We now resume the debate on gambling. I understand that John Thurso had not quite exhausted his advice to the House when I terminated his previous remarks.
May I reiterate briefly the last point that I made, which is that the tourism, hospitality and gambling industry has given a warm welcome both to the Budd report and to the Government's response? That in turn has excited a keen anticipation that something will actually happen. I suggest to the Minister that having excited this anticipation, the introduction of legislation at the earliest practical moment would be much appreciated by the industry.
I begin by referring the House to my declaration of interest, which is fully and clearly set out in the Register of Members' Interests. There is also great constituency interest. In my constituency, we have the Ladbroke's call centre at Aintree. Vernons Pools are located at Aintree. Vertex, which operates the bet direct call betting service, is at Kirkby in my constituency. Merseyside in general has Littlewoods as a major employer. A number of relevant matters are of direct concern to my constituents.
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport on having the debate, which has already been significant and important. Secondly, I congratulate him on the excellent way in which he has conducted this part of his brief over the past 12 months. He has earned the trust of all parts of the racing and betting industries. He is listened to with great respect by all sections of an important industry. The same comments apply, of course, to the Secretary of State.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend because unfortunately I will not be able to stay in the Chamber to hear his wind-up speech. I have a constituency surgery tonight. However, I shall read his reply with great interest next week. I hope that he will recognise that if I am not in my place to hear him, that is not out of any discourtesy. My absence will be due to a constituency necessity.
I shall try to be brief because I know that other Members hope to speak. However, I shall raise a few points. The first relates to casinos. I welcome the Budd proposals and I welcome the Government's response to them. I welcome also the proposals that are being made for Blackpool being brought to fruition. There is a great deal of potential in revitalising Blackpool on the strength of some of the proposals that are being put forward. It is obviously important that the process that the partnership is going through is completed in a proper manner, and I am sure that it will be.
Comparisons with Las Vegas are invidious. The idea that Blackpool will suddenly recreate itself as Las Vegas is neither appropriate nor, I suspect, realistic. None the less, there is something that can be done that will be for the benefit both of the people of Blackpool and those who want to operate casinos. There will also be benefit for those who want to make use of the facilities. John Thurso referred to the tourist industry.
It is important that if there is to be an extension of casinos—Mr. Greenway made a similar point—we should be cautious and careful about the way in which we do so, especially in high streets, small towns and areas where there is currently no record of casinos. I am mindful of the point that the hon. Gentleman made—others have echoed it—that a rapid increase in the number of casinos would almost certainly suck in some inappropriate sources of investment. No matter how well developed the regulatory framework was, it would be difficult to prevent that investment taking place.
I think we all know of the way in which licensed premises and clubs are increasingly being used for money laundering. There is a lot of money that, as it were, is looking for opportunities. I would be cautious, but I accept that there is a need to modernise regulation and also to modernise the primary legislation that covers it.
There is also the role of magistrates and, as is proposed, local authorities in relation to betting shops. I favour the idea of leaving things as they are. The hon. Member for Ryedale made a similar point. I do not have any in-built prejudice against local authorities. I hardly could, because I was a member of Hyton urban district and then a member of Knowsley borough council for about 14 years before I came into the House. I have parts of Sefton council in my constituency, along with Dr. Pugh. Both councils do an excellent job.
At the same time, the magistrates already have a body of experience, and they are once removed from the pressures that would inevitably come on local authorities if they had licensing responsibility. I am sure that the authorities would carry it out well, but I think that magistrates courts are probably the most appropriate places for licensing.
Side betting on the national lottery is important. My right hon. Friend the Minister understandably, and probably rightly, has to be mindful of the responsibility that his Department has to protect the proceeds of the lottery. That is particularly so in terms of the money for good causes that the lottery produces. However, I believe that the issue of betting on the lottery has already, to some extent, been solved through the lottery itself. Camelot is allowed to use hot picks, which is a form of fixed-odds betting on the lottery. That rather destroys the policy. There is some fairness about that. If Camelot is allowed to have fixed-odds betting on the lottery, when in effect it is not supposed to be in that business, it is rather difficult to exclude others from being involved in that market. My right hon. Friend should give that some thought. No doubt he will do so when he decides to read my speech. He is obviously not listening to it.
There is the question of whether there should be a trust, a voluntary operation between bookmakers and other gaming interests, a voluntary levy or some form of compulsory arrangement. First, as did the hon. Member for Ryedale, I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the excellent work that has been done by Gamcare. There is probably an arrangement to be worked out. If talks take place in good faith on all sides, I believe that he could come to an arrangement that would be to the benefit of everyone concerned. I urge him to take that approach. The implication of that is that he does not close his mind to other possibilities that may be put to him. We all agree on what we want the outcome to be, and it is a matter of how we get there. I believe that there is a way forward, without spelling it out today, that could be of some significance.
