HL Deb 13 July 1981 vol 422 cc1059-62

7.14 p.m.

Lord Sandys rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st May be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the draft order is to extend the Pool Competitions Act 1971 for a further period of 12 months to July 1982. In 1971, when the Act was passed, it was limited to five years, but it contained provision for its extension by order for up to a year at a time, and it has been extended in each of the years from 1976 to 1980.

The Act was necessary in 1971 to safeguard the position of certain charitable and sporting pools then in existence. The competitions are for prizes based on the outcome of sporting events, mostly football matches. They differ from football pools in that generally speaking there is no skill involved in selecting teams each week. Competitors hold a permanent selection of numbers which are assigned each week to football teams and winners are determined by reference to the result of the matches. The Spastics Society and other medical charities and sporting organisations derive substantial income from the competitions. The promoters thought that these competitions were a lawful form of pool betting, (because the competitors had an option, very rarely exercised, of changing their selection). But a judgment in your Lordships' House in 1970 held that they were unlawful lotteries. This was because the prizes were not for making successful forecasts but for holding numbers which happened to be lucky in a particular week.

The charitable and sporting organisations concerned stood to lose a considerable part of their income if the competitions were discontinued, and they saw no prospect of replacing it from other sources. The Pool Competitions Act 1971 was therefore passed to enable the organisations already promoting the competitions to continue to do so, with a system of licensing and control established under the Act and administered by the Gaming Board for Great Britain. Although the number of bodies relying on the 1971 Act has declined, six still rely substantially on these competitions for their income. The Act was a temporary measure but it has been extended five times and has been in force for 10 years in all. When it came up for renewal last year, my noble friend Lord Belstead said that it was the intention that the Home Office hold discussions with the charitable and sporting bodies concerned with a view to finding a more permanent solution to replace what was intended to be no more than a stop-gap measure.

Useful discussions have been held. It had been thought that the doubling of the monetary limits on lotteries, which took effect on 1st July, might have enabled some organisations to dispense with these competitions, but in most cases their income from the competitions is still greatly in excess of what they could raise from ordinary lotteries. No one would wish the valuable work being undertaken by organisations such as the Spastics Society to be curtailed by cutting off this source of income. It is, however, invidious that only those organisations which were running such competitions in 1971 can continue to do so. In the longterm the choice is between banning such competitions altogether, with serious consequences to the organisations concerned, or putting them on a permanent footing open to any organisation, subject to appropriate safeguards which would prevent the general availability of such schemes stimulating a significant increase in the turnover of money expended in this way.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary now intends that his officials should pursue their discussions with the six organisations which still benefit from such competitions with a view to making proposals for permanent legislation which would enable these competitions to retain their distinctive character while making them generally available to other organisations, subject to the safeguards to which I have referred. This problem has been with us too long and needs to be resolved. My right honourable friend is taking steps to that end, although your Lordships will appreciate that it is not possible for me to say when permanent legislation can be introduced. Meanwhile, I hope your Lordships will approve the draft order and extend the Pool Competitions Act 1971 for a further year. My Lords, I beg to move.

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

7.20 p.m.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will approve the order, and I should like to thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, for so clearly explaining its purposes. If the order were not passed, a number of significant charities would suffer considerably, as indeed would those people whom the bodies seek to help, since to a considerable extent they are dependent on money raised through the means provided under the governing Act. However it must be said—and I think that this was implicit in what the Minister himself said tonight—that it is a pity that Parliament is still having to consider annual extensions of the Act, instead of being able to rely on permanent legislative provisions. As the Minister has indicated, the Pool Competitions Act dates from 1971. It was intended to be only temporary, for five years, but with the annual extension since then it has lasted for the past 10 years. Therefore, I would wholly agree with the Minister that it is desirable to have permanent legislation, so that the charities concerned can be quite certain about their position and their future and are enabled to plan ahead properly.

I was grateful that last year the Government gave an undertaking that they would not allow the Act to lapse until there was new, permanent legislation. Although I understand that an undertaking was also given that adequate time would be allowed for the bodies operating under the 1971 Act, and benefiting from it, to consider any new proposals, I gather that the Spastics Society (to which the Minister referred in his speech tonight) which is one of the organisations concerned, up until today had not received any form of guarantee that the new proposals would include the provisions of the 1971 Act. So I would welcome what the Minister has said this evening about the Government's intentions and about their plans for further discussions, since there is now a very clear indication of the way in which the Government hope to be able to proceed towards permanent legislation.

I should like to ask the Minister whether he can say a little more about the timing of the further proposed discussions. I ask that question in particular for this reason. I was very pleased when last year the Minister's noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, told your Lordships that the bodies concerned were being invited by his right honourable friend the Home Secretary to have discussions with his department about the provision of satisfactory permanent arrangements to replace the temporary arrangements now before your Lordships. The Spastics Society has told me that there has indeed been a series of meetings (as the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has indicated tonight) but I understand that those meetings have been at the request of the society, rather than as a result of the invitation referred to last year. So I must confess that I wondered whether over the past year there had been on the Government's part as much determination as one would have hoped for in pressing ahead with the consultations and in seeking a permanent solution.

I would emphasise that I greatly welcome the very positive indication that the Minister has given tonight about the Government's intention to carry forward the discussions in a determined way, and as a result I am somewhat relieved and reassured, but I should be even further encouraged if he could say more about the speed with which the further discussions might be arranged.

I think it worth noting the extent to which bodies such as the Spastics Society depend on these competitions. In the Spastics Society's own case one-fifth of its income from general fund raising is derived from these sources, and other charities, such as Action Research for the Crippled Child, derive almost half their income from competitions of this kind. If pools competitions were stopped, the Spastics Society (to name only one organisation) would lose at least £800,000 in this year alone. Clearly this is a time when there are increasing financial pressures on all organisations, not least the charitable bodies, and so a permanent solution is all the more both necessary and urgent. However, until then, clearly the order is necessary, and I join with the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, in asking your Lordships to support it.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, has welcomed the order, particularly in such felicitous terms, and I am grateful to him for expressing the welcome, bearing in mind the problems now being experienced by the charities and other bodies referred to. The timing of further discussions is a matter of some difficulty and I do not think that I can assist either the House or the noble Lord by making any further declaration, beyond saying that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be sending invitations to all six organisations (of which he will be aware) to participate in the discussions to be held. With regard to the actual timing of the discussions, I fear that those involved will have to await the invitation of my right honourable friend, and my understanding is that the discussions will take place as soon as possible.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 7.45.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.26 until 7.45 p.m.]