HL Deb 28 January 1986 vol 470 cc537-40
Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider the introduction of a national lottery specifically to help finance worthy areas of the National Health Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, the Government have no plans to legislate for a national lottery to raise additional funds for the health service or indeed for any other good cause.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that the public, while they hate paying their taxes, contribute freely millions of pounds to good causes through such things as Band Aid and Telethon? They appear to enjoy doing that instead of contributing money to the pools or to bingo. While there are medical causes which are desperate for, and greatly in need of, funds in order to alleviate suffering, could not these funds very well be contributed by a national lottery?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, there was a Royal Commission in 1978 which concluded that it would be inappropriate to use a national lottery to help fund services such as the National Health Service which have a statutory source of funding. Most speakers during the debate on the report were firmly against the idea of a national lottery because of the difficulties of control, bureaucracy, and especially because it would take money away from local voluntary effort.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in fact the British people love a gamble? They really love a gamble. I wonder whether any lessons have ever been learned from the Southern Irish, who run a sweepstake and, so far as I know, utterly and completely finance their entire hospital service out of the resulting funds? Could we not learn something from that? Does the noble Baroness understand that some of us are not impressed by what a Royal Commission says or does? It is usually a waste of time anyway.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I should be the last person not to realise that people like gambling. Perhaps I may tell the noble Lord that local authorities and charitable bodies are allowed to raise funds through lotteries, and health authorities can benefit from these. They have not, however, been largely successful. The take-up is low because of high administrative costs and the poor yield.

Lord O'Brien of Lothbury

My Lords, is the noble Baroness the Minister aware that my old friends in Her Majesty's Treasury so passionately dislike the raising of funds by government for special purposes that they can be relied upon to crush the admirable suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I note the noble Lord's remark with interest.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in a Written Question a year ago it was made clear by my noble friend Lord Elton that some 35 countries, including many of the Commonwealth countries and almost every country in Western Europe, benefit from national lotteries, and that they particularly benefit the health services? What makes successive Governments shut their minds to channelling funds? Instead of being compulsorily taxed, we should give voluntarily to those things which we want to give to. Surely the health service is a deserving charity, and a national lottery for that purpose would be a great success in this country.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, different social and cultural factors come into play in other countries which have national lotteries. Other countries treat these matters differently. For instance, they do not have any pools. The Government are not persuaded that there are sufficient net benefits to be gained from introducing legislation in this country. I should also like to point out to my noble friend that it has not been established that in other countries the benefits from national lotteries are turned over to the health services.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, while welcoming the answers which have been given by the noble Baroness—and I hope especially denying that the National Health Service is a charity when it is in fact a national service paid for by the people—would not the noble Baroness accept that, contrary to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord O'Brien, a national lottery would encourage a cost-cutting Chancellor to rely increasingly upon private funds rather than financing the National Health Service in the way in which both she and we believe?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I think I prefer to ignore the latter part of the noble Lord's question. Even if the whole estimated yield from a national lottery, which is estimated at under £50 million a year, were devoted to the National Health Service it would still be less than one-half of 1 per cent. of the cost of running the service. Furthermore, there would be considerable problems in allocating what is, in this field, a comparatively small sum to provide any worthwhile addition to normal funding, and with no guarantee of a steady income.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that legislation for a national lottery could not really be confined to one for this particular limited purpose? Is she aware that, in the other countries we have heard about where there are national lotteries, it is almost invariably the practice to go in for a great deal of razzmatazz to promote the lotteries? Could we not bear to be without such a prospect when we already have more opportunities for gambling than pretty well any other country in the world?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Lord raised a great many questions. I would add to what I have already said that there would be a considerable problem in allocating any money to provide a worthwhile addition to normal funding and that the major difficulty would be fluctuations year by year in the amounts raised, which would cause great problems for facilities run from lottery money.

Furthermore, it was pointed out that the wastage from a national lottery was considerable in respect of the amount gained compared with the amount spent—sometimes, I have been told, not altogether honourably.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that her objections apply equally well to the system of premium bonds which has been in operation since the Macmillan Government?

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware—

Lord Boyd-Carpenter


Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, premium bonds are premium bonds and a national lottery is a national lottery.

Lord Ennals

Absolutely right, my Lords; a fine answer!

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that considerable sums of money are already being raised by voluntary effort to provide essential equipment in hospitals through the friends' organisations? The unfortunate fact is that we are losing a considerable amount of income because we are not allowed to sell tobacco. In my area we shall lose £3,000 a year and have to find other means of gambling and so on to raise the money. Is she further aware that the biggest gamble in the health service at the moment is trying to get an operation?

Baroness Trumpington

That is a joke in very poor taste, my Lords.

I agree with the facts raised by the noble Lord that voluntary agencies are raising superb sums of money and have great involvement in the National Health Service. The fear that a lottery would discourage them from doing this is one of the reasons which make the Government think the way they do. One final word on Government policy on gambling: our general line is to ensure that there is a satisfactory framework for gambling where it occurs but not otherwise to encourage it.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, my noble friend has said that premium bonds are premium bonds and a national lottery is a national lottery. What, please, is the difference?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I shall talk to my noble friend afterwards!

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that she was quite correct when she said that there are local functions and authorities who endeavour to help their local aspect of the National Health Service? Does she agree that Britain's National Health Service is probably the most civilised piece of legislation placed on the statute book of this country, or of any other, and that we should not dream of debasing it in any way, any more than we should try to maintain the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy or the British Army by forms of voluntary subscription such as that indicated in the original Question?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I appreciate the remarks of the noble Lord. They are a little wide of the original Question.

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