I move on to jackpot machines. I have some knowledge, having had some responsibilities for that area when I was a junior Minister in the Home Office.
I welcome the Government's acceptance of the Budd report's recommendation that betting shops should be allowed to have jackpot machines. I do not think that there is much opposition to that idea—certainly not in this House, nor, I suspect, in another place. As my right hon. Friend does not envisage introducing primary legislation until 2003–04, I urge him to consider whether that change could be made by a statutory instrument such as an order. I know from experience that secondary legislation on such matters can be a somewhat fraught process, but as there is widespread support for the proposal, I think that it could be used in this case.
I have here a letter from Littlewoods Leisure, which, as I said earlier, has considerable importance in my constituency; I suspect that other Members may have had a similar letter. For the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Minister, I shall read out a small section of it. Richard Boardley, Littlewoods director of games and lotteries, writes:
"I would also hope that . . . the Government resist attempts by the National Lottery operator to water down the Budd recommendations, as far as they relate to free and fair competition across the gambling industry. Whilst we all want the National Lottery to be successful, this must not be at the continued expense of other competitors. You are already acutely aware of how much damage the lottery has inflicted on our Littlewoods pools business."
I hope that my right hon. Friend will give serious consideration to that point, not least because Littlewoods is still a large employer on Merseyside, and has a long and honourable record of operating fairly and properly.
I shall now say a little about the public's attitude towards gambling in general. Hon. Members have already talked about the old days, and when I was a child, there was an illegal unlicensed bookmaker called Mr. Dunn at the corner of the square where I lived. He operated from a somewhat rundown caravan, from which he ostensibly sold things like a quarter of tea and a pound of sugar, but really he was taking bets.
Things moved on and betting became legal, but even then—[Interruption.] It did not become legal for Mr. Dunn. Even then, there was a slightly unsavoury aspect to betting. All of us—including you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—probably have betting shops in our constituencies, and the whole atmosphere of those shops is entirely different from what it was even five or 10 years ago. They are more open and cleaner, and a lot of information and technology is used. We also see more and more women comfortably using betting shops now, and I welcome that.
I suspect that the figures from the last month or so will bear out the fact that an increasing number of younger people are now betting on football results, always on fixed odds, in a more flexible way than the football pools used to allow for. Typically, they bet on who will score the first goal, or what the score at half time or full time will be. Indeed, I had a few such bets on the World cup myself—but sadly, like many of my other betting experiences, they did not pay any dividends.
Having placed their bets in a betting shop in the morning or telephoned them through to one of the many telephone betting services, punters can now spend a pleasant Saturday afternoon sitting in front of the television. As the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, betting is part of the leisure industry now, and leisure can just as well be taken at home as on somebody else's premises.
My right hon. Friend is therefore right to want to bring the legislation up to date, and to recognise not only the economic importance of the industry but the extent to which it is now an integral part of our leisure industry.
"The Cavaliers (Wrong but Wromantic) and the Roundheads (Right but Repulsive)."
In writing in that way, the authors were not judging who was right and who was wrong in the English civil war—a subject that I shall not discuss now, because I would rightly be ruled out of order—but highlighting certain attitudes and temperaments.
So far as alcohol consumption, cigarette consumption, the legalisation of illegal drugs and gambling are concerned, people tend to divide pretty neatly into cavaliers and roundheads. The roundheads tend to argue that alcohol duties should be hiked, cigarette advertising banned completely, smoking banned in public, a war on drugs prosecuted vigorously, and all gambling curtailed. The cavaliers tend to argue that alcohol duties should be slashed, cigarette advertisement warnings removed altogether, all drugs legalised—whether hard or not—and a category A slot machine placed in every pub.
In the briefings for this debate, the roundheads tended to argue, as Gamblers Anonymous does, the severe view that gambling is a form of mental disorder, and that it is a particular danger to children—a point with which I have some sympathy. Naturally, the cavaliers tended to maintain that, in a free society, everyone should be free to do as they please, without excessive state interference. If I have to come down on a particular side on these matters, I would prefer to be "Wrong but Wromantic", rather than "Right but Repulsive". The conclusion that I draw from the Budd report and the Government's White Paper is that they, too, come down on that side.
The nonconformist culture out of which disapproval of gambling came—Mr. Howarth mentioned it in the context of his childhood experiences—has more than begun to die out, and we now have a different kind of culture. As my hon. Friend Mr. Greenway said, the Government are broadly right to concentrate on loosening restrictions in premises that exist largely for the purposes of gambling, and to be wary of further liberalisation in premises that do not exist primarily for that purpose.
