MPs echo Conor McGinn's fear that racing is missing out in parliament
They may be of a different political stripe but Conservative MPs Laurence Robertson and Philip Davies have added their voices to that of Labour's Conor McGinn in warning that racing faces a testing future if more is not done to overcome ignorance of the sport in parliament.
McGinn, who is the Labour MP for St Helens North and co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Racing & Bloodstock with Robertson, wrote in the Racing Post that "widespread indifference [to racing among his fellow MPs] could very easily metamorphose into hostility".
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, challenged former BHA chairman Steve Harman to back up his claims that "understanding and support for the racing industry in both houses is very strong".
Davies said: "My point would be, who are all these great supporters and what are they doing? I don't know who they are and neither does Conor.
"It is a huge problem for racing, which doesn't even seem to be able to rely on people who have racecourses in their constituencies to come and speak up for racing. If you can't even muster those people, that is a massive problem.
"We had a debate about welfare in the Commons before Christmas and it was just myself, Conor and Laurence Robertson who spoke up for racing.
"Conor was right to say there is a very big anti-gambling feeling in parliament and, given how much racing's income is reliant on the gambling industry, that is also a massive problem."
Robertson, whose Tewkesbury constituency contains Cheltenham racecourse, pinpointed what he sees as the reluctance of those who lobby parliament on behalf of racing to bring bookmaking into the equation.
"People like Nick Rust and Ross Hamilton [BHA corporate affairs
manager] have done their best to try and engage," said Robertson. "But I think there has been a problem with some people that think, if you're friendly with bookmakers or have some sympathy with their plight in terms of tax or FOBTs, then you are pro-bookmaker and anti-racing.
"They still see it as a matter of sides and I've long thought that anybody who sees the sport in that way needs to move on to something else. With so much money coming into racing from bookmakers, surely they are customers rather than the opposition.
"There have been times when racing has held one or two events in parliament – not enough – and they haven't invited bookmakers to attend. It's inconceivable that a business would hold such an event and not invite their biggest customers."
In his column, McGinn also blamed both the government and officials in the Department of Culture, Sport and Media for poor handling of the efforts to replace the Levy Board by means of secondary legislation, a move which hit the buffers when new secretary of state Mims Davies and her advisers were given a torrid time last November in front of both the Commons and Lords committees charged with examining the proposal.
Davies said: "I mentioned to the ministers in the DCMS months ago – as did Lord Lipsey – that this was a problem and could not get through as currently envisaged. The officials in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have been asleep at the wheel."
Davies believes it may take primary legislation to revive the process, while Robertson said that, even allowing for the all-consuming nature of Brexit, the minority government's legislative agenda was light and that time could be found to introduce a bill if necessary.
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