HL Deb 23 May 1996 vol 572 cc980-2

11.39 a.m.

The Earl of Courtown rose to move. That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd April be approved [20th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this order, which has been scrutinised by the parliamentary scrutiny committees of both Houses, amends the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 and the Gaming Act 1968. It relaxes the restrictions on the use of machines for amusement purposes—commonly known as fruit machines—by permitting all cash machines which give a maximum prize of £10 in premises to which children have restricted access; it increases the facilities ancillary to betting which may be provided in a licensed betting office; and it increases the number of jackpot gaming machines which may be used in licensed casinos, bingo clubs and members' clubs.

There has been considerable public consultation on the proposals and an opportunity for individuals to put their views to the parliamentary committees. The committee in another place examined the proposals most carefully and took evidence from government officials, industry and other interested parties. We are grateful to the committees for their constructive approach. The committee in another place recommended two amendments to the order relating to all cash machines in liquor licensed premises and local authority fees for permits to operate such machines in arcades. Those recommendations have now been included in the draft order. The Select Committee on the Scrutiny of Delegated Powers reported on 1st May that the order is in a form satisfactory to be submitted to the House for affirmative resolution. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22nd April be approved [20th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].—(The Earl of Courtown.)

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, the order has been satisfactorily scrutinised and we on this side certainly in no way oppose it. The steps proposed are acceptable but are really part of what we see as a belated process enabling betting shops to upgrade their facilities to modern standards. That is very good. But they should not be seen or represented as in any way a serious step in resisting the damage done by the National Lottery to other aspects of the gambling industry. The number of shops is down by one-third, with serious implications for jobs and with the contribution to racing seriously threatened. It is unfortunate that so far the Government have not been willing to do anything about that. The order does not contribute either.

The biggest step of redress would be to enable the shops to sell National Lottery tickets or to have betting on lottery numbers. We accept that that means an amendment to the 1993 Act. I wonder whether the Government have a serious argument against that. I wonder whether the House is aware—it is quite bizarre—that the Irish can bet on our National Lottery numbers and the British can bet on the Irish national lottery numbers but the British are not allowed to bet on the British lottery numbers. I am not convinced that enabling that would in any way threaten the success of the lottery. I cannot see that small bets of, say, 100–1 on three or four numbers would compete with the 14 million to one chance of the lottery. Therefore, I should like it put on record that we hope the Government will think more about this issue. We welcome the order but only on the basis that it is a first small step.

I recommend Members of the House to read the order if they want to know the extent to which the state still gets involved in minute distinctions between whether there are prizes of £3 or £4 or £4 or £10. We welcome the fact that betting shops can now sell some publications. However, I wonder why they are not allowed to sell ordinary newspapers which have very good racing coverage. One wonders why betting shops are not allowed to sell novels or mathematics textbooks, which would enable punters to calculate their losses more accurately. On the age question, I am still puzzled as to why 16 year-olds can gamble on the lottery in the lax environment of the newsagent but cannot in betting offices, which are strictly regulated. Our preference is that the age should be 18 for both.

We look to further changes in deregulation in order to redress the balance that is currently distorting the gambling industry to the detriment of parts of it and particularly the racing part.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support, albeit somewhat guarded, for this deregulation order. He raised a number of points, some of which I think were outside the scope of the order. I realise that he wanted to make those concerns known in the House.

He asked about the age of participants in gambling. The proposal restricts access to 18 year-olds only. We take the view that that is the appropriate age for participating in gambling and betting on this scale, but for softer forms of gambling—lotteries and the football pools—a lower age limit of 16 applies. I note his suggestion about books, newspapers and even computers. I shall pass on his concerns to my right honourable friend.

On Question, Motion agreed to.