HC Deb 30 April 1975 vol 891 cc618-27
Mr. Michael Alison (Barkston Ash)

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 3, line 5 after "with", insert the Secretary of State for the Environment, in cases whore the total value of tickets or chances to be sold is less than two-thirds of the relevant sum as specified in section 9(9) below, and in other cases with'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 3, line 4 leave out "£5,000" and insert "£10,000".

No. 4, in Clause 3, page 3, line 15 after "with", insert the Secretary of State for the Environment, in cases where the total value of tickets or chances to be sold is less than two-thirds of the relevant sum as specified in section 9(9) below, and in other cases with". No. 62, in Schedule 2, page 15, line 22 leave out "£5,000" and insert "£10,000".

Mr. Alison

The effect of the amendment is to relieve the Gaming Board of the necessity to scrutinise the great bulk of the schemes which have to be registered with it under Clause 2. This is an important point. I briefly remind the House of what will be involved for the Gaming Board if the Bill is passed as matters now stand.

The Gaming Board has a number of important functions. It has the task of investigating the trustworthiness of all applicants for licences for commercial gaining. It has to advise the Secretary of State on regulations to be made under the Gaming Act 1968. It has to advise the licensing authorities on public demand for commercial gaming facilities, the suitability of premises to be used by licensed clubs, and so on. It has an inspectorate whose task is to supervise clubs licensed under the Gaming Act, and it has to provide an annual report to the Secretary of State. In other words, the board is the custodian and administrative organ of the Gaming Act 1968, with all the important ramifications of that Act.

At present the Gaming Board discharges its functions with four board members, 40 staff known as the administrative group staff, and an inspectorate whose members do not stay on the premises at the board's headquarters but who move around the country. The inspectorate at present numbers 30, although the complement is 31. This small group of 70-odd staff, only 40 of whom are involved in administration at headquarters, get through their task on the basis roughly of an average 41-hour week in terms of administration staff and a slightly longer week, with overtime, in terms of the inspectorate.

I ask the House to imagine what will happen to the Gaming Board if as a result of Clause 2, and particularly subsection (2)(b) as it stands, every scheme which may be promoted as a result of this legislation with a ceiling in respect of tickets or chances of over £5,000 must be registered with the board. The prospect is simply incredible. I worked out the figures a short time ago and I should like to give an idea of what will happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Har-borough (Mr. Farr), in a classic statement at an earlier stage of the Bill, reminded us that there are 8,600 local authorities which will be entitled to promote lotteries under the present Bill. They will be empowered or entitled under the Bill to run a weekly lottery. If those 8,600 local authorities each run a weekly lottery, the total number of lotteries which might have to be registered comes to a total of 447,000 per annum. That means that on a 365-day year, even if one does not allow for Saturdays or holidays, 1,250 schemes may fall to be registered every day with the Gaming Board. This would mean that each of the 40 administrative officers would have to scrutinise, assess, probe and investigate 30 separate schemes each day.

It is not surprising that the Bill as originally presented to the House modestly stated that the manpower provisions were such that some staff increase would be necessary. But we believe that it is not right to transform the Gaming Board, of its present rôle of policing the Gaming Act, into a registration authority to cope with the vast number of new schemes which may come forward following this legislation.

The amendment seeks to provide that the bulk of schemes—those whose values amount to less than two-thirds of the ceiling amount permitted under Clause 9—should be registered with the Department of the Environment. This is in accordance with the recommendation of Churches Council on Gambling, and of course the Department of the Environment already has a substantial number of clerical staff. Therefore, there will be no problem in processing these schemes through the Department of the Environment. Only the higher level schemes will be left to the Gaming Board. This will take a considerable burden of scrutiny and investigation off the Gaming Board shoulders and will enable it to concentrate on its traditional rôle. It will increase the burden of administering the Act. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will look sympathetically at this amendment and bear in mind the very serious burden which otherwise will accrue to the Gaming Board as matters now stand.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. L W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

While listening to the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) I thought that the House should be made aware of what is behind the amendment. The Conservative Party opposes all increases in public expenditure. As the situation exists now, if the Gaming Board takes on this duty it will increase its staff. That will not put a burden on the taxpayer. If the amendment is passed the job will be given to the Department of the Environment, which has enough staff to do it—which presupposes that there are at present plenty of people there with nothing to do.

