HC Deb 14 December 1960 vol 632 cc540-5
Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

I beg to move, in page 8, line 20, after "state" to insert: and one of whom at least shall be qualified either in accountancy or law". In view of the late hour, I shall try to be brief. The Amendment deals with the constitution of the new Totalisator Board, which will be composed of five members. I wish to draw attention to the importance of ensuring that the right members are selected. I have therefore suggested that one at least of them should be either an accountant or a lawyer, because I believe that the task facing the new Board will be a very serious one if it is to take advantage of the new conditions in which it will operate.

I hope also that one or more members of the Board will be drawn from people who have experience of modern totalisator practice, perhaps in other countries as well as in this country.

Mr. Wigg

I hope that the Committee will not accept the Amendment, because it is unreasonably restrictive. If a lawyer or an accountant were appointed, he would have a special status in relation to the Board's legal advisers or its accountants. To that extent it seems to be restrictive.

Also, the Amendment seems slightly deficient in logic. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is necessary to have an accountant or a lawyer, why choose one or the other? Why not both? If he has an accountant he is short of a lawyer, and if he has a lawyer he is short of an accountant. What he is seeking to get here he cannot get in one person, so he suggests one or the other. If he thinks one or the other is important, there is a deficiency in the one which is not covered.

The Government, in seeking to have on the Board a representative with an interest in racing or experience in business are on the right lines. In the thirty years during which the Racecourse Betting Control Board has operated it has never found any difficulty in getting competent advice on both legal and accountancy matters, and I would have thought that it would be better to rely on that approach rather than to restrict ourselves to a rather narrow field.

Mr. Vosper

I think that I ought to put my hon. Friend right about the size of the Board. It will consist of a chairman and three members. It is my right hon. Friend's intention that they shall be men of business ability. It would be wrong to fetter my right hon. Friend to limit him at any rate in one appointment to a lawyer or accountant. It may be that a lawyer or an accountant might fit the bill in some respects, but it is more important that one should have an unfettered discretion to appoint men of business ability to this very small and compact Board.

As the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said, it will have available the services of lawyers and accountants, and I do not think that it would be wise to insist that one of the members should be from those professions. Having aired his point of view, I ask my hon. Friend not to press the Amendment.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Renton

I beg to move, in page 8, line 34, to leave out from the beginning to "and" in line 43 and to insert: (6) Paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of section eleven of the Betting and Gaming Act, 1960 (which confers on the Totalisator Board like powers to those conferred on the Levy Board by paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section two of this Act) shall cease to have effect; and for paragraph (d) of the said subsection (3) (which confers on the Totalisator Board powers of investment similar to those conferred on the Levy Board by paragraph (d) of the said subsection (1)) there shall be substituted the following, that is to say— (d) to invest money in any body corporate which is carrying on a business consisting wholly or mainly of activities authorised by the Board under subsection (1) of this section, to lend money to any body corporate or other person for the purposes of the carrying on of such a business by that body or other person, and to make such other loans or investments as they judge desirable for the proper conduct of their affairs

The Deputy-Chairman (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I think it would also be convenient for the Committee to discuss the Amendment in page 8, line 42, leave out from "other" to end of line 45.

Mr. Renton

Yes, Sir William. Under subsection (6) as drafted the Totalisator Board's power to invest money is limited to trustee securities. That is a departure from the powers given to the Board under the 1928 Act, as amended by the Betting and Gaming Act, 1960. There was no such limitation in the previous legislation, and it is right that I should make that clear. The reason why it was inserted in the Bill is that, under postwar Statutes, a limitation has generally been imposed on the power of public bodies and statutory boards to invest their money by requiring them to conform with the same restrictions as are applied to the trustees of trust funds under the enactments for the time being in force.

