HC Deb 23 February 1968 vol 759 cc875-93

Order for Second Reading read.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill has two rather limited objectives; first of all, to authorise a sweepstake on a national scale, and, secondly, to authorise sweepstakes on a very much smaller scale in parishes and subject to the limitations set out in the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1963.

Gaming and wagering have a very long history. As long ago as 1388 the first law on the subject was passed. It is interesting to note that the motive of the law was nothing to do with the morals of betting and gaming but to promote archery and military exercises by preventing men from wasting their time on games like tennis. That has a peculiar ring today perhaps. But the history only began then. Between 1566 and 1832 lotteries attracted a great deal of attention. The first big draw in England was as long ago as 1569 when no fewer than 400,000 lots were drawn and there were prizes in plate, tapestry and money. It seems that even in those days there were doubts about the possibility of devaluation of the coinage—which happened.

Later lotteries became a monopoly under various letters patent because it was seen that they were of considerable value. In 1698 all lotteries had to be authorised by Parliament, and they were, indeed, used by Parliament as a method of raising money for general Exchequer purposes, and sometimes for special needs as well, for it is interesting to recall that Westminster Bridge was one of the objects of a lottery and was built in consequence of it.

By 1802 the profit to the Government from lotteries was £520,000, a great deal of money for those days. It was not until comparatively recent times—1823—that the Chancellor announced the last lottery, and a little later, in 1836, an obvious consequence of that, the Lotteries Act was introduced to prevent the advertisement of foreign lotteries.

Various attempts have been made since then to revise the idea of a national lottery. At the end of the first World War, in 1918, the Lotteries (War Charities) Bill passed through the House of Lords and was defeated in the House of Commons by only the narrowest of margins, 81 votes to 77. It was certainly defeated only by a short head. The project was then dropped.

In more recent times two Royal Commissions have considered the question and arrived at somewhat differing conclusions. The Royal Commission of 1933 saw no objections to the idea on social grounds but described lotteries as "gambling in its easiest form with dazzling prizes". But the fact remains that the idea of lotteries has gone on in various forms and is generally accepted by the public.

At this point I should like to make clear that my Bill deals not with lotteries as a whole but only with sweepstakes. Sweepstakes are a limited form of lottery. Whereas a lottery depends simply upon a draw, a sweepstake depends upon a draw followed by a second, and ascertainable, event—very often a horse race.

Hon. Members may wonder whether my Bill is not similar to one to which the House has recently given a Second Reading, the National Lotteries Bill. It is only fair, therefore, to point out the differences. First, it deals only with sweepstakes, and of only two kinds: a national one, which must be based upon a horse race, and a small one, which will be available for parish councils for parish purposes.

Secondly, unlike the other Bill, my Bill sets up no new board with what might be described as a vested interest in the continuation of lotteries. It uses the existing machinery of the Horserace Betting Levy Board, which was recently set up under an Act passed by this House. No public expense would be involved because of the use of existing machinery.

It will be well known to every hon. Member that sweepstake tickets are widely bought and sold in this country, especially for two races, the Grand National and the Derby. Sweepstakes have a limited appeal, but there are a great many people who could not be described as gamblers, and who are certainly not what would be described as punters, who like to have a flutter twice a year on those big races. Very often they do not know how to set about it. There are already in existence the various sweepstakes to which people subscribe.

A national sweepstake under proper regulation and run by properly appointed people would provide much better prizes than exist at present and—an important point for prizewinners—there would be much lower running costs. The cost of running the national lottery in Spain is only 3 per cent., whereas that in Abyssinia costs no less than 40 per cent. in running costs alone.

The Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, 1949–51 dealt at page 117 of its Report with national lotteries and said: We do not, however, consider that a lottery is a form of gambling which is likely to lead to excessive expenditure on the part of individuals". Therefore, to those who ask whether the Bill would not encourage gambling, my answer is that I do not think that it would. I doubt very much whether it would do more than perhaps channel gambling into different directions, because under the Bill a sweepstake could be held only on the express authority of the Home Secretary, who, I imagine would not authorise a sweepstake on more than two or three races in the year. I do not, therefore, think that people would be encouraged to do anything which trey would not contemplate in any event. J t might, indeed, be made a little easier for them, and the object of any profit would be charity and it would be distributed in a properly supervised manner.

