Lord Risby is a government-appointed director of the Horserace Betting Levy Board.
The four day Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us, hugely well attended by 250,000 people, with a large contingent of our Irish neighbours – even if the racegoing nuns and priests of yesteryear have faded into memory. For many followers of racing, it is quite simply the highlight of the calendar.
Here, racecourse attendances last year totalled six million, making it the second-best attended sport after football. £11 billion is bet on the sport annually: it generates £3.4 billion in expenditure, and over £300 million in annual taxation. During the past few decades, it has transformed itself into a consumer-friendly leisure industry, employing 85,000 people full-time, and providing 60 racecourses. The newly franchised ITV is doing an excellent job in attracting new race viewers, whilst not losing the traditional followers of the sport.
In Ireland, the organisation of racing is cross border. No European country is more dependent on its equine industry. We take 80 per cent of their bloodstock exports, and any impediments are viewed with real alarm for the Irish economy overall.
Sitting on one of the Lords committees looking into Brexit, we have been considering the issues surrounding the movement of people, particularly those with specific skills. But animals need to figure, too. There is an EU directive directly impacting our world-beating horse industry: a tripartite agreement that enables thoroughbred race horses to travel freely between France, Britain and Ireland, with a single passport arrangement and no customs documentation or veterinary export health certificates. Total thoroughbred trade value is estimated at £300 million annually, with over 22,000 thoroughbred horses moving in and out of Britain for racing and breeding purposes.
Our racing industry dwarfs that of any other European country. Millions have been invested in stud farms and training yards by both foreign and domestic enthusiasts. They are attracted by the depth of knowledge and the credibility of this self-regulating industry, which is quite simply the best organised and best regulated in the world. British racing has also demonstrated its ability to act as a lever for international trade and investment, particularly from the Middle East. Under the umbrella of the British Horseracing Authority, recent well-attended racing road shows have been taking place with issues such as the training and retention of staff, prize money and the racing calendar being aired. It is hoped that current structural and organisational changes now being considered in Parliament will be beneficially transformative in the years ahead.
The French, Irish, British racing triangle reminds us just how deeply the EU has become embedded in our national life. This current tripartite agreement needs to be maintained as it works so effectively for us all.