The presumption behind the Government's approach—it is one that the Opposition share—seems to be that the state should tolerate, and even encourage, gambling up to a certain point, perhaps because it can help to educate people about finding the right balance between risk and safety. Some risk is good—that is why Ministers and Opposition spokesmen and women often refer to risk takers in an approving way. If exercised moderately, gambling can help to educate people about risk. If I go to Newmarket, see that there is a horse in the 3.15 that happens to be called Duty Whip's Fancy, and discover that it has good form—
I knew that I was taking a risk in lending the horse such an appellation. However, if, after finding that the horse is on good form and running on ground that suits it, I put a bet on it and win, I have learned something about the balance between risk and safety.
Miss Begg is not in her place, but she spoke effectively about a scam, to use the word that my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale rightly bestowed on it. If women get caught up in such schemes, the risk is clearly unacceptable. That is the reason for the number of powerful inhibitors in society against undue risk.
I shall risk one more general remark before making some specific points. Excessive gambling can undermine the work ethic and create a get rich quick mentality. If that mentality abounds, it can eventually undermine hard work, thrift, diligence, persistence, enterprise and everything that contributes to wealth creation.
I shall descend from the ballet of philosophical abstractions to specific points. Before a Labour Member rises to make the point, I appreciate that a Conservative Government introduced the national lottery. However, I am not a full-blooded enthusiast for three main reasons. First, without being a killjoy, I believe that in its early days the lottery contributed to encouraging a get rich quick mentality among some of those who indulged in it. As we all know, it is hard to get rich quick without inheriting money. That consequence of the lottery was not good.
Secondly, the lottery did much to nationalise large elements of charitable giving. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale made the point indirectly. It is worth taking note of the figures. The lottery accounts for 65 per cent. of all gambling; £7 billion was spent on gambling in the United Kingdom in 1998–99. Those are large sums. By changing the balance of charitable giving, the lottery has contributed to turning charities into lobbyists because they have to go to the Government and specific boards to ask for money. They shape their bids according to the prejudices and fancies of those who make the judgments. That is not a good effect, to put it mildly.
Thirdly, the lottery has contributed, albeit indirectly, towards damaging the relationship between the person who gives and the charity that receives the money. I am therefore rather sceptical about the national lottery.
I appreciate that the lottery is here to stay, but I echo my hon. Friend's point, and some of the contributions of Labour Members, that we should have a level playing field. He argued persuasively that the lottery should be included under one gambling board. I urge the Minister to consider carefully my hon. Friend's point about society lotteries and the effect that the national lottery has had on them.
A recommendation in the Budd report suggested that premises licensing should remain a local function, exercised solely by local authorities. The White Paper says:
"The Government does, however, accept that it would not be appropriate to give local authorities unfettered discretion to determine whether or not a premises licence should be issued or on the conditions attached to licences, such as those relating to opening hours."
My hon. Friend nods, and, indeed, he backed up that point in his speech. I hope that I will not arouse his ire by saying that although I am sure that the Government are right to make that point, it has been a feature of British government over the past 30 years or so that the powers of local government have been reduced under successive Administrations. That happened under Conservative Governments in the 1980s and 1990s and is happening even more extensively now. I urge the Government to give local authorities as much leeway as they reasonably can. If local authorities are not considered fit to have some hand in licensing arrangements, it is hard to know what the Government would consider them fit for.
I want to refer again to the point raised by Labour Members and my hon. Friend about the dangers of illicit money getting into the gambling trade. One strong argument against the complete legalisation of all drugs is that, far from taking money out of the hands of the dealers, dealers would muscle in on legitimate business. Some historians argue that that happened after the end of prohibition in America. I am not arguing for prohibition but simply noting that point of view. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East that the Government should be properly wary of that happening, as I think they are.
I will not quarrel with my hon. Friend about that.
In this article, which I commend to the House, in the unlikely event that the editor of The Guardian reads Hansard, Andrew Burnett writes that although French industry revenue doubled within two years of liberalising measures there, more than 50 people have been murdered in the past three years in what he describes as a bitter gangland squabble that the Interior Ministry believes is linked to control of the nation's slot machines or—I am sorry for my pronunciation—"bandits manchots", as they are known. My hon. Friend nods again. Mr. Burnett writes that the violence that is centred around France's estimated 6,000 illegal machines has included bombings in Aix-en-Provence and shootings on the Champs-Elysées. I am sure that the Government are properly wary of what could happen if the worst fears of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East were realised.
The British Horseracing Board has made a point to the Government about alcohol, casinos and betting in pubs and clubs. It asks why, if alcohol is to be allowed in casinos—we do not know what the Government will include in their Bill if legislation is forthcoming—betting is not permitted in pubs and clubs. There are obvious safety arguments against that, but I urge the Government to reconsider the matter.
We look forward to the proposals in the Queen's Speech in the autumn, and I wish the Minister luck in his discussions with the usual channels and in ensuring that there is a Bill in due course.