Other objections are raised against the idea of sweepstakes, including two which are completely contradictory. The first is that the State should not lend its name to a lottery. This ignores the fact that the State has often done so in the past and still does in a great many countries. Secondly, there is the argument that no lottery should be allowed on a national scale without the supervision of the State. Those two objections more or less cancel each other out. One cannot have it both ways. The important thing is to make sure that any large-scale lottery is properly supervised.

There may, of course, be religious objections, and I respect the objections of those who think that anything to do with chance is wrong and immoral and should he opposed. The objection might be made on social grounds that those who can ill afford to do so would subscribe to a sweepstake. I believe that there are sufficient opportunities for them to do so already and I do not regard that as a serious danger. That is why I suggest that the national sweepstake should be confined to only two or three races to start with.

If we look abroad, we see that the idea of a national lottery in a rather wider sense than envisaged in the Bill is used on a very large scale. That seems to justify the idea of State regulation and the State having something to do with the supervision. A number of countries can be listed, but I will give only a few: Belgium, Ceylon. Greece, Israel, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and West Germany.

In a speech in the House three weeks ago, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said: It is difficult to suppose, in the light of that, that having a lottery is proof of a final descent into moral degeneration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1968; Vol 757, c. 1767.] It is something which is being widely done and it has been done in this country in the past. I therefore find it difficult to accept the moral objection.

That leads me to the question of proceeds. It is important that any profit which is made should go in the right direction after fair prizes have been provided. Under my Bill, the proceeds would have to be distributed under the Betting Levy Board, which already has certain instructions but in the Bill I add the instruction that at least 70 per cent. of the proceeds must go to charity. It would be left to the Board's discretion to decide which charity should benefit. I would certainly hope that most of the proceeds would go for medical research. Private gain would therefore not arise.

It is true that the Betting Levy Board would not be in a position to undertake the actual promotion of the sweepstakes. The Board has, therefore, been given power in the Bill to delegate that function to the Totalisator Board or to other persons who may be duly authorised in writing by the Board. At the end of each year, the Levy Board is directed by the Bill to include in the annual report which it already has to submit to Parliament a description of what has been done in the national sweepstake, where the money has gone, what the expenses have been and the names of the charities to which subscriptions have been given. In this way the expenditure could be kept very low and the prizes would certainly be attractive to many people who at present probably subscribe to a foreign sweepstake if they want a good prize.

Having said that much about a national lottery in respect of which it has been necessary to amend the law considerably, I should like to turn to the question of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act, 1963, which, on the whole, has worked quite well for small lotteries. Objections are sometimes raised to the 1963 Act, and it would be tempting to make minor alterations to it, but I do not consider that a Private Member's Bill is the right way to do it. The cost of printing, for example, would show a considerable rise but the amount allowed for this item might not be sufficient. It is subject to certain grievous restrictions such as posting and so on. We must frankly admit that some of the regulations, for instance not selling tickets to people outside a particular group or society, are not always observed.

I am seeking to add to the causes which these small lotteries can help with a maximum prize of £100. I refer to parish councils. It might be argued that Section 45(lc) of the 1963 Act includes parish councils. That does not appear to be the view of the parish councils. They are nothing to do with charity or with sporting activities. I want to make it clear beyond doubt that they are able to do this kind of thing.

In my own part of the world some parishes are very small. I received a letter the other day from one parish complaining that the product of the I d. rate was only £35 and that they are increasingly being asked to undertake certain duties: for example, putting up stiles in the countryside. They would find this a great strain on their resources. However, that is not what I have in mind. Very often, the odd seat or bus shelter would be extremely useful to a parish but, with high rates, the parish council would hesitate to vote money for anything like that. Here is a perfectly good way of raising money for the purposes of the parish, money which would be willingly given. Although the running of the sweepstake would be done by local helpers, the cost would be kept down to a minimum. They would be subject to a maximum prize of £100—which is probably more than they are likely to raise—and the other regulations under the 1963 Act. This is a good cause. They should be allowed to subscribe for the purposes of the parish for so many of the small things that these villages require.

