HC Deb 28 April 1993 vol 223 cc1001-9

'. —(1) Any person who sells a ticket for the National Lottery to a young person shall be guilty of an offence.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level five on the standard scale.

(3) In this section, the expression "young person" means a person—

  1. (a) who is under the age of eighteen years and whom the person committing an offence in relation to him under this section knows, or ought to know, to be under that age; or
  2. (b) who is apparently under the said age:
provided that in the case of any proceedings under this section for an offence in respect of a person apparently under the said age, it shall be a defence to prove that at the time of the alleged offence he had in fact attained that age.'.—[Mr. Alton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Alton

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

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 5, in clause 51, page 20, leave out from line 37 to end of line 15 on page 21.

Mr. Alton

New clause 5, which is linked to amendment No. 5, deals with the minimum age for the purchase of lottery tickets. We explored this issue in Committee and those who have read the extract of the proceedings in Committee will know that I advanced the case that we should not do anything deliberate to stimulate gambling among younger people. I hope that the House will have chance to reflect on what I trust will be a fairly brief debate on this new clause and amendment and that the Minister, if he is unable to accept the amendment, will at least give some consideration to the principles underlying it so that it can be given further thought between now and debate in another place.

The chairman of the National Council on Gambling has described as "naive" the Government's view that, as lotteries are the softest form of gambling, a fairly relaxed regime of control is consistent with policy. Any restrictions are undesirable, the Government's argument goes, because they want to stimulate the maximum amount of revenue. But surely there must be exceptions to that rule. I argue that young people are one of them. The same argument can, for that matter, be extended to the poor and, interestingly, to women—a group that the Minister said in Committee he particularly wanted to target as people likely to purchase tickets for the national lottery.

The Government, therefore, will widely promote the lottery in an indiscriminate manner to achieve the objective of raising the maximum amount of revenue, and one of the groups that they will quite unashamedly target will be young people. Such an approach is best summed up by the belief that if one is to have a lottery it might as well be one that makes as much money as possible, regardless of who or where the money comes from. Inevitably, as the lottery matures, they will seek to maintain growth in revenue and profits and will either seek to attract new participants or encourage existing participants to bet more.

Lotteries inevitably generate strong commercial pressures which take little account of social considerations, and this lottery will be no different unless we build in safeguards. That is why my new clause and the amendment set out to protect those who are under 18 years of age. Unless we build safeguards into our legislation, as has been the experience in the United States, we will see pernicious and misleading advertisements and promotion on television, in our newspapers and on hoardings in our deprived areas, and many of them will be targeted at young people.

6.15 pm

I would like to draw the attention of the House to one such advertisement that appeared on Connecticut television, entitled "Misspent Youth". It opens with an older man sitting in a boat, afloat on a calm mountain lake. He says reflectively: When I was younger, I suppose I could have done more to plan my future. But I didn't. I guess I could have put some money aside. But I didn't. Or I could have made some smart investments. But I didn't … Heck, I could have bought a one-dollar Connecticut Lotto ticket, won a jackpot worth millions, and gotten a nice big check every year for twenty years. (Smiling broadly) And I did! I won! … I won millions —me! A voice-over then spells this out. It says: Play LOTTO. You only have to win once. Jackpot prize paid out in twenty instalments. Overall chance of winning is 1 in 30. In fact, although the odds of winning something are 1 in 30, the odds of winning the million-dollar jackpot are 1 in 13 million.

There are other examples but I quoted that particular one in Committee as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) has said, and I want to add to it because it builds up the case that, where there are lotteries already in operation in the United States, many have targeted the young in the way that I have described, or at the poor. For instance, in Illinois an advertisement depicts a man scorning people who invest in savings bonds: investing in the lottery, he says, is the only way to become a millionaire. A ghetto billboard offered Chicago's West Side residents this advice: How to go from Washington Boulevard to Easy Street —play the Illinois State Lottery. The recession has prompted another pitch in Washington. Lottery billboards round the city describe the lottery there as "the ultimate shock absorber".

New York once ran a commercial showing a mother telling her daughter that she need not strive for a scholarship because her mother was playing the numbers. A billboard placed in Boston College's football stadium last year offered this inducement to diligent study: Be a millionaire before you graduate—play the Massachusetts lottery. So the experience from the United States is not good.