The amendment would result in an increase in the staff of the Government about which the Opposition are always bellyaching day in and day out. I therefore think that we should chuck out these amendments straight away.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

In his admirable summing up in favour of the Gaming Board the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) forgot to mention the most important reason for the board's existence. In the United Kingdom before the Gaming Board was set up—and at present in other countries—one of the great dangers was that people who did not want to gamble were seduced into gambling. Before the Gaming Board was set up there were clubs in which people had to pass by the roulette, chemmy and black-jack tables before they could obtain a drink. In many ways it is a good precaution to involve the Gaming Board since it has a great deal of experience in preventing the public being conned by too many lotteries.

Although only one parish council lottery can take place in one week, many societies of all kinds can hold lotteries. It is not at all a bad idea for the Gaming Board, with its vast experience, to be involved in preventing more than a certain number of lotteries taking place at any one time.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) misunderstood the amendment. He accused the Opposition of increasing the number of civil servants or local government servants employed in looking after lotteries. By means of this amendment we are trying to reduce the number of people involved. As the Bill stands, the number of employees in the Gaming Board must be greatly increased.

There is no need for the registration of many of the minor schemes with the Gaming Board. We are talking only about registration. I believe that the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) is looking at the matter from the point of view of policing. The registration of schemes involves a considerable amount of administration. A judicial judgment of the schemes is not involved. I think that the present provisions of the Bill will cause the Gaming Board to be overburdened. We should reduce the Gaming Board's burden of registering the smaller lotteries.

Mr. Ivor Clemitson (Luton, East)

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) argued that one of the purposes of the Gaming Board was to prevent people from being seduced into gambling. At the least the Bill will not reduce gambling. Almost certainly it will increase gambling. This argument is rather like giving a patient a hefty dose of poison, making sure there is a doctor on hand to case his passage into the next world.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

I am a little puzzled by what the hon. Member for Luton, East (Mr. Clemitson) said. This amendment increases the limit from £5,000 to £10,000. But what will be the effect on the Gaming Board, whose members are to oversee how much money is spent?

Are we saying that every county council or other council is to be limited to £5,000 or £10,000? Eventually, will all the thousands of councils be limited in this way?

If we say that each council is to spend only £5,000 like this, we much remember that that may involve 500,000 individual gambles, and the figure could reach as much as a million, provided that every lottery permissable takes place. If that happens, how can the Gaming Board control a million different lotteries?

This proposal is quite wrong, and I cannot believe that this House will accept it.

Mr. Weitzman

There seems to be a complete misconception about what the amendment does and about what the Bill says. We are dealing with registration only. We are not dealing with policing. There is no question of the Gaming Board having to adopt police methods. We are concerned simply with the registration of schemes.

I appreciate that there may be administrative difficulties and that the number of schemes which will have to be registered will be far greater if the amendment is rejected. But it is better for one authority to deal with all of them and, as it is merely a matter of registration, the difficulties should not be exaggerated.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

I am afraid that I cannot support the amendment. However, I take a slightly different view about it. As the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) said, we are concerned entirely with registration and with whether we are to overburden the Gaming Board with a lot of small, pettifogging lotteries which are no part of its concern.

The right way to deal with this matter is simply to increase the value of the societies' lotteries which do not require to be registered with the board. There fore, an amendment designed to increase the sum from £5,000 to £10,000 for these lotteries without their having to register with the board would involve quite small schemes. They will still have to be registered with the local authority, as before. They must be registered and must comply with the law. When the Government bring in the necessary regulations later, they will be able to tighten up that control.

The effective way of controlling small lotteries is over printing. If the Government introduce a regulation which controls the number of tickets to be printed and keeps control over the printer, they will have complete control over the numbers of tickets and the distribution. If local societies are kept up to the mark and are made to comply with the Acts, which they have not done in the past, we will get effective registration.

I share with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) some knowledge of gaming. But I suggest that he is on the wrong tack because he has not applied his great mind to the amendment. We are not at the moment concerned with the policing of the Bill or the power or control of supervision which the Gaming Board should exercise. It is debatable whether it should exercise control of lotteries. It was not set up for that purpose.

I was concerned with the proposals to set up the original Gaming Board. Indeed, I was directly concerned in the representations made both to Lord Gardiner and to Lord Hailsham in another place, both of whom were very interested in its setting up and the strong dictatorial powers that have been given. Those powers were given to deal with hard gaming and to give effective control against the insidious operations of speculators of an undesirable nature. Those powers were given so that the board should have effective control over serious abuse. I agree that large lotteries could lead to serious abuse. I support bringing in the Gaming Board to ensure that there is no such abuse in large lotteries. However, I do not think that it is necessary for small lotteries.