This brings me back to the other half of the Bill, as it were, the national sweepstake. In Clause 3 I have had to make certain modifications to the existing law for it to work out. First, I have had to allow the posting of tickets, which is prohibited at the present time. Secondly, the limit of a prize of £100 would clearly be inapplicable if one had a national sweepstake on the Derby. Thirdly, the prohibition on advertising should go, although that is not a matter I would wish to insist upon in Committee.

I emphasise again that sweepstakes on one or two of the big sporting events of the year have long been something to which many people who have no real gambling instinct wish to subscribe. This Bill gives them the opportunity to do so on the largescale, with a remote hope of a good prize in a national sweepstake; or they could support their own parish pump politics by putting their 2s. 6d. into the sweepstake run for the benefit of the parish. No material encouragement to gamble is given. It is a certain regulation of existing facilities. Charities would stand to benefit very considerably from the big lottery. I have no doubt that the Betting Levy Board would know how to distribute the money. It is convenient to use existing machinery set up for a similar purpose, because we are only dealing with horse races, rather than set up a new body which would have a vested interest in more and more lotteries. I believe that adequate public supervision could be given.

Finally, I would stress that no national sweepstake can be held for this or that specific purpose without the authority of the Home Secretary. The power remains completely in his hands, so that he will be able to regulate the matter in the public interest. I, therefore, believe that, on a large scale and on a small scale, a certain amount of good can come of this Bill and I commend it to the House.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. Arnold Gregory (Stockport, North)

We are indebted to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) for introducing the Bill. It gives another good opportunity for discussing the question of gaming. He has explained in great detail the history of gambling in this country which extends, I think he said, to archery and even to military exercises. In this way we have an opportunity to examine the various facets not only about the subject of gambling and lottery, but what provides the opportunity for the gambling instinct. The gambling instinct of the British is strong and flourishing and we are now investigating in detailed style precisely how we can channel this instinct to good end results. The hon. Member for Dorset, West has illustrated very well how it can be done.

I do not intend to speak for long. The hon. Gentleman's speech brought to my mind a number of things which I have been considering concerning gambling methods relative to horse racing in recent weeks. He said that largely the need for a lottery in byegone days came about to keep people's minds off other things. He mentioned lawn tennis.

Taking saddle racing as such, we have been drawn away not so much by the fact that we have horse racing as a means of sport or entertainment, but, in shaping the Bill, precisely what one does with it as an on-course event to attract the gaming instinct—indeed what is more important, the sport or the gambling.

The Bill raises two dangerous matters. The hon. Member for Dorset, West admits that the present powers of the Betting Levy Board would not be too big to contain even a large two-event sweepstake system per annum. My doubt is whether, if the powers were transferred to the Totalisator Board and Tote Investors Ltd. whether they would be big enough. I will inform the hon. Gentleman why. A number of my constituents—and even where I live in Kent—have made an effort to introduce and expand course racing activities with horses beyond saddle racing. I know that one small organisation in the North-West tried to open courses with trotting. Trotting is much older than saddle racing, because one can relate it to the days when there was racing with chariots. The history of that sport is quite strong and has deep roots. The point is that in approaches to the Totalisator Board and to local bodies, the people promoting trotting cannot find a niche in the present organisation of the totalisator system. They say they are overworked with organising on-course betting and not extending—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot discuss the various forms of horse racing, including trotting, on this Bill. It is a Bill about sweepstakes.

Mr. Gregory

I am sorry. I agree I extended the debate. I will come to the point. The hon. Gentleman must take into account the heavy responsibilities of the Totalisator Board for organising on-course betting, and I think we should stop there. If we stop to consider the role of the Board we realise that we should not spread the opportunities for holding sweepstakes beyond the course. The Bill contains one weakness, in that under it would be impossible for the Home Office, in conjunction with the Board, to maintain what the hon. Gentleman recommends. I therefore oppose the Bill.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)

We are greatly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) for bringing forward this Bill. It is a simple Measure, and so much simpler than many of the Bills which we have had to read of late.

