Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Viscount Astor: My Lords, before the Minister leaves that point, can he address the issue of casino legislation? Is that for the longer term or is that for the short term, linked with the Levy Board and the Tote?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we see that more as a medium-term issue. It will greatly benefit that sector. We need to liberalise it; that much is clear. But it is not inextricably linked with the future of the Tote.

A number of questions were asked during the course of the debate and I shall attempt to address some of them. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked if I could confirm that the Levy Board will be abolished. I can confirm that and believe I have already made that clear. Our decision to do so was announced at the same time as our decision to sell the Tote.

My noble friend Lord Lipsey made the point of the need for early legislation. We accept that and we are as keen as the current board of the Tote and racing as a whole to see an early sale. That is why we are working closely with all the key stakeholders and carefully consulting them to ensure that we address all the outstanding issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnham, raised the issue of the price to be paid by racing. I congratulate him on that. I welcome his pragmatic approach. I know that he believes very strongly in the approach that the Government are adopting. We feel it is realistic and that it is the best way forward. I want to ensure that we get the issue of principle right and no doubt he will consider our general approach to be correct.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, raised one of the most important issues this evening; that is, the integrity of racing in the United Kingdom. It goes without saying that our racing industry does have integrity. We are a long way from the race gangs at Brighton racecourse, Brighton Rock, Graham Greene and all those matters. It is because of that that our racing industry is as well supported as it is; why it is still a spectator sport and still attracts great interest. I played some small part in that in promoting the Labour Race Day at Brighton racecourse.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am pleased with that. It is something we should have more of. I reckon the party that races together works best together.

We need to hang on to and sustain the integrity of racing and any action that we take, such as the sale of the Tote, must reflect that.

We have had a very useful debate this evening. I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for the initiative that he has taken. This has been very important for us and it is something that will take us

14 Jun 2000 : Column 1742

in the general direction of the disposal of the Tote over time. I am not here this evening to give a commitment as regards the timetable in that respect. As I said earlier, this is a matter upon which we need to focus more time and attention so as to ensure that we get it absolutely right. We need to continue the dialogue with the important stakeholders and to conduct our discussions and negotiations with the Commission in Europe.

I am greatly indebted to the noble Viscount for the constructive tone of his contribution. I am most grateful to him for giving me an advance copy of his notes. The spirit that we have discovered in your Lordships' House this evening will serve us well when we bring forward government legislation at some later stage, the aim of which will be to proceed with the sale and disposal of the Tote to the racing industry, where it should rightly rest.

I understand that the Bill has been described a number of times this evening as an effective Bill and, perhaps, as a simple Bill to do a simple job. But, unfortunately, when you subject it to any form of objective analysis, I am afraid that the Bill is probably too simple and, regrettably, would only do part of the job required. Indeed, I believe that I made that case earlier. Having said that, I thank the noble Viscount. We have had a most useful and entertaining debate and one which we have all enjoyed. I wish the spirit of the Bill well, if not the Bill itself.

9.9 p.m.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I have been asked to apologise on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, who wanted to be here this evening but was unable to do so. He has asked me to say that he would have supported the Bill. His great concern is that he is afraid that the delay in privatising the Tote would damage it commercially at a time of great technological change. While the uncertainty continues, he believes that the Tote will experience difficulty in raising the capital needed to invest in new technology. I believe that that call was echoed on all sides of the House this evening. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, described it as a "wake-up" call for the Government.

It is entirely clear that any delay will damage the Tote and its ability to compete. For example, the Tote does not know whether or not it can go offshore. Therefore, it will have difficulty in competing with the bookmakers. Another problem is that it does not know whether it can go on-line and offer on-line betting to international punters. As my noble friend Lord Burnham said, we are not here to argue about who should get the proceeds. We all accept the practical decision that the Home Secretary made, providing that the Tote goes to a racing trust.

I was interested to hear the Minister describe the Tote as a "public body" and say that, therefore, the sale would have to be referred to the European Commission. I find that interesting because, judging by what we heard this evening, I do not think that

14 Jun 2000 : Column 1743

anyone really knows whether it is a public body; it is certainly not a government body. We know that the Government do not own it: it seems to be floating around in the middle somewhere. Therefore, until the Government have defined exactly what it is, I do not see how we can approach the Commission on the matter.

I very much enjoyed the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. Indeed, his interest in racing is, as always, wide ranging. I look forward to being with him at Ascot next week. He described the debate that I remember well when the Duke of Devonshire said that he thought the prize money should not go up because he did not see why anyone should subsidise his hobby. The noble Viscount asked why someone should subsidise a yacht, or something like that. At the very least, I hope that the noble Viscount will make some money and that that will subsidise a pair of new mudguards for his motorbike.

