Home Page

Column 1297

House of Commons

Friday 16 December 1994

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Prevention of Fraud (Registration)

Mr. Michael Stephen presented a Bill to make provision for the registration of certain interests in, and other information relating to, vehicles; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 10 February, and to be printed. [Bill 29.]

Column 1298

National Lottery

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Conway.]

9.34 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Iain Sproat): For the convenience of the House I thought that would speak at not too great a length, and cover the facts and figures of the lottery so that we know exactly where we are officially. I have no doubt that many hon. Members will want to raise important issues during the debate. If I catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair I shall, with the leave of the House, seek to wind up the debate and cover any issues not mentioned in my opening remarks.

The national lottery was launched just over one month ago and has already gripped the public's imagination. The bare facts and statistics do not tell the whole story, but they are worth setting out at the beginning of the debate so that the House can appreciate the scale of what we are discussing today.

Camelot was informed that it would be running the national lottery at the end of May. By the launch date in mid-November, it had equipped, trained and established communications for 10,000 retailers. Since then, a further 1,250 outlets have been added to the retail network and, on average, 1,000 more will come on stream every month for the next two years. By the end of 1996, 40,000 retailers will be involved, either through on-line terminals for the main lotto game or as sellers of scratch cards and other instant games. In the first month of the lottery, 206 million tickets have been sold and 3.5 million people have shared about £100 million in prizes. Some 35 people have won more than £100,000 each and five winners have become millionaires.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): I know that my hon. Friend has only just started his speech, but the issue that I wish to raise is important for the country. When looking at the huge prize winnings, will my hon. Friend consider whether there could be a limit of, for example, £5 million on the top prize from now on? That would mean doing something about the roll-over effect, which has become horrendous and is tempting some people, particularly poor people, into buying more lottery tickets than they can possibly afford.

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend certainly makes an important point, which concerns many people. With that prescience which is so typical of my hon. Friend, he has foreseen a subject to which I shall refer later. If he will allow me, I shall deal with it at length later--it is an important point.

Of that turnover of £200 million--

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): The Minister has almost conceded that there should be a ceiling on the amount of money gained by lottery winners. How does that stand with the Prime Minister's assertion yesterday, when we complained about the gas board chief receiving a mammoth salary, that the Government did not believe in ceilings for top people?

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman's interesting interjection was based on a false premise. I apologise if I misled him, but I was not conceding that there should be

Column 1299

a ceiling. I said that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) had raised an important subject--to which I will return.

Of that £200 million, roughly one half has been paid back in prizes. Some £53.4 million has been paid into the national lottery distribution fund--the account in which proceeds are held for good causes. Some £25 million has been paid to the Exchequer in lottery duty. Some £10 million has been paid to the retailers--including many small, independent businesses--in commission on ticket sales. About £10 million has been retained by the operator, Camelot, to cover operating costs and contribute to its return on investment. Over the full seven years of Camelot's operating licence, some 27 per cent. to 28 per cent. of the turnover will go to good causes, which I shall come to in a moment.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington): I wish that my hon. Friend would change his mind.

Mr. Sproat: I know my hon. Friend's views, particularly on one distributor. I imagine that he has in mind the Arts Council. The whole House is looking forward to his contribution, if he should catch your eye, Madam Speaker.

As I said, 50 per cent. will be returned to the players as prizes, and 12 per cent. will be paid in lottery duty to cover the retailers' commission and Camelot's operating costs and profit. For the sake of completeness, although I realise that most hon. Members are familiar with these aspects of the lottery, I should like to touch briefly on the arrangements for distributing its net proceeds.

Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): The Minister talked about the £10 million that Camelot already has. Can he say when he expects the start-up costs to be paid back?

Mr. Sproat: Pretty soon, is the short answer. I do not know the exact date, but Camelot is very tightly tied down in what it can do with the money. I shall find the exact date for the hon. Lady and, I hope, let her know later in the debate. Camelot is not even allowed to keep the money --or is unlikely to be able to--on overnight deposit. It must pay the money that it receives from the retailers to the fund as soon as it gets it. Indeed, I think that I am right in saying--if I am wrong, I shall correct this later--that small retailers do not have to give Camelot their money for ticket sales until the Wednesday, yet Camelot must pay it in to the Government fund the previous Tuesday. So it is tightly controlled.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central): The Minister has not answered my hon. Friend's point. I believe that my hon. Friend was saying that if Camelot will get back its initial capital investment "pretty soon", in the Minister's words, from then on it will be making a profit all the way. Some people estimate that those profits will be as much as £1.5 billion over the next seven years of its franchise. Does not the Minister have any concern about the credibility of the lottery, as people will become very sick of it and feel no confidence in it if Camelot, for very little work once it is up and running--it has done that well and I give it credit for that--will be getting enormous sums of money? I think that the public will

Column 1300

become very disillusioned about that. Should not the Government look at their contract with Camelot a great deal more carefully?

