HC Deb 20 October 1993 vol 230 cc329-32

  1. (".— (1) If a person advertising, or offering the opportunity to participate in, a lottery, competition or game of another description gives, by whatever means, a false indication that it is a lottery forming part of, or is otherwise connected with, the National Lottery, he shall be guilty of an offence.
  2. (2) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
    1. (a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum;
    2. (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, to a fine or to both.")

Mr. Sproat

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The national lottery will, we hope, be a great success, but that may lead to the temptation for unscrupulous competition organisers to benefit from that success by trying to mislead consumers to the effect that a lottery or competition that they run forms part of the national lottery. This amendment, therefore, will make it an offence to make a false claim that a competition or lottery forms part of the national lottery.

Although a person who gives a false indication that his lottery is part of the national lottery would probably also be committing an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, we cannot be certain that the Act would cover the position for all eventualities. That Act is confined to false statements made in the course of a trade or business; not all lotteries may fall within that description—for example, a society lottery. We would not of course expect the promotion of any society or local lottery to make false claims that it formed part of the national lottery, but we must ensure that such false claims constitute a criminal offence.

There will of course be other safeguards for the consumer to ensure that any player who buys a ticket for the national lottery can be certain that it forms part of the national lottery, not something else that purports to. Three important conditions will be included in the licence to help customers know exactly where they stand.

First, the director general will use the licence to ensure that the operator uses the lottery logo or other signs relating to it in specified places, circumstances and ways. Secondly, the licence and codes of practice will be able to control how the lottery is advertised and ensure that customers are quite clear that the ticket or chance they are purchasing is part of the national lottery and not of any other game. Finally, the operator will have to make sure that the odds against winning on the lottery, including against winning the jackpot, are available to all customers at the point of sale.

Hon. Members will no doubt recall that we had originally intended to issue regulations under clause 12 to control these aspects of the lottery, but after further thought we have decided that incorporating these matters in the licence would provide a more effective, less bureaucratic approach. Certainly, we will not hesitate to use our regulation-making powers should the licence fail to control these aspects of the lottery operation to our satisfaction.

This amendment seeks to prevent the lottery from being undermined by deception and fraud and hence to protect both the general public and the national lottery itself. I hope that the House will support me in adding this important customer protection measure to the statute book.

7 pm

Mr. Pendry

The Opposition are a bit wary of the amendment, as it looks as though the Government have listened to us during the passage of the Bill. They are in danger of being called the "listening party", at least as far as this evening is concerned, with one obvious exception to which we shall come later.

On behalf of the Opposition, I accept the need for the new clause to ensure that there are proper and adequate safeguards for the consumer who plays the national lottery. The customer must be sure that he is playing the genuine national lottery game and not something pretending to be so. Safeguards, as outlined by the Minister, are right and proper. I agree with him also that the national lottery needs to be protected from unscrupulous competitions so that it can be successful. With those words, we accept the amendment.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)

Would a national daily paper that ran a lottery and called it a national lottery cause confusion? What about the football pools? What is the answer? A national newspaper could quite genuinely say that its lottery is national because it is circulated throughout the United Kingdom. How does one distinguish between lotteries? Perhaps the Minister will explain.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I am delighted that the Government have taken this step, through the House of Lords, as it underlines a vital point about the lottery; not only must it be squeaky clean, but it must be seen to be so by the public who invest in it. If it is made absolutely clear, by amendments such as this, that there is no question that the authorities will be watching the way in which the lottery structure operates, the point will be strongly made.

The success of the lottery will depend on people spending money on it and buying their chances. Less money will go to the arts, sport, charities, millennium fund or to heritage unless a vast sum of money goes in to the lottery. I originally envisaged something like £3 billion altogether. If we are to have such advantage, the confidence of the people is all important. If that confidence should ever drain away, the whole thing will end as a pitiful disaster and will be contrary to all our wishes and hopes. That kind of measure must be warmly welcomed by us all.

