HL Deb 09 May 1983 vol 442 cc372-7

5.38 p.m.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is to correct an anomaly identified in paragraph 12.201 of the final report of the Royal Commission on Gambling (Cmnd. 7200) in 1978. The anomaly is prejudicing the export of material by certain firms in our domestic printing industry which specialise in the production of tickets for lotteries conducted wholly abroad.

There can be no justification for United Kingdom legislation penalising our export industry. This is not merely a theoretical fetter on export effort and potential, but can be illustrated by one undertaking's performance. Since 1973 its export turnover, which recently rose to 41 per cent. of the whole, has totalled £10,783,000, and in 1981 it was £2,745,000, to 22 overseas countries, giving employment to 300 people. These achievements have been secured in the face of the strongest overseas competition and despite the effects of the recession.

The anomaly arises in Section 2(1)(a) of the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 and can be traced back through Section 42(1)(a) of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 to the Lotteries Act 1823, when, no doubt, printing exports were of much less consequence than they are today. The final report of the Royal Commission in 1978 could hardly have put the case for altering the anomaly more forcefully and succinctly. In paragraph 12.200 it says: We received formal evidence from Kenrick and Jefferson, an old-established firm specialising in security printing, complaining that section 42(1)(a) of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 (which has become section 2(1)(a) of the 1976 Act), as at present interpreted, has prevented them from exporting lottery tickets. They say in their evidence: 'Being an ethical house we obey the law. At the same time we know that overseas lottery tickets are printed in the United Kingdom, and subsequently exported.' Far from suggesting that the offenders be made to toe the line, it is our contention that the law should be changed in order that others may legally participate in this trade". In the following paragraph it says: Our terms of reference are concerned with gambling in Britain, not with unnecessary hindrance to Britain's export trade, Nevertheless, it does seem absurd that a law which has remained unchanged since 1823 should be able to have this effect. We hope that the hindrances referred to by Kenrick and Jefferson will be quickly removed. Moreover, the reality of the threat to the printing undertakings of this country is shown by the representations made by their overseas printing competitors to our industry's potential customers abroad, alleging that those undertakings are in breach of United Kingdom law in making printed lottery supplies. A letter dated 23rd June 1982, addressed to the Finnish Embassy commercial department from the European representative of an American printing company, actually threatened that if the British printing company got the order they, an American company, would initiate a prosecution in this country against them. Your Lordships may think that this is an impertinence, but, whatever it is, it certainly is not a situation which should be allowed to continue. There is also no virtue in our police authorities being required to investigate complaints of this nature, as, indeed, has occurred.

It can be added that the present anomaly in Section 2 of the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 is contrary to the Treaty of Rome as a (and I quote from the treaty), disguised restriction on trade between Member States". Article 36 of the treaty is in the following terms: The provisions of Articles 30 to 34 shall not preclude prohibitions or restrictions on imports, exports or goods in transit justified on grounds of public morality, public policy or public security; the protection of health and life of humans, animals or plants; the protection of national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value; or the protection of industrial and commercial property. Such prohibitions or restrictions shall not, however, constitute a means of arbitrary discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade between Member States". The terms of the Bill have been limited strictly to curing the acknowledged anomaly. The source of the problem is in the opening words of Section 2(1): Subject to the provisions of this section, every person who in connection with any lottery promoted or proposed to be promoted either in Great Britain or elsewhere"— and those are the two offending words— shall be guilty of an offence". Put shortly, the new subsection (4) proposed in the Bill removes the offences of printing and selling material to the promoters of any lottery conducted wholly outside Great Britain. It does not, for example, tamper with the offence of distributing in Great Britain tickets or chances in a lottery promoted outside Great Britain (such as the Irish Hospitals Sweep, for which tickets cannot be sold here).

It has been made clear that the Department of Industry and the Home Office are fully in sympathy with the modest purpose of the Bill, and drafting of the Bill has been undertaken in consultation with their officials. If any point of drafting arises, sympathetic consideration will be given to it, but it is hoped that the preliminary consultations have ensured that no amendment should be necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, chairman of the Gambling Board, has been good enough to say that, although it is not the responsibility of his board, the board finds no problems in this amendment. What is plain is that, for the safeguard of the export potential of this sector of our printing industry, this alteration of the law is urgently needed. It should not await the uncertainty of the timetable for any future Government measure in this field.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time—(Lord Irving of Dartford.)