Mr. Sproat: I am sorry if I misunderstood the point that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) was making. I thought that she was referring to the fact that Camelot gets money from the small shops and then hands it over. But it does that very quickly and it certainly is not able to make easy profits out of that by putting the money on deposit.

As for Camelot making a profit on the deal, I remind the House that Camelot is covering its investment, its current operating costs and its margins on only 5 per cent. That is very tight indeed. [Hon. Members:-- "No."] It is quite true that when the lottery is going well, 5 per cent. is worth more, but to go into business and say, "Without regard to what happens, we are going to operate on a fixed margin," is a considerable business risk. [Interruption.] We have all the time in the world, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I shall just, although I cannot promise to respond to every seated intervention--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. We may have all the time in the world, but seated interventions are not practices of which I approve.

Mr. Skinner: Perhaps the Minister will explain something to me, because there might be a good explanation. It was broadcast that Virgin was prepared to do the lottery for nothing. If there is an alternative explanation, perhaps the Minister will give it to me.

Mr. Sproat: It is true that various versions, roughly approximate to what the hon. Gentleman said, were put out by the press, but they were based on something of a misunderstanding, because the contribution to good causes does not come out of what Camelot does or does not make in profit--I say "does not" make because its costs and profit are limited to 5 per cent. Whatever Camelot does, some 50 per cent. of the money paid by those who buy tickets goes in prizes. Once the prizes have been paid, the 12 per cent. to the Treasury has been paid, the 5 per cent. to the small shopkeepers, garages and supermarkets that sell the tickets has been paid and Camelot has its 5 per cent., whatever is left, which is roughly 27 per cent. to 28 per cent. of the total turnover--turnover being defined as the amount spent by punters buying tickets--is divided among the five good causes: the arts, sports, charities, the millennium fund and the national heritage memorial fund.

So I must tell the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that the good causes get their money from that 28 per cent., not from what goes to Camelot, or, as would have happened, Mr. Branson. Although the details of the company that won the franchise were decided by the Director General of the Office of the National Lottery, my understanding--I have not seen the papers--is that Camelot's offer was better because it was running it at 5 per cent. of turnover, which was lower than Mr. Branson's offer. So the Camelot deal is better than Mr. Branson's on a strict arithmetical basis.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham): My hon. Friend mentioned that a 12 per cent. tax will be paid to the Government from the turnover of the lottery. Can he confirm that that return will not be confined to 12 per cent., because it is not only Camelot's profits that will be

Column 1301

taxable, but those of garages and shops selling the tickets, and if substantial prize winners invest their winnings, any interest or dividends that they receive will also be subject to tax? The total return to the Government will be significantly higher in the end than the 12 per cent. that my hon. Friend announced.

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend is quite right. Of course, there are other sources, which he has not mentioned, through which the Government will benefit--such as the increase in jobs that will be generated. Those who have the jobs will pay income tax on their salaries. So the Government do pretty well out of it, as do the prize winners. I know that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who speaks for the Opposition, will tell me how grateful he is and how well the arts will do out of it. That, no doubt, will provoke a response from my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks).

The five good causes are the arts, sports, heritage, charities and projects to mark the year 2000 and the beginning of a third millennium. The bodies responsible for distributing the funds available in the five beneficiary areas are the four national Arts Councils of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the four national Sports Councils and the national heritage memorial fund, all of which already exist, and the National Lottery Charities Board and Millennium Commission, which are newly set up distribution bodies.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Minister has been speaking of the good causes. Is he prepared to comment on Stephen Glover's article in last evening's edition of the Evening Standard , bearing in mind the casualties to the nation, who will not be good causes but heartbreaks?

Mr. Sproat: I did not read the article to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but if he can get me a copy during the debate--I very much doubt that any speeches will allow me to spend a minute looking at it--I shall gladly see whether I can answer him at the end of the debate.

