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Football Pools

Volume 480: debated on Friday 17 November 1950

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1.42 p.m.

I take this opportunity on the Adjournment to raise another matter with which the Home Secretary or his Under-Secretary has the responsibility of dealing for the Government. The subject which I raise is the administration of football pools. These pools are an aspect of gambling in our life which has made phenomenal progress during the last 20 years or so. A Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, has been sitting recently and its report is now awaited, but in the meantime one particular aspect in relation to football pools needs to be raised and to be given immediate attention.

I have been thinking a lot about the administration of football pools for a long time, in common, probably, with most other Members of the House, but I am inspired to raise the matter at this particular stage because of the contents of a rather revealing leading article which appeared in the London "Evening Standard" on 15th November.

Certain statements are made in this leading article which really shock one out of complacency about the operation of these vast financial concerns. For instance, referring to the prize which was won recently by one of the customers of the big pools, the leading article says:
"Some people find these colossal prizes surprising in view of the fact that, on the whole, betting on football pools has been declining. Last year's total turnover dropped by some £10 million. Now it seems to be falling again. Receipts from the betting taxes for September are down on last year's figures. If the amount of money being staked is falling, how does it come that the prizes are so high?"
Then the comment is made:
"The answer is shrouded in the mystery which surrounds the allocation of the money staked in football pools …."
I understand that the football pools function under the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934. I am not going into the moral rights or wrongs of the football pools as such; I am merely raising a narrow point of the actual administration of, and total lack of public accountability about, the finances of these organisations. Perhaps I may quote again from this leading article in the "Evening Standard" in connection with this particular aspect of the matter:
"If one pool was going to declare an exceptionally low dividend, promoters would 'temper the wind to the shorn lamb'"—
this is dealing with the joint organisation of the various pools in order to spread the expenses in some scheme of their own. It goes on:
"As they can reduce expenses against one type of pool to prevent a dividend being too small, presumably it is equally possible for them to take similar action for the purpose of producing an exceptionally large dividend.
But nobody outside the pools organisations knows if this is done. For the pools are handling vast sums of public money, are private companies and, therefore, are not called upon to publish their accounts."
I think this shows a serious state of affairs, because these organisations handle millions of pounds.

I find that most of the recently published figures are in a book named, "Gambling in English Life," which says:
"Football pools are capable of more exact measurement …"
that is in regard to the amount involved—
"based chiefly on Post Office returns of the postal orders sold and cashed by the promoters. In recent years the figure has been round about one and a quarter million to one and a half million for every week of the football season. This is reaching a total of well over £50 million per annum. Figures given in the House of Commons indicated that the total figure for football and other pools is over £61 million. Post Office evidence given to the Royal Commission showed that 60 per cent. of the postal orders, a total number of 240 million, are bought for football pool purposes and cashed by the pool promoters."
The point I wish to stress is the public accountability of these organisations in regard to their operations. There is, apparently, a total lack of legal requirement for these football pools to publish any sort of account or to give any record either weekly, monthly, or annually as to their operations.

Am I right in thinking that there is no legal obligation to make a return? If so, it could only be remedied by legislation, which it would be out of order to raise now.

I am merely saying, in passing, Sir, that there appears to be no legal requirement for these accounts to be published. I want to find out whether that is exactly the position and whether the Government can take some action, even under the law as it exists, to have some light thrown on the accounts of these organisations. In other words, I am seeking information as to the present position. I will conclude by referring again to the leading article in the "Evening Standard," which, I think, has rendered a great public service in throwing light on these dark places, or attempting to throw light on them. It concludes with these words:

"The largest firm is Littlewoods, which has made the claim that it pays half of all the pools taxed. The two directors of this company, John and Cecil Moores, have made so much money out of the pools. …"

Order. I have been making some inquiries and I gather that the Home Office have no power to enforce the production of football pool accounts; and, unless they can show me that they have such power, this is out of order.

I conclude by saying that I would like to know from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the exact position and whether the law as it stands is being fully applied to ensure that there is some form of public accountability from these organisations. Is it the case that the Government are totally unable at present to ensure that these organisations shall make any sort of accounts public and publish records of their operations for the benefit of the public, or are they awaiting the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming? I hope the Minister will tell us what is the present position and the intentions of the Government if they find that at present they have no power to intervene.

1.54 p.m.

On 28th April last year the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming was appointed. It was to inquire into:

"the existing law and practice thereunder, relating to lotteries, betting and gaming, with particular reference to the developments which have taken place since the Report of the Royal Commission on Lotteries and Betting in 1933 and to report what changes if any are desirable and practicable."
We expect the Report from the Royal Commission early next year. I will see that the Royal Commission receive a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT containing the views of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. O. Thomas).

Are we to conclude from that that at present there is no power to secure publication by these organisations of any form of accounts to make it plain how the amounts of money collected are distributed in overhead charges, expenses, profits and the rest? In other words, as far as the public are concerned, are they working completely in the dark?

I think my hon. Friend is expecting a little too much if he expects me to answer that off-hand as I have been sitting on this bench ever since he handed me a note saying: "I am going to raise the question of football pools." I really cannot go further than I have gone on that information. If my hon. Friend will put down a Question on this matter, I shall be delighted to see that it is dealt with.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Four Minutes to Two o'Clock.