HL Deb 12 June 1980 vol 410 cc648-53

7.2 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order 1980 be approved. It may be helpful if I refer briefly to the Act which the draft order is to renew, if your Lordships agree to this order.

The competitions with which the 1971 Act is concerned are competitions for prizes based on the outcome of sporting events, especially football matches, and 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 competitions are not the same as commercial football pools. Competitors usually hold a permanent selection of numbers which are assigned each week to football teams and winners are determined by reference to the results of the matches.

A judgment by your Lordships' House in 1970 held that a competition of this kind did not constitute lawful pool betting, as had been supposed, but was an unlawful lottery. This was because the prizes were not for making forecasts but for holding numbers which happened to be lucky in a particular week.

The difficulty which followed from this judgment was that the charitable and sporting organisations, which had been deriving quite large sums of money for worthy causes by this method, would have lost a considerable source of income if the competitions had been forced to cease. The Pool Competitions Act 1971 was, therefore, passed to enable organisations already promoting competitions to continue to do so within a system of licensing and control established under the Act and administered by the Gaming Board for Great Britain.

The Gaming Board exercises its powers under the Act to safeguard the interests of the competitors and to secure continued financial benefits for societies named in certificates granted under the Act. Although the number of bodies relying on the 1971 Act to protect their fund-raising activities has declined, several continue to place substantial reliance on these competitions for their income.

The Act was a temporary measure. It was to run for an initial period of five years, but it contained provision for its extension by an order, approved in draft by resolution of each House of Parliament, for up to a year at a time. It has been so extended on four previous occasions, and the purpose of the draft order before the House this evening is to extend the Act for a further period of one year.

Your Lordships may recall that the previous extensions were made while the Report of the Royal Commission on Gambling, whose terms of reference covered these pool competitions, was awaited and considered. It is true that in its final report, which was published in July 1978, the Royal Commission recommended that the Act should be allowed to expire in July 1979. But the charitable and sporting organisations which would have been affected were naturally concerned by the Royal Commission's recommendation that the Act should be allowed to expire, and in view of the difficulties which expiry of the Act would have caused these organisations, an extension of the Act for a further year was approved last year.

Therefore, the present position is that without a further renewal order the Act will expire on 26th July this year. When the Royal Commission's report was debated in another place on 29th October last year, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said that he hoped it would be agreed that the best way to deal with the matter would be to continue the Act in force until Parliament had decided what changes should be made in the law on lotteries.

I cannot, of course, give an undertaking to the House this evening as to exactly when we may be able to bring forward legislation. But I should like to say this in concluding these opening remarks. My right honourable friend is currently preparing for presentation to the House draft regulations relating to certain of the Royal Commission's recommendation on lotteries. My right honourable friend is also considering the case for increasing the monetary limits applicable to lotteries. Some of the Royal Commission's recommendations on lotteries could not, however, be implemented without amendment of the law and, as I say, I am not able to give an undertaking as to when the law may be changed.

But it is the intention of my right honourable friend to invite representatives of the charitable and sporting bodies concerned to discuss with the Home Office the scope for a permanent and satisfactory resolution of the temporary arrangements for which the 1971 Act provides and which this extension order will, for the moment, continue. Bearing in mind the valuable work funded by these competitions, I hope, as I have attempted to show, that as my right honourable friend is being active in thinking about the future of this matter, your Lordships will meanwhile agree, by approving the draft order, that the Pool Competitions Acts 1971 should be extended for a further year.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st May, be approved.—(Lord Belstead.)

7.8 p.m.


My Lords, I join with the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in supporting this order and I should like to thank him for explaining it to your Lordships so clearly. I agree with the points that he has made about the need for this order and, indeed, I think that it would be a little inconsistent of me to do otherwise, because it is the case that my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell had occasion to move similar orders from the Despatch Box of the noble Lord the Minister, while the last Government were in office.

As the noble Lord the Minister has indicated, there is concern among charitable bodies about what would happen to their income and, indeed, about their chances of survival if this order were not passed or if some similar provision was not made to replace it. This week I received a letter from the Spastics Society—and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has referred to the society in his opening remarks—which said that: If the Spastics Pools were no longer allowed to operate, The Spastics Society would lose about £800,000 in 1980 alone". It is of significance that I understand that one-fifth of the Spastic Society's income from general fund-raising comes from pool competitions, and that other charities, such as Action Research for the Crippled Child, derive almost one half of their income from similar pool competitions.

The Spastic Society's letter goes on in this way: The uncertainty about the future of the pool competitions has already caused the income they previously provided to drop off. This, and the demands on the Society which constantly outstrip its resources, has caused the Society to give great thought and effort to the development of alter- native sources of income. From this experience it is very clear to the Society that it has no prospect of ever recouping the income it will lose if the Spastics Pools can no longer legally operate. The effects of inflation and the frequent reference to the expanded role the Government hopes to see the voluntary sector play in filling the gap left by reduction in social services, are causing deep concern to organisations such as the Spastics Society who are under threat of losing one of the most important means of income. The Society, despite considerable efforts, is aware that it has no means of making up that income it stands in danger of losing from the loss of the pools, and no means of avoiding the inevitable consequences of a reduction in the services and support we can offer disabled people". No doubt there are other bodies which could make similar observations. I have referred to the Spastic Society only because it was that body which happened to take the initiative in writing.

We are now fast approaching the time when we should deal with this matter on a more lasting basis, and your Lordships will have been interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, had to say about the representations which have been invited and about the talks which are to take place, and I would certainly welcome that development. I quite understand that he is not able to give any firm indication about the sort of measures that might be placed before your Lordships, but it is encouraging and I welcome what he has had to say, that the Government are at any rate moving in that direction. In the meantime, I simply join in urging your Lordships to support this order.

7.12 p.m.


My Lords, may I merely express my gratitude to the noble Lord for the support he has been good enough to give me. I think that it was a nice touch that his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who, as the noble Lord said, had been responsible for introducing this order previously when the last Government were in office, is in your Lordships' Chamber this evening listening to this short exchange of remarks.

The noble Lord, Lord Boston, in his remarks mentioned one of the organisations which is able to continue its operations of this kind under the 1971 Act and under the provisions of these orders, namely the Spastics Society, and the concern which that particular society had expressed regarding uncertainty for these sort of competitions. It might be for the convenience of your Lordships before we end this debate if I said that in the course of the debate in the House of Commons my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment, who has responsibility for sport said, in winding up the debate on the Royal Commission's Report, that the Government had no intention of allowing the 1971 Act to lapse until Parliament had had an opportunity to decide in the context of lotteries legislation what changes would be appropriate.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boston, for giving a welcome to the idea that my right honourable friend's department, the Home Office, should meet with the organisations which promote competitions under the Pool Competitions Act. I am sure that this is a sensible thing to do ahead of any legislation. Certainly I know that my right honourable friend's department will be doing that. With those few additional words, I beg to move that this order be approved.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.15 p.m. to 8 p.m.]