I must make clear one important principle about the lottery. Lottery money is intended to be additional to and not a substitute for existing Government funding. That means that the proceeds paid into the national lottery distribution fund will not be considered alongside other Government expenditure during our annual discussions about resources. That money will not be taken away from the five good causes that the House agreed to support to finance other areas of Government spending, nor will it be used within those five areas as a substitute for existing Government provision. Lottery proceeds should not, therefore, be used to fund projects that would normally be funded from existing Government programmes.

For example, it would not be possible for the lottery to take on the running costs of one of our major art venues if it already obtains revenue support from the Arts Council, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington will be glad to hear. Another example would be funding for the public lending library service, which local authorities have a statutory duty to support.

Mr. Fisher: The Minister says that there will be no substitution, but the Government seem already to have anticipated in the Budget the receipts that some of those organisations will get from the lottery. For example, the grant to the Sports Council was reduced this year and is

Column 1302

expected to reduce further in 1996-97, down to £48.9 million from £50.6 million this year. That is a large cut, when one takes into account inflation over the four-year period, so it would appear from the Budget that the Government, or at least the Treasury, are anticipating those receipts and discounting them by squeezing the Sports Council's budget. If the Government are not doing so, the Minister must say why he is so hard on the Sports Council in the Budget.

Mr. Sproat: It is always a pleasure to hear the hon. Gentleman speak on sport as opposed to art for a change.

Mr. Fisher: I am keen on sport.

Mr. Sproat: I know that the hon. Gentleman is a keen sportsman. Sport comes out of the Budget better--

Mr. Fisher: Not true.

Mr. Sproat: I shall explain clearly to the hon. Gentleman. The Sports Council grant has been cut by a very small amount, but we increased the amount that we are giving to the sponsorship scheme. We are maintaining the money through the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. The Sports Council is going through an exercise to squeeze all the money that is spent on what some might say is unnecessary bureaucracy and to channel it into grassroots sports. Not only has the total amount of Government giving for sport increased, but we shall spend the money in a more targeted way.

Mr. Dicks: I would not wish the Minister to mislead the House or those listening to the debate. The Arts Council did not get roughly the same; it got an increase that was twice the level of inflation. I cannot think of any other Government Department that was allocated that much-- certainly not the pensioners and the people--but his colleague the noble Lord Gowrie said that it was not quite enough and all the luvvies were up in arms about it.

Mr. Sproat: It is certainly true that, in their wisdom, the Government decided to give an extra £5 million or so to the Arts Council. It is hard for me. One minute I am being criticised--wrongly as it happens--for cutting the grant to the Sports Council and the next for increasing the Arts Council grant. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington has strong views on the matter and I look forward to his deploying them at greater length and no doubt with greater ferocity during the debate.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham): Leaving aside opera for a second, a serious problem faces many small groups that will want to have created capital assets by the millennium, for example secular monasteries for people who are roofless or need companionship and activity, so that they can find somewhere within 40 or 50 miles where they will be accepted. They might be people with a history of alcoholism, mental illness or whatever. Capital costs over the next five years are unpredictable, but if it is a part of the millennium project to ensure that such places exist--using the Emmaus project, St. Mungo's and others--is there someone on the National Lottery Charities Board or at the Department to whom a small

Column 1303

informal alliance of such groups can talk, who will give them guidance on the right way to structure a flexible programme with a millennium-type target?

Mr. Sproat: Yes, I should certainly be glad to speak to my hon. Friend as a first step and to work something out. People at the charities board and the Millennium Commission would be able to advise on the best way to structure an application for funds from one or both. Projects can be funded jointly by more than one board. My hon. Friend mentioned the millennium fund, so this might be a suitable time to refer to that subject.

The fund is one aspect of the lottery that is less widely understood than some others. The Millennium Commission consists of nine members appointed by the Queen to consider the best way to utilise the share of the lottery proceeds allocated to support projects to mark the year 2000 and the beginning of the third millennium. The commission has said that its purpose is to assist communities to mark that event and it will use its lottery money to encourage projects throughout the nation that enjoy wide public support and will stand as lasting monuments to this country's achievements.

The commission will make grants to four main types of project: first, about a dozen major capital projects throughout the United Kingdom, which will become landmarks to the 21st century; secondly, smaller capital projects of local significance; thirdly, a millennium festival, which will become the focus of celebrations in the year 2000; and fourthly, a bursary scheme that could be used to develop the skills and abilities of individuals.

