HC Deb 03 November 1954 vol 532 cc379-82
Mr. Anthony Barber (Doncaster)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to authorise the conduct on behalf of societies registered with the local authority of small lotteries for raising money for charitable, sporting and other purposes. I cannot believe that there is any hon. Member of this House who will disagree with me when I say that the law relating to betting and lotteries today is both anomalous and completely out of sympathy with public opinion. On the one hand, there is the spectacle of millions of families throughout the land staking more than £70 million a year on football pools in the hope of winning anything up to £75,000 free of tax, and, indeed, each week during the football season nearly 10 million coupons are sent through the post. That is perfectly legal. On the other hand, take the case of a solitary clergyman who wants to raise a little money for his church. If he posts a book of raffle tickets to one of his churchwardens he becomes liable to a fine of £500, and if he is caught a second time he may be sent to prison.

It is well known to hon. Members that it is illegal for anybody, as the law stands at present, to sell a raffle ticket to someone other than a member of the club or society which promotes the raffle or lottery, unless the ticket is sold during the progress of a féte or similar entertainment. The result of this could be seen a few weeks ago in a rather amusing incident which occurred in Cornwall. The Bodmin Football Club was warned by the local police that if it continued to hold raffles at football matches it would be guilty of an offence and liable to prosecution. However, the people of Bodmin were not deterred. They found out that by reason of Section 23 of the Betting and Lotteries Act, 1934, they could hold a raffle at a football match if only they ensured that it was merely an incident of a féte.

So, they held a féte. They had a few stalls and sideshows, including a dart board. Hon. Members may be surprised to hear that during the course of the afternoon's entertainment one of the items happened to be a football match between Bodmin Town and Minehead. By that simple device the raffle which was previously illegal became legal, and the gate was doubled. Incidentally, I understand that thereafter the police were charged admission to the football match.

The present position is farcical and is making a mockery of the law. The result is that in many instances where the police have thought fit to bring a prosecution it is not the bewildered offender who is pilloried in the eyes of society, but the law itself. I must be rather careful. I have not been in the House many years and I do not want to offend the rules relating to Privilege, but when I was looking into this matter to begin with I could not help wondering how many hon. Members, when buying raffle tickets in their constituencies, ever paused to consider whether Sections 23 or 24 of the 1934 Act had been complied with. I do not think I dare take it any further than that.

I know it will be said that this is only one aspect of a far greater problem, and that the whole problem of betting, gaming and lotteries was considered recently for some two years by a Royal Commission. I agree with that, of course. But when one looks at the tangled skein of Acts of Parliament which passes for the law on these various topics and when one realises that the law has been built up almost haphazardly, so it would seem, over a period of more than 500 years, it is painfully obvious that it would be a most difficult task to try to put everything right in one fell swoop. Certainly, it is not a task for a private Member, and least of all for me.

However, there is no reason whatever why Parliament should not tackle the relatively simple problem of small lotteries which are promoted by churches, youth organisations, football clubs, cricket clubs and similar societies, many of which today are finding themselves in most serious financial difficulties. I know that there is not a single hon. Member who would like to see any of such organisations die, but from the information which I have received I am sure that, unless some help is given to them to enable them to increase their funds, they will die.

The Bill which I am asking the leave of the House to bring in would relax in three important respects the conditions which at present govern the promotion of lotteries by clubs and societies. Before I mention these three relaxations, I should stress the fact that they would apply only to small lotteries, and only to small lotteries promoted for charitable purposes, the encouragement of athletic sports or games, or for the purpose of assisting a voluntary society neither established nor conducted for the purpose of private gain.

The three relaxations which this Bill contemplates are these. First, the Bill would enable tickets to be sold to non-members of a club. Everybody knows, in fact, that that is being done on a considerable scale today. If that became law, it would go some way towards bringing the present law into harmony with reality.

Secondly, the Bill would allow the use of the post, but with this important qualification. The post could not be used for sending tickets to non-members.

Thirdly, if this Bill became law it would allow the deduction of expenses which were actually incurred in the course of the conduct of the lottery, but that again would be subject to a qualification. The maximum which could be appropriated to expenses would be 5 per cent, of the proceeds.

It is obviously a matter of the first importance that these relaxations should not lead either to abuses or indeed to the excessive development of this particular type of gambling. The Bill will apply only to small lotteries, and the larger ones will still be governed as they are at present by the Act of 1934, but to ensure that it does apply only to small lotteries, there would be in the Bill itself certain additional restrictions of a new type. Obviously I cannot go into details at this stage, but, for instance, the price of a ticket would be restricted to 1s., and there would be a condition that no single prize should exceed £100. Perhaps most important of all, there would be a provision that a substantial proportion of the proceeds should be devoted to the object for which it was promoted.

Finally, the society or club would have to be registered with the local authority. The purpose of that requirement would be to ensure that once a year each society or club should submit a simple return in respect of the lotteries which had taken place in the past year. It would be a return which could be inspected free of charge by any member of the public, and would be a very simple one, setting out the amount of the proceeds, the expenses and the amount applied to the purpose of the lottery.

I think I have almost reached the limit of traditional time allotted for this procedure and, therefore, I conclude by saying that the existing law is quite out of touch with reality. Anybody who goes around the country knows quite well that, day in and day out, it is being either ignored or circumvented by one or other of the rather comical devices such as the instance to which I have referred. The result of that is to bring the law into disrepute. Perhaps most important of all, it is an undoubted fact that the law on this topic is capable of amendment without much trouble, if this House so desires. For those reasons, I ask the House for leave to bring in the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Anthony Barber, Mr. Philip Bell, Mr. Mulley, Sir William Darling, Group Captain Wilcock and Dr. Reginald Bennett.