It is undeniably right, as was said by my hon. Friends the Members for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) and Louth (Mr. Brotherton), that there will be a vast amount of—dare I use the word—bumph. I do not know whether that is an unparliamentary word. There will be an enormous quantity of paper and applications which will have to be processed by a very small staff. In Committee the Under-Secretary said that possibly another 30 staff—she did not commit herself, very wisely—might be necessary for that purpose. I do not think that is necessary. The hon. Gentleman who spoke with such passion, but with an equally infinite lack of knowledge, said that we were suggesting more civil servants. I certainly am not. I believe that many of these small lotteries operated by local societies can be conducted perfectly properly. As we go on to produce regulations which will later have to be laid, I am sure that we can lay the necessary regulations.

I should like lotteries of up to £10,000 to be subject merely to ordinary registration, as before, without being registered with the Gaming Board. However, I accept, with some reluctance, that the large lotteries of £10,000 or more should be registered with the Gaming Board.

I hope that the Gaming Board will take general cognisance of the scheme. It will be important for the Government to make plain what they mean by the word "scheme". A lottery has to be laid down in the form of a scheme, but there is perilously little guidance on what the scheme is supposed to be. That will come later in the regulations to be laid under Clause 11.

Mr. Freud

The hon. and learned Gentleman, who spoke about my great mind, has gone on a bit about the difference between a small and a major lottery. Is he aware that if somebody bullies someone into buying a lottery ticket, that person does not realise whether it is for a small or a large lottery because the price of the ticket is probably very similar in both cases? Surely the idea is not only registration, but, in a way, policing, so that the public are prevented from having to buy a large number of lottery tickets every day.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Gentleman has never in his life been bullied into buying anything without knowing precisely what odds he was to get. But leaving that question aside, people know when they are buying a ticket in a lottery. The public will know the precise object of each lottery, and it will be limited to 25p at the maximum. I do not think there will be any difficulty there. The small lottery will be limited both as to the number of tickets to be sold and the maximum amount of money that can be invested. I do not think that people will be conned into doing anything that they do not fully understand.

I have said all that I need to say on this matter. I am fearful of the fact that the Gaming Board may be overburdened with unnecessary prolixity. That is the basic issue upon which the Opposition are united, and I hope that the hon. Lady will recognise that and find a way to get over the difficulty.

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

What consultations has my hon. Friend had with the Gaming Board? Many of us are not in favour of this kind of gambling, but this is a Government Bill and we have to deal with it in a practical way.

I want to see this measure work efficiently and well, but I want to be assured that the Minister has had consultations with the board and that it will be able to cope with the immense amount of work that it will be called upon to undertake.

Dr. Summerskill

I realise that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) is concerned to relieve the Gaming Board of some work, but I feel that his solution of transferring this matter to the Secretary of State for the Environment is both unwise and rather drastic.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. Roberts) that I have been in touch with the Gaming Board about the additional functions that it will have to perform if the Bill becomes law. The board, like everyone else, is unable to say exactly what will be the result when this measure is enacted, but it is of the opinion that substantially more than a 50 per cent. increase in staff will need to cope with the extra work involved.

One cannot say now how many societies will prepare schemes for lotteries with a turnover exceeding £5,000, or how many local authorities will promote lotteries and thus have to register their schemes with the board, but clearly regard will have to be had to the board's new functions in assessing its staffing needs.

I do not feel that there is any justification for involving yet another Government Department in this area. The Gaming Board is an experienced and highly respected body, and it, not the Department of the Environment, is clearly the appropriate body to examine lottery schemes, which are a form of gambling.

The amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) is similar to an amendment tabled in Committee. It would raise the level of turnover at which a society needs to register a lottery scheme with the board from £5,000 to £10,000.

The general pattern of the Bill is that schemes for local lotteries and societies' lotteries with a turnover of £5,000 or more must be registered with the board. A turnover of £5,000 far exceeds the present permitted figure of £750. It seems right that schemes for and the accounts of these larger lotteries should be subject to examination by the Gaming Board. It is there to control gambling and prevent fraud and abuse, among other functions.

It is not possible to say how many societies will wish to promote lotteries with a turnover of £5,000 or more. Such information as we have suggests that many societies are not yet thinking of lotteries in this higher band. In the circumstances, therefore, it seems best to leave £5,000 as the dividing line for the registration of schemes. If in the light of experience we find that the figure has been pitched too low, the Secretary of State has power to vary it by order under Clause 11(1)(a).

Amendment negatived.

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