The Bill contains two important items. First, as my hon. Friend rightly said, it suggests that we might be able to help the ratepayer and the taxpayer on a national scale; secondly, commendably, that we might be able to relieve the ratepayer on a smaller scale, in the parish council. It is to these two purposes that I shall address my remarks.

My hon. Friend was right when he said that way back in history Westminster Bridge was built as a result of a lottery. I wish that more modern buildings had been built as a result of money obtained in that way. If they had been, taxpayers and ratepayers would have benefited greatly.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is reminiscent of the previous debate on lotteries.

Mr. Ridsdale

I find myself willing to support the Bill, particularly that part of it which deals with parish councils. Many parish councils in my constituency wish to build new footpaths, and to help in implementing the Countryside Bill when it becomes an Act by building stiles, by providing seats in bus shelters, and so on, but a penny rate in many of these councils produces very little indeed. My hon. Friend is to be commended for trying to make it possible for local people to support their parish councils in a practical way if they want to provide these facilities. I would like the Bill to go further and make it possible for a sweepstake to be held on a national scale to provide money to build hospitals, and to relieve the burden on taxpayers.

It is for those reasons that I support the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend again on bringing it forward.

2.54 p.m.

Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I propose to speak for only a few moments to warn my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) that although he has been fortunate enough to be able to promote the Bill, whatever happens to it today, I would not like him to be deluded into thinking that it will be translated into legislation in due time.

Mr. Speaker, you have said that we must not relate our remarks to the National Lottery Bill. Nevertheless, in introducing the Bill my hon. Friend gave us the history of lotteries from the beginning of time, and this encouraged me to believe that we might touch on it in passing.

It is fortunate for my hon. Friend that, so far as I can detect, there is no Treasury representative on the Government Front Bench. If there were, he would predict doom for the Bill, because my hon. Friend has surrounded it with the undoubted promise of money which might be used for charity, worthy causes, medical research, and so on. I do not know whether the Home Office representative will take the same view, but, unless there is a division of opinion in the Government, there is no chance of any money raised by this means being devoted to charitable purposes.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has made it clear that the Treasury has not deviated one iota from its tradi- tional line that we must not have part hypothecated taxation, and the Treasury will not allow money raised in this way to be earmarked for charitable or other purposes. Its disposal must be at the sole discretion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his advisers. I cannot hold out much hope for the Bill, but I nevertheless congratulate my hon. Friend on having got it this far.

The idea that we should have a national sweepstake because other countries have run them successfully is not borne out by the financial results. My hon. Friend quoted with approval the example of Spain, where about £30 million is raised by means of a national lottery, but the Government raise far more than that without a national sweepstake. They collect more than £70 million by various forms of taxation in this field. If they want to give money to charity, there is nothing to stop them from doing so, but they prefer to use it for other purposes. The Treasury takes the line that the revenue coming into its hands has to be disbursed by the Government of the day in a way which they think is appropriate. If my hon. Friend thinks that by this Bill, or by a national sweepstake Bill, great sums of money will be raised for charity, he is flying in the face of traditional Treasury practice. I wish my hon. Friend well with the Bill but I do not think that he is likely to get very far with it.

I was puzzled about why my hon. Friend talked only about parish council sweepstakes. Why not county borough sweepstakes, or city sweepstakes? Why does he propose to give this solicitous care only to parish councils? Will he consider extending this in Committee so that the Borough of Southend, for example, can raise money in this way if it so desires? I am not suggesting that it should do so, but I do not see why only parish councils should have this privilege. I think that it should be made available to other local authorities.

I wish my hon. Friend the best of good fortune with this Measure. I can only warn him that no matter what may be said by the Under-Secretary of State this afternoon, sooner or later the Treasury will catch up, and sooner or later the Bill will suffer death by a thousand cuts. Much as I wish it well, I do not see much future for the Bill.

2.58 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dick Taverne)

I had not expected to rise for the third time today to give the Government's view of a Private Member's Bill. As the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) said, the Treasury is not here, but I do not think that he will find any division in the Government's ranks on this issue, or indeed on any other. Nor, I am afraid, will the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) derive any great comfort from the absence of the Treasury.

