HC Deb 28 April 1993 vol 223 cc976-80

.-(1) Section 12 of the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 (regulations) shall be amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (2), at the beginning there shall be inserted "subject to subsection (3A) below".

(3) In subsection (3), after "above", there shall be inserted "but subject to subsection (3A) below".

(4) After subsection (3) there shall be inserted: (3A) Regulations under this section shall not prohibit the sale of a ticket or chance in any bingo club premises, within the meaning of Part II of the Gaming Act 1968.

(5) In consequence of the preceding provisions of this section, so much of regulation 6 of the Lotteries Regulations 1977 (which prohibits the sale of tickets and chances in certain premises) as prohibits such sales in bingo club premises (within the meaning of the said Part II) shall cease to have effect.'.—[Mr. Fry.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

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

In Committee the Minister gave some guidance about where national lottery tickets would be sold. The new clause seeks to allow the sale of local authority lottery tickets and other lottery tickets in bingo clubs. The Minister outlined the principle that national lottery tickets will not be sold in the traditional markets for charity lotteries, such as public houses, the intention being that there should be no damage to the proceeds of such local lotteries which perform many good works.

The new clause is intended to explore the issue in relation to bingo clubs which are currently prevented from selling local charity lottery tickets. In that respect I declare my interest because I am the parliamentary consultant to the Bingo Association of Great Britain, which represents about 740 licensed bingo clubs throughout the country. The industry is keen to compete with and where possible participate in the national lottery. However, the White Paper that preceded the Bill said that bingo clubs would not be allowed to sell national lottery tickets, and the Minister confirmed that in the earlier debates on the Bill.

It seems rather strange that people who have joined a club to have a modest flutter should not be allowed to buy a national lottery ticket there. The Government seem to have moved a little way from the policy of non-stimulation of any form of gaming merely by promoting the Bill. My suggestion will not propel us all towards a hectic Sodom and Gomorrah in which the country gambles all its spare money.

There has already been much talk about the so-called level playing field for the various forms of gambling. Betting office hours in England and Scotland have been extended because of the damage that might be caused as a result of people gambling on a wider basis. The exact way in which the national lottery will affect other forms of gambling is not yet clear, although there is great concern that they will be harmed. It is not necessarily good that other forms of gambling, and especially soft gambling, should be damaged too much.

Many hon. Members who visit their local bingo clubs know that they provide a valuable social activity as well as the opportunity of a flutter. Many such clubs are communities in themselves because people go there to meet friends as much as to play bingo. I remind the House that bingo is the safest and most acceptable form of commercial evening venue for single ladies who perhaps would not venture into any other sort of gambling establishment.

The industry has shown considerable community spirit and has a remarkable record of fund raising for charity. For example, over the past five years, the Bingo Association's annual charity week has raised £1.5 million. In 1987, it raised £200,000 for the Women's National Cancer Control Campaign. The following year, it was £220,000 for the British Heart Foundation, which used the money to buy 50 defibrillators to resuscitate heart attack victims on the way to hospital. In 1989, it raised £404,000 for Guide Dogs for the Blind—the largest ever single donation. The Royal National Lifeboat Institute received £245,000 in 1990, which paid for the lifeboat Bingo Lifeline. In 1991, £295,000 was donated to Marie Curie Cancer Care and last year £271,000 was raised for the Spinal Injuries Association.

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All that is on top of the money raised locally by individual clubs. This year, the charity work will not be for a national charity but co-ordinated at local level, so that players can choose charities in their area. Raising such large amounts of money requires imagination and hard work. If bingo clubs were allowed to run their own lotteries for charity, in the same way as other organisations do, it would add another feature to the fund-raising efforts.

I know that gaming premises are not allowed to run lotteries because there is a distinction between commercial and charitable activities. As such lotteries would be for charity—that is the main drift of the new clause—that should not present any problems. If the drafting of my new clause is not acceptable, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be prepared to accept the spirit of the new clause and instil it into a suitable form of words at a later stage, perhaps in the other place.

Mr. Corbett

I spent a little time last Saturday afternoon in the Cascade bingo club in Barnabas road in Erdington, in my constituency, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) will know. There was a crowd of perhaps 300 people, paying devoted attention to the caller. They were mainly elderly and clearly out to enjoy themselves in groups of friends, to make use of the excellent refreshment and bar facilities at a cost of no more than £3, to spend a pleasant afternoon and perhaps—I think that it comes in this order—to win a few bob on the bingo. The nearest there was to trouble was when, inadvertently, I raised my voice to ask a question of Mr. John Wiley, the Cascade managing director, as the numbers were being called. That provoked a storm of sh's from those listening. The atmosphere, as anyone who has visited a bingo club will know, was happy and relaxed. The players were enjoying themselves. Hundreds do that every week in that club and countless thousands in other clubs.

In essence, if I have understood this right, bingo is little different from the national lottery, in that players have to win by having a ticket, or a chance, which bears a predetermined set of numbers. What is little known is that the club, like many others—the hon. Member for Wellingborough referred to that—gives between £5,000 and £6,000 a year to local charities and joins the other clubs, in the Bingo Association of Great Britain, in raising money for charities on a national basis.