5.45 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, for having brought this short Bill before the House and for having explained its purpose so clearly. Your Lordships will have realised that something must have been overlooked by Parliament when it came to deal with the legislation on lotteries. Because I felt that it was incumbent upon me to do a little research work to see how this error occurred, I found something which may lighten your Lordships' hearts on a day when very serious announcements have been made.

The fact of the matter is that the 1976 Act was a consolidation Act. It followed upon 1975, when, of course, it was decided that local authorities should have a part to play in lotteries. Being a consolidation Bill coming before your Lordships' House and another place, it was not suitable for any amendments to be thought of; so one had to go back to the 1963 Act, and one finds that that, too, was a consolidation Act and therefore not appropriate for amendment.

In the history of this matter, the preceding Act was the 1934 Act. I take your Lordships back, with some sense of amusement, to a time when in your Lordships' House the very clause of which my noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford has been speaking was discussed. In 1934—and I read from the Official Report of your Lordships' proceedings of 31st May of that year—the following interesting discussion took place at the Committee stage of the Betting and Lotteries Bill then before your Lordships' House. It was the Duke of Atholl who started a discussion upon this and an allied clause, and perhaps I may read it: Before this clause is passed I should be glad if the noble Marquess in charge of the Bill"— it was the Marquess of Londonderry, in fact— would describe to the House what he means by a lottery as the words in the clause, 'all lotteries', seem to me to be rather sweeping. It is just as well that the public should know not ony what constitutes an offence such as we find in this Bill, but also what constitutes a lottery. My reason for asking this is that ignorance on this point may lead virtuous people astray and involve them in a heavy fine and imprisonment. For instance, all members of your Lordships' House have received a notice of a ballot, of which apparently the Lord Chancellor is the promoter. They have been asked to subscribe 7s. 6d. each for the chance of obtaining a prize in the shape of a seat for the ceremony of Trooping the Colour on June 4. All the money subscribed is to go to expenses. The money is to be enclosed with the application, and in no circumstances will the money be returned, although it is not known whether the amount received will be sufficient to pay for the erection of the stands or whether it will be in excess of the amount required. Perhaps the noble Marquess will tell me in what way this so-called ballot differs from a lottery. If it does not, I feel that I should warn a certain high dignitary of this House as well as the Secretary to the War Office that lotteries promoted for good or national objects in this country are not always looked upon favourably by the authorities. The Marquess of Londonderry—and I say this with great respect to the noble Marquess—was, I think, caught on the wrong foot and, in his reply (with which I shall not trouble your Lordships) he endeavoured to throw the burden upon the poor Duke of Atholl by asking him, since he had raised the question, to define for himself what a lottery was; otherwise apparently to the noble Marquess it was somewhat of an impertinence to raise the matter in Committee in your Lordships' House.

In fact, this very anomaly, as your Lordships may feel it to be, which prevents British printers from printing lottery tickets for a lottery promoted wholly abroad, was again dealt with by the Duke of Atholl, to whom one really feels one owes a debt at this moment. He raised this very point—I am now reading from col. 719 of the same day, 31st May 1934—and said: Supposing there was a sweepstake in some foreign country: there is no reason why our printers should not print the tickets so long as they are honest people and it is not against the law in this country. I am not quite certain whether it is covered in a later Amendment I am going to press". Then Viscount Bertie of Thame said: May I ask the noble Marquess whether foreign premium bonds which might be printed in this country for foreign Governments would not come under this Bill? The Marquess of Londonderry replied that he would make inquiries; he was again extremely helpful. All my researches after that do not reveal the result of those inquiries. Apparently the noble Duke who raised the matter originally was persuaded, possibly by some other greater matter of state, not to raise it again.

So that is the history of the matter which is before your Lordships today. It comes in this very innocent but very proper Bill which is introduced in order to try to amend something which was discussed in 1934 but which, unfortunately, was not dealt with. Perhaps it is an encouragement to all members of your Lordships' House that once they have seized upon a good point they will never leave it, whatever the Minister tries to do, to you.