Many difficulties arise in connection with lotteries and, in particular, a national lottery. Royal Commissions, with decreasing strength of objection, have nevertheless turned their faces against the idea of a national lottery. In Paragraph 392 of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, the Commission said: Our conclusion is, therefore, that there is no important advantage to be gained by the establishment of a national lottery and that there is no reason, in this particular case, to depart from the general principle that it is undesirable for the State to make itself responsible for the provision of gambling facilities. In the next paragraph it goes on to oppose the idea of large-scale lotteries which are not conducted by the State. It has even greater objections to them.

Since the mild opposition of the 1951 Royal Commission, opposition to the idea of a national lottery has been further eroded—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman must help me. We cannot repeat the whole debate that we had last time on a national lottery. We must refer to sweepstakes promoted by individuals in connection with horse racing.

Mr. Taverne

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, but to some extent the principles then announced in relation to national lotteries are relevant to this Bill. To some extent objection in principle has been eroded by the votes which the House gave on the previous Bill.

There may be some support for a form of national lottery, but there is less support for the idea of the proliferation of lotteries, and I do not think that there would be general support for complete freedom, for all purposes, for all kinds of charities. The most that can be said is that if a lottery or sweepstake is run by an appropriate body for limited purposes the idea of some sort of national sweepstake could be re-examined.

The Bill proposes an amendment of the 1963 Act to make it lawful for the Levy Board to promote or conduct a public sweepstake on any horse race with the prior authority of the Secretary of State. It does not seem to me that the Secretary of State's authority being required makes the matter very much easier. It would be very difficult for the Secretary of State to know exactly on which occasions he should support and on which occasions he should refuse the idea of a sweepstake. There would be considerable pressure on him to do so on each occasion and, in the light of all the pressures that would be brought to bear, I cannot see how the Minister could exercise this discretion.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

There are only that have tremendous and support in this the Grand National and is obvious that those the occasions on which he would be approached.

Mr. Taverne

Yes, but undoubtedly pressure would arise in respect of other occasions, and for the proliferation of lotteries. It would be difficult for the authority of the Secretary of State to be effectively used to prevent proliferation of a kind which the majority of opinion might not be prepared to accept.

The third point is that the Levy Board would be empowered to delegate its functions to the Totalisator Board, Tote Investors Limited, or any other person. It is difficult to envisage the delegation of these rather important powers to "any other person".

Now I come to the nub of the Bill. Apart from the question of the parish council, it envisages that at least 70 per cent. of receipts from sweepstakes should be contributed to charity, at the discretion of the Levy Board. The Board is also to be responsible for determining the prizes. I assume that that figure of 70 per cent. relates to net profits rather than gross receipts. If it related to gross receipts it is difficult to see how sufficient return could be obtained—but that is a question of detail.

The real difficulty arises in establishing how far this variation of a national lottery could be regarded as acceptable. First, there is the question whether or not we should like to see the scope of the provisions limited to a form of national lottery used to confer further special benefits on horse racing, which already receives exceptional support from the totalisator and the levy on bookmakers. Certain persons who, in certain circumstances, might envisage a national lottery being permissible, would have strong objections to State participation in a lottery which was used for the further benefit of horse racing.

Even in respect of the 70 per cent. to be devoted to charities the Bill would place the Levy Board in an impossible position. I am not sure how far the Board likes the idea of being given this somewhat invidious task. I understand that it has not been consulted on this in detail, although it was, of course, sent a copy of the Bill.

But is it really the body to decide between one charity and another? The functions of the Levy Board are to apply the contributions which it receives to purposes conducive to one or more of the following: the improvement of breeds of horses, the advancement or encouragement of veterinary science and of veterinary education and the improvement of horse racing. A board constituted for those purposes is surely not the right one—it would be invidious to make it so—to choose between different charitable purposes, a choice which is difficult for anyone, but particularly so for this Board.

