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Where there is a statutory liability, liabilities have been transferred from British Coal to the Coal Authority, but where British Coal's responsibility represents an obligation rather than a liability, that obligation remains with British Coal.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Westminster woodland--in which every noble Lord and every member of staff is warmly invited to become involved--is to be created on an old colliery site? Does he agree that it is an excellent way of bringing the site back to life?
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in South Yorkshire there has been enormous and extensive progress in regard to the environmental transformation of the former coalfield area? However, anxiety is particularly acute because economic need continues to be severe. Can my noble friend assure the House that the Government will rigorously maintain efforts and take every possible initiative to secure European funding to assist in the economic transformation of those areas?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government recognise that there is exceptional deprivation in South Yorkshire. Despite assistance under the previous administration, in South Yorkshire the gross domestic product is 73 per cent. of the European average. That is why the whole of the South Yorkshire area has assisted area status, making it eligible for regional selective assistance from the DTI. In addition, the European Commission's current proposals for structural funds after the year 2000 would include South Yorkshire among the areas eligible for objective one funding. The data are based on information currently available.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, as my noble friend is aware, I am slightly disappointed by the Answer he first gave to me. I am aware of the various agencies which he enunciated. However, to repeat what I said earlier, the whole purpose is that there should be ring- fencing of the resources to be allocated to this initiative. Will my noble friend reconsider that matter?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I know that the Coalfields Task Force has been considering this question. It will address it in its report next month. I have not seen a draft of the report and therefore am not in a position to say anything further.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is it not sad and remarkable that this country, which gave the world modern thoroughbred racing--indeed, the horses that race are known as "English thoroughbreds"--should have an industry whose finances are in such a state that it cannot produce prize money which ranks with other nations that race horses in the same way? Indeed, on average the French prize money is 2.5 times that of British prize money. Do not the moneys that come to racing from betting need to be better distributed? The whole question needs to be re-examined in order to bring us near to par with our neighbouring countries.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Viscount mentioned betting and I must therefore declare a past interest. When I was at the Bar I acted for Ladbroke, William Hill, the Tote, Coral and Mecca. It was the purest and most refined relationship yet devised between man and bookmaker, because they paid me.
In 1996 the last government reduced betting duty from 7.75 to 6.75 per cent. and that was estimated to cost the government around £65 million a year. The Tote is beginning to thrive under its new chairman. It will provide £8 million back into horse-racing; its profits are increasing. In 1993 the government assisted the industry with a preferential back registration concession worth £15 million to £20 million a year.
I do not overlook the point made by the noble Viscount. If Sheikh Mohammed is the originator of the theme behind the noble Viscount's Question, and if he feels that discussions with Home Office Ministers would be of assistance, we are only too willing to take part in such discussions.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, when the Government discuss with the British Horseracing Board the financial scheme of Mr. Peter Savill--who may or may not be chairman of the board--will they bear in mind that racing is a major industry in this country as well as a sport, with many small owners? A flat return of 24 per cent. on 100 per cent. of their expenditure cannot be considered adequate.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord, which is why I was careful earlier to describe the horse-racing world as an industry. Of course it has enormous ramifications for all
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, not necessarily. To many people who follow horse-racing, diversity is part of the fun. Not everyone wants to go to one racecourse on every Saturday during the season. To an extent, if it is an industry, then the industry must regulate itself in terms of the number of racecourses it uses and what prize money is attached to specific races.
Lord Sandberg: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, when the Government take decisions on this matter, they will remember that there are around 100,000 people employed in the racing industry? That is without taking into account those who worked for the Minister's previous employers.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, 100,000 is the figure I had in mind and is the sort of consideration to which I was referring when I replied earlier in the context that racing is an industry, as well as giving pleasure to many millions of people.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will admire the candour with which the Minister lifted the veil on his past. Is it too much to hope that the Government will digest the basic fact that unless more of the profits from betting end up in racing, the future is dim indeed?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is a view that is held, though not by most of the major bookmakers. As I have already indicated, we have given assistance to the industry. One does not need to be full of gloom and doom. Attendances at racecourses are at their highest level for the past 30 years--more than 5 million last year--and prize money has been increasing significantly over the period. In many ways racing is a successful industry. However, I bear in mind that if one has an indication of the sort given recently by the Sheikh, one must assess that with care. I read a letter from the embassy in Dubai dated only this morning. It is paying careful attention to this matter.
The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, it is always a pleasure when the noble Lord answers one's questions so elegantly. However, if I ask another Question about racing, will the reply come from his department? I was expecting the Department of Trade and Industry to answer the Question. I know that the noble Lord's department is responsible for betting, and it would be right if it took the view that this was a betting Question. It is also right that the noble Lord should answer, and
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am answering for the whole Government, as the Front Bench Opposite constantly reminds me. I am answering the Question because it specifically falls within the remit of the Home Office. No single department deals purely with the whole of the horse-racing industry.