HC Deb 05 July 1983 vol 45 cc243-54 10.18 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I beg to move, That the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 10th May, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved. I shall briefly deal with the order and then say a few words about the longer term.

The order deals with a small number of pool competitions which, under the existing law, are neither lawful pool betting nor lawful lotteries. Perhaps I should explain how that came about. These are competitions for prizes based on the results of sporting events, for the most part football matches. They are run for the financial benefit of organisations supporting charities and athletics or games. Of the six pool competitions now in being, three are run for the benefit of football clubs, two are run for medical charities and one is run for the Spastics Society and the Van Neste Foundation.

Until 1970, the promoters of those pool competitions believed that they constituted lawful pool betting. There were at that time considerably more such schemes. However, in that year the House of Lords ruled that this type of competition did not constitute lawful pool betting. The House of Lords came to that view because in pool competitions, unlike ordinary football pools, the main prizes are not given for making forecasts but for holding or selecting numbers which happen to be lucky in a particular week. In the view of the House of Lords, that difference made all the difference between lawful and unlawful pool betting and it decided that the pool competitions were unlawful.

Had this House not taken action, the effect of the Lords judgment would have been to hit hard the charitable and sporting organisations supported by these competitions, such as the Spastics Society, which gain substantial income from that source. Therefore, the Pool Competitions Act 1971 was introduced as a temporary measure to safeguard the interests of the charities and sporting clubs concerned. The 1971 Act did not allow any new schemes of this kind to be launched. When it was passed, there were 18 pool competition schemes covered by the Act, but that number has since declined to six.

The 1971 Act set up a system of licensing and control of those pool competitions administered by the Gaming Board. Under section 8 of the Act, there is provision for it to be extended by order for up to a year at a time, and the measure has been extended annually since 1976. Last year, the then Home Secretary announced his intention to lay further annual orders as necessary during the lifetime of that Parliament. He also announced that a discussion document on the future of pool competitions had been sent to interested organisations and a copy placed in the Library of the House. The comments on that document have been considered and officials have had a further meeting with representatives of the promoters and beneficiaries under the Act.

So much for the history. The House, and particularly hon. Members who have followed this matter, such as the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), will not be surprised to learn that in considering the issue afresh, we ran into the same substantial dilemma that has faced Conservative and Labour Governments since the Act was passed.

There has been criticism during these debates in previous years. Some have criticised the lack of a permanent solution. Others have criticised aspects of the schemes themselves. But the difficulties posed in trying to reach a permanent solution have again proved to be not insignificant.

Some have argued that the Act should be allowed to lapse. They argue that the 1971 Act, intended as a temporary measure, created a privileged position for those who benefit by and operate under it and that that anomaly, having lasted this time, should now be removed. They would say that there is no evidence of any demand to make these competitions more widely available, and they would point to the clear and unambiguous recommendation of the Royal Commission on Gambling that the Act should be allowed to lapse.

If that occurred, there would be some saving on expenditure by the Gaming Board and in the time of officials, and it would mean an end to our annual debates, which I do not think Ministers introducing the orders have particularly enjoyed any more than the House has.

However, the suggestion of doing away with the Act is hardly realistic, given the sums that various charities would stand to lose. In 1982–83 the Spastics Society derived £553,000 from these competitions and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund about £600,000. It would be a harsh and reckless act to deprive such deserving causes of those substantial sums.

Some might go on the other tack and argue for permanent legislation, whether confined to the existing schemes or open to all. They would argue that that would avoid the need for annual renewals and remove uncertainty about the longer term. Such legislation could either make the existing Act permanent or include better controls.

If it were the former, and confined to the existing schemes, it would involve no additional work once the amending legislation was passed and would not result in any wider expansion of the competitions. I do not think that the House would accept permanent legislation which would be confined to the existing six schemes. That would be conferring a permanent privilege on a handful of schemes.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

Does the Minister genuinely believe that that is a greater evil than to perpetuate a temporary measure for the thirteenth year running?

Mr. Hurd

I said that I would deal with the longer term. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will suspend his comments to see whether he is satisfied with what I shall say.

Returning to the idea of permanent legislation, if the schemes were opened up to everybody, whether on the basis of the present Act or one with better controls, that would avoid the need for annual renewals and would not be discriminatory. It would, however, create a new gambling outlet for which there appears to be little demand.

The Gaming Board, which would have to monitor and control the competitions, is opposed to their becoming more widely available, even with tighter controls. If there were stricter limits on such things as prizes or expenses, that could make some of the schemes less viable at their present level, and reduce the sums paid to the beneficiary.

