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House of Lords

Thursday, 10th June 1999.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.

Yugoslavia: International Court of Justice Case

Lord Moyne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What stage has been reached in the case against them before the International Court of Justice by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and whether they are satisfied that they have a watertight defence.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, on 2nd June the International Court of Justice rejected the FRY's request that it calls for a halt to allied military action. The court held that the FRY had not established that the court had jurisdiction at this stage of the case against the United Kingdom. The decision related to the FRY's request for provisional measures. It did not deal with the substance of the FRY's main complaint about the legality of the use of force. We believe that we have a watertight defence. This is an attempt by the FRY to use the judicial process for propaganda purposes.

Lord Moyne: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Do Her Majesty's Government accept that the prima facie case against NATO for crimes against peace is as strong as that against Slobodan Milosevic for crimes against humanity? Do they accept that, unless both sides are equally prosecuted, any verdict against Milosevic will be totally discredited?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords. I do not accept that and nor do Her Majesty's Government.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many international lawyers, wholly independent of the Government, regard international law in this area as being clearly on the side of the action taken by NATO and supported by the leadership of the Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords. I thank the noble Lord for pointing that out.

The Tote

3.7 p.m.

Lord Burnham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Who owns the Tote.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Horserace Totalisator Board is a non-departmental public body

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whose members are appointed by the Home Secretary. Technically, it is these appointed board members who are responsible for the assets owned by the Tote but they do not actually own the assets. Therefore, before the Tote can be sold it will be necessary to introduce primary legislation to change its status and bring it fully within public ownership.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I asked a very short, direct Question. I was not expecting a very direct Answer. Has the Minister read Section 12(5) of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963? It states:

    "The Totalisator Board may regulate their own procedure and make standing orders governing the conduct of their business". Does not that imply that the Board of Directors owns the Tote and that it alone is responsible for the management of its business and for deciding whether it should be sold; and, if it is sold, as a corporate body to receive the proceeds?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, no; that is not a correct legal understanding of the position. I am familiar with the regulations referred to. Again, once upon a time I acted for and against the Tote--not on the same occasion! If one looks at the Act, one sees that the Totalisator Board is a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal. I believe that the legal description that I gave in my Answer is accurate. Primary legislation will be needed to dispose of the Tote. The Tote can deal with its assets in the way that the noble Lord mentioned, but the Tote itself will have to be the subject of primary legislation.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, may I put it to the Minister that we should not be considering this interesting Question if the Tote were doing what it was initially set up to do; namely, to run pool betting? Does the Minister agree that on the principle, "If you can't beat them, join them", it has effectively become a bookmaker? Is that not why privatisation is being considered? Is there a possibility that the Tote could revert to being an operator of pool betting? Could it be provided with the circumstances in which it could flourish and get rid of the bookmaking part?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think that there is a realistic prospect of getting rid of bookmakers in this country. Earlier this week, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, I pointed out that there was bookmaking activity in Alderney. In Hansard it is given as "Orkney", and I believe that to be incorrect!

The Tote still is the pool betting operator in this country. The noble Viscount is right. Over recent years, the Tote has extended its own estate of bookmaking offices--in other words, licensed betting shops. The statement made by the Home Secretary on 12th May is unambiguous. The necessary legislation will be the subject of consultation in due time.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I am certain that my noble friend's Answer is right. However, will he forgive me for saying that it makes some of us who are not lawyers

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despair of the law? I thought that the Question was fairly straightforward; namely, who owns the Tote? Would it help my noble friend if I asked a subsidiary question; namely, who owns the net profits of the Tote? Can he at least tell us that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the net profits of the Tote essentially go back into the racing industry. It is an unusual position, but it is not unique. The water authorities are in a similar position, and they were subject to primary legislation; so was British Aerospace. The position is unusual, but not unique. I believe that I have correctly represented the legal position. I am shocked that my noble friend should ever be despairing of either lawyers or the law.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government's proposal to dispose of the Tote is a change of policy, and a snub for the Foreign Secretary, who said clearly and often before the last election that a Labour government would never sell the Tote? Does he agree that the Tote should operate for the benefit of racing, and that that can best be achieved by the British Horseracing Board, which represents racing, taking over the Tote? On what basis can the Government demand payment for the Tote when they have never put a single penny into the Tote since it was created in 1928?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not a case of demanding payment. It is a case of proposing to both Houses of Parliament primary legislation, which it is then for Parliament to decide upon. When that primary legislation is passed, if it is passed, then the interests of all parties concerned will have to be taken into account. Those were the recommendations in the steering group's report. The report said that the interests to be taken into account were those of the taxpayer as well as other stakeholders. I believe that the Government are acting prudently, as a proper steward of something that may well bring revenue to the taxpayer as well as benefit to racing.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, as the Minister is so able, in so far as he can argue for and against the Tote according to the temperature of the day, does that mean that the views that he expresses on the House of Lords Bill should be taken with equal abandon?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it was not the temperature of the day that mattered; it was the fee of the day that mattered. Alas, I am no longer in that happy position.

Lord Evans of Parkside: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us on this side of the House have difficulty in understanding why a Labour Government are proposing to privatise the Tote? Is he further aware that, unless the interests of the racing industry and the considerable contribution that the Tote

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makes to the industry are taken into account and safeguarded, some of us will not be happy with the proposed legislation and may well even oppose it?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I said in my earlier Answer that it would be necessary to introduce primary legislation to bring the Tote fully into public ownership, which I am sure my noble friend would welcome. Thereafter, as the report of the steering group makes absolutely plain, there are a number of legitimate interests to be taken into account. One is the interest of the taxpayer and the public; one is the interest of the racing industry, which is very important. I stress that we are looking to consultation with all those who are concerned and all the different legitimate interests.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, are the appointments to the board made in the normal way that appointments to public bodies are made? If so, how many women directors are, or have been, on the Tote board?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not know how many women are on the board. However, I shall make it my business to discover that interesting fact this afternoon and immediately write to the noble Baroness and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

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