HC Deb 20 December 1960 vol 632 cc1121-9

As amended, considered.


5.34 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 19, to leave out "seven" and to insert "eight".

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House also to discuss the Amendment in page 2, line 10, at end insert: and (f) one member shall be appointed by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. They are related Amendments.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

Yes, that will be convenient.

Mr. Peart

We want the Levy Board to consist of a chairman and eight other members. We seek to increase the number of members from seven to eight because many of my hon. Friends, and indeed many hon. Gentleman opposite, argue that there should be a representative of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons on the Board. He would ensure that the purposes of the Bill, as laid down in the Clause, namely, (a) the improvement of breeds of horses; (b) the advancement or encouragement of veterinary science or veterinary education … were carried out, because those are matters of concern to the veterinary profession. The Levy Board should have the advice of a statutory body such as the Royal College, which would be able to advise how grants should be disbursed and used for the purposes stated in the Bill.

We argued this point very fully on Second Reading and in Committee. Now that we are on Report and are approaching Third Reading, it would be wrong for me to go into too much detail, because if I did I should weary the House. I ask the Government to respond to our plea that this responsible statutory body should be represented on the Levy Board.

We do not think that the balance would be upset as between racing interests, the Jockey Club and the other representatives if the membership of the Board was increased by one, as we suggest. We are certain that the efficiency of the Board in disbursing the money and resources which will go to it for the benefit of racing will be increased.

I hope that I shall not have to argue against the view put forward by some hon. Members previously that the Royal College should not be represented because it will be a beneficiary. I have tried to argue forcibly, and I hope clearly, that in no sense will it be a beneficiary. It is a statutory body with great responsibility. It will have the task of merely giving advice. I argued previously that it occupies the same position vis-à-vis veterinary problems, veterinary science and veterinary education as the Jockey Club does vis-à-vis horseracing. Many hon. Members feel that the Royal College should be represented.

I shall not labour the point, because it has been argued at length already. Many hon. Members disagree with me, and no argument will convince them. However, I hope that those hon. Gentlemen who did not hear the previous debates will support our point of view and that even at this late stage the Minister of State or the Under-Secretary will give a favourable answer.

If the Government do not agree to increasing the number of members and argue that it would overburden the representation, perhaps the Government spokesman will be able to give us his views on whether the Government have an alternative in mind. The Secretary of State has no doubt read the debates. He will realise that this is not a party issue and that there is much support for our proposal.

If the Government feel that they cannot accept the Amendment at this late stage, we want to know what they have in mind. Will they set up a special advisory committee. I have argued this before, and there are precedents for it. There is the example of the Agricultural Research Council, which has an Animal Standing Committee and a Soils Committee, which give specialist advice to the Council on how it should plan its work.

If the Government will not accept the Amendment, will they appoint an advisory committee or will the Secretary of State, as one of the two members for whom he is responsible, consider appointing somebody with veterinary experience who has national standing?

I press the Government. This is important. I hope that they will accept the Amendment and that there will be one member from the Royal College who will be able to make the work of the Board more effective, more efficient and more balanced and will ensure that money coming from an important section of the industry is used properly and wisely for veterinary education, breeding and research, which make so valuable a contribution to the racing industry.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

Since the Committee stage, my right hon. Friends and I have considered this matter of the representation of veterinary interests, but we do not think that it is best dealt with in the way suggested by the Amendment. I shall have various views to put before the House as to how the interests of veterinary science will be protected, and I hope that those views will be acceptable to the Opposition.

Our first reason for not being able to accept the Amendment goes back to the two ideas on the composition of the Levy Board. The first is that it should be a small board, as recommended by the Peppiatt Committee—a board not containing representatives of bodies likely to benefit directly from the levy. The interests of racing, and the various sectional interests which will benefit from the levy will be met by allowing the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee to nominate members, who will be expected to represent the interests of racing generally, and to help the Levy Board to consider representations made to it by particular interests. I should point out that neither the Jockey Club nor the National Hunt Committee will benefit directly from the levy.

That is one alternative—the small board. The other idea is that we should have a large board composed like the present Totalisator Board, on which the various racing interests are directly and specifically represented. If we were to accept the Amendment, we should be working towards a large board, because we could not logically exclude other interests that have pressed to be represented but which have abandoned that position on the understanding that the interests of racing generally, including all the sectional interests, should be represented by the governing bodies of the industry—the Jockey Club and the National Hunt.