We decided that the option of permanent legislation was not sensible and we considered whether the competitions could come within the framework of the lotteries legislation. Some of the organisations that operate under the Act run lotteries as well, but those are not as profitable as pool competitions. The prize limits for lotteries are considerably lower than the prizes available in pool competitions. We would not want to distort the legislation on lotteries merely to accommodate pool competitions. I am advised that although the competitions with which we are dealing are, in essence, lotteries, they have characteristics of their own that would make it difficult to fit them into permanent lotteries legislation.

Faced with all these difficulties, the Government have decided that, subject to the draft order being approved, further annual orders will be laid as necessary during the lifetime of this Parliament. That option has the understanding of the promoters and beneficiaries under the Act, who have come to accept that the prospect of permanent legislation is remote. By proceeding in this way, we ensure that no new gambling outlet is created and Parliament will be able annually to consider the position of these competitions.

Having carefully considered the options, we believe that it is sensible to propose annual renewal during the lifetime of this Parliament. I emphasise that we see no long-term future for these competitions. The number of schemes has declined to six since the Act was passed, and may decline still further during the next few years. Some of the sums that the beneficiaries derive are still large, but they are declining as a proportion of their total income. That trend seems likely to continue.

I have given an assurance that we shall if necessary, and if the House agrees, keep the Act alive during the life of this Parliament. However, there will probably come a time when the Government will no longer feel justified in laying further renewal orders before the House. Therefore, I urge those who benefit from the Act to use the breathing space provided by this statement of our intentions to reduce still further their dependence on income from these competitions and to find and develop other ways of raising revenue.

I hope that the problem will resolve itself within the reasonable breathing space that I have suggested and that that will come about not by any harsh or unkind act of the House, or by distorting legislation on pool competitions or lotteries, but through the natural disappearance of a type of competition which, by then, will have outlived its purpose.

10.28 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

The Opposition have no intention of dividing the House on the draft order. However, there are some important questions to be asked. As the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) has said, this is the 13th year of a temporary piece of legislation and we are led to wonder why the anomaly is to be guaranteed for yet another five years.

I congratulate the Minister on having read the history of these orders as thoroughly as I have. Very often these debates have taken place late at night. We are luckier this year because the renewal order was debated at three o'clock in the morning last year. We are now debating exactly the same issue. Is it right to allow a monopoly to continue for a small group of promoters and a small number of charities? Should we allow it to continue for a further four or five years?

These renewals constitute part of the mess that is the present regulatory system for charities that raise funds through gambling, whether it be through lotteries or pool competitions. It seems unfair that we have one rule for one group of organisers and one group of charities and a different set of rules for other organisers and charities.

Permanent solutions have been promised. However, promises change as Ministers grapple with the latest straw of the famous doctrine of unripe time. I see from previous debates that Ministers asked us to wait until Rothschild reported and then a decision would be made to end the anomaly. After 1978, it was not possible to maintain any longer that the Royal Commission had said nothing. When the Royal Commission reported, it said that there was no place for such an anomaly and the Government should let it wither away by not renewing the order. One of the most attractive propositions for hon. Members is to sit on their hands and let the matter die.

After the Royal Commission reported in 1978, a general election took place. The new Government said that it was impossible to bring before the House any recommendation on such a small matter as a pools continuation order as they had a busy timetable and programme before them.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is the hon. Member suggesting that the Government would have been correct to implement the one recommendation of Rothschild that could be implemented by default, by the Government not doing anything at all, while implementing none of the other recommendations?

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. If he is patient, I will deal with that. Throughout the last Parliament, the doctrine of unripe time continued. There was no time to regularise the position and no time for a proper debate in the House about the Rothschild recommendations on the important topic of betting, and gaming. We still await proper scrutiny of the recommendations and proper action from the Government following the sensible and sane recommendations of Rothschild, many of which many Opposition Members would endorse.

The Minister has cogently stated that the House has three options before it. First, we could regularise the continuous exemption by passing legislation allowing the six pool companies to continue their special privilege on a more more permanent basis. Secondly, we could keep going with the same procedure for ever and a day. Thirdly, we could accept the Royal Commission's recommendation and allow the matter to expire.

