Clause 18 - Non-commercial society

Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 11th November 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Amendment proposed: No. 108, in

clause 18, page 8, line 30, after 'society', insert

'(which shall include a corporation)'.—[Mr. Moss.]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 109, in

clause 18, page 8, line 30, at end insert

'or is converted to become'.

Amendment No. 190, in

clause 18, page 8, line 32, at end insert 'or'.

Amendment No. 187, in

clause 18, page 8, line 33, after 'supporting', insert 'any'.

Amendment No. 188, in

clause 18, page 8, line 34, leave out

'athletics or a cultural activity'.

Amendment No. 191, in

clause 18, page 8, line 34, leave out from 'activity' to end of line 35.

Amendment No. 192, in

clause 18, page 9, line 4, at end add—

'(4) A race night at which films of past horseraces are shown in order to raise funds for a voluntary organisation shall be treated as an activity of a non-commercial society.'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I think that I am right in rising to my feet because this group includes a number of amendments—Nos. 190, 187, 188, 191 and 192—that stand in my name. I need to explain what I had in mind.

My concern was, first, that clause 18(1)(b) seemed to involve an unusual way of expressing the activities covered. I did not understand why athletics, which is clearly a sport and one much beloved of the Minister, who has participated in events such as the great north run, should be defined separately. The Bill mentions ''sport, athletics''. That seems unnecessary. Surely athletics, as a sport, is encompassed in sport.

Secondly, I was not sure whether ''cultural activity'' was too wide a term. To return to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) in the debate on Tuesday, there has been a lot of concern about national lottery money going to causes that the Community Fund thought worth while but that the majority of players of the lottery and citizens of this country did not approve of.

I vividly remember being asked to appear on live national television during breakfast time when I was a shadow Minister. The Community Fund had just made an extraordinarily controversial decision to fund a project dedicated to allowing illegal asylum seekers to challenge UK Government decisions. The Home Secretary was up in arms about it, as were we. If I recall correctly, national television did a poll, asking citizens to call in to vote about whether they thought that that project was an appropriate use of lottery money. They received one of the highest votes ever—90 per cent. or more—saying that it was not an appropriate use of lottery money.

I want to be certain that talk of non-commercial societies does not lead to a repeat performance and that we do not allow a vague phrase such as ''cultural activity'' to be used as an opportunity for money to be handed to such controversial organisations. Therefore, I seek reassurance from the Government on that issue.

If the provision read

''for the purpose of enabling participation in, or of supporting, sport'',

I, as a great sports fan and deputy chairman of the all-party group on sports, would be very pleased. I hope that the Minister will understand why I suggest that there is no need to list athletics separately from other sport.

Amendment No. 192 covers another point. I hope that Members on both sides of the Committee will take the matter seriously, because it comes back to some of the points that have been made, including by Labour Back Benchers in the Committee, about not preventing the kind of legitimate activity that goes on for the purposes of fundraising for, for example, political parties or other charitable causes. We have had lots of discussions about pub quizzes and that sort of thing.

I know that there has been quite a lot of controversy about race nights. I am sure that all members of the Committee know the kind of organisations that try to raise money in that way,

whether for a school, some voluntary group, or for a political party. Such nights might involve filmed horse races, which tend to be films of races in America. There is a fixed number of six runners and the arrangements operate informally. I vividly remember—it was even before coming to the House—that, for various activities in a village where I used to live, police advice had to be taken to ensure that the particular way in which the race night was organised did not contravene the betting and gaming legislation.

It occurred to me that, as we are talking about completely rewriting gaming legislation for the whole of the country, we ought to try to ensure that race nights are not accidentally rendered illegal. Amendment No. 192 might provide a helpful opportunity to clarify the position, as with the hospice lottery point that was made earlier. I am not suggesting that my drafting is perfect, but I hope that the Minister will understand that the amendment is in a rather different category from the other amendments in the group and that he will respond positively to what I am trying to achieve.