This Amendment would, therefore, breach the principle in two ways. First, we should find ourselves with a larger body than seems right, and secondly, it would upset the balance that we have so carefully put to the House—and which I think that the House accepts—between the interests of the bookmakers on the one hand and of the beneficiaries, in the broadest sense—but without particular and direct representation—on the other hand, as represented by the Jockey Club and the National Hunt; and with the chairman and the two independents holding the balance between those two sides.

It is also material to point out that the Amendment would also breach the principle that potential beneficiaries should not be directly represented. We agree that it is important that an adequate amount of the levy should go to veterinary science, and I shall now explain to the House how we contemplate that that will be achieved. It will be achieved because the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and any other person or body interested in veterinary education or veterinary research, or in the application of veterinary science, will have an opportunity of making representations of a specific character to the Levy Board.

The Levy Board will be able to accept advice from any of the bodies that are making the representations, but it is charged by the Bill with the duty of weighing up those representations and considering, in relation to the total amount of money available and to other demands on it, how much should be allocated to veterinary science. When the Board forwards the distribution scheme to the Home Secretary, he will be required to approve it, but before finally approving it he may make modifications to it.

5.45 p.m.

It is important, quite obviously, that when the Secretary of State is considering the draft scheme put before him, and considering whether or not it will need modification, he should know what representations made to the Levy Board have not been embodied in the scheme. Therefore, we intend to make arrangements to ensure that any representations that have been made to the Levy Board are passed on to the Secretary of State. We also intend to ask the new Levy Board, when it has been established, to inform the people whose representations are not accepted that they have not, in fact, been accepted. In those two ways the Secretary of State will be fully seized of any respect in which the Levy Board has not met the representations. I would say that nothing could be more thorough or more fair than that. It will ensure that the interests of veterinary science are safeguarded.

A further factor may interest the House. The Ministry of Agriculture is to a very large extent the sponsoring Ministry, if that is the right expression, for the veterinary profession and for veterinary affairs. It will be open to the Secretary of State to consult the Minister of Agriculture—who has various advisory boards to help him on various aspects of the matter—and it will also be open to the Minister of Agriculture to make representations to the Secretary of State. With this already fairly elaborate existing arrangement available, we feel that it would be unnecessary to set up a fresh advisory body entirely for this purpose. Those are the reasons for our not accepting the Amendment, and those are the alternatives that we put before the House.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

It was not until after very careful consideration that, at an earlier stage of our proceedings, I put my name down to an Amendment similar to that in page 2, line 10. I did so because I felt very strongly about this matter—so strongly, indeed, that some of my hon. Friends and I went into the Lobby against the Government. Quite frankly, I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for the concessions that have been made today, but it still seems to be rather odd.

It has now been shown quite clearly that the Government are fully seized of the need for the veterinary profession to be in a position to carry out the duties with which it is charged under the Bill, and know that it is essential that a proper amount of the funds flow to that profession to make sure that all the measures desired, and for which the money is raised, are being carried out.

My hon. and learned Friend and his right hon. Friend have obviously gone so far in this that I do not see why they could not have gone that little bit further and have accepted a member of the veterinary profession on the Board. It seems to me to be rather odd that it should be claimed that it would open the doors to a whole spate of new applications from other bodies. In fact, of course, all these other bodies which I can think of are in a position quite different from that of members of the veterinary profession who are charged under the Bill with very serious duties in connection with it. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) may turn up his nose, but—

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I was not turning up my nose. I was lost in incredulity. The hon. Gentleman comes down here to support a Measure which he has clearly never studied and which he does not understand. I was registering astonishment.

Mr. Burden

The hon. Member for Dudley is known in the House for thinking he knows everything about everything and for trying to be offensive on every occasion he rises to speak.

Mr. Wigg

And succeeding.

Mr. Burden

He has succeeded again, as he says, and it does not do him a great deal of credit.

In fact, of course, the Government have gone a long way in this. I repeat that. The veterinary profession is charged with taking certain steps, through the money that will be allocated to it, to improve the breed of horses. Money will be dispensed for that purpose and for other purposes in connection with veterinary education and investigation.

