§ 4.22 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should now like to repeat a Statement about Aintree and the Grand National Steeplechase which has just been made by my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science in another place. It is as follows:
"This race is one of the nation's great sporting festivals and its continuance is inevitably bound up with the ownership of the Aintree course, since it is clear that the race will completely change its character if it is transferred elsewhere. The Government also believe it to be important for considerations of regional policy to keep as many important events as possible in the provinces.
"With these objectives in mind the Government initiated talks with all the interested parties, and as a result I can now make an interim statement, following discussions with the Liverpool Corporation, the Turf Authorities, the Horse Race Betting Levy Board and Messrs. Tophams, Ltd., the present owners.
"The chief consideration is that of ownership, and Her Majesty's Government have informed the Liverpool Corporation that we are prepared to give loan sanction for the capital sum required for the acquisition of the land. We shall also be prepared to apply the provisions of Section 8 of the 1966 Local Government Act in order to make them a grant, not exceeding 50 per cent., in respect of that portion of the site which is to be kept as public open space.
"I am glad to say that the Liverpool Corporation place great importance upon obtaining full public access for general recreational purposes at Aintree on all days when racing is not taking place. As Merseyside has much less open space than the national average this will be a significant contribution to the social life of the neighbourhood.
192 "It is hoped that this offer will facilitate negotiations with Messrs. Tophams for the purchase of the land.
"If Liverpool acquire the site it is understood that they will wish to lease the race course to a non-profit-making trust body to be established under the chairmanship of Lord Leverhulme. This trust will seek to develop Aintree as a National Hunt Racing centre in the North, a scheme which has the support of the Horse Race Betting Levy Board. By these means the Grand National and racing at Aintree will be maintained and no charge will fall upon the Liverpool ratepayers in respect of them.
"It is believed that at a later date the Liverpool Corporation may wish to establish a Sports Centre on the site, a project in which the North-West Regional Sports Council is much interested, and if so we would expect that there would be the fullest co-operation in the design and provision of buildings of a multi-purpose character between Liverpool, the Racing Trust and the Levy Board."
My Lords, I hope that this announcement will enable negotiations to be brought to a successful conclusion for the purposes that I have outlined.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I am sure the whole House, as well as many outside, will welcome almost with relief this interim statement on the future security of Aintree. I am sure, too, that we are all agreed that on the grounds of almost national prestige, on the grounds of safeguarding the Grand National, on the important grounds of regional policy, the decision permanently to safeguard the race course is a wise and prudent one. Perhaps one's only regret is that it has taken so long to achieve.
There are two brief questions that I should like to ask the noble Baroness about the Statement. May we take it that the loan sanction to be made available by the Government will amount in practice to 50 per cent. of the purchase price of the race course? Secondly, how does it follow from the Statement that no charge will fall on the Liverpool ratepayers, when the Corporation has 193 to find approximately 50 per cent. of the purchase price?
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Baroness for repeating this Statement, which I welcome. I must admit that I am better acquainted with regional development than I am with racing, but may I, for enlightenment, ask two questions? I understand that if Liverpool acquires the site, it wishes to lease the race course to a non-profit-making trust body. I assume that the race course is distinct from that portion of the site which is to be kept as a public open space for which a grant is to be made under the Local Government Act 1966. This open space presumably is in the middle. Will this be kept permanently free and open to the public? Secondly, does the expression "full public access for general recreational purposes" refer to the public open space or to another part of the site?
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should not wish to prejudice my right honourable friend in any way by giving the wrong answers. So far as the open space is concerned, I think I would be correct in saying the arrangement will be similar to that at Epsom race course, which is in fact an open space available to the general public when there is no racing in progress.
On the question of loan sanction, I can hardly give a direct answer to that to-day, because this will depend on many factors. A further point raised by the noble Earl, was whether the scheme will cost the citizens of Liverpool anything. This is, of course, a very complex matter, but under what is suggested the Grand National and racing will not involve a direct charge on the Liverpool Corporation.
§ LORD OAKSHOTT
My Lords, may I be allowed, as one who has seen and been thrilled by every Grand National since 1923, to add my thanks to the noble Baroness for her announcement this afternoon, and to welcome also the perpetuation of this great festival which carries great prestige all over the world, for Liverpool and for this country. May I also ask the noble Baroness whether she will recognise that the proposal for an open space in the future is one that is 194 very welcome in that area, and we all wish it well. Finally, will she also recognise that a holding trust such as that which she mentioned in her Statement, presided over by someone like Lord Leverhulme, with his great reputation for public life in that part of the world, is assured of support and success.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his remarks and to endorse all that he has said. This is a national festival enjoyed by all groups in the community—there is little doubt of that.
§ LORD ALLERTON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether the race course and the centre have been actually put in price by Messrs. Topham, or is that subject for negotiation?