To ensure that the commission has the fullest and widest range of ideas to consider as suitable national and local projects, it has decided to hold a national competition. That will get under way next month. Project sponsors will be invited to submit their proposals in January. They will have until the end of March to submit them and must also submit a more detailed application by the end of April. The successful projects should be announced before the end of July. The competition will be repeated on an annual basis beginning in September, although the time taken to develop and build the landmark projects clearly means that they will have to be approved in the next year or two. The commission is consulting on the form that a millennium festival might take and will publish its conclusions in the spring of next year.

Although the lottery has, so far, been a huge success, people understandably have a number of legitimate concerns. I shall now deal with two of them and will deal with any other concerns that hon. Members mention during the debate in my reply.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): I was trying to catch the Minister's eye before he went on to another subject. To return to the millennium festival and the proposals for it, what sort of input and suggestions can members of the public, interested organisations, Members of Parliament or anyone else make? From what the Minister said, it sounded as if only a small group of people--yet to be determined by the sound of it-- will decide.

Mr. Sproat: I am sorry if I did not make the situation clear. It is complicated and I am conscious of the fact that, although I said that we have all the time in the world, we

Column 1304

do not. The Millennium Commission has already been set up and has nine members. One is the Secretary of State for National Heritage, another the President of the Board of Trade and Mr. Michael Montague is a third. He was selected by the then Leader of the Opposition to represent an all-party balance on the commission. The six other members-- [Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) saying that he does not approve? I may have misheard and I know your objections to answers to seated observations, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury): The Minister of course deliberately misunderstands me. I was not objecting in the slightest to Mr. Montague. However, I was querying the balance on the commission, when the Opposition are represented by one member and the Government appoint all the rest.

Mr. Sproat: I am sorry. It was not a case of deliberately misleading the hon. Gentleman. I did not hear what he said. I thought when he began muttering when I mentioned Mr. Montague that he was objecting to Mr. Montague. If the hon. Gentleman was not objecting to him, I should be very happy to take the correction.

Madam Deputy Speaker: This illustrates perfectly my objections to seated interventions. Perhaps the Minister had better resist the temptation to answer what he thought he heard.

Mr. Sproat: You are very wise, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall follow that sage advice throughout the rest of this powerful speech. To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), we thought that it was fair to have a member specifically selected by the Opposition. I quite see why the Opposition may say that they would like more members, but we are trying to make it a non-party political matter. The other members of the commission have been chosen to represent as broad a spectrum as possible. They have been deliberately chosen to represent, for want of a better word, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the north- east of England, the south-east and so on. We have tried to get a balance. It is not easy with nine members, but I can promise the hon. Gentleman that it was not for want of trying. We went through every possible permutation of names and interests to try to find a reasonably balanced group.

That reasonably well-balanced group of nine commissioners will consider ideas from the public. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West asked whether any Member of Parliament or any member of the public could submit ideas. The answer is: yes, they can. They should send their ideas to the Secretary of State for National Heritage, as the chairman of the Millennium Commission. Rather than sending ideas to the Department at its address in Cockspur street, it may be wiser to send them to the Millennium Commission, whose address I cannot remember. But I shall find out for the hon. Gentleman and put it in the Library of the House, or do whatever else is suitable. We are genuinely looking for ideas for a festival as well as other projects for the millennium fund, which can provide a focus. The festival that the Millennium Commission organises will clearly not be the only

Column 1305

festival, but it will be a centre, which we hope will provide an example to the rest of the nation of how to celebrate the millennium.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland): I hesitate to make any suggestion in the light of the Minister's own proposal that we ought to contact the commission directly, but I hope that thought will be given to not having a single-centred venue for a festival that is supposed to represent the national and regional celebration of the millennium and that some thought will be given to having a decentralised festival.

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman makes a point with which I agree 100 per cent. I was trying to say, in perhaps an overly shorthand way because of the time and the way in which these debates are structured, that the Millennium Commission will organise, in a rather more hands-on way than other aspects of celebrating the millennium, a central festival. No doubt, it will look at the festival of Britain in 1951. It may decide to follow it or not. But I have no doubt that in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and, indeed, in Harwich and Caithness, people will have their own celebrations of the millennium. If the hon. Gentleman would like any further details on how it is proposed that the Millennium Commission should advise on what is done in Edinburgh and so on, I should be happy to pass them on.

