HL Deb 24 May 1979 vol 400 cc494-508

11.37 a.m.

The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Belstead)rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th March, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the draft order which is before the House is to extend the Pool Competitions Act 1971 for a further period of twelve months from 27th July 1979. The competitions with which the 1971 Act is concerned are competitions for prizes based on the outcome of sporting events, especially football matches. They are not commercial football pools. Part of the proceeds from these competitions go in support of charities or sports. The Spastics Society and some cricket and football clubs are examples of bodies which have derived substantial income from this source. The promoters had originally thought that these competitions constituted lawful pool betting, but it was held in a judgment of your Lordships' House that these were unlawful lotteries. This was because prizes were given not for making forecasts, but for holding numbers which happened to "come up" in a particular week's competition.

I shall not go into further detail about this. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is sitting on the Front Bench opposite. He spoke on the then Government side on this competition a year ago. I will, however, do my best to answer questions which your Lordships may put to me. But first may I come to the problem which the presentation of this order presents. The difficulty is this. It was envisaged, even at the time when the 1971 Act— that is, the principal Act under which this order is presented—was passed, that a more permanent resolution of the situation of these pool competitions (which were held by the judgment of your Lordships' House to be unlawful) would be made in due course. The 1971 Act was, therefore, passed to run for a period of only five years up to July 1976. The Act also contains provision however for orders such as the one I am presenting this morning to provide for periods of extension up to one year.

Three successive orders have been made, with the result that the Act is currently due to expire on 26th July this year. The Act was extended on three previous occasions because it was thought appropriate to await the comments which the Royal Commission on Gambling would make on the competitions for which the Act provides. The Royal Commission reported last July— that was after the time that this order was taken last year—and recommended that the Act should be allowed to expire in July this year.

The Royal Commission—and I must be quite open about this—did not regard the special provisions of the 1971 Act as being necessary to the bodies concerned because the Royal Commission held that they can become ordinary lotteries. It appeared to the previous Government and it appears to the present Government that decisions really ought to be reached on the Royal Commission's recommendations taken as a whole, not least because the Royal Commission was highly critical of the working of the 1976 Lotteries and Amusements Act. The point is that if these pool competitions which fall within the scope of this order today were to be made unlawful because your Lordships would not agree to this order, the only thing they could possibly do would be to register under the 1976 Act, and the Royal Commission on Gambling were highly critical of the workings of that Act. Because time was seen to be running out for the 1971 Act unless this order was presented, the previous Secretary of State laid this order before both Houses of Parliament on 20th March, having previously explained in another place on 8th February, in reply to a Parliamentary Question, that the previous Government recognised the difficulties which the expiry of the Act would cause for the charitable and sporting organisations which at the moment benefit from the 1971 Act.

My Lords, in these circumstances I hope that the House will agree that the Pool Competitions Act 1971 should be extended for a further year. I suggest this will give all concerned an opportunity to consider the matter further. Accordingly, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th March, be approved.—(Lord Belstead.)

11.42 a.m.


My Lords, I need not detain your Lordships for very long because I subscribe to everything that the noble Lord has said. It is perfectly true that in the past two, if not three, years I have moved a similar draft order in your Lordships' House. The time has come—and the noble Lord will probably agree—when this matter has to be looked at afresh once and for all. A year ago we were awaiting the Report of the Royal Commission on Gambling and I gather from what the noble Lord has said that within the foreseeable future the Government will come forward with some recommendation and advice as to how to deal with this matter in the future. Meanwhile, the draft order should receive your Lordships' approval because without it a number of charitable and sporting organisations would lose a significant part of their income, and in these days this is something we wish to avoid. Therefore, with the reservation regarding asking the Government to come forward in the not too distant future with something much more definite than we have had hitherto, I support this order.

11.43 a.m.


My Lords, all fairy stories have two things in common: they all start with "Once upon a time" and they all end with "They lived happily ever after". The account given by the Minister today is slightly abridged and the statement made for the Opposition is one with which I wholly dissociate myself, because they too have something to hide. The problem which arises is a by-product of what is essentially the British disease: humbug. I define that as saying one thing and doing another.

With your Lordships' permission, I am going to treat this problem not as a fairy story but as an account of the facts. Legislation dealing with gambling and all its aspects has been the subject now of goodness knows how many Royal Commissions. The report, when received, has been put on the shelf and the dust has gathered. Then, a decade or so later, something has to be done about it. The report is taken down from the shelf and, without further examination, some of the recommendations are put into operation. But of course time has marched on; circumstances have changed.