I support the comments made by my hon. Friend Miss Begg on pyramid gifting schemes; they are scams, as Mr. Greenway pointed out, and should be outlawed. I also ally myself with the comments of John Thurso: we shall want to follow up the matter and as a fellow member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport I hope that we will receive a memorandum on it. We may not be able to include it in the current report, but we may be able to issue it as an addition.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate and look forward to the proposed Bill, which I hope will be introduced soon.
We must realise that gambling is an industry and that the people employed in it play an important part in their local economy. Gambling is also a modern leisure pursuit. As our disposable income has increased, we have started to see gambling in a different light. Shopping is now a leisure pursuit, enjoyed by many, many people—it even forms part of the tourism industry; but just because some people, unfortunately, become shopaholics, we would not attempt to ban it—nor should we react to gambling in that way. However, there are serious concerns about addiction that we must take on board.
We need modern legislation to simplify the rules and regulations so that they can be easily understood. I was especially glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport said that modernisation would go hand in hand with protection. We cannot have one without the other and I strongly support calls for both.
My hon. Friend Mr. Howarth talked about modern betting shops. That reminded me that when I was a small child my grandfather used to visit an illegal betting shop in the back close of a rundown building near our house. It was common knowledge that the police arrested only the young men—the bookies paid the fines—while the elderly gentlemen were ushered out and went off to a friendly local house for a cup of tea until the bookie could open up again a couple of hours later. What a huge change we have seen since then. It is great that people feel that they can take part in gambling and, as has been pointed out, women are also able to participate. I welcome those changes.
I want to speak first on the role of local authorities. I disagree with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross: local authorities have an extremely important role to play in local life, and I disagree with the claim that the Government have removed powers from local government. I was involved in local government throughout the entire former Conservative Administration and I could spend all day listing the powers that they removed from local government. I shall not bore the House by doing so, but remind hon. Members that the Government are beginning to change their attitude to local government. In certain parts of Scotland, they are considering giving local government powers of general competence—I should like to see that happening throughout the country.
It is absolutely crucial for local government—all local authorities—to bring its local knowledge to bear on local issues. I sat on a licensing board where we granted and removed liquor licences, and local knowledge was crucial. That board also gave members of the local community an opportunity to express their views. I have no qualms about saying that local councillors are crucial to such communication. Their role is absolutely right.
Sometimes the board was tempted by the people who applied for a licence. A local butcher came before us, saying that he thought it would be very appropriate to be able to buy a bottle of wine at his butcher's shop. He said, "Wouldn't it be nice if you were on your way home one evening and you thought, 'I will go into the butcher's and buy a really nice piece of fillet steak'"—Scottish fillet steak, of course—"and then I could offer you a piece of passion cake and a bottle of claret?" I do not know whether that was intended as a bribe to board members, but we reminded him that we thought that the right shop was called a supermarket. That undermined his argument about a one-stop butcher's shop.
Local democracy is crucial to the role of local government, which places a democratic overlay on the decision-making process. All aspects of gambling should be subject to local government control.
I am sure that we all share the concerns that have been expressed to me about the misery that gambling addiction can cause. Particular concerns have been raised about online gambling and the use of credit cards. I understand that it is very difficult to control such gambling, but we must try to find ways to help those who get into trouble. However, the industry must contribute more towards offering help and counselling to those who get into difficulties.
Children must be protected, and I look forward to reading what the Bill says about that, but I have no doubt that responsible parents always ensure that any gambling is done responsibly. We all gambled at the seaside—it was part of our holiday—but I accept that we need clear rules and clear statements about which machines children may use. As a former teacher, I know that children gamble on everything, from a game of marbles to football. It is harmless fun to them and they do not know that they are gambling. How that impacts on their home and whether it leads to addiction is absolutely unknown; no research is available. Some well-founded research would be very welcome to help inform any future debate on that issue. It would gain the industry a great deal of credit if it were willing to support some independent well-founded research on the issue.
On gaming machines, like every other Member of the House, I was inundated with letters from various clubs. My constituency has several social clubs and a couple of miners' welfare clubs, which do tremendous work in the local community in support of local charities. The local communities would be completely undermined if those clubs could not have gaming machines on their premises. Therefore I was delighted when the Minister said that he would respond positively to their representations and that the Government would continue to allow them to have gaming machines. We would all welcome that.
I welcome the Government's response to the review. Like other hon. Members, I do not consider myself a gambler, but I do buy lottery tickets, and like every other Member of Parliament I cannot possibly refuse to buy raffle tickets at all the local events to which we are invited. However, I was once forced to take part in a very important piece of gambling that was not seen as gambling, when I had to cut cards with the leader of the opposition in a hung council to see who would be the provost—or in English terms, the mayor—of the town for four years. I drew the king of diamonds, at which point there was silence throughout the room, until the leader of the then opposition drew the eight of clubs. As a result of that act of gambling, I had to chair a hung council for four years.
Well, I think that I came up trumps.
