HC Deb 10 November 1982 vol 31 cc529-30
1. Mr. Fitch

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make financial resources available to help to ensure that the Grand National horse race continues.

9. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether his Department has given any advice or assistance to ensure that the Grand National horse race continues to take place at Aintree racecourse.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

Under an agreement signed on 5 November between the trustees of the Jockey Club's Grand National campaign and the private owner of the Aintree racecourse, the former has been granted an option to acquire the freehold of the racecourse and the permanent rights to the race for £4 million at any time up to 1 May 1983. The holding of the 1983 Grand National has been guaranteed under separate arrangements.

I sincerely hope that the long-term future of this great steeplechase can now be assured, although I fully appreciate that much depends upon the fund-raising ability of the Jockey Club to reach its target over the coming months.

Mr. Fitch

If this assurance is not fulfilled, will the Government be prepared to give some financial support? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not a parochial event, but a major event in world sport that is watched on television by 49 countries and therefore should not be allowed to die?

Mr. Macfarlane

I echo the hon. Gentleman's final sentiments, but I can give the House no guarantees or assurances that the Government will provide any money. It is very much the responsibility of the racehorse fraternity. I understand that much will depend upon how these funds can be raised over the next few months. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the press statement by the Jockey Club, which he might read and thereby understand a few further matters.

Mr. Parry

I congratulate the Jockey Club and the Merseyside county council on their efforts to ensure that next year's race will be run, and I hope that financial assistance will be raised to enable it to be run in future years. Will the Government consider providing financial assistance for a sports complex, which would be a tremendous boost to Merseyside and the North-West and would provide some urgently needed jobs?

Mr. Macfarlane

It is difficult to hypothecate what might happen in future. Much depends on what happens between now and the middle of next year, but the future depends on the ability of the Jockey Club to raise funds. I am certain that many Government agencies are interested in the future of the steeplechase and will consider the observations and suggestions of local people.

At some future stage the regional sports council may receive overtures from people in this area, which it might consider. However, I make it clear—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The answer is becoming very long.

Mr. Budgen

Will my hon. Friend be a great deal firmer and tell the House that there is no intention of giving taxpayers' money to maintain the Grand National? Will he state that when a Tory Government are necessarily cutting back on public spending in the Welfare State it is wrong to give money to activities that ought to be no part of the business of any Government?

Mr. Macfarlane

I thought that I had made it clear that the Government have not made any contributions. This is naturally a matter for the Jockey Club and the racehorse fraternity.

Mr. Denis Howell

I appreciate the initiative of the Jockey Club, but how does the price compare with the known price of the district valuer? How will the money be raised, and how much will be needed to replace the stands under the provisions of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act? As there is a desperate shortage of play space in Merseyside, is not the greatest priority to get Aintree opened up to the people in the area?

Mr. Macfarlane

The whole concept of the continuation of this race, together with the facilities and acreage, depend on its viability. Everybody must understand that the Government are not in the business of giving subsidies for this type of activity. I shall happily find some of the answers to the detailed statistics, but I should point out that the Home Office also has a major interest in organisations involved in racing in this country.