Orders of the Day — Pool Competitions

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27 June 1979.

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10.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I beg to move, That the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 20 March 1979 in the last Parliament, be approved. The Pool Competitions Act 1971 came into force on 27 July 1971. It was to run for an initial period of five years but it contained provision for its extension by order, for up to a year at a time. The Act has been extended on three previous occasions, and the purpose of the draft order is to extend the Act for a further year up to July 1980.

The Act is concerned with certain competitions which provide funds to charitable and sporting organisations. The Spastics Society and some cricket and football clubs obtain income, in some cases substantial, from these competitions.

The competitions are not the same as the commercial football pools, and we are not concerned with those pools this evening. Who wins prizes in competitions run under the 1971 Act, however, depends on the outcome of sporting events, especially football matches. In these competitions, competitors usually hold a permanent selection of numbers which are assigned each week to particular football teams. The results of matches played determine the winners of the prizes. The organisers of these competitions originally thought that they constituted a form of lawful pool betting. The House of Lords decided, however, in a judgment concerning a particular competition of this kind, that the competition was not a form of pool betting but an unlawful lottery. This was essentially because prizes were given not for making correct forecasts but for holding, at random, numbers which happened to be lucky in a particular week.

The Pool Competitions Act 1971 was passed to enable the charitable and sporting organisations which had been deriving large sums of money for worthy causes from these competitions to continue to do so on a temporary basis. A system of licensing and control was established under the Act and is administered by the Gaming Board for Great Britain. Since 1971, the number of bodies relying on these competitions for fund raising has decreased, but several continue to be heavily dependent on them. There are now seven licence holders.

The competitions dealt with by the Pool Competitions Act fell within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on gambling and the Act was extended on three previous occasions while the Royal Commission's report was awaited. In its final report, published last July, the Royal Commission recommended that the Act should be allowed to expire in July 1979. The Commission did not regard the special provisions of the 1971 Act as necessary to enable fund raising to continue, because the charitable and sporting organisations concerned can run ordinary lotteries instead. I understand, however, that the charitable and sporting organisations affected were much concerned by the Royal Commission's recommendation that the Act should expire in July this year. The Government appreciate the difficulties which that would cause. To give all concerned an opportunity for further consideration of the matter, I hope that the House will agree, by approving the draft order, that the Pool Competitions Act 1971 should be extended for a further year. It seems a common sense proposal.

10.44 p.m.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

I do not wish to seem ungracious by preceding the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), but I shall allow the hon. Lady a few moments of thought while I welcome the Government's action.

It is important to recognise that the form of competition with which we are concerned does not aid only large organisations and clubs. The Glasgow Rangers football pool competition has been especially valuable to Glasgow Rangers but it has had a wider value. It has been particularly important to the Berwick Rangers football club, which has shown what good use it can make of the proceeds by getting promoted from the second division to the first division. It is an extremely commendable activity.

The investment which has been made has been very worth while. The Government have, I believe, been right to extend the exemption provided by the Pools Competition Act 1971. The Royal Commission on gambling made several recommendations about changes in gambling law, all of which this House will have to consider. The recommendation it made about competitions of this kind—which was not, I fear, based on sufficient information about the benefit of the pool to small clubs such as Berwick Rangers—is unlike any other, in that it can be carried out by default. If the House does not renew the exemption, this recommendation automatically comes into force.

Almost everything else that the Royal Commission recommended would require positive action by this House. We should make it our principle—and I hope that the Government will continue to make it their principle—that the recommendations of the Royal Commission are taken as a whole, and that we come to conclusions about which of them should be implemented, and which of them should not be, in time for all the organisations concerned to make appropriate arrangements, but that we do not allow the one recommendation which could be carried out by default to go ahead of all the others. The Government have rightly acted in pursuit of that principle so far, and are doing so in the action they take tonight. I want them to continue to act upon that principle.

When we look at the issue a little more closely, we must look again at the evidence, because the only evidence the Royal Commission took on the football implications of these competitions was from the English Football League, and it did not take sufficient account of the implications for smaller clubs playing in the Scottish League. That is, of course, of particular importance to Berwick Rangers who, despite being situated in England, play in the Scottish League, with such distinguished success.

I hope that we shall have the opportunity to look at these implications in a cool and dispassionate light, and that we shall do so without the pistol threat of the way in which the Pool Competitions Act could expire without the kind of helpful action that the Government have taken tonight. I thank them for taking that action. I hope that they will follow the principle I have outlined and consider the recommendation of the Royal Commission as a whole.