Indeed, why should the proceeds of a sweepstake be applied only for charitable purposes? There are many equally deserving causes which could benefit from a national lottery. If one takes the view, as one must, that the scope of national lotteries should be limited—if they are allowed at all—I should have thought that to limit them to give first, 30 per cent. to horse racing, and then the rest to charities only is not a principle which one would like to accept—

Mr. Wingfield Digby

It is not limited to give 30 per cent. to horse racing. I put in the figure of 70 per cent. for charities, although I hope that it would be 100 per cent. The hon. and learned Gentleman will know the difficulty of including in a Bill a provision which is too rigid. There must be a little play in this figure.

Mr. Taverne

These are terribly difficult decisions for the Levy Board. It would be under pressure to use the maximum permitted for the benefit of horse racing. We still face the difficulty of making it choose between charities and the objection in principle to allowing this for the benefit of charities only.

Lastly, there is the concession to parish councils, which also involves a very difficult point of principle. We discussed this to some extent when we debated the Gaming Bill last week, and few voices were raised for the idea that municipal authorities should be allowed to participate in gaming. On the whole, we have so far preserved the position that local authorities should not engage in these activities. If that is still generally maintained, I can see no logical reason why parish councils should be more favourably placed than any other local authorities.

I must, therefore, regretfully tell the hon. Member for Dorset, West that his Bill is not acceptable to the Government in principle and in any event is defective in form. For these reasons, I cannot ask the House to support the Bill.

3.8 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I must first of all congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) on having unexpectedly secured a Second Reading debate on his Bill, but I cannot congratulate him on the Bill itself. I am afraid that the liberal period which I entered earlier today on another Bill has not lasted very long, since I am not again opposing a change.

This Bill must be viewed against our general social background, part of which, regretfully, is that gambling of every kind is at present increasing. The question which one must ask, is, at such a time is it appropriate to add yet another form of gambling to an already overcrowded scene?

Mr. Wingfield Digby

Does my hon. Friend think, then, that the Irish Sweepstake is morally wrong?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that it is for me to pass a judgment on the morality of the Irish Sweepstake. To do so would be to intervene unjustifiably in the internal affairs of the Republic of Ireland.

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

Does my hon. Friend realise that the majority of people who invest in the Irish Sweepstake are citizens of the United Kingdom? He therefore should pronounce on the morality of that sweepstake.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes, but that is a matter for them, and I would not pass judgment on the morality of any individual action as opposed to passing judgment on the morality of an institution, bearing in mind the comment, "Judge not, that ye be not judged". In any case, some of the people participating in the Irish Sweepstake may be constituents of mine.

I do not regard gambling as morally wrong in itself, but it is a question of moderation and measure. This is a situation in which gambling is on the increase. In that situation, my hon. Friend is advancing the argument that, since the situation exists, why not cash in on it for a good cause? That is an adaptation of General Booth's famous question, "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" I see the force of that argument. It seeks to take advantage of a situation which one believes will inevitably continue. For those who regard gambling as immoral, such an argument will have no appeal, but I revert to the point of those who take the middle view and ask, is this the right time to introduce yet another form of gambling, even if it is a sweepstake of restricted application?

I agree with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that the Bill would place an almost impossible task on the Levy Board. It would be difficult for anyone to discharge the task of deciding, between different charities, which one is meritorious, and which is not. No guidance is given in the Bill how the discretion should be exercised. That places an undesirable degree of patronage under the control of the Levy Board, even if it be patronage which can be used for a good cause. We should beware of extending patronage in any form at this time when Government patronage, in particular, is increasing so rapidly. Given this difficulty of dispensing the money, one can hardly think of a Board less equipped to fulfil the task than the Levy Board. That constitutes an ineradicable weakness of the Bill.

The figure of 70 per cent. in the Bill is arbitrary. My hon. Friend explained that he had to fix some figure, but he did not explain why it should be 70 per cent. other than saying that he did not wish to be too rigid. I view the Bill with certain reservations. I fully appreciate the force of my hon. Friend's arguments, however, and I do not wish to bring myself into a direct confrontation with him. It is therefore my intention, if and when a Division occurs, to abstain.

3.15 p.m.

Miss J. M. Quennell (Petersfield)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) on being here when his Bill, which is third on the list, was called, and I commiserate with the Under-Secretary for finding himself in a similar situation.