Gambling can take many different forms and, very often, people do not realise that they are gambling, because in many circumstances it can be harmless fun. I look forward to the Bill.
I apologise to the House for being slightly late this morning. I took a gamble on public transport that did not pay off.
I want to declare that although I have gambled many times, I have never won until recently, when, like Rosemary McKenna, I took part in a raffle. However, I discovered that one of the difficulties of being a Member of Parliament is that one is not allowed to win the raffle and that, if an MP wins the raffle, he or she has to give back the prize.
We have been presented with an interesting and very good set of proposals. I want to begin by quoting paragraph 7.1 of "A safe bet for success", which the Government have published. It states:
"In the Government's view the law should no longer incorporate or reflect any assumption that gambling is an activity which is objectionable and which people should have no encouragement to pursue."
Well, there we are. That is a very handsome statement by the Government, who are about to ban tobacco advertising and have imposed all sorts of restrictions in a massive exercise on alcohol, travelling by motor car and all sorts of other pleasures, but no one could call this a nannying or puritan measure. In the words of the casino industry, that statement could have been written by the casino industry, or so we are told.
We have the prospect of a significant change to our landscape and culture. As I look ahead and as I read the report and the Government's response, I seem to see neon strips flashing away, cocktail dresses and all manner of things like that. You and I will be able to walk in off the street into one of these new casinos, Mr. Deputy Speaker, without membership—we will not have to be members for 24 hours before we slap down our credit cards on the bar and get lots of chips. Alcohol will be provided, and there will be live entertainment of all kinds.
It is possible to imagine that, in the near future, some of our duller seaside towns will answer to the description of fleshpots. Frankly, I welcome that. If that is the intention, it is perhaps not wholly uncivilised. I think it unlikely, however, that all these new casinos will be cultivated places, full of black-tied croupiers and James Bond-style girls, draping themselves over people's shoulders as they go into the final rubber with Le Chiffre, playing vingt et un. They will not all be high-class establishments.
It is more likely that there will be a great profusion of establishments with wall-to-wall, winking one- eyed—[Interruption]—one-armed bandits. [Interruption.] Possibly one-eyed, too, and people will robotically feed coins into the slots in a state of narcosis, as that is the prevailing experience of places with such liberalisation, such as Las Vegas, which I have not visited, or Surfers Paradise in Australia.
That is why I very much agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) and several other hon. Members about the necessity to have a strong regulatory framework, and why the policing of this proliferation of new establishments must be very careful. I very much agree with John Thurso, who reminded us of how gambling went wrong in the 1960s. If we are to see an expansion, it is important that we should control it and be very careful. Let us be in no doubt that there will be a great increase in gambling. The Government will raise much more revenue from gambling, but there is also a risk that more low-life types will be associated with it, and that there will be more money laundering as well as all the other criminal problems that have been mentioned.
I stress that I do not disapprove of gambling. I welcome the Government's cavalier, romantic approach to the subject. I echo the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe about education in risk. Gambling is a valuable utensil of public education. That point could also have been adduced in the earlier statement, which you did not hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the MMR debate. The public have been stampeded away from using the MMR vaccine by a false appreciation of the public risks involved—that may be a heterodox view from the Conservative Benches. Consequently, we run the risk of a measles outbreak.
Understanding risk is important not just for public health policy but for capitalism. It is integral to capitalism. How did the late Jimmy Goldsmith make his first fortune? He bunked off school one afternoon and went to Windsor races. It is important that people understand, contrary to the title of the Government's response, that there is no such thing as a safe bet, as those who follow the stock markets and who are worried about their pensions will appreciate. On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
It would be a great shame if the proposed measures did anything to damage the viability of bingo parlours. I recently played bingo for many hours in south London, wholly unsuccessfully. It struck me as a game not just of chance but of considerable skill. It was played in an atmosphere of great charm and conviviality, and it would be a shame if, through any of the proposed measures, hard gambling were introduced into those very nice parlours. I hope that that will not be the case. I am reassured by some of the remarks that I have heard from bingo associations that they think that will not be the case. I notice, however, that the Government's intention is to liberalise bingo parlours.
I am baffled by the proposal to reduce not just the stakes but the prizes available to those of us who enjoy playing the crane machines in seaside arcades. If, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you had spent a considerable amount of time trying to win a prize on one of those very difficult machines by grabbing a watch or a fluffy toy, you should be entitled, at the end of all of that, to a seriously up-market fluffy toy worth up to £8, or to a watch that will last for more than a year. I see no reason why the Government are cutting the maximum value of those prizes to £5—it is pointless nannying. I hope that the Minister will tell us why they are doing that, and why they intend not to do it after all.
With that serious criticism, I generally welcome the provisions outlined in the Government's response. I prefer to take a punt on it.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr. Johnson. His speech was an extraordinary cornucopia of subjects. I share his views about grab machines. I used to play them with great fondness as a child in Blackpool. His vision included references to James Bond and cocktail dresses. I think that he meant cocktail lounges, but perhaps it was a Freudian slip.