The fourth and more difficult option, from which most Governments shrink, is to have a thorough debate about gambling and fund-raising through gambling in our society and to arrive at some sensible conclusions based on such a debate. The debate would cross party lines in an unusual pattern. If we debated Rothschild in depth, the debate would be interesting and informative. It would not be strictly tied to party lines. Hon. Members would make up their own minds on this difficult subject without basing their views purely on party considerations.

We need a full review of pools competitions, their relationship with lotteries and their relationship with fundraising.

Reading reports of past debates on this subject, I have much sympathy with the arguments by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East over the years. He has constantly emphasised how strange it is not only that a small group of pools organisers should have a quasi-monopoly of this kind of pool and this kind of fund-raising but, more worringly, that no more than 15 per cent. and often less—a debate last year in the other place showed that it might be as little as 8.5 per cent.—of the cash paid by the public actually went to the charities concerned. That seems wrong in any context. The ordinary member of the public believes that he is giving far more than that to charity. With lotteries, an average of about 35 per cent. of the cash paid by the public to the organiser finally goes to the charity.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

The argument about the cost of running this type of fund-raising competition has been rehearsed many times. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that by their very nature these competitions must involve paid employees selling the tickets, which is bound to increase the cost, and that competitions similar to these tend to produce similar results? We are all concerned about the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) about the high administration costs tending to weigh against the sense and viability of these competitions. Nevertheless, they produce income for the charities and no other method of operating them has yet been found.

Mr. Sheerman

I take that point, but it should be a matter of concern to the House that the figures seem so out of proportion. I am not attacking the six companies involved, but if one compares lotteries with these pool systems, one sees that the amount that reaches the charity in this case is much smaller and may be as little as 8.5 per cent. I appreciate that the administrative structure is different and that these pools schemes raise substantially more money for charity than most lotteries. Nevertheless, we should examine the balance carefully. I believe that the Royal Commission came to the same conclusion. Not only is there no rational argument for these pool systems to enjoy this strange monopoly but it is significant that the percentage of the money ultimately going to the charity is so small.

I have spoken to a number of leading fund raisers in the past week. They all take the view that the law is in a mess. It will not be helped by continuation orders being made annually throughout this Parliament. Most of the men and women seeking to raise funds for the most reputable charities and for causes close to the hearts of most Members of Parliament — heart research, cancer research, spastics and so on — are people of great expertise. They devote their lives to raising money that Governments, especially the present Government, will not provide for research that perhaps should be carried out by Government. The charities are manned by very able people, but they are hamstrung by Governments who seem intent on fiddling around ineffectively with their affairs.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the Government are refraining from supporting research programmes on some of the diseases to which he has referred. He knows that the Government are major supporters of research programmes. Would I not be right to assume that the money that comes from these bodies is additional to the substantial Government support for the various research programmes that are funded by the Department of Education and Science and many other agencies?

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting point. It is a matter of balance. If the Government fund cancer or heart disease research insufficiently or cease to provide money for research, the burden on charities is made even more important. The balance gets out of control under a Government that consistently oppose expanding research.

The fund raisers need a clear outline of the parameters in which they work. That can be done best in a debate during which the House examines Rothschild and gets rid of the anomalies of the pools organisations. It would be good for the public to understand why there are pettifogging regulations on some charities that raise money in one way while fewer restrictions affect charities that raise money in another.

We restrict charities too much. The Opposition favour liberalisation of charity fund raising, even if it involves some chance. The public want that. We must debate the issue and reach some conclusions. The House must be disappointed that this anomoly will be perpetuated for another four or five years. Tonight was the time for the Minister, who is new to his office, to say that he will examine the subject, have a thorough debate and give us a clear view of where we are going. That opportunity has been missed. It will be greatly regretted by many people.

10.42 pm
Mr. Timothy Yeo (Suffolk, South)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech on a subject which affects far more people than the obscure title of the order suggests and which has become controversial.

I declare an interest as the director of the Spastics Society which is one of the charities that derives substantial revenue from a football pool that is operated under the Pool Competition Act 1971. I hope to remain employed by the society until the end of this year and thereafter to serve it in a voluntary role.

Although my constituency is new, it comprises some of the oldest and most beautiful villages in East Anglia. About two thirds of my constituency formed part of the old Sudbury and Woodbridge constituency. I pay warm tribute to Mr. Keith Stainton, the former Member of Parliament for that constituency. He had a distinguished war record and served the constituency most conscientiously for almost 20 years. I can testify to the loyalty and respect that he commanded in the constituency.

