President's signing of the Bill. Although all the advance planning has been completed, this would give the State bodies, the IHA and Bord na gCon insufficient time to notify bookmakers and alter their collection arrangements.
Similarly, I am unable to accept amendment No. 2 because it provides for neither a commencement order nor a specific commencement date. That type of provision is usually not used in legislation. In any event, if the Bill was to be amended now it would have to be referred back to the Lower House. As Members are aware, the Dáil is rising this evening at 4.45 p.m. Therefore, any further amendments would have the effect of deferring the implementation of the Bill until the autumn. That would be unacceptable and the people involved with the Galway festival would be very disappointed.
I assure the House that I will keep the commencement process of the Bill under active review. I also assure Members that it will be enacted in time for the start of the Galway festival. The administrative arrangements and preparatory work necessary to allow this to happen are well advanced. On that basis, I must oppose amendments Nos. 1 and 2.
Mr. Cosgrave: I am glad Senator Coghlan is not present as he might have accused the Minister of slighting the Killarney festival which begins in approximately ten days. That said, I accept the Minister's comments that a certain amount of groundwork remains to be done. The intent behind the amendment was to set a commencement date and the Minister has responded by stating that Sunday, 25 July applies in that regard.
If we are to implement the new system, we could not do so in any better place than Ballybritt. Given the numbers of people who attend the Galway festival and the fact that it may be one of the few race meetings they attend each year, there is no better place to publicise the commencement of the new system.
Does the Minister envisage any difficulty with the operation of the new system?
Mr. Joe Walsh: No.
Mr. Cosgrave: In light of the commitments the Minister gave earlier, I will withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Section 16 agreed to.
 Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mr. Joe Walsh): I thank Senators for their contributions to this debate which reflected the level of interest that exists throughout the country in the horseracing and greyhound racing industries. The nature of much of the debate showed the earnest wish of Members on all sides to ensure that the legislation will treat everyone affected by it fairly and proportionately.
We do not want to be over-burdensome in our application of taxes or levies and we want to ensure that the interests of the small breeder, who represents the cornerstone of many rural communities, are adequately protected. I believe the Bill satisfies those requirements.
It has been emphasised in both Houses that the horseracing and greyhound racing industries are very important and significant in terms of their contribution to tourism, the leisure industry and the country's international image. The role of both industries in and impact on local and rural community life and their financial contribution to the economy as a whole is quite important. Both industries have moved forward in a very proactive manner in recent years. They have been assisted by the buoyant economy, the State, private sector investments and the dedication and hard work of the many people and organisations involved. I take this opportunity to thank everyone in the private and public sectors who have contributed to that process.
In my opinion, the measures being introduced will facilitate further and constant growth in the two sectors involved. Through useful and wide ranging debate in both Houses, the Bill has been improved and perfected. The scene has been set for an even better future for racing.
Mr. Dardis: I welcome the passage of the Bill and I thank the Minister and his officials for the way they conducted it through the House. We are dealing with an important industry which, as the Minister stated, provides entertainment, attracts tourism and promotes a positive image of the country. This industry has many dimensions and we should not merely focus on the betting aspect.
I thank the Minister for giving people additional “drinking up” time after greyhound race meetings. Perhaps we should have debated that matter on Committee Stage but we did not do so. However, I am sure the legislation will be successful because it recognises the changing role of technology within the betting industry. This is a sensible Bill and I welcome its passage.
Mr. T. Hayes: I also welcome the passage of the Bill. It was good that we engaged in a constructive debate on two important and developing industries such as horseracing and greyhound racing.
Question put and agreed to.
Acting Chairman: When it is proposed to sit again?
Mr. O'Brien: At 12 noon on Tuesday, 6 July 1999.
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