As the Member of Parliament for Blackpool, South, I have followed all aspects and all stages of the review with great interest. It has obvious implications for Blackpool, and several hon. Members have already mentioned them. It is right to make the point that many of the broader entertainment and leisure implications of the liberalisation proposals and the Government's response, which I welcome, could affect seaside and coastal towns more generally. I have been made well aware of that point in my position as president of the British Resorts Association and as chair of a Labour Back-Bench group of seaside and coastal Members of Parliament. Members of all parties representing seaside and coastal towns and local authorities in such towns have mounted a vigorous and rightly penetrating analysis of the issues involved and the Government's response.
Like other Members, I shall refer to amusement machines and gaming. The hon. Member for Henley entertained us with a vision of one-eyed bandits but, like Michael Fabricant did in the Select Committee, I remember them as one-armed bandits. We are probably all from the same generation. The serious point is that such machines and grab or crane machines have been an integral part of the fabric of a seaside holiday for a long time. Therefore, the Government's acknowledgement of that in their response to Budd has been extremely welcome.
The Government have struck the right balance and noted the distinction that my hon. Friend Rosemary McKenna also drew about the important role played by social and working men's clubs in charitable activities generally. Like other hon. Members, I have received representations on that point and I shall refer to one made by the Blackpool No. 1 working men's club and institute in Bloomfield road in my constituency. It said:
"Members club subsidise social activities, sport, music and entertainment. They raise money for charity. They serve their members and the interests of ordinary citizens."
That is absolutely correct, so I pay tribute to the Government for their response and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his robust and sensible approach to the issue.
Perhaps we view everything through rose-tinted spectacles, but I have a final point about crane machines. It seems to be more difficult to capture the fluffy toy or the watch than it did when I was a child. However, when I was a child and went to Blackpool, the objects may have been rather smaller and easier to grab. In fact, several small toys and novelties adorn the Marsden Christmas tree each year.
Although we on are the issue of fluffy toys—a significant one for seaside resorts—does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not in any way related to problems of gambling addiction as dealt with in the Budd report? People are not addicted to fluffy toys. If they are, it is not a problem with which we should unduly concern ourselves.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point, but he has not had the opportunity to examine the insides of my cupboards and closets. Therefore, he cannot be sure that he is correct about fluffy toys. However, I accept that he has made a legitimate point.
Several hon. Members, including Mr. Greenway, have referred to non-monetary prize amusement machines and expressed concerns about the proposal to reduce the maximum price of play and to reduce the maximum value of the prize. I shall quote a letter that I have received from Blackpool pleasure beach, which many people will have visited and will know is part of the history of popular culture and entertainment in Blackpool. Blackpool Pleasure Beach Ltd. makes the point that, if the proposed reduction were introduced,
"These machines would simply not be viable from either customers or operators perspective" over a long period. It continues:
"These machines are hugely popular with families and could never be seen as a gambling product."
The letter goes on to make the interesting suggestion:
"The answer is to have within the amusement machine Category D band a subcategory of machines that pay out only prizes and not cash. This subcategory should be allowed to maintain price of play and prizes at current levels".
That is a sensible and thoughtful suggestion which the Government might consider.
The point is also made:
"The establishment by the Government of an amusement machine (Category D) is a major step forward."
All those who have seen the Government's response would agree. However, Blackpool Pleasure Beach also says that it is not reasonable indefinitely to freeze the stake and prize levels for those machines. Some review mechanism for that process is suggested, and I would agree with that.
I turn to the main thrust, certainly as far as a town such as Blackpool is concerned, of the Budd report and the Government's response: the implications for resort casinos of the major deregulation and liberalisation of casinos. I suspect—I pay tribute to the publicity activities of Leisure Parcs Ltd. and the Blackpool challenge partnership in this respect—that there is hardly anyone in the land who does not know that Blackpool has been posted as the new Las Vegas. However, as at least one hon. Member has rightly said today, if we are to cross to the United States, there are other and perhaps better analogies to take into account. I shall mention two: Atlantic City and Biloxi, both of which, curiously, are the subject of films. Perhaps we can take heart from that for Blackpool.
The important point about Atlantic City and Biloxi is that they have achieved a degree of regeneration, having been significant resort centres that had lost a lot of their traditional market. Regardless of whether the entertainment that resort casinos might produce in Blackpool or elsewhere will be literally of Las Vegas stature in due course, the crucial question for us to examine is how we regenerate seaside towns such as Blackpool through that process. That is why we need to put four square the possible benefits of deregulation for local communities.