The new clause would enable club members to buy lottery tickets for charitable causes, including for local charities. By no flight of fantasy could anybody suggest that the buying and selling of such local charity tickets would get in the way of the national lottery. They are very different animals. While the impact of the national lottery on the whole range of charity lotteries is unknown, if the lottery is to succeed it must attract a totally different audience from that which likes supporting local charities because the bulk of the money goes to the charity named on the ticket—bar administrative costs and prize money. It will not be divvied up like the national lottery. Participants will see the name of a local charity of which they approve and want to support and buying a ticket for 20p, 30p or 50p will be a way of donating to that cause—and there is the bonus that one may win whatever prize money is offered.

I hope that the Minister accepts that that is a very different market from the national lottery. The atmosphere in which bingo is played, which I sought to describe, is peaceful and restful. I asked Mr. Wiley when was the last time that there was any serious trouble. He told me that after running the place for two years after a management buy-out, he could not remember there ever being any trouble. The Cascade is not a converted cinema, but was purpose-built for bingo and its facilities are absolutely first class. There is no menace about the place. If there were, it would not attract the clientele that it does. They are genteel folk having innocent fun which I am sure they would not regard as gambling.

A neighbour of mine, who is a man of mature years, although he acts 20 years younger, goes to bingo with his relatives and friends— in his case I believe that they are the same—at least twice a week. It is rare for him on at least one of those visits not to come away with a few extra bob in his pocket. He goes there purely for pleasure and for social reasons—not for the money, although he welcomes his winnings.

I do not believe that anything will be lost by allowing bingo clubs to sell tickets in aid of local charities and, if they want, to run their own lotteries in aid of local charities if others are not doing so. That would in no way detract from the ambitions of the national lottery.

As the hon. Member for Wellingborough said, the Minister may not be able for whatever reason to accept the amendment's wording, but I hope that he will reconsider between now and the Bill going to another place. There is nothing to lose and no gambling involved in allowing bingo clubs and their members to do as we ask.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) made a fair case for allowing bingo clubs to sell tickets in society or local lotteries. He reminded the House that I intimated in Committee that there may be scope for relaxing some restrictions on licensed bingo clubs, and I include the prohibition on the sale of lottery tickets among the controls that might sensibly be re-examined.

The restriction on the sale of society and local lottery tickets in bingo clubs is contained in regulation 6 of the Lotteries Regulations 1977, which also prohibits the sale of such tickets in other gambling premises—casinos, amusement arcades and betting offices. A number of amendments will already have to be made to the regulations as a consequence of the changes made to the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 by part III of the Bill.

In the circumstances, it would be sensible to undertake a complete review of the 1977 regulations. I am sympathetic with my hon. Friend's views and, like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), I do not think that a concession in this respect would necessarily lead to the end of civilisation as we know it. I agree with him that most bingo clubs are conducted in exactly the same way as that which he visited.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

When my hon. Friend conducts the complete review of the regulations, will he bear in mind the importance of extending the work of, for example, sub-post offices and their ability to sell lottery tickets? The commission that they could earn would he a valuable new source of income for them.

Mr. Lloyd

I see no particular reason why they should not sell local lottery tickets, or national lottery tickets, but there may be a Post Office regulation that prevents them from doing so. In that case, I shall reflect upon my hon. Friend's question and will invite my Department of Trade and Industry colleagues also to do so.

Mr. Orme

I listened carefully to what the Minister said, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). There is, however, concern that some people cannot really afford to play bingo. To introduce yet another form of gambling will not, I believe, be helpful. I thought that we dealt with the issue, to some extent, in Committee by excluding the sale of lottery tickets in specific areas—in betting shops, and so on. The Minster said, rightly, that he will look into the issue again. I ask him to remember that there is another side to the argument.

Mr. Lloyd

The right hon. Gentleman is right. There is, alas, always at least one other side to an argument. That undoubtedly applies here. I have betrayed my own sentiment—that one side of the argument has perhaps more to be said for it than the other. I also said, though, as I said in Committee, that the Bill is not the place to make these changes. The rules exist in regulations. Similar rules apply to other establishments. We are having to make some changes. It is sensible to look at these matters together instead of having separate Home Office and other Government Department reviews. We shall want to hear from other groups before we reach a decision.

I ought to stress that the Home Secretary is obliged to consult the Gaming Board and local authority associations before making fresh regulations. He will certainly want to do that in this case. However, we shall not come to a decision, whatever our personal views may be, without those who have an interest in the question being able to say what they think of it. We may then come back with proposals to amend the regulations.

If the regulations are amended, it will be up to the societies running the lotteries to decide whether they wish to sell their tickets in bingo clubs to decide whether they want to take them. On the understanding that the Government will give favourable consideration—although that falls short of saying what the conclusion will be—to my hon. Friend's proposal, I hope that he will withdraw new clause 2.

Mr. Fry

I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) for his support. I am delighted that he had such a happy visit to his local bingo club. If he went more often, perhaps he, too, would be fortunate.

May I point out to the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) that the purpose of the new clause is to enable a greater number of British people to do what they already do so well, which is voluntarily to support charities. An enormous number of local charities would undoubtedly benefit from this change. No pressure would, I believe, be put upon anybody to spend more than he could possibly afford. It just means that, as part of a pleasant afternoon or evening out, people would have the chance of winning something and doing a bit of good at the same time. I see nothing wrong with that.

I have, however, listened carefully to the Minister. I understand what he said about reassessment of the regulations. I am delighted to hear that this subject will be part of the reassessment. In view of his help and co-operation on that point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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