Mr. Sproat

I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) for his welcome, for which I am most grateful, and also thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), to whom the whole House would wish to pay tribute for his contribution to the whole concept of the lottery. He has worked hard and successfully in that matter.

The right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) raised an important point about newspapers trying to pass off something of their own as a national lottery. That would not be allowed. They would be prevented from doing that. Any lottery or other competition that tried to do the same would be caught by what we propose in the amendment. I can give him the assurance that what he fears would not happen.

Mr. Orme

I must press the Minister on that point. If a national newspaper said that it was running a national lottery, it would be ruled out of order. Is that what the Minister is saying?

Mr. Sproat

Yes, is the short answer, but at the end of the day it would be down to the courts to decide. The right hon. Gentleman should have no fear. That is what we intend in the amendment and I am sure that that will happen.

Mr. Kilfoyle

I wonder whether the Minister can clear up that point. Is he saying that, for example, the Daily Mail, which is circulated nationally, cannot promote a lottery? Surely it would be an offence if it gave the impression that the lottery that it promotes is part of the national lottery. There is a big difference in that.

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is what I sought to make clear. I understood the right hon. Member for Salford, East to say that, if a newspaper called something a national lottery—

Mr. Orme

indicated assent.

Mr. Sproat

I see that he is nodding his head—it would be a passing off. That would be caught by the provisions of the Bill. I am sorry if I did not make that clear to the hon. Gentleman, but that was what I was seeking to say.

Mr. Ashton

I do not wish to waste time, but what would happen if the Daily Mail offered a prize of £100-worth of lottery tickets in the national lottery? That, presumably, would be legal. It might say, "You can pick your own numbers. You can have 8, 10 and 4 on the 3; or 7, 6, 4 and 9 on the 4; or 7 consecutive, and we will run it through the machine, to the value of £100." Would that be legal?

Mr. Sproat

As far as I know, that would be legal, but the hon. Gentleman's point is slightly different. The point that I understood the right hon. Member for Salford, East to be making was whether it would be right to call it a national lottery—

Mr. Orme

indicated assent.

Mr. Sproat

—and, as it were, passing it off as part of the national lottery. That would not be allowed. What the hon. Gentleman has now said would, as far as I know, be allowed because it would not be passing off what the Daily Mail or any other newspaper said as part of the national lottery; it would simply be offering prizes An a competition of its own.

Mr. Ashton

If we come to that, and I am glad that the Minister gave that reply, we have to take up the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) about its being squeaky clean. Obviously, the lottery must be totally squeaky clean. When people put their money on it, I understand that they will have to put it into a computerised box at the outlet and are guaranteed that, within seconds, if they are going for the big jackpot prize that will be drawn tonight at 8 o'clock, their entry will be recorded somewhere on a computerised line and they will be guaranteed a pay-out.

People will have no such guarantee if the Daily Mail gets the numbers wrong or forgets to feed them in, or comes back and says, "Sorry, but we are changing our mind."

I regret to say that the Minister has not thought through the consequences of much of what he is deciding. He can pass it all on to the director general, but the House is in the process of passing something that is bigger than British Airways. If we look at what we were told in Committee, the cash turnover involved is bigger than British Coal at its height, yet every time that we asked a probing question in Committee we were told, "We shall talk about that later. There will be a director general, we shall have a report and an investigation." All sorts of things were promised, but there have been no definite answers.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Davies) and myself went with the Select Committee on National Heritage to Washington and New York and visited the headquarters there, we found many anomalies that the Department has not considered.

Mr. Sproat

Just to wrap it up, there may be anomalies that we have not considered so far, but I hope not. Details of the kind raised by the hon. Gentleman will be matters for the director general when he comes to decide who should be the operator when he monitors the performance.

As I may mention later, if I catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, there will be provision for the director general to publish his opinions of the performance of the operator in addition to any report that the operator makes. All that will be dealt with in that way, quite publicly.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 7, to insert the following new clause—