The final thing I want to do is this. My noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford referred to the way in which British printers were prevented from getting perfectly legitimate orders by reason of the present state of the law. He referred to a letter which was sent, and only because I find it to be the unacceptable face of capitalism do I intend to read the letter; then I will trouble your Lordships no longer. It illustrates quite definitely how unfairly some commercial firms work within this country in order to try to rob our own people of very proper contracts even though our law seems to be somewhat defective in the matter. I should like to read to your Lordships this letter, which comes from a Mr. E. Kelly and is dated 23rd June 1982. It is written from Warwickshire, and is addressed to the Finnish Embassy, Commercial Section. It reads as follows: Dear Sir. I understand that arrangements have recently been concluded between your Government and Norton & Wright Ltd. of Leeds, whereby that Company will supply tickets for use in your State lottery. It is my duty to bring to your attention the fact that it is totally unlawful for a British company to print and export lottery tickets for use abroad (Section 2 (1)(a) of the Lotteries & Amusements Act 1976) and it seems totally incongruous that a Government such as your own would countenance flouting British law in such a way. As the European representative of a major print group in the United States of America (from where export is perfectly lawful) I have taken very detailed legal advice and I can assure you that the prohibition on exports from Britain is quite specific and that Norton's activities are open to the deepest question. To substantiate my point, I enclose a letter from the Department of Trade, the contents of which were made known to Norton & Wright over a year ago. I thus give you warning to look into this matter before my company initiates a prosecution against Nortons—the result of which may well prove extremely embarrassing for your Government—both practically and politically. My company will be represented at the forthcoming Lottery Congress in Lausanne and will be delighted to suggest alternative and more legal arrangements for your Lottery's consideration". The gentleman signs himself "Yours faithfully".

We have an opportunity this afternoon, as a result of my noble friend's Bill, to rectify this matter and to see that such letters can no longer be sent to deprive lawful and respectable British firms of the business which they undertake, in many cases most efficiently. It is therefore with some delight that I support my noble friend's Bill.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Irving, has somewhat pre-empted what he feels the Government might say about his Bill; but I should like to congratulate him on the lucid way in which he has explained the points that he wanted to make about this Bill.

As he described, and as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, also pointed out, it is, at present, an offence under the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 to print any ticket for use in a lottery promoted or proposed to be promoted except as provided for by that Act. Lotteries promoted outside Great Britain are, as provided by the Act, unlawful. As we know, this is not a new restriction; it has existed for many years, at least since the early nineteenth century. The purpose of the Bill before your Lordships is to remove that restriction by amending the 1976 Act so as to enable printers in Great Britain to print and supply lottery tickets and associated lottery material such as advertisements, for use in the promotion of a lottery wholly outside Great Britain, such as a foreign national lottery, which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to.

Lottery legislation is framed so as to control and regulate lotteries conducted in Great Britain and to prevent the importation of advertising material, notices or tickets relating to foreign lotteries over which we would have no control. The legislation is there to protect the public from buying tickets in lotteries where there can be no assurance that such lotteries are properly run. The restriction on the export of lottery tickets no doubt made sense when such export was perhaps simply the first stage before reimporting the tickets to this country as spurious foreign lottery tickets. But such a restriction no longer seems appropriate when many countries run large national lotteries of their own—lotteries, moreover, which require specialised printing of a kind which British companies can provide.

The existing legislation was never intended to prevent or restrict legitimate commercial export activities, but it is important that any relaxation in the law, such as that proposed in the Bill, should not undermine the controls which protect the public. In particular, we must be satisfied that there are adequate safeguards to ensure that tickets for foreign lotteries are not distributed in Great Britain or exported and then imported.

With these considerations firmly in mind, the Government support the principle of this modest Bill. The Royal Commission on Gambling, who noted that the point was outside their terms of reference, nevertheless recommended that this change should be made and we had noted it for inclusion in more general legislation on lotteries. The Gaming Board, whom we have consulted, also have no objection to the proposals in the Bill.

There are some amendments we should like to see made to the Bill, both of a technical nature and to ensure that there is no loophole which permits the distribution in Great Britain of lottery material intended for export. These would in no way affect the main purpose of the Bill, which the noble Lord, Lord Irving, has described. If your Lordships give this Bill a Second Reading, it would be our intention to offer the noble Lord, Lord Irving, amendments which he might move at the Committee stage and such other assistance as might prove necessary.

I said that this was a modest Bill but it is one which could serve a useful purpose. It would open up a potential export market for some sectors of the British printing industry and that is something I am sure your Lordships' House would wish to encourage. My Lords, in conclusion I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Irving, on introducing this Bill. I do not, of course, know what the rest of the week holds in store for us and I hope the noble Lord will not be too despondent over the timing of the Second Reading of this Bill in view of the announcements that have been made today; but I can reaffirm with a certain measure of conviction that if he were to introduce it again later in the summer, the Government (as they are now) will support the principle behind the Bill.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord and the Government for their very sympathetic support for the Bill. I should be only too glad to entertain the amendments that are suggested. I am afraid that I cannot make the same remark that the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, made earlier this afternoon in another Second Reading debate. I cannot hope that the Government might find time for the Bill before the end of this Parliament, but I will certainly be back with it in the next Parliament.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.