I sent a memorandum of evidence to the excellent Select Committee inquiry, which is still going on. Obviously, my hon. Friend Mrs. Humble and I have talked to and heard the views of a vast array of people in and around the town since the proposals were first mooted. I said in the memorandum that one finds a small, quite vociferous lobby of people who are significantly opposed, mainly on principle, to the expansion and introduction of resort casinos. I accept, particularly as far as the Methodist Church and others are concerned, the principal basis of that objection and the concerns that flow from it, although I do not necessarily agree with it.
Another group of people have assumed, perhaps almost in a Pavlovian way, that resort casinos would be the answer to all our prayers and that the sooner that we get them the better. However, the vast majority of people, groups and associations in Blackpool—significantly including the vast majority of hoteliers, guest house owners, and so on—take the view that there could be great benefit from resort casinos but that we need to see the detail of proposals. That raises the problem of how the local community can benefit directly via a levy or hypothecation.
There has been much loose talk about emulating what Atlantic City has done, but it is not possible for us to do the same thing. The structures are entirely different. New Jersey and Atlantic City have a federal structure. We do not have a method by which we can use hypothecation in the same way or enjoy the control of funding that individual states can exercise. It might be that on the back of regional development, with possible elected assemblies in the north-west and elsewhere, there will be more scope for such a levy in five to 10 years time. However, we must consider what we can do now.
A local authority and the people making the proposals could reach a voluntary, though legally enforceable, agreement to the same effect. By earmarking a percentage of turnover, profit or a mixture based on a bottom line account, an annual payment could be made for community use from the income generated by such activities. That is a possibility, but the proposals in the Government's draft local government Bill for business improvement districts might provide a mechanism for a more structured approach. That view was shared by the leader of Blackpool council, Councillor Roy Fisher, who is also the chair of Blackpool challenge partnership. In written evidence to the Select Committee he said:
"We believe that some form of the legislation already going through the parliamentary process for business improvement districts would provide this without the need for hypothecation or a levy within the gaming legislation."
That is crucial for the people of Blackpool. All the surveys by the local newspaper and others have shown that the ability to produce a direct tangible benefit from resort casinos for local community projects is crucial to securing the support not just of the section of the town involved in tourism, but across the whole community, including the many people who do not have a direct interest in, or daily contact with, tourism.
The Bishop of Blackburn took the same view both in evidence to the Select Committee and in statements elsewhere. He is broadly in favour of the proposals for resort casinos and rightly draws our attention to the social concerns, but he also makes the point that we need a direct regenerative mechanism, as well as the other indirect benefits that might result from that.
We need something that will benefit local communities, but resort casinos also have to be seen in the context of developing a much bigger leisure package and providing greater opportunities for people who visit seaside towns such as Blackpool. That is the basis on which they will be welcome. As other hon. Members said, they will not be welcome if there is the same "pile-'em-high" collection of machines in gaming sheds, which is what has happened in Australia.
Professor Peter Collins, director of the centre for the study of gambling and commercial gaming at the university of Salford, also gave evidence to the Select Committee. He recently produced a report on the issue and said:
"In respect of choosing between 'many-small' and 'few-big' with respect to new casinos the arguments from minimising negative social impacts all tell in favour of 'few-big' . . . Gambling tax policy can provide both some general benefits and some benefits targeted at the needy and least advantaged. The Lottery Good Causes Fund seeks to do this. However, in relation to casinos the judgement which government makes on this issue will be crucial because the few-big scenario permits, and the many-small scenario does not, the siting and structure of casino projects so that they do most for those communities where need is greatest."
That argument is supported by the Blackpool challenge partnership and in the evidence to the Select Committee which cited the example of Australia, where the total liberalisation of the gaming laws led to the proliferation of high pay-out casino slot machines, which in turn made a significant contribution to increasing gambling addiction and social deprivation. The Government need to take that point on board when considering the detail of this matter.
Hon. Members have spoken of the importance of having a planning process that is flexible; for example, through the section 106 system, community benefits could arise from the development of resort casinos. If the process is not flexible, it will not be possible for local authorities, which make difficult decisions about planning applications, easily to ask for some of the benefits, such as education or health facilities, which may be constructed as part of a planning agreement for a resort casino.
There are weaknesses in the present planning process which need to be addressed. Again I draw on the evidence given to the Select Committee by the Blackpool challenge partnership. It said:
"Because of its history Blackpool already has more than 30 buildings that would not require planning permission to become casinos. The only control we could exercise over these buildings would be the granting of a licence . . .
In order to take advantage of development opportunities . . . we propose that in conjunction with a review of the legislation a new planning use class order is established for casinos."
The partnership continued:
"Planning powers would also give the opportunity to provide a clear definition for a resort casino that is tied to anywhere having the ability to host large numbers of gaming machines. This provision would then in turn be tied to a requirement for leisure, hotel and conference use that would then go a little further than simply the size of the gaming floor."
I believe that a figure of 5,000 machines is suggested. That needs to be considered in any legislation that is introduced.
