HL Deb 19 May 1954 vol 187 cc804-8

6.3 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I am sorry that the Parliamentary time-table has made it necessary for me to trouble your Lordships with this Bill this afternoon, particularly in view of the many important matters which have already come under your consideration. However, I will promise to be as brief as I possibly can. I hope that any contentious points which may arise will be fully considered by your Lordships when the Bill is in Committee. In the first place, may I say I have no interest to declare. I know nothing of the "Three Draws," "Ten Homes" and "Four Aways"; I know nothing of the mathematical fascinations of permutations, and I have yet to read what I believe is an amusing book by Sir Alan Herbert on How to Win at the Pools. When I first had the honour of being a Member of your Lordships' House, one of the most widely read of our morning newspapers informed its readers that for five years I had been a Church Commissioner and that I had won a sum of £10,000, I believe it was stated, in a sweepstake. The first statement was, of course, true, but the second statement, I regret to say, was not true. That is the nearest I have ever been to winning a fortune, either in the pools or in a sweepstake.

The purpose of this Bill which I wish to present to your Lordships is to implement certain recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, 1949–51, relating to the conduct of off-the-course pool betting. In particular, it is designed to confine within narrow limits the ability of the promoter to control the size of prizes, and to oblige the promoters to publish information about the conduct of their pools. The Bill applies only to off-the-course pool betting, of which the kind most widely carried on is the football pool, with which the Royal Commission's recommendations were primarily concerned. The Bill provides that the conduct of pool betting shall be subject to a form of supervision carried out by professional persons, and requires statements to be made available to competitors showing how the moneys staked have been disbursed by the promoters of the pool.

There is no doubt that the running of pools has become one of the major business activities of this country. The amount staked by way of pool betting in 1951 was £57 million. In 1952 it was £65 million and in 1953 £70 million. It seems reasonable that where, as in this form of activity, very large sums of money are entrusted by the public in the hands of private persons, there should be some supervision of the manner in which those moneys are handled. It seems also to be desirable that the public should know how much money has been distributed in accordance with the rules and how much retained in respect of expenses and commission. This is what the Bill seeks to do.

Perhaps I may briefly run over its main provisions. Your Lordships will observe that by Clause 1 all promoters of pool betting businesses are required to be registered with the local authority, which will arrange, under Clause 2, for the appointment of an accountant to supervise the conduct of the business. The requirements relating to the actual running of the pools are contained in Clause 3. At this stage I will not go into these requirements in detail, except to say that this is the clause which is designed to prevent prize money from being transferred from one pool to another or prizes from being artificially swollen, by money that has not been paid in as stakes. This implements one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Clause 4 provides that a weekly statement of the percentage deducted for commission and expenses shall be made known to all competitors and that annual statements showing the total moneys staked in all the promoter's pools and the amount or percentage of commission retained by him shall be submitted to the local authority, by whom they will be made available for public inspection. In addition, the accountant has to be sent the promoter's annual profit and loss account. Clause 5 confers powers upon the accountant which will enable him to carry out his task of supervising the conduct of the business in accordance with the rules laid down by the Bill.

The sixth clause provides for the case of void competitions and Clause 7 allows, subject to safeguards, the apportionment of stake moneys among various competitions by a sampling technique. Clause 8 is the penalties clause, and Clause 9 permits certain local authorities to delegate their functions under the Bill. The tenth clause permits ready money pool betting to be carried on by post. The various definition are contained in Clause 11, which excludes from the operation of the Bill bets placed on totalisator pools operating on horse and dog-racing tracks, which are governed by existing legislation. Clause 12 contains certain provisions which apply only in Scotland.

The Bill may appear to be somewhat complicated, but this complexity is inevitable if the provisions of the Bill are to be workable in practice. I understand that there have been detailed consultations with representatives of the pool promoters about the provisions relating to the conduct of the pools, and that the numerous Amendments which have been made to the Bill as originally introduced in another place were prepared with the assistance of the Parliamentary draftsman, whose services the Government were so kind as to make available. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with details at this stage; there will be ample opportunity in Committee to explain any points which require elucidation. This is, I believe, a carefully-thought-out and useful measure, and I trust that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Burden.)

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, at this stage I think it would be convenient if I intervened to make clear the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards this Private Member's Bill. I should, first of all, apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lord Lloyd. He would have liked to be present, but he has a long-standing official engagement in North Wales; he hopes to assist in the later stages of the Bill in your Lordships' House. We are greatly indebted to the Royal Commission on Betting and Gambling for producing a most interesting Report which I commend to your Lordships. In that Report is a great deal of information about pool betting. From the Report it is clear that the pools provide a widespread pastime, with a slight chance of a magnificent prize and a slightly better chance of a more humble prize. As a form of gambling it is a most expensive one, and for a professional gambler it is obviously out of the question; but something like 16 million people are believed to extract enjoyment and, indeed, mental exercise out of its pursuit. In doing so, they pay heavily for postal services and they pay heavily in taxation and to the expenses of running the pools. But they evidently think the game is worth the candle, and, after all, it is their money.

The promoters of the Bill want to implement the Report of the Royal Commission to the extent of securing that people who put money into pools shall have an opportunity of finding out what happens to it; and they also want to see the conduct of the pools regulated in some respects. In this they have the support of the Government. They had that support in drafting in another place, and if further amendment should be required in your Lordships' House I can promise the help of the official draftsman. In fact, Her Majesty's Government recommend your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at a quarter past six o'clock.