DÁIL IN COMMITTEE ON ELECTORAL BILL. - SWEEPSTAKES.

On this question of sweepstakes, perhaps before dealing with the future, and the intentions of the Ministry for the future, it might help if I gave a short historical sketch with regard to the situation for some years back. The last of the fourteen British Lottery Acts suppressing and preventing the advertising of sweepstakes was passed in the year 1846. Since then in Great Britain lotteries have been suppressed, their promoters, the printers of tickets, and the newspapers publishing the details thereof prosecuted. An exception was made by the Act of 1846, in-as much as Art Union Associations were allowed to hold drawings for the purpose of raising funds for purchasing paintings, drawings, or other works of art. However, it was not the practice of the Government in Ireland to take proceedings under the said Acts as long as the enterprises were bona fide in aid of charitable and philanthropic objects, and so long as they were not run in the interest or benefit of individual promoters. Prior to the year 1907 various clubs and associations in Ireland were accustomed without Government interference, to hold sweepstakes on races such as the Derby, and for which the tickets were mostly purchased locally. Sundry fraudulent sweeps then crept into existence, and tickets began to be sent broadcast throughout the United Kingdom. That was about 1907. Questions were asked in the House of Commons as to the the legality of Irish lotteries, and replies thereto given. The Irish Government were then compelled to take action, and proceedings were instituted against fraudulent promoters. At the same time a warning was issued that no further sweeps or drawings would be allowed, and the clubs and associations who had tickets in circulation were compelled to sign undertakings that they would not hold similar enterprises in the future. The effect was that sweepstakes and lotteries remained dormant in Ireland for practically a decade. About the year 1918 sweeps on English horse races sprang into existence again, and tickets therefor were widely circulated through the post in Great Britain, the prizes offered being usually large sums of money. Many complaints being addressed to the British Home Secretary of the breach of the law in Ireland, he was forced on 3rd March, 1920, to issue to the Postmaster-General a warrant prohibiting circulation through the post packets containing advertisements or circulars relating to sweepstakes promoted by persons in Great Britain, Ireland or abroad. The Irish Executive instructed the Police that prosecutions should be instituted in all cases where the Police were not satisfied that the proceeds were for distinctly charitable purposes. As the sweeps continued to increase at a rapid rate, the Irish Executive were ultimately by warrant dated the 31st March, 1921, compelled to authorise the Postmaster-General to detain and open any postal packets in course of transmission throught the post believed to contain advertisements or circulars relating to sweepstakes promoted by persons in Great Britain, Ireland or abroad. A notice to this effect was inserted in the Press. The result of these steps was satisfactory. The sweepstakes ceased to operate, and there was no interference with or cessation of the ordinary bazaar prizes, drawings and raffles for meritorious public purposes. However, at the beginning of this year, on the assumption that the Provisional Government would take no action, sweepstakes were again revived. As it is practically impossible to ensure the honesty of these proceedings and it is difficult to make any distinction or exercise discretion in the prohibition of them, I am advised that steps to put a stop to them should be renewed and maintained. During the transitional period people came and explained that they proposed to run sweeps for charitable objects, and asked for an undertaking that the existing law would not be enforced against them. For one reason or another, such undertakings were given. For one thing it was a transitional provisional Government; perhaps rather a committee than a Government; and for another thing possibly it was felt that we had quite enough on hands without proceeding in any vigorous way against undertakings of that kind. There were several such undertakings given during the provisional period, and some of these undertakings did extend beyond the lifetime of the provisional Government, and into the period of the jurisdiction of the Free State Government. For some time back I have been concerned—I have given a certain amount of time to it at any rate —with discovering whether there was any rational middle course that might be adopted; whether changes could be made in the existing law that would ensure adequate protection to the public in the event of sweeps failing, and so on, and that would ensure that undertakings of the kind would in fact be run and promoted in the interests of charitable institutions. In a time like the present one has to have a sense of proportion, and we could not go very deeply into the matter. Such inquiries as I made led me to the conclusion that it is practically impossible to devise such a middle course, and the evil was growing and was assuming alarming extensions. Application for undertakings of that kind were pouring in, and, finally, about a month ago I advised the Government that, with the exception of certain undertakings that had in fact been given, there should be a complete closing down, and that the undertaking not to enforce the law should not be given in the future. Charitable interests must find other means of support. It is not for me to say what those means ought to be, but this evil—and I am perfectly satisfied in my own mind that it is an evil— was spreading, and things had gone long past the stage when sweeps were being run in the interests of charitable institutions. What was happening was this—these people came along to a charitable institution and said:—“You could do with £5,000, and we could do with £10,000, what about lending us your name for a sweep?” It is very hard to exercise discrimination; to put it vulgarly, how am I to know who is a crook and who is not a crook, or how is any one in my department for that matter to know it? It is also bad to have a law in existence, and occasionally to hold it up. I think it is particularly bad here, where the idea of law and the idea of ordered government is not so firmly embedded in the minds of the people that you can afford to have an existing law, and periodically say it shall not operate. I think that was bad. If there are interests in the country keen about this thing, let those interests, through some member of the Dáil who shares their outlook, put up a private Bill. The attitude of the Government, on the advice of my Department, is at the moment to strictly enforce the existing law, and, with the exception of the few outstanding undertakings that have been given, to close down all this matter of sweeps and lotteries.

I congratulate the Minister upon making a clean sweep of sweepstakes.