It would be helpful if the Minister reassured us, as he did recently with hospice lotteries, that race nights will be fine and perhaps that, as a result of the Bill, it will be easier for organisers of race nights to know for certain that they are not breaching the law when they organise events that can raise a lot of money for good causes, charities, or even political parties. I look forward to hearing from him about all the amendments, but about amendment No. 192 in particular.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I had a very long explanation, but now it is only a long one: my officials have cut it down a little. The present definition of ''society'' is in the 1976 Act and it includes

''any club, institution, organisation or association of persons, by whatever name called''.

The Bill leaves ''society'' undefined, except in so far as clause 330 makes it clear that a separate branch or section of a society is to be treated as a society, so that it can promote its own lotteries if it so desires.

The concept of ''a society'' is inevitably very general and I have some sympathy with what I take to be the idea behind amendment No. 108. If there is an organisation or entity that is genuinely non-commercial, it is hard to see why the simple fact that it is established as a company should debar it from running a lottery or lotteries. Many charities are legally companies and already run lotteries without difficulty under the current law. From their point of view, the amendment might help to make their position more certain and would otherwise do no harm.

However, we need to be a little careful about the stretching of the concept of a society to include any corporation. Apart from anything else, that would allow at least some statutory corporations to run lotteries and I do not think that that would be at all welcome to the charity world, which we have been trying to protect. I therefore undertake to consider the

amendment further, but without giving any commitment.

We do not consider that the change proposed in amendment No. 109 is necessary. The definition of a non-commercial society in clause 18 is a society that is established and conducted for the purposes listed in the clause. If the purpose of a commercial society changes, the society re-establishes itself as non-commercial. It will conduct itself as a non-commercial society and will be covered by the definition in the clause.

Amendments Nos. 190, 187, 188, 191 and 192 make various changes to the definition of a non-commercial society that are either unnecessary or undesirable. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath for his explanation of the amendments, as we have been a little puzzled about the reason for them. The Government do not wish to exclude organisations that enable participation in a cultural activity from being able to run lotteries or from benefiting from the non-commercial society provision.

The word ''athletics'' has been included in clause 18 to avoid any doubt that such activities are covered. I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's suggested change, as there is a respectable argument that the word ''sport'' generally includes athletics. However, the 1976 Act draws a distinction between athletic sport and other games. We are therefore keen to retain the word ''athletics'' to avoid any argument that such activities have been deliberately excluded from the scope of the clause.

Amendments Nos. 190 and 191 would exclude societies that are not charitable and do not enable participation in sport, athletics or cultural activities, but are not established or conducted for private gain from the definition of non-commercial societies. We see no reason to exclude such societies.

Amendment No. 192 proposes the addition of a new subsection to clause 18. It would add to the definition of non-commercial societies,

''a race night at which films of past horseraces are shown in order to raise funds for a voluntary organisation''.

Although I sympathise with the amendment's intention, it is not necessary, because such events are provided for later in the Bill. If betting is involved, it will require regulations under the Bill only if it is being offered in the course of a business. That will always be a matter of fact and degree. I do not perceive any immediate problems with voluntary organisations running such race nights, provided that all the money raised goes to good causes. Such organisations should be able to rely on the non-business betting exemption.

In light of that explanation, I hope that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire will not press amendment No. 108.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 4:00 pm, 11th November 2004

What the Minister said was helpful. However, although he does not foresee any problems, I have in my files a five or six-page booklet setting out the existing law on race nights, which was given to me when police advice was taken for problems that

occurred in a village in which I used to live. As the Minister's reply was that the position will not change and that it will always be a matter of fact and degree, following this debate I will send him my file on the complexity of race nights. Perhaps at a later stage he might provide further clarification. What he has said has been helpful, but he is saying that the position will remain the same. There have been problems in the past, and I hope that I will be able to put a case to him that he and his officials can consider.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Some hon. Members in the nether regions of the Room are finding it difficult to hear both Front-Bench spokesmen. The remedy is in their own hands—they can move closer to the Front Benches. However, in the interests of clarity for the sake of the Official Report and the wider public, could the Front-Bench spokesmen be cognisant of that fact?

Clause 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.