HL Deb 06 May 1976 vol 370 cc681-4

5.55 p.m.

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH rose to move, That the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order 1976, laid before the House on 31st March, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this order, I should like to outline the background to it, and the Act which it is designed to extend. In 1969 a pool promoter, registered under the provisions of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963, who promoted competitions analogous to football pools partly for the benefit of medical research, was convicted of offences under the lotteries law. These convictions were upheld on appeal to this House which held that the competitions in question were in fact lotteries, and as such were unlawful. It was apparent that this judgment would affect not only the medical research which was supported by this competition, but also charitable and sporting organisations supported by similar competitions. In particular the Spastics Society and some cricket and football clubs who derived substantial income from this source, seemed likely to suffer.

The Pool Competitions Act 1971 was therefore introduced by the Government of the day as a short-term measure to safeguard the interests of the charities and sporting clubs concerned. The Act set up a system of licensing and control, administered by the Gaming Board for Great Britain, of the competitions for prizes depending on sporting events (essentially football matches) which were run for the financial benefit of these charities and clubs. The Act came into force in 1971 and was to run for five years. There was, however, provision in Section 8 of the Act for extension by order for a year at a time. And this is what we seek to achieve with this order.

These "pools" continue to provide substantial help for a number of the charitable and sporting bodies concerned and I think it can be said that the provisions in the Act have worked satisfactorily as an interim arrangement. But it is not yet possible to say what permanent provision ought to be made in this field. As noble Lords will recall, we now have the Royal Commission on Gambling which has been set up to carry out a wide-ranging review into the existing law and practice relating to gambling, including lotteries. We shall clearly have to have regard to whatever the Royal Commission may say about the Pool Competitions Act 1971, and in all the circumstances, it seems to the Government desirable that the Pool Competitions Act 1971 be extended for at least one year. I seek the approval of the House to the order accordingly. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order 1976, laid before the House on 31st March, be approved.—(Lord Harris of Greenwich.)

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has pointed out, this Act came about by virtue of a case called Singette Limited and Others against Martin, as a result of which a number of charitable pools were declared illegal and the Government of the day came to the rescue by providing what was then regarded as a temporary legal umbrella. I say "temporary" because, as the noble Lord has said, the Act was due to run out (if that is the word) on 27th July 1976. It was therefore confidently expected that new legislation would be forthcoming and would replace the Pool Competitions Act long before that date and long before now. I do not lay the blame for the fact that it has not come about wholly at the feet of this Government. Certainly, I do not seek to lay more than a just proportion thereof.

The Act is unsatisfactory and I regret, in a way, that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, did not draw attention to this, but I intend to do so. It is unsatisfactory for no other reason than that it is only applicable to organisations which were originally in the field in July 1971; so that there has been no provision for what I might call new entrants, and there never has been any provision. That must be unsatisfactory. This factor, if no other, makes it desirable that it should be replaced.

I wish that the noble Lord had given a hint, if not possible proposals, of the measure which would supersede this Act, bearing in mind its anomalous character, as I have tried to suggest. If I may not so much mix my metaphors as melt them, the Government give the appearance of sitting on their bottom with their head down under the safety or, at least, the shelter provided by the Royal Commission. That is a sad state of affairs for a number of worthy people who produce large sums of money which go to charities.

My Lords, perhaps House will grant me indulgence to refer to a matter which is similar to, but not strictly in line with, the order now before your Lordships. I hope the noble Lord will grant me that indulgence because I told him I was going to raise this matter if I am allowed to do so. It concerns the Lotteries Act which was given a Third Reading here on 14th July last year. Draft regulations under this Act have never been placed before your Lordships' House although, as I understand it, the Government confidently expected that it would be a matter of months before they were. There has not been even a consultative document which would enable those of us who are interested, if not vitally concerned with the subject, to think about the Government's intention under this important measure. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will have a crumb of comfort at least for this part of the debate. As I have said, there are a number of people who give of their time freely and on a voluntary basis to provide much needed funds for charity. I am sure that both as regards charitable lotteries and the long expected local lotteries—lotteries to be promoted by local authorities—it is time the Government, as it were, came off the fence and decided what was to be done under this Act.


My Lords, the noble Earl has raised two points. First of all, he acquitted us of being over-somnolent on this matter. He pointed out that I might refer again to the Royal Commission and its existence in explaining why we are having to move this order today. It is a fact that the Royal Commission has been established. That being so, it would be premature to produce proposals for dealing with this aspect of the law before we get the proposals from the noble Lord and his colleagues, which will cover the broad territory of this whole field of the law.

The second question concerned the 1975 Lotteries Act. The noble Earl asked about the consultative document. The answer is that shortly the Government hope to send to the local authority associations and other interested bodies, and at the same time to place in the Library of this House, the consultative document, indicating the Government's proposals for inclusion in the regulations. That will be done as speedily as possible. I am grateful to the noble Earl for giving me the opportunity of being able to draw attention to that.

On Question, Motion agreed to.