However, seriously speaking, racing does need the money. As has been said, the Tote provides quite a small part of the total money that actually goes to racing, but it is important that we try to fill that gap. I am grateful for the support of my noble friends Lord Burnham and Lord Cope. We are all as one in wanting to see this happen as soon as possible. I can do no better than to conclude the debate with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and say that this is a wake-up call for the Government. I hope that noble Lords will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 2000

9.12 p.m.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd May be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, it may be helpful to your Lordships if I begin by setting this evening's debate in the context of the Government's overall approach to counter-terrorism legislation.

Noble Lords will be aware that this House is currently considering the Terrorism Bill, which will eventually replace the existing temporary provisions of both the prevention of terrorism Act and the emergency provisions Act. That Bill will, we hope, receive Royal Assent as soon as possible. That, however, leaves us with a gap between 15th June, when the current provisions of the emergency provisions Act expire, and Royal Assent of the Terrorism Bill. The purpose of this order is to renew the temporary provisions for that period.

Noble Lords will appreciate that, while there has been significant progress in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Belfast agreement, that progress has

14 Jun 2000 : Column 1744

been slower than we would have hoped. Regrettably, the agreement has not yet brought a complete end to the terrorist threat.

On both Republican and Loyalist sides, new groupings have emerged determined to destroy the agreement and deny the people of Northern Ireland the chance to build a new and prosperous Northern Ireland. These groups remain small. But sadly their capability is still considerable. The security forces, north and south, continue to use every effort to thwart their attempts to destroy the peace process. This co-operation reflects the determination of both governments to protect the community.

I pay tribute to the continued courage and commitment of the men and women of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and to the Armed Forces acting in their support. To their credit both the RUC and Armed Forces have carried out their duties with utmost professionalism during the 30 years of violence but at a very high price.

We all hope that the security forces never have to lose another life as a result of terrorism. A sign that progress has been made is that 1999 was the first year for 30 years in which no member of the police or Army was killed in Northern Ireland. A further sign is that today a battalion of the paratroops has left Northern Ireland, reducing the number based there to its lowest level since 1970.

This changing environment means that security policy faces challenges unknown only a few years ago. In the face of a sustained terrorist campaign, the prime need to protect the community from terrorism was widely accepted. Now we need to look both ways. We must and do recognise the very real progress that has been made, and security activity has changed accordingly. Some want this to go further, but we can never forget the forces out there determined to destroy Northern Ireland's chances for peace, who have been responsible at Omagh for Northern Ireland's single worst atrocity of the Troubles.

But equally, we must ensure that our security policy is always governed by the threat level. The Government have an overriding duty to protect the community from threats, from whatever quarter and in whatever form they come.

The emergency provisions Act provides the security forces with powers over and above those in the ordinary law. Consequently, it also has important safeguards.

Independent reviewers provide reassurances to the Government and the public that the powers are used fairly and properly; that persons detained under the terrorism provisions are fairly treated and that both the statutory and administrative safeguards are properly applied.

This evening's debate is particularly informed by the recent report of Mr John Rowe QC, independent reviewer, on the operation of the Act in 1999. Mr Rowe has concluded that the temporary provisions of the EPA should be renewed in their entirety. The Government share that view.

14 Jun 2000 : Column 1745

There is also a requirement, and a safeguard, that for the provisions to remain in force they must be reviewed and renewed annually by Parliament. That is the business of your Lordships' House today.

The draft order will continue in force the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 from 16th June 2000 until the Act repeals itself on 24th August. However, as I said earlier, the provisions are likely in reality to cease to have effect as soon as the Terrorism Bill becomes law.

The order will also continue in force Section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998; and Parts III and V of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 in so far as they have effect in Northern Ireland. Together, these provisions provide a wide-ranging package of measures, additional to those contained in the ordinary law, to counter terrorism in Northern Ireland. They have provided a workable legislative framework to allow the police and Army to deter and detect terrorist crime, and to bring those responsible for such crimes to justice.

The Government recognise and are encouraged that the threat of terrorism in Northern Ireland has diminished significantly. The use of the emergency powers has been greatly reduced to reflect changes in the terrorist threat. We hope and expect the threat to diminish to the point where no special Northern Ireland powers will be necessary. But until such times the provisions are vital to deter and detect terrorist crime and to protect the community. I commend the draft order to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd May be approved [20th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page