I believe that it would have been better if a representative of the profession, a nominee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, had been included on the Board. On this occasion, however, if the matter goes to the vote, I shall not accompany right hon. and hon. Members opposite into the Lobby because I really feel that the Minister has gone quite a long way in trying to meet the wishes of the House. I have no hesitation in saying that, and I am quite sure that in practice he will go much further.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

After listening to what the hon. and learned Gentleman had to say, I looked at the Government Amendments on the Paper. I could not see that any of the Government Amendments effected the alterations which he was explaining to us. We have asked for a statutory provision. We are being offered assurances that in the administration of the Measure things will be done to enable the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to make representations to the Levy Board. If there is an Amendment that goes any further than that and if the hon. and learned Gentleman will point it out to me, I shall be in bad company again and find myself in the same Lobby with the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden). As far as I can see, no Government Amendment has anything to do with what he has told us.

I am one of the few people—I have been told that I am the only one—who has both been before the stewards and has later called on the stewards to appear before him. I have, therefore, a little knowledge of the way they work. I am not sure whether "work" is the right word. I once heard two chief constables arguing about that sort of thing and one said to the other, "You do not work. Chief constables operate." Perhaps it would be better to say that the stewards of the Jockey Club operate rather than that they work.

When I was chairman of the Epsom Urban District Council, the stewards called me before them. There had been a wet Derby day and many vehicles had been bogged down on Epsom Downs. I am just finishing this illustration, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to show how these affairs work. The stewards announced that, unless the urban council widened the roads on Epsom Downs, the licence for the course would be withdrawn. That was that.

Some years later, I called the stewards before me to tell them that the Cabinet had decided that certain races would be better run on Saturdays rather than in the middle of the week, and we hoped that we should have their co-operation. Approaching them in that spirit, very different from their approach on the previous occasion, we reached agreement, I am glad to say. As far as I am concerned, I wish that the big races were still run on a Saturday so that a good many people could attend them who do not do so now because their consciences will not allow them to go.

We are told that the stewards, the representatives of the Jockey Club and the National Hunt, will represent the beneficiaries on the Levy Board but they are not to be beneficiaries themselves. But they are. The whole object of the Bill has been to keep the show going. Owing to the fall in attendances and other matters, there will be nothing for them to be an authority on unless they have the financial assistance which is to come from the Board.

I am disappointed with the answer of the Under-Secretary of State because I think that when there is jostling between the various interests concerned the racecourse executives, the breeders and other people who will draw money under the Bill, veterinary science and the Royal College will find themselves pushed out sometimes.

I like to see horses. I like seeing beautiful horses running on race courses, and I think that the veterinary profession has a distinct part to play in arranging that. After all, one has only to go into the paddock to see the horses parading for one of the classic races and parading for a selling plate to realise the difference that comes when veterinary science is applied to the breeding and maintenance of these animals.

Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)

If the right hon. Gentleman looks into the matter, he will realise, I think, that veterinary science is much more likely to be applied to a bad-legged selling plater than to a runner in a classic race.

Mr. Ede

I do not regard that as one of the triumphs of veterinary science. I am bound to say that I do not feel confident that veterinary science and the Royal College will get much out of these arrangements, particularly when they are only administrative arrangements. If I could see something put into the Bill to ensure that there would be a definite statutory duty placed on the various parties to his scheme, I should feel a great deal happier about it than I am now. I sincerely hope that, if another place will act not as a subcommittee of the Jockey Club but will give its mind to this subject, it may yet be possible to put something into the Bill which will ensure that the interest we are discussing really has the certainty of prime consideration in this matter.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I had no intention of speaking on these two Amendments, but my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State must not provoke me too far. As I understood him, he said that it is important that we should resist these Amendments in order to preserve the very delicate balance which exists on the Levy Board between the bookmakers on the one hand and the various other interests on the other. But it is not a very delicate balance. The odds are four to one against the bookmakers without the independent members. It seems to me that to suggest that four to one against is a delicate balance is defying the law of gravity.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not press the point. If anyone has had a raw deal out of this Bill it is, as far as I can see, the bookmakers who, although they have to provide all the money, have one representative on the Board whereas the Jockey Club has two representatives and the other organisations are equally represented. If my hon. and learned Friend presses this point about a delicate balance too far, in the event of a Division he might drive me to take a course of action which would be repugnant to me. As I am anxious for him to get the necessary representatives on the Board as soon as he can, I content myself with asking him not to press me too far on this issue of balance.

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