The Government make themselves ridiculous by announcing in the dying days of a Parliament a decision that they could have taken years ago, and it is particularly absurd of the Government to introduce a White Paper which they will have no opportunity of implementing.
Does the Home Secretary recall that as late as January the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said—seven times, to be precise—that a decision on all these matters could not be taken without careful examination and consideration? He was especially precise about the need to examine the impact on the pools industry and, in his words,
to give those directly affected a chance to express their views before a decision is taken.
That promise has been broken. Since that speech, no consultation with the pools industry has taken place, yet the Home Secretary has made his statement today. That amounts to nothing more than the Government taking decisions first and fraudulently holding the consultations afterwards.
The way in which this statement has been hurriedly cobbled together is demonstrated by the bland announcement that it will raise £1 billion. How can the Home Secretary possibly know that when, according to the White Paper, he cannot even tell us the extent of the tax to be levied from each lottery ticket?
Does the Home Secretary understand that the Labour party, in a policy statement over a year ago, announced its intention of giving serious consideration to a lottery? That remains our position. We well understand the benefits that a national lottery might provide—to the arts, to sport, to our heritage and to charities. There are, however, substantial problems to be overcome before one can be introduced, and I know very well that in their present mood the Government are not prepared to examine any of them.
The Under-Secretary promised consultation on a number of vital issues, all of which have since been subject to arbitrary decisions taken, not in the national interest, but in the hope of gaining brief party-political publicity. I intend, therefore, to ask the Home Secretary a number of questions to which I have no real hope of getting answers. I do so simply to demonstrate the irresponsibility of his position. The difference is that we anticipate being in a position to implement a lottery; the right hon. Gentleman only considers the hope of cobbling together a few votes between now and 9 April.
Is the Home Secretary certain that the lottery tax he proposes will not result in some small but important charities receiving less from the lottery than they do from their own current schemes? Is he sure that some small charities which now exist on fund-raising schemes will not be driven out of business altogether? Since the leak to The Times which appeared this morning, small charities of every sort have been phoning Members of this House, saying that their existence has been threatened. What assurance can the Home Secretary give them that that is not true?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the right hon. Gentleman sure that he can avoid the most serious consequences to the football pools, with enormously adverse effects on Treasury revenue, with enormously adverse effects on the essential income of football clubs, and above all with deep damage to Merseyside, an area already grievously affected by unemployment?
The next Labour Government will examine these and other essential questions with the seriousness that the subject deserves. Only when the difficulties are resolved will it be right for the lottery scheme to go ahead.