Orders of the Day — National Lottery Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd February 1968.

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Photo of Sir Cyril Black Sir Cyril Black , Wimbledon 12:00 am, 2nd February 1968

It must be a long time since the House was asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill with such an almost complete absence of information about what is proposed. We are asked to approve in principle the setting up of a national lottery when we have been given no indication of, for example, the price of the tickets, the size of the prizes and the chance that a ticket will have of winning a prize. Not even an estimate has been hazarded of the costs of this undertaking and the net sum that would be available at the end of the day.

Parliament is being asked to buy a pig in a poke and I am amazed that hon. Gentlemen opposite could possibly find themselves able to support the Bill because its results, if it became law, would be the very negation of the principles for which they have stood through the years. I have always understood that the historic policy of Socialism was to secure what is sometimes claimed to be "the more equitable distribution of property"—which means, in practice, the making of the rich poorer and the making of the poor richer. That is an understandable and intelligible principle, whether or not one agrees with its application.

Be that as it may, I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to realise that the result of a national lottery would be the exact opposite of that policy, because a national lottery takes small sums of money from many people and distributes large sums to the few. The effect of a national lottery tends to make the poor poorer and to create a very small number of rich people who have done nothing in social term to justify the wealth which has unexpectedly come into their possession. A lottery is a false ground for distribution, both because those who receive have done nothing to deserve it and because most prize winners would not, in any case, be able to make the best use of their prizes.

There is one notable absentee from the House today. His absence causes me regret and a measure of surprise. I refer to the Prime Minister because he as much as any hon. Member is wholly committed on the principle of the Bill. I remind the House of the line which he took when Premium Bonds were introduced. I will not argue the case of Premium Bonds vis-a-vis a national lottery, apart from saying that if it be agreed that both contain an element of gambling, then, on moral grounds, a national lottery is clearly more objectionable than a Premium Bond.

I was with the present Prime Minister in his opposition to the introduction of Premium Bonds. I spoke against their introduction at the time and I can claim to be consistent in being here today to oppose what is obviously a more objectionable proposal than the introduction of Premium Bonds. On that occasion the present Prime Minister said: Now Britain's strength, freedom and solvency apparently depend on the proceeds of a squalid raffle".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 18th April, 1956; Vol. 551, c. 1026.] He said at the time that the proposal to introduce Premium Bonds was a proposal for a State lottery. He referred to many people who were strongly opposed to the creation of a State lottery, adding: I am bound to say that this is the particular group in which I find myself. He also said: … I still believe that the decision of the Chancellor to have recourse to the proposal in this day and age is repugnant and degrading". The right hon. Gentleman said: That is why, in our view"— speaking on behalf of hon. Gentlemen opposite the Clause represents not so much a personal as a national demoralisation". It is also significant to note that a majority of the members of the present Cabinet went into the Lobby against the introduction of Premium Bonds when they were first introduced in this House.

I am naturally glad to see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury here. I hope that he has been given a clear mandate by the Prime Minister to give expression once again in equally emphatic terms to the Prime Minister's moral objection and indignation at this Bill. I would have expected the Prime Minister to be here in person, his voice vibrant with indignation while he protested at the proposals of the Bill, and I am bound to say that his absence in the circumstances is deeply to be deplored.

I believe it to be a tragedy that good charitable objectives such as have been described should, even in the course of discussion in this House, be tarnished by reference to a national lottery. I was brought up to believe that there are no finer or more moral words in the English language than those which constitute the proud claim of many of the foremost charities—"Supported entirely by voluntary contributions". If great charities have got to sink to seeking the support of the proceeds of a national lottery, then, I say, so much the worse for those charities.

But has consideration been given as to how much of the proceeds the charities would be likely to get? Charities which incur unduly heavy expenses in raising their funds are quite rightly and properly criticised for that, and any costs of raising charitable funds which would exceed, say, 2s. in the £ of the money raised would be regarded as excessive and open to criticism. But the fact is that, if one studies the figures for those countries where national lotteries have been introduced, one finds that, on average, the amount received by the State or by the charities is, in some cases, as small as 2s. and that in a few cases only does it reach as much as 6s. in the £. This is to say that the amount that goes in expenses and in prizes ranges from 14s. to 18s. in the £ from country to country and that the national revenue or the charities benefit only to the extent of from 2s. to 6s.

It is said by the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn) and other supporters of the Bill that no moral principle is involved in this matter. We have been told in support of the Bill that A national lottery would be a form of voluntary taxation. … It would appear unreasonable to oppose a national lottery on grounds of principle, since the State already benefits from gambling, and has even introduced an element of gambling into the National Savings scheme. On the latter point, I would say that two wrongs do not make a right. But there is, I am convinced, a confusion of thought in this argument. I agree, with regret, with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) that the abolition of gambling by the imposition of legal sanctions is obviously impossible. It is something that no Government could contemplate, and if they did the policy would be incapable of execution.

