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Gambling: Football

Volume 688: debated on Monday 22 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What recent consideration they have given to representations from Football DataCo Limited on the effect on English and Scottish football of the directive on the legal protection of databases (96/9/EC) and the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997 (SI 1997/3032) as interpreted by the European Court of Justice.

My Lords, the Government continue to hold discussions with Football DataCo on this issue with a view to identifying a way to resolve the concerns that it has raised.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, although this Question may superficially appear obscure and complicated, it is in no way party political—nor will it hit the headlines—but it is absolutely vital for football teams in Scotland and England, particularly the small ones, which have lost substantial amounts of revenue from the betting operators because of these changes? I ask my noble friend to thank Dick Caborn for the work that he has already done on this. I urge the Government to do even more and perhaps to bring in for football a system similar to that in racing, which would bring great joy particularly to small football clubs such as Elgin City, Forfar Athletic and Raith Rovers. Although I cannot guarantee that there will be dancing in the streets of Kirkcaldy, it will receive a very warm welcome.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. He referred to the meeting with Richard Caborn; as a result of the meeting with Ladbrokes, bookmakers have already agreed to contribute around £3 million to help the Premier League and all the rest; they are already receiving a contribution. The sport is not necessarily poor; it has an income of some £1.35 billion per annum. Distribution and allocation of funds is a matter for the industry. On the horseracing levy, the situation in football is different. The horseracing levy existed before 1972—before we joined the European Union. A football levy could be regarded as breaching the EU’s state aid provisions.

My Lords, does the Minister intend to involve internet betting companies in any future scheme, so that its scope would be broader than would otherwise be the case?

No, my Lords, the Government have no plans for that—it is a question for the sport—but I take on board his interesting suggestion.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his encouraging comments on what he and his honourable colleagues are doing to assist. I declare an interest in one of the clubs mentioned so nicely by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. Does he agree that, while I and, I suspect, many of us are not up to date with every dot and comma of the directive and the regulations, anything that can be done would be of help to small clubs in Scotland? Many of us appreciate that this matter is far from the horseracing directive mentioned by the noble Lord but his efforts are particularly welcome, especially in my neck of the woods.

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord said. The Government will keep a close eye on this matter.

My Lords, on a slightly different, but very much related, topic, does my noble friend support the submissions made to the Gambling Commission by the Football Association and other governing bodies that they should be consulted by betting organisations on the sort of bets that are accepted on their matches and fixtures? This is necessary to further the integrity of the sports that they run.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that suggestion, which is very valuable. We all, of course, want integrity in betting.

My Lords, I put it to the Minister that my noble friend Lord Foulkes is correct in emphasising that the Government are interpreting a piece of EU legislation in a certain way. Other countries do not always take that stance. The outcome is certainly deleterious to the United Kingdom’s smaller football clubs.

My Lords, as we have made clear to Football DataCo, the creation of any new intellectual property right would require strong and full justification and it would be very difficult for the Government to open up the whole case of the directive again to achieve agreement between other members of the European Union.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that although the voluntary agreement is welcome—it brings in £3 million to football clubs—it in no way compares with well in excess of £6 million that was available previously through the levy? Scottish clubs have thus experienced a reduction of 60 per cent, which affects small clubs very badly indeed. It does not have a huge effect on major clubs, such as Heart of Midlothian, Arsenal and Tottenham, but it is a serious matter for the small clubs that I mentioned earlier; I could mention many more. I urge my noble friend to talk to Dick Caborn and his colleagues in DCMS to see if more can be done to ensure that football is supported at every level with a proper levy from the betting operator.

My Lords, I hear loud and clear what my noble friend says but, as I said earlier, the distribution and allocation of funds is a matter for the sport to deal with, and it is not a poor sport.