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National Lottery

Volume 813: debated on Wednesday 14 July 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the objectives of the National Lottery.

My Lords, since its launch in 1994, the National Lottery has been an unprecedented success, raising over £43 billion for community, arts, heritage and sports projects across the UK. The primary objective of the National Lottery is to raise money for good causes and we have no plans to change that.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but I hope that she may be prepared to reflect. The National Lottery has not been quite so successful in recent years; life has changed and we should have new objectives. The big change has been the problem with the nation’s health. We have the worst number in Europe of deaths from Covid. I believe that the Government should review the objectives of the National Lottery and see whether a greater focus on health for the nation should be considered. One of the lottery’s great benefits is that it reaches the hard-to-reach groups in society. As many play the National Lottery with scratch cards and so on, the Government should consider how that link might be used to incentivise and reward players for moves to better and healthier eating and drinking and exercise rather than simply focusing on money rewards, as it does at the moment. Let us put the real health of the nation at the heart of this objective rather than simply money.

The noble Lord is of course right that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of the nation’s health. He will be aware that health is one of the objectives of the National Lottery Community Fund, but, more broadly, this Government have an ambitious target for reducing, in particular, obesity. The lottery must provide additionality in its funding, not replace core government funding.

My Lords, will the Minister undertake to review the abolition of the HLF grant for places of worship, which has resulted in congregations without financial resources finding it much harder to compete for maintenance and development funding? The effect of abolition has been profoundly demoralising for small rural communities and areas of deprivation in coastal towns, such as Hastings, where the church building can be a source of local pride and community cohesion but is in danger of falling into disrepair and representing a sense of abandonment by local and national government.

My Lords, I am happy to take the right reverend Prelate’s point back to colleagues in the department, but I hope that he will recognise the value of the work that the National Lottery Heritage Fund does.

My Lords, with reference to my interests as set out in the register, if a person plays the six draw-based National Lottery games each week, excluding scratch cards and online games, they spend £21. With the current fuss being made about affordability in gambling, is it right that the state-franchised lottery is encouraging people to “dream big” and gamble over £1,000 a year?

I am not sure that I would agree with my noble friend and call affordability a fuss—I think that for once I may have a number of your Lordships on my side. Affordability is important but, as my noble friend knows, we see the lowest level of problem gambling in the lottery games. As I said in response to the earlier question, the primary purpose of the lottery is to provide money for good causes and 30% of the revenue raised has done that since its inception.

My Lords, in the last major debate that we had on the National Lottery, which was three years ago, I made the suggestion that more could be done to inform the public of the immense contribution of the National Lottery to good causes at local and regional levels, for instance at physical points of sale. That suggestion was not taken up, but if one of the effects of the past year has been an increased awareness of local community and community pride, perhaps this is something that might now be looked at.

The noble Earl makes a very interesting point. I know that all the lottery distributors pride themselves on their ability to reach deeply into communities and to make those local connections.

My Lords, the National Lottery is a significant success and enjoys huge public support. Research shows that there is also public support for other national lotteries, such as the Postcode Lottery. Will their needs for greater parity of prize money and reach be reconsidered so that more funds can be made available for good causes?

The noble Lord will be aware that we are planning to carry out a review of society lotteries, to which he refers. It will be an early check based on evidence to see whether the increased limits have had the intended impact and that the limits are enabling the sector to increase the proportion that goes to good causes.

My Lords, research shows that replacing lottery duty with gross profit tax could, over a 10-year period, lead to more than £6 billion extra for good causes and the Treasury. The Minister just reminded us that returns to society are a key objective, so can she explain why the Government have rejected the recommendation from your Lordships’ Gambling Industry Committee? Will she publish the Government’s own analysis of this proposal?

The Government reviewed all the evidence available and, based on that, concluded that to protect income for good causes and tax revenue for the Exchequer—which, obviously, is also spent in the public interest—the current model of taxation should remain in place.

My Lords, while I accept the good intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I cannot agree with his proposal. I support the National Lottery’s existing remit to raise funds for community, arts, heritage and sports projects. Recently, 40% of lottery funding was for health, education, environmental and charitable causes. I estimate that more than £1 billion was awarded over two years to respond to Covid-19—the largest contribution made to pandemic relief beyond that made by government. This seems to illustrate the scope for substantial National Lottery expenditure on health. What is the average annual expenditure on health by the lottery in normal times and what percentage of total lottery spending is accountable for health?

I echo my noble friend’s reflection that the lottery distributors played an important part in responding to the pandemic and getting funding to organisations all around the country. There is no specific figure on health, but he is right that the National Lottery Community Fund has that as one of its four key objectives. More broadly, the work of all the lottery distributors could certainly be argued to be making a difference to the nation’s mental health and, particularly in the case of Sport England, to our physical health as well.

My Lords, while the National Lottery has funded many celebrated projects of national and international significance, including London 2012, the V&A in Dundee and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, it is also welcome that many National Lottery grants are for £10,000 or less and directed towards small grass-roots projects. What plans are there to increase the numbers of these small grants? Can the Minister give some indication of the support given to community projects where there is a lack of know-how and infrastructure to make a successful application?

It is obviously up to the National Lottery to decide those splits between larger and smaller grants, but I know from my recent conversations, particularly with the community fund, that the emphasis on “People in the Lead”, to use its language, is absolutely central to its top three priority approaches. My understanding is that it has a great focus on supporting groups that might otherwise find it difficult to apply for funding.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for saying that there will not be that radical a change to the lottery, but can we look at making sure that sport is seen as something that actively supports the health budget? Can the Department of Health let the sporting world know what type of activity would give it the best return?

This Government have been committed to supporting both elite and—in the case of the noble Lord’s remarks—grass-roots and community sport. I would be amazed if my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care were not aware of that too.