I was coming to matters of concern which hon. Members have already raised in passing and which have certainly been raised by the public. I shall address a couple of them: the protection of the anonymity of jackpot winners and whether it is right to allow the prizes to roll over and amount to the levels such as that last weekend of almost £18 million. That latter point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North earlier and by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) in Question Time earlier in the week. They both voice the views of many people and it is quite right that we should direct our minds, such as they are, to what we ought to do about it. With regard to the anonymity and privacy of winners, the Secretary of State issued directions to the Director General of the Office of the National Lottery under section 11 of the National Lottery etc. Act exactly one year ago today. One of those directions made it clear that the licence to run the lottery must include a condition to the effect that the identity of any person who has won any prize in a constituent lottery shall not be disclosed by the lottery operator without the consent of that person. That condition was duly incorporated in the licence issued to Camelot under section 5 of the Act.

The Director General of Oflot, with whom, obviously, my Department has been in close touch ever since the brouhaha over the winner of the jackpot arose last week, has assured me that he has no evidence to suggest that Camelot breached that condition. In its public statement, Camelot has made it clear that it did not release any information concerning the winner of last week's jackpot without that winner's express consent. However, given the serious allegations that have been made, the director

Column 1306

general has decided that he will review what took place earlier this week and I shall ensure that the House of Commons is told of his conclusions.

Mr. Harry Greenway: I raised that issue in the House on Monday and it first came to my attention two or three weeks ago. Under what circumstances would Camelot seek the consent of the individual to release details of the winner and why should it think of doing so?

Mr. Sproat: I shall give my hon. Friend as straight an answer as I can, although he will understand that I cannot walk into the minds of members of Camelot as to why they may do something. I understood--I was not told this specifically by the director general of Camelot, so I may have been told wrongly--that Camelot felt that if it were able to give out a general fact or two about where the winner lived, it would satisfy the press. [ Laughter. ] I quickly absolve myself from such refreshing naivety on the part of those who felt that, if it were the case. That is what I have been told, but not by Camelot and not by the director general. But it was done, if it were done, with the best of intentions. If all that was done was done with the express consent of the person who won the lottery, there is therefore no reason, as I currently understand it, to think that Camelot breached the conditions under which it was awarded the lottery. Mr. Greenway rose --

Mr. Sproat: I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a second. I emphasise that the director general is concerned enough about what has happened to say that he will review the matter. I shall let the House know the conclusions of that review.

Mr. Greenway: I am grateful to the Minister and I shall not interrupt again. Is not it clear that even to give that apparently innocent sort of clue is to give away the identity of an individual, because one could even say that the winner was someone in London and the press would find him or her if it were determined to do so? Should not that be suppressed in future? Does my hon. Friend agree that no clues whatever should be given?

Mr. Sproat: Camelot will have heard what my hon. Friend has said, and it will be looking at its own experience and at what happened in the media. No doubt it will take all that into account when it decides whether to give any clues next time. I understand what my hon. Friend has said and I have great sympathy with that view. I understand from the laughter in the House when I said that I had been told that Camelot thought that by giving a few bits of information it would satisfy the press, that those of us who have more daily dealings with the press than Camelot has had previously know that that was a forlorn hope. Anyway, it was done with the best of intentions.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham): If someone has ticked a box marked "no publicity", why should Camelot go back to the person to ask for his consent if I understand the Minister correctly that it is a part of the Act that no publicity should be given if the person does not want to give that publicity? Will the Minister do anything about that lapse by Camelot?

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman describes accurately the situation with regard to the pools; one ticks a box if one does not want publicity. In fact, in the national lottery,

Column 1307

it is the other way round. If one says nothing, that is taken as meaning that one does not want any publicity. Therefore, in a sense, that is even stronger than the hon. Gentleman suggests.

The winner's identity should not have been revealed. I am told that Camelot was helping to protect the winner's identity by, as it were, buying the press off and saying--and there was no ill intent--"Here are a few details. Leave it at that." Alas, the press did not. Camelot will look seriously at the matter because I shall undertake that the debate and the hon. Gentleman's remarks are drawn to Camelot's attention.