Suffolk, South is an area of sharp contrasts. The other one third, which was part of the old Bury St. Edmunds constituency, contains Haverhill, a town with a substantial GLC overspill population, and many rural villages. It is a reflection on the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who supported me generously before and during the general election campaign with time and advice, that he is spoken of as highly on the GLC estates in Haverhill—where there is now a rapidly growing element of owner-occupation — as in the villages by people who are Suffolk born and bred.

The Pool Competitions Act is an important measure for several of the leading charities. The Spastics Society, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, the National Fund for Research into Crippling Diseases, better known as Action Research for the Crippled Child, are the best known, and each derives substantial revenue from the pools that operate under the Act.

Over the past 25 years, the Spastics Society has received almost £40 million from that source, making it the most important single source of revenue. Those who decry the operation of the football pools ignore the tremendous benefit that has been conferred not just on the charitable organisations, but on the thousands of families who have reason to be profoundly grateful for the income received by charities from the operation of the Spastics Society, football pool and other charity pools.

The relative importance of the pools has declined. The Spastics Society football pools contributed 44 per cent. of total voluntary income in 1973–74 whereas the figure for 1982–83 was down to 6 per cent. However, £500,000 still comes to the society from the football pool. That is three times the amount received by direct grant from central Government.

The society paid £483,000 last year in unrecoverable VAT. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will have the opportunity to remind his Treasury colleagues about the burden that VAT imposes on charities. The sum of £500,000 is a substantial one in charity terms. It is enough to pay for the whole of the Spastics Society's social work service of 30 specialist workers assisting families in England and Wales. It is sufficient to cover, in running 33 centres for spastic adults, the difference between the cost and the fees received from local authorities. The money from the football pool is financing worthy activities.

Apart from the income that the charities receive, there is another aspect of the football pools that has so far been overlooked this evening. They provide a means for 1.5 million people every year to make a small contribution to charity while at the same time enjoying, quite legitimately, a modest flutter with the possibility of sizeable, although not sensational, financial gain. Although it may be held that gambling is in one sense an undesirable activity, I do not believe that the participants in such football pools, by staking perhaps 15p or 20p a week, are endangering their family budget. The operation of the pools may mean that among the 1.5 million weekly subscribers are some who would not otherwise be aware of the charities that they are supporting and the work that those organisations are doing.

There has been a general recognition for a number of years that the existing position, requiring the renewal of the order every year, is unsatisfactory not only for the Government and the House but for the operators of the pools who cannot make any long-term plans, and for the charities who are uncertain about the security of the income. Therefore, I welcome without reservation the statement by my right hon. Friend that the Act will be renewed annually throughout the life of the present Parliament. As we all know, this will run for a full five years. The Government have given the pool operators and the charities a longer period of secure operation than at any time since the original passage of the Pool Competitions Act 1971. For that reason I know that the charities will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for his assurance.

My right hon. Friend will also know that extensive consultations have been held over the past few years with the Home Office, and the charity pool operators, and the charities were fully involved in those consultations. The charities and pool operators made clear their preference for new legislation that would permit the continued operation of charity pools on a permanent basis. If that is not possible, I hope that my right hon. Friend will hold discussions with all the parties involved to ensure that any damage to the charities' incomes, following the ending of the present basis of pool operation, will be minimised.

Bringing the present charity pools within the scope of the 1976 Act would be difficult to achieve without some adverse impact, but if it cannot be done. I hope that my right hon. Friend will argue even more strongly with his Treasury colleagues about value added tax.

The Pool Competitions Act enshrines what seems to be an anomalous position, because it restricts the charity pools to a small number of specified operators. I stress that that restriction has been the wish of successive Governments since 1971. The charities concerned have no desire to be part of an exclusive group. At all times, the charities and pool operators have been at pains to stress that they would be happy for the Act to be amended to allow other charities to compete on an equal basis.

When the matter was discussed in the past—the point was raised again this evening—concern was expressed about the expenses of pool operators. I stress, for the benefit of those who do not understand the nature of these pools, that the pool operators are commercial companies which are separate from the charities. The Spastics Society, for example, exercises no management control over the Spastics Society football pool, and has no legal responsibility for its administration.