So what happens, my Lords? A number of publicly spirited people connected with charities and sports found a way of raising very considerable sums of money. I am not supporting one or the other: there is football and cricket and there is the excellent and noble work carried out by the Spastics Society. Then somebody takes the view that what they are doing is unlawful; they are engaged in forecasting the result of a sporting activity. The matter comes up through the courts to your Lordships' House with I think Viscount Hailsham (as he then was) leading for one of the parties.

The conclusion reached was that they were not forecasting the result; what they were doing was forecasting what a group of people said the result might be. This is a distinction which strains one's thinking a little, but after giving it due thought one can comprehend what they are getting at. The only point I would make is that people who go in for this competition and who are forecasting can never know whether they have won or lost. The point at which the ball is said to be obliterated from the picture—I am assuming your Lordships understand "Spot the Ball" or similar competitions—would produce 20,000 different answers in the space of one inch. However, that is not all the story. If one goes in for these competitions—and I am now looking at the problem as a whole, "Spot the Ball" as well as prize competitions—you pay your money and you can never engage in any correspondence whether you won or lost or whether your forecast has been put into the pool. Correspondence is expressly forbidden and so the competition lays itself open to all sorts of corruption.

As a result of a legal decision these various activities were forbidden. They were held to be in contravention of the law and many went out of existence. A lot more ran as lotteries and a few have continued under the Pool Competitions Act. That Act was explained to Parliament—I thought most lucidly— by Mr. Mark Carlisle, who is now a Minister. This was as long ago as February 1971. But he realised that he was asking Parliament to legislate on a very difficult and complicated subject which had been bequeathed to us because of the failure to face up to a situation which involved a very considerable number of our fellow citizens who, whether we like it or not, were engaged in the activity either legally or illegally.

In order to sweeten the atmosphere, he promised a review. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, did not refer to that review which was undertaken and a report was submitted to Parliament—it was the report of the interdepartmental working party on lotteries (Cmnd 5506)—as long ago as December 1973. That was the period when the Conservative party were in power. It was not brought forward with any great alacrity by the administration because they were dealing with a very hot subject at that time—it may not be so hot today: a limit on the amount that could be won at bingo. However, there was no limit on the amount that could be won through football pools.

I think I can present the problem in a form which I, anyway, can comprehend. Great arguments go on whether we should have a national lottery. We have a national lottery. Other countries run their national lotteries but we are operating already a very efficient national lottery: the football pools. That is what it is. The people who win astronomical prizes are not people who have displayed great skill as to whether Liverpool will beat Nottingham Forest or results of that kind; they do it by putting down a block of numbers which somebody thinks up and they go in for it week after week. Suddenly a million-to-one chance comes up and, hey presto! they are millionaires overnight.

There are those who think—and clearly the interdepartmental committee thought—that a limit should he put on the national lottery. But something else has happened. It does not concern the Home Office but it does concern the Government as a whole. When the Labour Government took power in October 1964, the total amount that accrued to the Revenue by way of tax on gambling was £33 million. Now, in 1978/79, it is nearly £400 million; and of course the Board of Customs and Excise, whose responsibility it is to gather revenue as and when they can within the legislation which Parliament enacts, are concerned with the protection of the revenue. If, therefore, you put a limit on what can be won through the pools it would have the same effect as was brought about in 1963 by Mr. Reginald Maudling, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he knocked out fixed-odds betting—deleted it by the stroke of a pen. God forbid that I should put the idea into anyone's mind that the pools were subscribers to the Tory Party!—but the facts are that those who ran fixed-odds betting were put out of business and the football pools flourished. They go on flourishing today, and they have spread out into all sorts of other activities as they diversify.

The fact is that if the pools competition were allowed to lapse it would put an end to the activities of the football clubs that remain. I should have thought that that was unjust and would create a great deal of harm, so for that reason I do not oppose the order. But I think that this unsatisfactory state of affairs should not be allowed to continue. I would remind your Lordships that in 1971 there was a Bill, and there was to be a review after five years and a body of officials was set up. They present a report to Parliament but nothing is done about it; and then the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who was not then a Minister, came to this House and moved for Papers.