But there is a difference between regretting the fact that gambling takes place on the scale that it does and seeking to contain it and to tax it so that the community may benefit from its proceeds, and the State itself going into business to promote gambling opportunities and, therefore, to try and secure as much money for gambling purposes as it can.

I have always accepted the view that it is better to tax people's follies than to tax their virtues and the whole system of taxation at present comes under my disapprobation because it seeks to tax virtues and not follies. The man who works harder and the man who saves money are excessively taxed, while those who engage in the folly of gambling get away, as my hon. Friend has said, with an altogether inadequate contribution to the national Exchequer. Down the years, I have been with other hon. Members on several occasions to successive Chancellors of the Exchequer to advocate the policy of taxing gambling and taxing it on an ever-increasing scale, and that is the policy I advocate to the Financial Secretary today as an alternative to the proposals in this undesirable Bill.

I want to say a few words about experience with State lotteries in other countries, since the hon. Member for Cleveland referred to this. I have already mentioned the small yields to charities or national Exchequers and the high expenses which disfigure the accounts of most of the national lotteries. It is no argument to say that, because a large amount of money goes into a State lottery in a country which is one of the poorest in Europe, we should seek to reduce the standard of living of people here by adopting a similar experiment.

But even where State lotteries have been adopted in places where, above all others, we might have expected them to prosper, in many cases the success has been minimal or non-existent. Only recently, there has been the State lottery in the State of New York. There is a wealthy and sophisticated community, and if the Americans are good at anything it is at extracting money by any enterprise upon which they embark in which the extraction of money is the purpose of the operation. I have here a letter of 6th December from the Controller of the State of New York about recent experience there. He writes: As you know, New York State has had a State-sponsored lottery for about six months. It was enacted as a source of funds for our public schools. As you undoubtedly know also, the lottery has proved to be pretty much a disappointment. This has given a small spurt to a reconsideration of legalised off-track betting. And so the search for badly needed public funds goes on and on. That is perhaps one of the most recent experiences available to us of an experiment on the lines of a State lottery in perhaps the part of the world where, above all others, such an enterprise might be expected to be successful and to prosper.

I want now to turn to the attitude of the Churches on this matter. I think that I have read all the literature put out by the churches about a State lottery, and I believe that they have approached the matter not in any doctrinaire spirit but have produced a closely-reasoned argument. They have set out on the one side what are the merits which appeal to some people in this proposal, and on the other hand they have set out the reasons which have led them to conclude that the introduction of a State lottery ought to be opposed.

I am not going to read at length from the document as I realise that our time is limited and that others want to speak, but this is what the Churches have said—and may I say that the organisation which has said this is the Churches' Committee on Gambling, which comprises, I understand, within its membership eminent representatives of every branch of the Christian Church—the Anglican, the Roman Catholic, and the Free Churches. It is an inter-Church body which exists for the purpose of expressing the view of the Churches in regard to gambling matters. I read only short extracts: Many are convinced that we have more than enough gambling already and it could be understood if the Government resisted pressure for a national lottery on these grounds alone.…The lottery is a very costly and wasteful way of raising money.…Important public works should be rationally and seriously financed and undertaken, and important individual needs rationally and seriously attended to. It cannot be a mark of a mature and responsible society that it should lean unnecessarily on gathering and distributing wealth by chance. The use of a lottery perhaps indicates sophistication rather than maturity. It is based on a short-sighted wisdom. There is more to the building of a society than spending money however wisely. In its operation a lottery tends to be both inefficient and uncharitable. The statement concludes: The Committee hopes that, on such grounds. Parliament will reject the Bill. I come now to my final point and I will not be more than a further minute or two. This proposal on which Parliamentary time is being spent this morning is condemned on the ground of its complete irrelevancy to the present national crisis in which the nation finds itself. This is yet another gimmick in the long line of gimmicks designed to distract attention from the serious situation in which the nation finds itself at this time. We are at the moment in an economic situation more grave than at any time during my 18 years' service in this House. We are passing through a time of toil and tribulation, and there are dark and threatening clouds ahead.

My advice to this House is to this effect, that the Government and Members of this House should concentrate their attention and their speeches in this House and in the country upon the one way out for the nation, the way of harder work, more intelligent work, less easy living, and more saving. A national lottery is an irrelevancy and a meretricious byway. The road to salvation lies in a completely different direction.