There is evidence from this country too of the existing problem of young people who are gambling. I draw the attention of the House to the work undertaken by Dr. Sue Fisher of Plymouth university. She points out that a survey of United Kingdom secondary school children, aged 11 to 16, inquired into the prevalence of adolescent gambling and pathological gambling on fruit machines, and related behaviour. Sixty-two per cent. of the children in the survey gambled on fruit machines, 17.3 per cent. at least weekly and 5.7 per cent. pathologically. Some began gambling as young as eight years old.

Sue Fisher did a study located in a seaside town in the south-west with a population of 6,000. The commercial leisure facilities are dominated by three arcades, purpose-built for the playing of fruit and video machines.

One arcade prevents local children from entering in school hours; the others impose no age restrictions. The arcades remain open throughout the winter months as well as in the holiday season so that local children have virtually unrestricted access to fruit machine gambling in arcades throughout the year. In addition, fruit machines are sited in cafes, fish and chip shops and holiday camps and are also played by the children surveyed.

The survey was carried out during the autumn of 1990 in a school which is the sole provider of state secondary education for that seaside town and its hinterland. The questionnaire included a frequent question on a variety of gambling forms to establish the prevalence of fruit machine playing and its relevance to other games. Ninety-nine per cent. of children had gambled in the year preceding the survey. As expected, fruit machines were the most popular form of gambling and 62 per cent. of children had played them in the preceding year. Next in popularity were card games, 30 per cent. of the children having played them, and games of skill, especially pool —27 per cent. had played that. Nine per cent. of the children had bet on playground games such as "coins up the wall", and a further 8 per cent. had bet on football pools. Eight per cent. of the children had bet on horses and dogs; 20 per cent. of them gambled weekly, and 9 per cent. gambled three or more times a week.

Predictably, fruit machines were played more frequently than any other form of gambling: 17.3 per cent. played at least once a week. Next in popularity were games of skill, with 7.5 per cent.; followed by cards, at 3.9 per cent., playground games, at 2.4 per cent., football pools at 2 per cent. and horse and dog betting at 0.4 per cent.

The implications of all this for the scratch cards that are likely to be sold as part of the national lottery should be more than evident to all hon. Members. While most children spend small amounts on fruit machines, 25 per cent. had spent more than £5 in one day, and 4.6 per cent. of them spent more than £10 every single week. Seven per cent. gambled at least three times a week—and there were no significant gender differences in the study that Sue Fisher carried out.

The problems that this generates are worth considering for a moment as we decide whether to allow young people to purchase lottery tickets. Fruit machine playing, according to the survey carried out in this west country town, created problems for some of the children that impinged on their schooling and their relationships with family and friends. Some of the problems involved illegal acts. Eight and a half per cent. of the children played fruit machines even though they knew that their parents had forbidden it; 10 per cent. of parents had fallen out with their children or close family because of fruit machine playing; and 15 per cent. of the children admitted that they had lied to hide the extent of their involvement.

Thirty-seven per cent. of the children had borrowed; 21 per cent. had spent their school fare or dinner money; 11 per cent. had stolen from their families; 2 per cent. had stolen from outside the home to play the fruit machines. Four per cent. had sought help with a serious money problem attributable to fruit machine playing.

It is obvious to anyone who thinks about these things or who has any familiarity with urban life that adolescents are particularly susceptible to pathological gambling. As with substance abuse, so the gambling problems among young people are undoubtedly part of the reason for crime levels among them.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about fruit machines—the Yorkshire Post has run a good campaign against them, and something should certainly be done about them. I wonder, however, whether the hon. Gentleman is right to pursue the analogy with the national lottery, because there is a difference: fruit machines are almost a way of life. They are put in places that are designed to be exciting and open all the time. Spending fairly small sums of money on them can become an addiction, but surely the national lottery represents a different dimension?

Mr. Alton

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for a moment, the study that I have been citing goes on to show that the compulsive gambler frequently starts with what appears to be an innocuous form of gambling, such as a lottery, and ends up on the harder forms, such as slot machines. Ours is the only country in the world that allows children to gamble on slot or fruit machines. We should be ashamed of that. Children who are already addicted to slot machines are far more likely to indulge in other forms of gambling—all the more reason why we should protect them. That is why the principle enunciated in Committee found some support on both sides of that Committee. This is not a partisan issue; we should all be worried about this country's young people.