We had a debate here on 30th January 1974. I remember that debate only too well because among the principal speakers were a Bishop and a noble Lord speaking for the Labour Party. They were both "holy men": that is to say they disclaimed knowing anything about gambling, which was very evident from their speeches. They also claimed great superiority in that they had never betted in their lives. I, on the other hand, belong to the unworthy poor, if I may say so. I am not sure about being glad that I am poor but I know that I am unworthy and I want to remain unworthy, because I bet and sometimes I lose and sometimes I win, like many of my fellow countrymen. I think it has to be accepted, or at least I would assert that it has to be accepted, that betting and forecasting results, in whatever form it may take place, is part of the leisure industry. Betting shops as such flourish because they meet a need. People of like mind can meet together and people who engage in trying to win the pools do so in the hope of winning a vast sum with a small outlay.

Anyway, nothing was done about the interdepartmental report. Two Ministers—members of the Conservative Party but not members of the Government, namely the noble Lords, Lord Carr of Hadley and Lord Campbell of Croy—recommended the interdepartmental report to the House for discussion and action. That was five years ago and nothing has happened. So in 1975 we have the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission starts work, and of course anything that the Home Office can sweep under the counter is swept under the counter by the formula that it, "must all wait until the Royal Commission". The Royal Com- mission have reported, of course, and I would invite your Lordships' attention to the fact that quite early in the game, in the very earliest stages, they say this: It is important to appreciate that a number of our recommendations are interlocking and therefore that the implementation of one and not another could well cause serious misunderstanding if not chaos". That is the situation about the recommendation in connection with the pool competitions: if it were abandoned, it would lead to a disastrous situation.

My Lords, if in fact the order is not renewed then the seven undertakings which still operate would have to use the facilities available to them under the law—namely, the Lotteries Act. In this connection I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that the Royal Commission was "critical" of the lotteries. This is what they said: There is wholesale disregard of the law which is inadequate and confused, commercial exploitation to a totally unacceptable degree, gross lack of security and, we strongly suspect, a good deal of plain dishonesty". If you will forgive my saying so, it seems to be rather an abuse of the English language to say that that was "critical". It was something more than critical: it cried aloud for immediate action, because this has not come like a thief in the night. There is a whole section of the Royal Commission's report which deals with changes in the law from 1975 to 1977 and, of course with the situation of the law as regards lotteries as a whole.

This is not the first time that I have intervened on this subject. Way back in, I think, 1975, or at any rate after the new Labour Government took office, a Private Member's Bill was passed. It had a curious history as to how it was moved in another place, but it went through all the proceedings and came to your Lordships' House. I subsequently learned that I had broken all the conventions, but I came down to the House, not expecting any support but having done exactly what I have done today—that is to say, having done my homework. I recalled to your Lordships what this Private Member's Bill would do and how utterly wrong it was. I suggested that there should be a general review of the law as a whole to get rid of the humbug, and said that the law, whatever it may be, should take into account the facts of the situation as they are, however complicated they may be.

To my surprise, although I did not get any support from the Labour Party Front Bench, at least not in the Lobby, a number of your Lordships were sufficiently impressed by what I said to vote with me and the Second Reading was refused. On innumerable occasions I have written to the Home Office. I am completely sure that the Gaming Board have done the same. The head of the Gaming Board is a very wise and good man—a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Allen. He was the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office. He warned the Home Office over and over again about the nonsensical situation which had been allowed to grow up, and which made it utterly impossible to do anything about the Pool Competitions Act except to extend it, to get a little more elbow room and a little more time to waste.

So where have we got to? The Royal Commission took two and a half years to report. If the Duke of Devonshire had been here, I am sure that by this time I would have been interrupted and asked to declare my position in these matters. I have done it on so many occasions that it is like a gramophone record. If it has not worn out the record, it has worn out the needle. But in the debate I went into very great detail, as I have done on many occasions. I became a member of the Racecourse Betting Control Board to represent the Labour Party—or, at least, I was asked to go on it by the Leader of the Labour Party. As I have always done, I tried to understand the problem with which I was called upon to deal. Subsequently, I was a member of the small group which did the negotiations in connection with the legislation, and afterwards I became a member of the Totalisator Board, being put on it for a second time by a Conservative Minister. Then I was chairman of the Levy Board, and I was also a member of the small committee which Mr. Wilson set up to go into the legislation which led to the increase in revenue.