10.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Lewis Carter-Jones Mr Lewis Carter-Jones , Eccles

We are once more involved in the annual ritual dance of renewing the Pool Competitions Act 1971. I agree with everything that has just been said by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), and particularly with regard to sport as it relates to Warwick cricket club, to Manchester United and to Glasgow Rangers. Nothing but good comes from that.

I have to declare an interest. I have never in my life filled in a football pool coupon. When bookies ride on bicycles I shall start gambling. It must be made perfectly clear that there are people who would like to have an odd flutter and who put their money on pools such as the Pembroke Pools. A great deal of money goes in prizes and in collecting costs, as with other pools. None of the large football pools objects to it. Those people who want to gamble in this field are happy that any profits should go to charity. As a non-gambler, and realising that people like to gamble, I think that is fair enough.

But the House should realise that there is one other thing we ought to do. If we are not prepared to renew the order on a permanent basis, we have to increase the amount of money we give to the Medical Research Council. A substantial amount of research is carried out through money given for heart and cancer research, for research for the crippled child, and for the Spastics Society. Without this money, these researches would not take place. "Action", the official journal of the National Fund for Research into Crippling Diseases, lists in the current issue some of the research that is being done. It is being done not be the Medical Research Council but from funds arising from these pools. For example, £11,705 has been spent on research into bone growth in children. The sum of £15,929 has been spent on research into cerebral palsy. The sum of £43,000 has been spent on research into breathing difficulties in the newborn.

As I said earlier, I do not like gambling, but if people want to spend their money in this way, taking a chance of getting a prize, and if the profits then go to charities, I believe that the House—I will not say the Government because that would be unfair—ought to try to find a way of rationalising it. The Rothschild report was completely wrong. There is no alternative to this system for these four charities and the sporting clubs.

I am grateful to the Government for proposing renewal of the legislation, but I hope that the Minister will find a way of making it permanent so that we do not have to go through this renewal procedure annually at this time of the year. Let us find a way to continue it for four or five years. At the end of that time, we can say "If you have not found a suitable means, we shall produce a permanent system."

10.50 p.m.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

There is no question of the Opposition opposing this order. However, I have certain questions to ask the Minister.

I am aware that there have been very strong representations to the Home Office from several reputable charities. When I was there, one deputation was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). Undoubtedly those charities will welcome this procedure warmly, because they will obtain considerable benefit from it.

What are the Minister's mid-term and long-term intentions about what my hon. Friend described as "this ritual annual dance"? We ought to know, for the benefit of the charities especially but also for the information of the House.

There are three alternatives, if it is possible to have three alternatives. The Minister can regularise the position by legislation to ensure that these charities obtain continuous exemption from lotteries legislation, he can continue to go through this procedure every year, as we have been doing, or he can accept the Royal Commission's recommendation to allow this measure to expire.

I feel that we should debate the Royal Commission's report before the Government announce their intentions about any part of the report on gambling. Will the Government be making a decision on this matter alone and, if so, when, or will they wait until they announce their intentions on the whole of the lotteries section of the report? As I say, I hope that will be done after the House has debated the report.

10.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to this short debate.

I am, of course, glad that the proposal has been supported by the three hon. Members who have spoken, and perhaps I may briefly refer to their remarks.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) talked about Berwick Rangers with an enthusiasm normally associated with hon. Members making their maiden speeches. I thought we were about to hear the twelfth or thirteenth maiden speech of the day. I understand his argument. I realise that this system raises some very valuable money, and I take the point that there is a case for looking at the proposals of the Royal Commission as a whole. I do not make any firm promise about this, but it is a matter which I intend to consider carefully.

The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) spoke of his concern for medical research and, indirectly, the problems of the disabled. I listened carefully to what he said. Very big and very important money is raised by this form of pool. If that money were to be wiped out, it is obvious that there would be a serious problem.

The Royal Commission's view was that there were other ways of raising money in gambling, lotteries and so on. But I assure the hon. Member for Eccles that I shall bear in mind what he said when we consider the matter.

I have partly answered the points raised by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). These are early days in the life of this Administration and we have not had time to produce answers to the three questions put this evening. We shall be considering how to handle the matter and ensure that money is available for these good causes, but I do not know how long it will be before we form our views on the Royal Commission. It is not for me to make statements about debates in the House. I shall consider carefully the points raised.

I hope that the House will approve the draft order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Pool Competitions Act 1971 (Continuance) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 20 March 1979 in the last Parliament, be approved.