Young people are picked up and used by pimps and by others who exploit them or sell drugs to them or lure them into a world of criminality. We should therefore not add to the pressures on them, since they are already excessively exploited. The United States experience clearly shows that young people are one of the target groups for lotteries, and I fear that we may set out to lure them into purchasing tickets here in the same way—advertisements even in colleges encouraging young people to spend some of their money on lottery tickets. Do we really want to encourage people to use their money to try to succeed by gambling on a national lottery—what I would term the chance mentality? Surely we should build in safeguards for young people.

Before hon. Members point out that young people are allowed to do many other things at the relevant age, I should add that that does not invalidate the new clause or the amendment. It does not mean, for instance, that we should provide young people with drugs or encourage them into vice. There is no reason why we should deliberately set out further to encourage gambling by young people in the national lottery, or why we should allow the deliberate targeting of young people by failing to build in safeguards to prevent that from happening.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

I declare an interest as parliamentary adviser to the Brewers Society. I support the Government on the Bill. There is no need to increase the age limit from 16 to 18, and I do not believe that the lotteries will take the form of hard gambling. This is, after all, a question of judgment, and the Government have probably reached the right decision—that 16 is the right age.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) was clearly concerned about misleading advertising, but clause 12 provides safeguards against that sort of misinformation, as does other legislation on accuracy in advertisements, allowing the Advertising Standards Authority to enforce the same.

An anomaly might arise, because at an early stage of the Bill's progress the Government suggested that public houses would not be allowed to sell lottery tickets. Sixteen-year-olds might therefore be able to buy tickets, but those aged 18 or over, if drinking in a pub, would not be able to buy them. I see no reason for such a prohibition. Perhaps the Government feared that the lottery would be associated with gambling and that pubs, by extension, might be too.

Pubs are increasingly seen as leisure outlets and community centres, however. That is particularly true of rural areas, where they are often the only places where residents can meet each other. Following the Government's decision to relax the licensing laws, more people below the age of 18 will visit pubs with their parents. The Government's decision acknowledges pubs' increasing role as places where families can spend time together. With 65,000 pubs in this country, we have an excellent opportunity to increase the success of the lottery system. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on this subject.

Mr. Pendry

Supporting new clauses moved by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) is becoming a bit of a habit. He has already touched on most of the points that I wanted to make.

Members of the Committee will recall that I argued that it was nonsense that bingo and the pools should be required to observe a lower age limit of 18 but that the Government should allow the sale of lottery tickets to 16-year-olds. The case for equalisation was overwhelming then and it is overwhelming still.

There are of course two ways of bringing about parity. The Government have chosen the wrong way, and I hope that they have realised their mistake in lowering the age to 16 instead of levelling it up to 18. If consistency and fair competition were truly the Government's objectives, it would be better to confine the sale of lottery tickets to those aged 18 and above, the age observed in almost all other forms of gambling. There is a legitimate anxiety that, if the age limit is lowered to 16, some young people may become susceptible to harder forms of gambling because of their involvement with the national lottery.

The attraction of a national lottery is not only that by buying a ticket one helps a good cause but that, if one is lucky, one could win a prize, which could be very huge if the national lottery is the success that the Government hope. I do not need to tell hon. Members that the teenage years, especially the years between 16 and 18, are extremely formative and impressionable. Although the national lottery is hardly an addictive form of gambling, it may tempt young people to experiment with other forms. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill mentioned that.

Those of us who represent areas of great social deprivation are aware of the susceptibility of some young people, especially those who are out of work and who may see gambling as an easy way out of current difficulties and social boredom. The temptation to relieve despair through gambling, like the temptation to ease hopelessness through drinking, should not be taken lightly.

Reducing the age at which one can be allowed to gamble to 16, although not a momentous change, will make it much easier to encourage young people to take up gambling as a recreational pursuit. The Opposition believe that such additional encouragement is undesirable. The national lottery ought to be a means of raising new money for good causes, and exploiting the vulnerability of young people is quite contrary to the ethos that it is supposed to represent.

Opposition Members have always maintained that the limit should be set at 18—we argued that in Committee —in line with other forms of gambling. I hope that the Government realise that it was foolish to reduce the age to 16 instead of keeping it at 18. I hope that the Minister will not reply from a civil service brief and that he has reflected on the rather silly approach taken by the Government so far. If we seek uniformity and age parity, we should accept the new clause so ably moved by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill.

