HL Deb 20 July 1982 vol 433 cc808-10

6.32 p.m.

Lord Sandys rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th 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 26th July 1983. The Act ran for five years in the first instance but included a provision for its extension by order for up to a year at a time. It has been extended each year since 1976.

Although some noble Lords will be aware of the background to the passing of the Act and the provisions in it they will, I am sure, understand if I explain them for the benefit of those of your Lordships who have not attended debates on previous occasions when it has been renewed.

The Pool Competitions Act 1971 came into force on 27th July 1971 and established a system of licensing and control, administered by the Gaming Board, of certain competitions for prizes which were run for the benefit of organisations supporting charities or sport. These were competitions depending on the outcome of sporting events—essentially football matches—but did not involve making forecasts, but simply holding numbers which might be lucky in a particular week. The Act was introduced as a result of a judgment of this House in 1970 that a provision of this kind did not constitute lawful pool betting but was in fact an unlawful lottery. Without special legislation this judgment would have adversely affected the organisations supported by such competitions because these organisations derive a substantial income from them.

It became clear that some organisations would be placed in serious difficulties if the competitions came to an end, and in moving the continuance order last year I said that discussions would be pursued with the organisations which still benefit from the provisions of the Act with a view to putting these competitions on a permanent footing and open to all.

Earlier this year my honourable friend the Minister of State met representatives of the six organisations still promoting these competitions. On 1st April 1982 my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced that in addition to the draft order currently before your Lordships' House he intended to lay further annual orders, as necessary, during the lifetime of this Parliament, pending the introduction of legislation to deal permanently with these competitions. This would enable the promoters to plan their activities ahead with rather more certainty than hitherto.

The Home Secretary also said that a discussion document on the future of pool competitions had been circulated to relevant organisations. This document was sent on 30th March 1982 to those organisations currently operating under the Act as well as to local authority associations, the Lotteries Council, the Lotteries Action Group and others. A copy was also placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. It has been made clear to the existing promoters that any legislation to put these competitions on a permanent basis is bound to involve changes in the way the competitions are allowed to operate. We shall be looking to them for a constructive response and not an assumption that the present arrangements can continue. We have asked for comments on the discussion document by 30th September 1982.

This is a complex subject. Although these competitions are essentially lotteries, they have their own peculiar characteristics and will probably have to be dealt with as a distinct gambling activity in any permanent legislation. Meanwhile, I hope your Lordships will approve the draft order, so that the Pool Competitions Act 1971 may continue for another year. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have considered the draft order and have passed no comment on it. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 17th May be approved.—(Lord Sandys.)

Lord Elystan-Morgan

My Lords, I well remember in 1971 in another place on the Opposition Front Bench being involved with the parent Act, and indeed on behalf of my colleagues in that place giving the Act a cautious welcome. We all appreciated that the Act was very much a stop-gap measure and it had been put together rather hastily to deal with a situation that few people had foreseen was likely to develop. The interpretation given to certain statutory provisions by this House in its judicial capacity turned out to be rather harsher than certain people had anticipated, and I make no criticism whatsoever of that decision.

It is however rather surprising that now, some 11 years after the event, we are still some distance away from having permanent legislation on this matter. I do not say that in a spirit of carping criticism. As the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, has said, it is a matter that is certainly not free from a number of conflicts. The Rothschild Commission reported in this matter, I believe in June 1978, and came out firmly against legitimising the very practices that were condemned by this House in 1970.

Another problem is the fact that the only bodies that are entitled to have the benefit of this legislation are those bodies that were in operation in 1971, and I understand that six of the original seven are still in operation. Having said that, in the eyes of many it is of course utterly laudable that these bodies should be allowed to continue. I understand that the Spastics Society derives annually a benefit of the order of £800,000 from these enterprises. On the other side of the coin, again, it is a matter of disquiet for some that only a fairly small percentage of the sums that are collected from the public at large end up with the various charitable organisations. The net figure, I understand, is just over 8½ per cent. That is topped up again by gifts from the societies concerned to make it 15 per cent. It is still a fairly small percentage of the totality of monies that are paid.

There are many other matters that could be referred to, and I have no doubt that the Government have them all in mind, in regard to the eventual structure that they will propose. We on these Benches, however, should be grateful to the noble Lord if he is able to give some indication of the type of structure that the Government have in mind; and we should be even more grateful to him if he were able to say that this is the last occasion on which either House of Parliament will be called upon to give this matter a temporary extension for a period of 12 months.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I am nost grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, for his remarks on the situation as we now understand it, because I think it has added to the views your Lordships will hold about this existing unsatisfactory situation. Unfortunately, I cannot satisfy him to the extent that he would wish. He is of course aware that the discussion document which was circulated on 30th March of this year is in process of consideration by those organisations I have mentioned. I think it would be unwise, and indeed improper, for me to say anything which would prejudice or pre-empt any comments being made, or indeed the future decision of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in this regard. All I can say is that due consideration is now being given and the Government have this matter under review. I hope, with that, that your Lordships may be willing to approve this order.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, may I ask one question? Is it within the scope of the review to phase out this method of raising money altogether, or is main the purpose of the review to make permanent these renewable concessions to those who engaged in this activity earlier on? I ask that question because at the time there were some criticisms of this method of raising money for worthy and noble objects. As my noble friend said a moment ago, large sums of money are collected under this system, not all of which by any means reach the destination for which they may be intended. I wonder whether, without asking the noble Lord to commit himself in any way, I could ask whether this review is a comprehensive one; that is to say, getting rid of this altogether.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I have taken advice on this matter while the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has been speaking and I understand the options are indeed open in this regard. I cannot qualify that by saying that the Government are going to recast the entire situation, but I can assure the noble Lord that any change will require primary legislation if we are to depart from the annual review which we have had each year and the re-enactment of an expiring law.

On Question, Motion agreed to.