I am in it up to my neck. I have no particular interest in the Pool Competitions Act, but, if only for the reasons I have given and the amount of time that I have spent over the years, I have struggled to try to get the nature of the problem understood—not necessarily my solution to the problem accepted—because it affects a great deal of our national life. It is open to criminal exploitation, the Royal Commission itself says that there is dishonesty which ought to be put right and there have been dangers in the past of infiltration by the Mafia. I think that the Gaming Board has acted soberly, properly and competently and I only wish that its advice had been taken. It gave evidence. I, too, gave evidence to the Royal Commission and to the Select Committee, in two roles—as president of BOLA, but also in my personal position, which is what I am doing today. This is my own personal view and nothing more.

So that I corresponded with the late Home Secretary, I corresponded with his junior Minister and I tried to explain the situation to the officials, but with no effect. So what happened? The Royal Commission reported in July of last year. A question was asked of the Home Secretary in August 1978: "What are you going to do about it?", to which he replied "It has produced a wide-ranging and comprehensive report and I am giving urgent consideration to the Commission's recommendation on society and local government lotteries". So that seven years after the original Pool Competitions Act, it is going to be treated as a matter of urgency. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if it had not been an urgent question.

They had the report in July and they must have known of its contents a great deal earlier, because all the officials concerned were Home Office officials. But then we had a great announcement. The Home Office is to set up a special unit to deal with this report, with all the hundreds of thousands of words of evidence, and to prepare the ground for the Government to take action. On 1st November, a lady—an excellent lady, I am sure, although I do not know her—a Miss Peck, who has no previous connection with the gambling industry or with any aspects of gambling legislation, comes over from the Prison Commission and she, poor lady, is charged with the task of reading the evidence which has already been the subject of several Royal Commissions. Then, as nothing has been done by the previous Administration, nor by the present Administration when they were in office, we are asked to wait for another year. I think that we ought to wait for another year. But I first want to say something to the Minister.

I understand there is a convention that an incoming Government do not see the papers of the previous Administration. So far as I am concerned, everything that I have written to Mr. Merlyn Rees and to Dr. Shirley Summerskill is available to the Minister, and, if it is to any purpose, I will take steps to go over the ground again and write to him. Any service that I can render, I will render in the same way as I did to a Conservative Minister of Agriculture when I went on the Racecourse Betting Control Board, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, when he was Home Secretary. My fundamental belief is that Lord Butler's approach to the problem was basically right. If you have a levy for racing, it must be a levy which comes under the review of the Minister. This was spelled out in great detail on 14th December 1960. What was said by the Conservative Government on that date, I have certainly been a party to in the consultative role that I played as a member of the Racecourse Betting Control Board. I stood privately by what was said, I stood by it publicly and I stand by it today.

There are a number of problems which must be examined, and I come back again to the point with which I started. The Royal Commission say that their proposals are interlocking. You cannot deal with the Pool Competitions Act merely by saying, "Have another year". You have to deal with the complicated problem of lotteries. Here they have the services of the Gaming Board and the chairman of the Gaming Board, who had been a Permanent Secretary. If they have no confidence in them, then in whom, for goodness sake, do they have confidence? Go and talk to the noble Lord, Lord Allen, talk to the officials on the Gaming Board and, for goodness sake, listen to what they say. If I can be of any help in that or any other field, I have only to be asked, and I say now publicly that I have no objection to all the correspondence that I had with Mr. Merlyn Rees being made available to the present Minister.

But what you cannot do is what has been done. May I just draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to this simple fact: Will he look at the report of Sir Kenneth Peppiatt, who headed a committee which was set up by Lord Butler when he was introducing his gambling legislation? The demand was made by Members of your Lordships' House that some help should be given to racing. Paragraph 19 of that report states "We are not recommending a levy as a subsidy." They said: "We do not think it needs a subsidy. We are giving this money to help them do the job of keeping British racing in its preeminent world position". If you turn to the Royal Commission's report—this was in 1960—they say in paragraph 942 that if the racing industry is hopelessly addicted to subsidy it will mean collapse. In other words, racing is in exactly the same position as the seven undertakings which find themselves protected by the Pool Competitions Act, and something should be done about it. It cannot be done overnight.

But let me say something else. It has become the fashion among young men who are running racing today to attack as a fuddy-duddy Lord Crathorne. But there would have been no levy without him; and nobody did more to bring about the health of British racing than Lord Crathorne. He was a member of the Peppiatt Committee, he was a member of the Levy Board when I was chairman, and I couple his name with that of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmany. No two men could have given greater service to British racing on the one hand and to the probity, integrity and efficiency of gambling legislation on the other; yet today we find ourselves in a tangle.