6.30 pm
Mr. Maxton

I am always reluctant to disagree with my Front-Bench spokesmen, but on this occasion I am afraid that I must do so, because I do not think that we should support the new clause. I shall approach the matter from a slightly different viewpoint from that taken by some hon. Members. The new clause would place an undesirable burden on those who will sell national lottery tickets. I have teenage children and I do not know how anyone is expected to be sure by appearance that a person who enters an establishment that sells lottery tickets is 16, 17 or 18.

Mr. Corbett

What about pubs?

Mr. Maxton

That is exactly the problem faced by many publicans. I am a rather old-fashioned believer in civil liberties, and that is why I have reservations about the fact that many pubs are insisting that young people produce some sort of identification to prove that they are 18. That is a dangerous road for those who believe in civil liberties because, increasingly, people who go to a newsagents to buy a lottery ticket will be asked to produce some sort of identification. I have a son who will soon be 19.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

My hon. Friend looks so young.

Mr. Maxton

I know. My son finds that not even a driving licence is now accepted in a pub as proof that he is over 18 because he could have obtained it at the age of 17. That creates pressure for some form of identity card; some of us believe that that is a dangerous route and we will resist any attempt to go down it. Even at 16 there will be some difficulties, but it is easier to determine that a person is younger than 16 than to distinguish between a 16 and an 18-year-old. I hope that the new clause will not be pushed to a vote.

Mr. Davidson

It is with some trepidation that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), who supported me earlier. There will be some difficulty about defining age whether the limit is 16 or 18. However, in the search for profit, some people will sell outside the limit. Hon. Members have mentioned shopkeepers who distribute pools coupons to make money. Youngsters who are about two years below the statutory age will be sold tickets. If we accept a lower age limit of 16, lottery tickets will frequently be sold to 14-year-olds and youngsters of about that age.

There are already difficulties in my area because under-age youngsters are able to buy cigarettes. The law is clear, but shopkeepers will do that irrespective of the age limit. It is inappropriate to set the limit at 16 because that will lead to sales to those who are 14 years of age or younger. To them, buying a lottery ticket would be a sign of maturity.

Mr. Maxton

People of 16 can engage in what may be the biggest lottery in life by getting married. Why on earth should they not be allowed to buy lottery tickets?

Mr. Davidson

We have never opposed the idea of people having to produce identification before they get married. Of course, people are not required to produce identification before producing children, although the Government are tackling that in another way.

We should support the amendment because there is a real danger that financial pressures on the Director General of the National Lottery will lead to a search to expand the market for lottery tickets. That will include targeting ever younger children.

Mr. Key

I have no doubt that my right hon. and hon. Friends know who will look silly if the amendment is pressed to a Division. This is a matter of judgment and I respect the fact that people will reach different judgments on the degree of supervision to be imposed on people of 18 or 16. It is hard to understand why the Opposition are so keen to support the pools industry but wish to restrict the sale of tickets, and therefore of pools coupons, to 18-year-olds; that is the logic of what they are saying.

My judgment is clear. I am proud to say that I have come to the debate with a civil service brief because my civil servants have worked extremely hard for a year to get the Bill right, and it is right. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have decided that 16 is the sensible age.

The House has heard thoughtful, sensible, down-to-earth and common-sense contributions by the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) on this topic. When faced with the difficult problem of the sale of goods to young people, do we make it easier or more difficult? My judgment is that, if the amendment is accepted, it will increase the problem, and that would be silly.

We heard a great deal about advertisements in the United States. But this is not the United States and such advertisements could not appear here. Our proposals are sufficient to control misleading or scurrilous advertising of the type that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) took great relish in describing to us. The Advertising Standards Authority ensures truthfulness, and clause 12 gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations about information that must be given. The powers of the director general to license operators under clause 5 and games under clause 6 also provide protection.

Some pools companies have had occasional lapses of discretion in advertising. A few years ago, Littlewoods had to withdraw a poster campaign, based on a poster that said, "You'll never work again", because it was thought distasteful. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) is happy to support an industry that made an error of judgment like that.

The new clause shows a patronising attitude. It is suggested that although at 16 one can get married, leave school and get a job and at 17 one can fight for one's country, one should not be able to buy a national lottery ticket before one is 18. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill said that the question of age limits was discussed extensively in Committee. He said that we had argued that we should logically take the age limit for small lotteries, 16, to be the age limit for buying national lottery tickets, but that he disagreed with that.