My task is to try to answer some points raised in this short and interesting debate. While the hon. and learned Gentleman was working himself into a fine frenzy of disapproval, I was rather amused to see the face of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer appear round your Chair, Mr. Speaker, gaze sadly at his hon. and learned Friend depriving him of large sums of money, and then disappear all in the space of about 60 seconds.

The Under-Secretary has taken far too serious a view of Clause 4, which gives parish councils the right to run sweepstakes. This debate might have been a little more concentrated on the subject matter of the Bill if we had taken the word "lotteries" out of it and concentrated on sweepstakes. The two are quite separate.

The Under-Secretary worked himself into a great lather over the Bill in some respects. He said that his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would be placed under intolerable pressures; that it would be quite terrible for the poor man to have to decide whether a sweepstake might be run on one or other of our races. With the greatest possible respect, I would say that Home Secretaries have proved fairly tough individuals and that every day they are confronted with pressures of one kind or another. I cannot seriously take it from the hon. and learned Gentleman that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would crumple and quail at the prospect of deciding whether a sweepstake was to be run on a race.

The Levy Board, which has been said during the debate to be overworked, was named in this Bill because it is publicly appointed. That does not mean that from among its own number it could not, if the Bill became law, appoint a sub-committee of members specially qualified to handle this work.

The figure of 70 per cent. which so concerned my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is one that my hon. Friend might be prepared to consider amending in Committee.

My particular interest in the Bill relates to parish councils. Though my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) looked on the Bill with an air of extremely gloomy foreboding and questioned the likelihood of its future being rosy, he suggested that the provisions of Clause 4 should be extended to county boroughs and, presumably, county councils and other levels of local government.

Parish councils are mentioned in the Bill for the simple reason that they are more impoverished than other levels of local authority. Some parish councils have a penny rate product which enables them to perform their functions well, but some in the course of years have found themselves responsible for recreation grounds, cemeteries, and other things they have not originally acquired but which have been left to them in trust. In the past they may have found that their penny rate product was more capable of enabling them to carry the burden than they can with present-day prices and responsibilities.

I was once chairman of a parish council whose penny rate product was all of £5 and no more. Had we had an election, the rate would have gone up by nearly 6d. We realised that we had to be as economical as possible in the interests of democracy. Many parish councils are in a similar position. Although re-rating of property has improved the rating capacity of those councils, they are still carrying heavy burdens. In any case, this is a tier of local government which is one of the more important under-used powers of local authorities.

They would not only benefit from the rate content suggested in the Bill in a purely financial sense, but the additional responsibility and additional work would give them new inspiration to look at life afresh. In all discussions of re-organisation of local government and the considerable debates about the future of county councils, regional government and what the regions will be, no one talks about parish councils. It seems that they will continue in future unaffected by any changes. This Bill could give them an opportunity for a new access to funds and the chance to take on a new lease of life.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford generally disapproves of gambling. I think it fair to say that that was his attitude towards the Bill. Is it right, he asked, to introduce another form of gambling? What my hon. Friend for Dorset, West is seeking is not to introduce another form of gambling. Gambling in this country requires no encouragement at all, and the Bill would give it no further encouragement. All that the Bill would do would be to channel an incorrigible and irresistible instinct of the British people, built into our very beings over the centuries, confirmed and ineradicable, into some useful activity by which it could be utilised to a good purpose.

My hon. Friend does not even seek to try to determine in which way this should be channelled. This is flexible in the Bill, and it can be amended if necessary if the Bill goes to Committee. The Bill would not be an encouragement to gambling. Gambling is here, built into the instincts of the British people. Let us have some common sense about it and try to channel this instinctive activity and its by-product usefully so that the largest number of people can benefit.

I hope that the Government will be a little less pessimistic about the prospects of the Bill. I realise that the Government have had a strange series of experiences in the last 24 hours and probably they are looking on everything rather pessimistically. Nevertheless, I think this Bill gives hope. I do not think tare fears of the Under-Secretary are so well-founded as he suggested. He should remember the unhappy visit of the Chancellor to this Chamber and his return. If from the Under-Secretary he learned how more money could be raised