The Totalisator Board's powers of investment should be considerably widened if the Trustee Investments Bill, which is now in another place, were to go through Parliament. That is a factor to bear in mind in considering both Amendments. When the Racecourse Betting Control Board received the Bill it represented to us that the limitation to trustee securities might unduly fetter it if, at some future date, it desired to invest money in a concern carrying on business of the same kind as that which the Board is empowered to carry on. It should be remembered that under Section 11 of the 1960 Act the Board has an exclusive right to conduct pool betting on horseracing and betting at tote odds, but it has power to give permission to other people to do this, and it may be that in the future it would want to give such permission to somebody else, and in that way to invest money.

We feel that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), on behalf of the Board, which proposes entirely to omit that part of subsection (6) which imposes the limitation, goes rather too wide. It would permit the Board to make any kind of investment and would give much wider powers of investment even than those of the Levy Board. But it seems reasonable that the Board should have discretion to invest money in any business which is wholly or mainly engaged in the same kind of operation as that of the Totalisator Board itself.

That is what the Government Amendment does. With respect to the hon. Member for Dudley, who has no doubt considered the matter carefully and has probably also consulted the Board about it, I hope that the Committee will feel that the Government Amendment goes far enough.

Mr. Wigg

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for going some way to meet me—but he does not go quite far enough. The Government overlook the fact that under Section 11 (1, a) of the 1960 Act the Board is now required to carry on a pool betting business. It is a statutory body and also a commercial concern. It is carrying on a business by Statute and therefore, if it is a business, I do not see why it should be required to invest its money only in trustee securities. That is an unreasonable restriction.

The Committee has had a long day, and I should be wearying it if I attempted to explain all the implications of this matter. The negotiations and discussions that have gone on have, in the nature of things, been rather hurried, and I should be entirely satisfied at this stage if the hon. and learned Gentleman would spend some part of his Christmas holidays seeing whether he could extend the good work that he has started.

I have expressed my regret that the Government feel it necessary that this trustee investment restriction should still continue to apply. I regret that we cannot take the brake off completely. But, having done so much, I hope that the Government will have another look at it and perhaps even undertake, through the usual channels in this matter, to have further consultations with the Board to see whether agreement cannot be reached.

I must make clear that I am not voicing my own opinion in these matters. I am here putting forward a point of view about which the Board is very concerned, not for itself but for the freedom of the new Board to be able to operate as it is required by Statute as a business concern in the interests of racing.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

This is a matter of some importance. The powers of the Board were under examination during the Committee stage discussions of the 1960 Act and in my opinion the position now is worse than it was then. The Explanatory Memorandum states that … the composition of the Board is changed and its functions limited to those connected with the operation of totalisators and the effecting of betting transactions. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will reconsider the matter from an entirely different point of view from that suggested by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). In my submission, what has happened here is that power is given to invest money in any body corporate which is carrying on a business consisting wholly or mainly of activities authorised by the Board under subsection (I) of this section … That means, if we look at the case of Tote Investors Limited which works with the Board, that it would be open for the Board to pay the necessary money and make a take-over bid for Tote Investors Limited, and there would be no protection, so far as I know, for Tote Investors Limited.

The second part of the Amendment states: … to lend money to any body corporate or other person for the purposes of the carrying on of such a business by that body or other person … It would seem that there is nothing to prevent money being lent to any body which is carrying on a considerable business in Tote pool betting. That does not seem to me to be the situation in which a new Tote Board ought to be placed.

The existing Tote Board consists of a chairman and a considerable number of members, the hon. Member for Dudley being one. Under this legislation we shall have only four members and they are being put in a position where, by reason of the powers given to them under the Amendment proposed by the Government, they can go into the pool business in a big way. I do not think that was the intention of the Government. If it were, the words I referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum would have no meaning at all.

In the circumstances, I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will reconsider this matter, as it is of considerable concern to some people.

Mr. Renton

I willingly give an undertaking to think about this matter further, so long as the Committee will be so good meanwhile to accept the Government Amendment because I think it right that we should do that.

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.