Under clause 12, the Secretary of State can regulate for the age limit on buying national lottery tickets. I told the Committee that I was minded to set the age at 16. If the limit were set differently from that for other lotteries, retailers who might be selling both national lottery and other lottery tickets would have a hopeless task in trying to apply two different age limits. They might be put off dealing in different types of lottery and that would lead to the kind of exclusive deals about which hon. Members are concerned.

Is the hon. Member for Mossley Hill minded to increase the limit for charity lotteries, thereby preventing 16 and 17-year-olds from buying raffle tickets, the mainstay of many church functions, let alone ward political functions and football and other sports clubs everywhere? All those small lottery operators would be done a grave disservice.

It is logical to set the age limit for the pools at the same level, not least from a practical point of view, because often retailers will be selling both lottery tickets and pools coupons side by side. The Secretary of State would be able to change the age limit that he sets for the national lottery in the light of experience, should there be proven to be any of the dire consequences that the hon. Gentleman cranked out so predictably. The new clause is unnecessary, patronising and impractical, and should be rejected.

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) drew my attention to the problem about which my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has spoken forcefully this evening and about which my hon. Friend the Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) has also spoken to me—the anomaly with pubs. I am glad that the matter has been raised. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that we were minded to regulate under clause 12 to ban the sales of tickets in pubs and licensed premises. In Committee, I was subject to representations on that point, and I have received further representations.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has recently announced potential changes in the regulation of pubs which might fundamentally change the character of the public house. I know that people were jesting when they talked about the local community centre, but they have a good point in respect of rural areas. The pub is often the focus of community life. After due consideration, we have concluded that it would not be right to regulate the sale of tickets in pubs, but that we should leave it up to the operator. A potential operator might consider that using the pub was one way to reach remote areas where the Pope is the focus—[Laughter.] Well, the hon. Member for Mossley Hill will no doubt be delighted to hear that the Pope is the focus of rural life, as indeed he probably is in some areas, but I meant to say pub.

The pub might not be an appropriate point of sale, as the Pope might not be, if, for example, there were a preponderance of gambling and amusement machines on the premises. However, it is right that such decisions should be for the operators, in the light of the changing nature of public houses, and I hope that the way in which we have responded to the representations that have sensibly been made will ensure that that goes smoothly. Therefore, I hope that the House will join me in rejecting the new clause.

Mr. Alton

I am surprised that the son of a former Bishop of Truro should confuse the 'Pope with a pub, but I suppose that the Minister can be forgiven that lapse. I am also surprised that he was so trenchant in his opposition to the new clause and so strident in his language. He waxed lyrical in his enthusiasm to promote the sale of tickets to those aged between 16 and 18. It is nonsense to reduce to absurdity the argument that, because someone buys a raffle ticket, it is all right for him to go out and do all those other things as well.

The hon. Member for Cathcart said that, because people could get married at 16, it was all right to encourage them to gamble at 16. Many people think that 16 is rather a young age at which to make such a major decision about the rest of one's life. People who get married at such a young age, more often than people who come to such a decision later in their lives, would be wiser to wait longer. Perhaps it would be better if they did not decide so early.

6.45 pm
Mr. Maxton

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It may be better if people wait before they get married, but is he seriously saying that we should pass a law insisting that 18 is the age at which people may get married? That is what he seems to suggest.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Gentleman will be relieved to know that that is not part of the new clause. In answer to his point about when people get married, I am merely saying that that is a young age at which to take such decisions. However, that does not negative the new clause, which deals specifically with the encouragement of gambling among young people. That is a different argument about a different proposition.

I am surprised that the Government should show such enthusiasm for doing this. The Minister said that it would be impossible to enforce the new clause, but the same argument can be applied to the sale of alcohol and to bookmakers in betting shops. They already have to distinguish between customers on the basis of age. There is also the nonsense that it is not possible to decide when somebody is aged 18, but it is possible to decide when a person is aged 16. Those are silly arguments, put forward in an attempt to discredit the new clause, which is not just about the technical question but about the principle of whether we should be encouraging gambling among young people.

I am grateful that the House has given the matter some consideration. I hope that the Government will reflect, even if not in the context of the Bill, on the general problem of young people, many of whom gamble far too easily and readily and often steal to raise the money to feed their gambling addiction. If the national lottery does anything to stimulate that problem even further, its promoters will have a great deal to answer for. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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