Priti Patel calls for changes to society lotteries legislation

12th December 2017

Priti Patel backs calls to change the restrictive legislation on society lotteries, which is currently in place to protect the National Lottery monopoly, in order to promote choice and competition and support our local charities which could see huge benefits.

It is a delight to be called to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) on securing it. He spoke in great detail and with great knowledge about the benefits of society lotteries. I commend him for the strength of his case and his arguments; I agree with them all.

In my seven and a half years as a Member of Parliament, I have been really moved and pleased to see the amazing actions and the positive impact of charities, particularly small charities, not only in my constituency but in other parts of the country and across the world. The commitment and dedication of charity workers, particularly volunteers, transforms lives and communities. I echo my hon. Friend’s words about the big society—that is exactly what we see in the dedication of motivated individuals who want to serve their community and help others. That is what we see from small charities and society lotteries: valuable support and service provision, responding to local needs in a way that central Government, big charities and bureaucracies quite frankly cannot and will not.

In my own constituency, I have seen many great charities supporting amazing causes, from branches of the Royal British Legion across Essex to remarkable charities such as Brainwave, which fundraises for itself, with no Government funding or support, but is changing the lives of children who suffer brain injuries and cerebral palsy and is also transforming the lives of their parents and families. From Farleigh hospice to the Witham Boys Brigade, people are working hard every week to support vulnerable people and enhance our local communities. The Health lottery, which my hon. Friend mentioned, has invested more than £45,000 in just one charity in my constituency, 2nd Witham Boys Brigade. The Health lottery is an astonishing vehicle for bringing direct support to the grassroots—the communities and charities that achieve a transformative effect. In the case of the Witham Boys Brigade, the money has gone to its stadium, a street project and a neighbourhood living project that is transforming the community and bringing employability skills and empowerment to a whole generation of young people. Enhancing outcomes for young people is something that we should all support, while also encouraging greater volunteerism within the community. Funding from the Health lottery not only enables young people to take part in activities, but helps to build skills for life and give them the confidence to become good citizens.

One of the benefits of local society lotteries is that the people who pay to play will see and know the good causes that they are supporting, because they will be surrounded by them in their local community. That is an enormous contrast with the national lottery, in which there is no direct link between someone’s stake and the various causes that it may go towards or support in some way. The national lottery’s funds go into a central pot and are redistributed from the centre—not a principle of redistribution that I support—whereas local society lotteries serve a genuine grassroots need. Their promoters are themselves active citizens within their communities, so they have that community connection.

I want to see more charities and good causes benefiting from funding from society lotteries. Having looked at this matter, I urge the Government, as other hon. Members have done, to support that goal by reforming the regulatory regime under which society lotteries work. In fact, one of the representations I received before the debate was from Essex and Herts Air Ambulance. Our air ambulances are amazing. Naturally, they believe in raising the cap on society lotteries to ensure that more money goes into communities—something that we all support.

In my former role in the Government, I saw for myself how society lotteries benefit international causes and charities—a point that my hon. Friend also mentioned. Causes such as Water Aid and Mary’s Meals, a charity that my former Department supported in Scotland, are given a tremendous helping hand in delivering support on nutrition. The People’s Postcode lottery and the Postcode Global Trust support many global charities that are helping young people around the world to develop new life skills and giving them new life chances. We should be very proud of that; I hope the Government will acknowledge it and be proud of it too.

It has been five years since a review of society lotteries was announced, but progress on regulatory reform has been slow. Local charities and organisations that support people are being held back by outdated legislation. By law, non-commercial fundraising lotteries must donate at least 20% of proceeds to charity. Outdated regulations designed to protect the national lottery from competition are preventing them from growing. That is simply not right.

The case has already been made for raising the maximum prize to £1 million—a proposition that is rightly supported by the sector. A higher prize fund will attract more players, which in turn—believe it or not—will generate more revenues for good causes. A £1 million prize is also a clear and memorable figure that is easy to market when promoting these very good society lotteries and charities with a strong local connection. I believe that society lotteries that are able to do so responsibly should be free to adapt their model, increase their maximum prize to attract more players and bring that money to our communities.

The real question for the Government is why society lotteries should be held back. We should give them the freedom to succeed and the trust and confidence to go out there and deliver the big society. We should empower more communities and charities. As a Conservative, I am naturally a great supporter of the freedom to succeed, choice, innovation and the role of the market. When playing lotteries, consumers should have a choice of causes to support, including causes that they themselves may be associated with or have an affinity with. That is really important, but it is being restricted by the existing regulatory framework. We should trust consumers to make informed choices about which lottery products they want to support. They should know how, and towards which causes, each £1 that they pay and play will be divided up, and what the ultimate benefit will be.

As we have heard already today, the national lottery has changed its product range, although that has not necessarily worked, and has put its prices up. We all want to support the next generation of Olympians and win more medals as a country, but some consumers quite frankly do not want to bankroll the fat-cat salaries of Camelot. Likewise, many people who give to charities do not want to bankroll large charities’ fat-cat salaries. As someone who has been a great advocate and supporter of local charities, and of moving moneys away from big charities and big causes, I think we should make absolutely sure that we empower smaller charities, so that they get out there and provide the support that is required.

The other point I will make—I say this with some personal experience, as my parents were shopkeepers—is that the national lottery’s monopoly completely restricts the opportunity for smaller lotteries to have a staging post in many retail outlets. The national lottery is very restrictive in terms of the regulations and the restrictions around it, and it places burdens on small shopkeepers, such as my parents once were, even though they run the types of shops that we should be supporting on high streets and in our villages, as well. They provide a great local service to our local communities, too.

Camelot has a monopoly and as there is only one national lottery that restriction obviously has ramifications and wider implications. The Government are supporting choice and competition in many other sectors—energy, banking, education or higher education—so there is an enormous opportunity for the Government now to grasp the nettle and to be incredibly proactive in this area.

This is an argument to support choice and competition, but fundamentally it is an argument to support our local communities and our local charities. Naturally, there will be benefits from increased competition, which is something I support. So, like my colleagues here today and like my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk, who secured this valuable debate, I feel that this is a wonderful opportunity to live and demonstrate the values of choice and competition, as well as to promote the role of our small charities, to show that the big society can exist and operate through the hard work of smaller charities and their lotteries, and through other society lotteries.

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