To some extent, I share the concern about the expense ratios. However, the circumstances of the pools have to be borne in mind, in particular the proportionate cost of running a football pool with a small weekly stake. It is 16p in the case of the Spastics Society football pool. The cost of running such a pool will inevitably be much higher than the cost of running a pool that has a weekly stake of, say, £1. Moreover, all subscribers should be aware how much of their stake — in the case of the Spastics Society football pool, it is 15 per cent. — goes to the charity, how much goes to the prize fund, and how much to expenses. Pool subscribers will also be aware that after the charitable donation has been deducted from their weekly stake, one third of what remains goes to the Customs and Excise in betting duty.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) may have talked to a number of leading fund raisers during the past week, but he has not attempted to talk to me, or to my colleagues who are involved in fund raising, and whom I see in the Gallery. As I run one of the largest fundraising operations in the country, raising about £10 million a year from voluntary sources, it is a shame that the hon. Gentleman made no attempt to talk to me if there is as much concern about fund-raising methods and costs as there seems to be. We in the Spastics Society are perfectly happy with the present system of pool operations.

I hope we shall find a way forward that does not damage the financial position of the charities over the longer term. The voluntary sector plays a major part in the life of our country, and unusually, it enjoys the support, both practical and philosophical, of most, if not all, sections of the community. The true size of voluntary organisations is not known precisely, although the Charities Aid Foundation is sponsoring research, the results of which will be available later. It is likely to show that in economic and financial terms the voluntary sector is a force to be reckoned with.

The Government have expressed their enthusiasm for the voluntary sector on many occasions and have backed their words with deeds such as increasing direct Government grants and fiscal concessions in the form of covenants, legacies and relief from stamp duty. That has demonstrated tangibly the Government's remarkable support for the activities of many leading charities. Bearing in mind that every pound of direct Government support is boosted by voluntary donations and that in addition to expenditure by voluntary charities considerable real value is obtained through the work of unpaid volunteers, there is a substantial multiplier effect at work, converting each pound of Government assistance into several pounds' worth of activity.

The voluntary sector is one of the most cost-effective areas for Government expenditure. With the severe limitations that will now exist, quite rightly, on both central and local government expenditure over the next few years, the significance of the voluntary sector is likely to grow.

By giving his assurance, my right hon. Friend the Minister has given some short and medium-term help to the charities. But the long-term anxiety is perhaps now more pronounced. It is in the interests of the community for the House to approve legislation that allows some modest form of gambling to be promoted for the benefit of charity. By doing so, the voluntary sector, which we are all so anxious to encourage, would receive continuing benefits.

10.56 pm
Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) on an effective and fluent maiden speech. The likelihood of finding the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order 1983 as a vehicle for making an appropriate maiden speech was a pretty unlikely concept, but the hon. Gentleman did it with flair and we shall look forwared to hearing more of him in more general debates.

Secondly, I welcome the Minister of State to what has been a private family affair. I hope that he remains with us to continue such debates, perhaps in even more truncated form, in future years.

Thirdly, I want to mourn the absence from this debate of Dr. Shirley Summerskill, who is much missed. Her annual contributions, both as a Minister and as a spokesman for the Opposition, had a permanence of which one feels sad to be deprived.

Fourthly, and very genuinely, I want to commend the excellent speech which was written for the Minister. I hope that the speech writer will get whatever reward may be forthcoming, such as an hereditary peerage, which is currently in vogue.

The hon. Member for Suffolk, South said that as a result of the Pool Competitions Act his charity is £40 million the richer. I want to make it clear to the House that the £40 million was what was left over from the £260 million that people gave to charity collectors who said that they had come "on behalf of the spastics". Although he said that those people, if they read the small print, would be well aware of the percentage that goes to the charity, I do not believe that many of them knew how little went to the charity. The charity is, after all, the fourth beneficiary. The first is the operator's expense, the second the receiver of the betting duty, and the third the prize fund. I simply remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that, were it not for this particular swindle, £260 million, not £40 million, would have gone to the charity.

It would be quite wrong for any hon. Member to divide the House on this issue. The options are to divide and deprive the good causes that benefit, or to agree, and abide by the status quo, though this does little credit to the Government. However, I quite accept what the Minister says—there seems to be no alternative. It is right to retain the status quo. Let me end by saying that I hope our future annual debates on continuation will take up even less time than tonight's offering.

11.5 pm

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

It must be rare for an hon. Member to be congratulated in succession by two Liberal Members, but it is, of course, a sign of things to come. I warmly commend the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) on his very lucid maiden speech. We all admired his expertise and the fluency with which he delivered his speech, and greatly look forward to his future contributions.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) has said, this debate is a family affair. For a long time he and I have contributed to such debates in various ways. My hon. Friend's tremendous expertise goes far beyond mine. I have a much more specialised, local interest, which is perhaps underestimated in some of the arguments.