Ms Hoey: The Minister implied that Camelot was almost naive, but that does not sit well with what he said earlier about it being a good business consortium. Camelot stands to gain from increased sales and will always have an interest in more publicity for the lottery. That is why the whole thing should have been organised and run by a charitable organisation from the beginning.

Mr. Sproat: No, I do not agree with the hon. Lady. Of course Camelot has a vested interest in the success of the lottery, but the Government and the nation have a vested interest in Camelot being successful. Its commission is 5 per cent. and, by definition, the more successful Camelot is, the more will go to the charities. That is a mathematical fact. I have no doubt that a charity would want to maximise its return in exactly the same way as a company.

Ms Hoey: It would not make a profit.

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Lady may say that, but a charity has to cover its costs like anybody else. The best way to maximise interest in the lottery is to give the company a personal interest so that it maximises the return on its investment, encouraging other investors to come in and increasing the lottery's efficiency and effectiveness.

Like all of us, Opposition Members have built-in prejudices. One of their historic prejudices is that they do not like the idea of private sector companies making too much profit. But in this case the more profit made by Camelot, the more money the good causes will receive. That is the best way to harness the dynamism of the private sector for the benefit of the public sector. That is my view and with my limited power over the English language, I can do no more to convince the hon. Lady.

Mr. Tony Banks: I suggest that this will be repeated time after time, particularly with large jackpots, because the press will continue to try to find out the name of anonymous winners. Would not it be better to remove that rule altogether so that those who win the jackpot will know that their names will be revealed? Why should anonymity be built in? After all, it is a national lottery and an absence of anonymity would enable us to know whether there had been any fraud. If the Secretary of State won the jackpot and claimed anonymity, we would probably be a little suspicious. If I had won £18 million, the whole country would have heard the start of the cheering in Forest Gate but they would not have heard the

Column 1308

end, because it would have finished somewhere in Mustique from where, of course, I would have faxed my application for the Chiltern Hundreds.

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view about the desirability of anonymity. My view is that anonymity is up to the individual, irrespective of whether the hon. Gentleman or I think that it is a good idea. There are a number of sides to the issue of anonymity, one of which is the badgering of winners. I understand that the winner has left his house. I have been told, although I do not know whether it is true, that he has even left the country because he was being harassed and badgered. That cannot be right. Secondly, a family who won the lottery might be afraid of criminal activity such as a family kidnapping or burglary. Such factors, apart from personal preference, mean that we should rigorously protect anonymity. Clearly, it has not worked this week and we must look again at how to make it work. I do not have all the answers, but I am clear on the principle.

There is another aspect. What Camelot may or may not have done is one matter, but we must also look at the conduct of the press. I understand that some tabloids promised to pay people to inform on those whom they thought might have won a major lottery prize. The correct body to look into that behaviour is the Press Complaints Commission, and I welcome its announcement that it would consider a complaint from any winner or from any Member of Parliament who cared to take up the matter.

Rev. Martin Smyth: Does the Minister agree that such actions are not contrary to the whole work ethic of the press, which regularly pays people for information?

Mr. Sproat: The House has a number of varied and legitimate views on press payments for information or articles. Many people find it extremely distasteful that convicted criminals, for instance, should be paid for newspaper articles. There are times when the press legitimately pays people for information, but in my view and in the view of most hon. Members, there are times when payments are not legitimate. It is distasteful that people are encouraged by large sums to snoop and spy and betray their neighbours. However, as we saw in the courts, it is not against the law. I hope that members of the press will at least look at themselves and ask, "Is this really the way that we want to continue?"

Rev. Martin Smyth: Has not the Minister put his finger on the fact that it is time that the Government introduced legislation to protect citizens and victims of crime who see people being paid for their crimes?

Mr. Sproat: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. At this moment, the Government are considering the Calcutt report and other views that we have received on the issue of press intrusion.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does my hon. Friend accept that the media have a responsibility to respect the wishes of those who win large sums, especially in view of what my hon. Friend said about the pressures that such people could be under? Does he also agree that responsibility does not extend only to the name of the person? There were ridiculous antics this week. For instance, the winner's house was blacked out but the location of the neighbour's house could be seen. The

Column 1309

person's workplace was given and there were interviews with family and friends. That all suggested who the person was.