Perhaps I may put one simple proposition to your Lordships. Here I am probably being controversial. I do not think that essentially there is any great difference between the disciplines required of a Pavlova and those which are required of a footballer. Both of them have to be disciplined; both require disciplined control of their minds over their bodies; both have to be skilled athletes; both have to be physically fit; both are performing for great audiences. The same is true of the Pool Competitions Act. It is meeting a need of ordinary people. Support of the ballet of a Pavlova is respectable, so we have the Arts Council; but football, and all the sports in which young people particularly are engaged, get no support from the Government. Again, therefore, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in the friendliest possible way, that he should read at least one paper which was submitted to the Royal Commission by another Government department, the Board of Customs and Excise. They recommend—it is a point of view which I hold but which many other people, certainly my own immediate associates in racing, do not hold —that the day of the levy is over; that what should now be given is a grant that is borne on a ministerial Vote and that it should be operated in the same way as the grant to the Arts Council is operated. That is the alternative. I do not believe that there can be any backsliding here in terms of giving a bucket of money to private individuals who have used their influence to ignore the very provisions which were written into the gaming legislation in order to secure that a Minister is responsible to Parliament for the way that the money is spent.

I am sorry to have detained your Lordships for so long, but this is not a fairy story. It is not something which happened, just like that. Nor is there any guarantee of a happy ending. What is wanted here is clear thinking and a little courage. I could be offensive and say that what is needed is "guts". But I am not going to use that expression, because the difference between the two sides is the difference between eleven-pence halfpenny and a shilling or, to put it another way, it is a dead heat between the head and the tail of the same penny. I understand the difficulties, but the solution is not to be found in the Home Office, for it is not a department which operates in that way. The Home Office operates through the Prison Commission and through all sorts of agencies. We do not want the Home Office to try to run racing; it cannot even run itself. I had mightly little confidence in the Ministers of the last Administration over their handling of problems and I have mighty little confidence in the officials; but I have every confidence in Lord Allen and the Gaming Board. Upon that something can be built.

I hope very much that the present Administration, faced with innumerable difficulties and tremendous demands upon its time, will wait for another year. That may not be sufficient, but at least it would be some evidence that the Administration wants to tackle the problem of lottery legislation. It is a national disgrace that millions and millions of pounds are being collected every week from the pockets of innocent people, who are indulging in what they think is a little bit of fun, when a Royal Commission says that the law is inadequate, that the operations are scandalous and that often there is plain dishonesty. The present Administration have their responsibilities, and so did the previous Administration. However, let us forget about that and try to put it right. There is a great deal of knowledge about the problem but it cannot be tackled by a special unit, consisting of one lady.

I shall not vote against this order, but the Government are under notice, and they are particularly under notice so far as racing is concerned. The proposal is that there should be a consultative council which is built up on co-operation and goodwill to do the very thing which Lord Butler spelled out in a debate which took place 19 years ago but about which nothing has been done. I wish that whoever is responsible in the Home Office—I hope that it is the Home Secretary himself—would tackle this tremendous task. So far as I am concerned, I shall forget about the past if the Government will do something about the future.

12.15 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for his support of this order. I agree with the noble Lord that the time has certainly come when the position of the pool competitions, which are covered by this order, and of lotteries in general should be looked at. That is precisely what the Home Office is doing at present in considering the comments of the Royal Commission on Gambling.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, for saying that he would be ready to make available his correspondence with the previous Secretary of State and, indeed, with previous Ministers in the Home Office. However, the convention is that I may see no correspondence from previous Governments. I very much regret that in this particular case I cannot profit from reading the correspondence with which the noble Lord has favoured the department in which at the moment I am working.

Having heard this short debate, your Lordships may well say: But why should not seven organisations, which still benefit from the provisions of the 1971 Act and which will benefit if this order is agreed, become lotteries under the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976. The answer to that question was given when the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, particularly towards the end of his remarks, criticised the running of lotteries in this country. The fact of the matter is that in Chapter 12 of their report, the Royal Commission expressed great concern about the way in which lotteries are being run under the 1976 Act. Until the points of concern which have been raised by the Royal Commission can be fully considered, your Lordships will, I hope, take the view that it would be premature to force these seven pool competitions out of the scope of the 1971 Act and into the scope of the 1976 Act.

There is one final point which I feel that I ought to make to your Lordships. The Home Office has behaved absolutely properly in this matter. Comments on the Royal Commission's report from interested organisations did not finally have to come in until 29th March of this year, and they are now being considered. But it really is too early in the life of this Parliament to take decisions on these matters. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will agree this morning to the passage of this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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