The beneficiaries of such competitions are not only the well-known charities but large football clubs such as Glasgow Rangers and small ones such as Berwick Rangers, which find it much harder to raise the money to keep a league club going in a very small town. The Rothschild report neglected the extent to which, in Scotland, small clubs benefit as well as big clubs. However, in the English league—particularly earlier, when Rothschild reported—benefits tended to go to the large sporting organisations.

I should explain that Berwick Rangers, a small club, benefits by being a participant in the Glasgow Rangers pool competition. The balance of expenses to other items is much more favourable to those who take part in it. A much higher proportion is given in prizes than in most of the other pools. It is also more favourable to the football clubs. The expenses have always been much lower in Rangers' pools and as a result the customers and beneficiaries have found themselves better off.

I share much of your background, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and many of your interests and religious views, and you would hardly expect me to be a gambling enthusiast. Far from it! However, hon. Members should not rush to the assumption that there is something uniquely evil about the sort of gambling represented by the pools competitions orders, and by the very small weekly stake pools. Any comparison with other widespread forms of gambling shows that this type of gambling is a very small thing. People pay out a small stake week by week. That is their little bit of gambling, and it is very different from spending afternoons or evenings in a club, feeding machines with all the money that one has. We have all seen that going on in clubs in our constituencies. It is also quite different from the football pools that now place such emphasis on prizes that are so large that they often bring tragedy and heartbreak to those who win them. It is quite different, too, from the gambling involved in spending every afternoon at the betting shop. Sadly, that has become associated with unemployment and the idleness that accompanies it.

There is a difference. The housewife puts aside the minimal weekly stake of 17p or 20p in the hope of winning, by comparison with the football pools, a very modest prize. The organisations that benefit include not only the charities, which we want to encourage and support, but football clubs that have considerable difficulty in supporting their expensive activities. I refer not only to the expense of players, but also to the cost of meeting the new and higher standards of crowd safety and so on. Ministers have recognised that in the consideration that they have shown to the benefiting organisations in introducing this order.

I hope that in their discussions for the longer term, which clearly must take place, the Government will recognise that this kind of small weekly stake is perhaps one of the least worrying forms of gambling in society —and there are some lethal forms. I ask the Minister to give particular consideration in those discussions to those organisations which benefit from the present, perhaps anomalous, position.

It has not been an easy time in football for clubs to find alternatives and to change the basis of their financing. I am not, therefore, surprised that relatively little progress has been made in changing the basis for football finance for smaller clubs over the past few years.

Looking at the problem from the point of view of the small club in the small town, I appreciate what the Minister has done tonight. I hope that consideration will be given in the discussions to organisations such as the small local football club in which I am interested.

11.5 pm

Mr. Hurd

The House is fortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) chose to make his maiden speech on a matter upon which he is so clearly an expert. His work for the Spastics Society is well known and rightly praised. It was a wise move by the electors of Suffolk, South to send him here. The clear and sympathetic way in which he set out his views plainly held the House and we look forward to hearing him in the future.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) made a powerful plea for a full debate. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was here during that part of his speech and will have heard what he said. The Government's choice on this occasion was not that; it was whether to knock these six pool competitions on the head and deny the charities and football clubs the money that they receive from them. We have decide not to knock them on the head and I am glad that that was thought to be right by both sides of the House.

I should like to correct a point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, which other hon. Members have picked up tonight and previously the figure of 8.5 per cent. which finally goes to the charities or football clubs. I know where that figure came from and I therefore do not blame any right hon. or hon. Member for using it. I am advised that that figure is wrong and that 15 per cent. is correct. I hope that 8.5 per cent. will not be bandied around as the correct figure.

Mr. Sheerman

Is it not a fact that 8.5 per cent. or that lower figure is correct and that the charities make it up to 15 per cent.?

Mr. Hurd

No, Sir. That statement appeared in an official paper. I apologise if anyone was misled by it. I am advised that it is not so, and that the correct figure is 15 per cent.

As has been said during the debate, the position in the House is broadly the same as before. In the outside world the position is changing and that is why we have done two things tonight that have not been done previously. For the first time, we have offered a reasonable breathing space of several years to the organisers and beneficiaries of these competitions. We have given something that is halfway between a hint and a warning: that they should use that breathing space, if they are wise, to find—I recognise the difficulties — other ways of obtaining equivalent income. We are ready to discuss the possibilities and the way ahead with those involved, although I cannot make any promises on particular points.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 10th May, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.