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We must remember that the lottery has been going for only a month and many situations, such as on -line machines in hon. Members' constituencies not working or the behaviour of the press vis-a -vis the winners, are bound to arise. There are many issues, big and small, which we must consider. Just as the Government and the Director General of Oflot will consider various aspects, Camelot will be asking itself, "Although we acted with the best of intentions, was what we did wise?" In the light of the new situation, all those involved have to see whether they might adapt and change what they do in future.

Another area of public concern has already been mentioned: the size of the jackpot. Some people have commented that a prize of almost £18 million is too high and that jackpots that are not won should be divided among the winners of other prizes and not rolled over to subsequent weeks. I understand that concern but, on balance, I do not accept it. First, the circumstances that led to one person winning such a large amount were extremely unusual--or so I am assured by those who have a sharper grip on mathematics and odds than I have. I have to be careful what I say because the nature of the lottery is that one cannot predict the outcome. It should be relatively rare, however, for a rolled-over jackpot to be won by only one person. I am reliably informed that, under the laws of probability, last week's jackpot should have been shared by five people.

Roll-over should happen only infrequently. Each week, the number of people buying tickets should comfortably exceed the number of chances available. To date, average ticket sales have totalled more than three times the number of different combinations available. More than 45 million attempts were made to guess the correct combination of the 14 million permutations available. Last week that rose to a factor of more than five.

Having said all that, I believe that on balance we probably got it about right. The jackpot can roll over only three times and thus hugely increase both the jackpot and public interest and excitement. It cannot roll over more than three times and thus we have limited the first prize within some sort of bounds. One must draw the line somewhere and, for the moment, a roll-over of three is not unreasonable. The major point, however, about rolling over the jackpot, and thus the jackpot's total, is that the excitement that the roll-over generates causes more people to buy tickets and thus increases the amount that goes to the good causes, which is the ultimate intention of the lottery. In effect, therefore, last week's jackpot was extremely successful in achieving what we hoped the lottery would achieve.

Mr. Tony Banks: That is true, so why have the limit of three roll- overs? Why not let the roll-over go on? In the United States of America, for example, prizes in the state lottery can amount to £100 million or $150 million. Why not let the jackpot roll over? That makes the fun of buying a ticket much more attractive.

Mr. Sproat: One of the most enjoyable things about the debate is that one never knows from where one will be attacked. The hon. Gentleman takes a sort of extreme

Column 1310

capitalist, pro-American attitude whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North takes the opposite view. That shows the House of Commons at its best.

We have taken into account the fact that two very differing views exist. Some people say that there should be no roll-over and that prizes should be distributed much more evenly. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West advances a hypothetical argument. I do not know whether it is his personal opinion, but the view that the lottery should be allowed to roll over for ever until it is won is an important hypothetical argument.

We have decided, rightly or wrongly, to have a compromise so that, if there is a roll-over, the prizes are different each week. The thought of becoming a millionaire 18 times over just like that is extremely exciting to the public. I dare say that the hon. Gentleman would say that that is better than being the chief executive of British Gas. We had to make a choice between no roll-over or a roll-over for ever. We have decided to compromise and have three roll-overs so that money is distributed reasonably fairly, given the luck of it, and so that, at the other end of scale, we do not have such gigantic prizes that people think that they will never win and stop buying tickets. It is therefore a compromise.

Mr. Dicks: Switching the subject a bit, why do we have prizes of £10? I have won three times and won a total of £30. I am very happy, but £10 is nothing. I got the first three numbers and I was saying, like the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), "Chiltern Hundreds, here I come," but then my luck ended. Perhaps the minimum prize should be £100 and not £10. That is an important point.

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend says that the minimum prize should be £100 and not £10. That is his view and almost nothing that has been done about the lottery is fixed in concrete. I should have thought that the House and the Government would want to return to the prizes issue in due course. Camelot decided in its offer to Oflot that £10 prizes were a good thing because more people could win and because more people would find that they were benefiting from the national lottery.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington won that money and that he has outed himself in that dramatic manner. At the same time, we shall consider the prize structure, although I think that the £10 prize is a good idea. We should not close our minds to any reasonable changes that experience may dictate.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East): Due to the startling revelation by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), will my hon. Friend the Minister please take the opportunity to congratulate him on his donation to the Arts Council?

Mr. Sproat: My hon. Friend's comments remind me of the fact, of which I am sure many hon. Members have experience, that constituents write in and say that they object to the Government's policy on this, that or the other and that they are withholding a percentage of their income tax that would go towards things that they do not like. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and

Next Section

  Home Page