There has been much talk in Blackpool about the town having pilot status in any resort casino process. The subject has been brought up with the Select Committee and the Minister. If that were possible, it would, in many ways, be desirable. It is all very well leaving these matters to the market, and it may well be that the market would eventually sift out those operations that did not conform to the broad model of the all-singing, all-dancing, family oriented casino which I and many others would consider the focus of resort regeneration. However, we do not need years of upheaval and eyesores while it does so. That point needs to be taken on board, whether there is a formal pilot status or whether we increase the ability of local authorities to take a holistic approach to planning, or preferably both.
Hon. Members may not be aware that it was intended that Blackpool tower would be one of a number of towers to be built all round Britain in the 1880s and 1890s. There was a sort of franchise system, and Blackpool took up the idea and ran with it. It may give us an idea of what we could do if we did not have a formal pilot scheme. Blackpool could, by default, be that pilot.
There is, however, an urgent need for Government action and for legislation. I am pleased about what has already been done by order, and I welcome the Department's commitment to the fight for a slot in the Queen's Speech. If planning authorities and bidders want to move ahead, it is important that we have early legislation.
As always, there must be safeguards. The £3 million for the Gambling Trust, as mentioned in the Budd report, and the initiatives that have been proposed by the British Casino Trust and BACTA are important. We must protect vulnerable young people, but it is important to remember what we are aiming for: a resort where perhaps only 10 or 15 per cent. of the floor space would be for gaming. It is a leisure experience, not primarily a gaming experience, that those of us in resort towns such as Blackpool seeking regeneration are looking for. The gaming sheds that we have seen in Australia would not provide that.
I want to make it clear that Blackpool is not putting all its eggs in the resort casinos basket. That has been made clear by the challenge partnership, the local council and a number of business leaders. There is an enormous amount of regeneration going on in the town and the challenge partnership is looking at a number of schemes. There are ideas for a "snow dome" and for "storm city". It is important to recognise that Blackpool, like other seaside towns, is already doing things to regenerate itself.
We have had major new art installations on the promenade and we had a modern statue called "Desire", which was supposed to embody the sexual frisson of a weekend in Blackpool—[Laughter]—and which came under the beady eye of Miss Widdecombe during the general election campaign. We also have the world's largest glitterball, and a sea organ that will play various tunes in accompaniment with the tides and which is to be installed in the autumn. Future generations need not fear for lack of inspiration for new versions of "Albert and the Lion".
The winter gardens have had a major overhaul. The tower room and the ballroom, where generations of dancing couples glided elegantly, have been revamped. We have the Grand theatre, and major and elegant sea defences with ocean liner railings. We have a plan for an environmental centre and a solarium. There are major upgrades of the light rail system, based on the trams, and there is some diversification.
I could go on; no doubt Blackpool council's tourism department would like me to do so, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would call me to order—quite rightly. In giving that list, I wanted to focus on why resort casinos are potentially beneficial. In Blackpool, we need a big bang. We need a big initiative that will carry through all the other things that I have mentioned.
Like so many seaside towns, behind the facade of the wonderful experiences that people have on holiday, at party conferences and the like, Blackpool has problems. There is a decline in visitor numbers; we are the 32nd most deprived area of the UK; we have all the difficulties associated with seasonal employment, traditionally low pay and low employment; we have all the demands of demography, in terms of having a larger than average number of younger people and a larger than average number of older people, which puts enormous pressure on services in the town. We have all those things and we need to find a regenerative mechanism.
Of all the proposals on the table, the regenerative mechanism via resort casinos appears to me and to many others to be the best bet. The devil is in the detail and we need to get the details right. That I why I have dwelt at some length on the needs in terms of planning and a proper regulatory framework. This is not an impossible dream, although there are those who have been sceptical about talk of Pharaoh's Palace and various other possibilities for Blackpool on the back of resort casinos. It is worth remembering that we had the same sort of doomsayers at the turn of the last century when Alderman Bickerstaffe bought up the tower company's shares for Blackpool council.
If we are to have resort casinos in Blackpool, we want to ensure that it maintains the affection in which it is held and its almost mythic status in popular culture. I believe that we can do that. We can have a new golden mile and a new town of adventure, and there will still be all the excitements and the £1 for the first person to spot the tower from the train. However, that must be built on solid business, solid regulation, solid benefits for residents and tourists alike, and a recognition of the need for any liberalisation and deregulation of gaming to include concern for the most vulnerable.
Is there? That shows how often I read The Spectator. The only advice that I would give the hon. Gentleman is never to ask Mr. Goodman to write it, although I share his view that the names of horses are significant in terms of whether they win. My most recent experience in that regard took place during the run-up to the 2001 general election. As a lifelong Liverpool supporter and a Labour candidate, when I saw that a horse called Red Marauder was running in the grand national, I thought that that was clearly a sign from a benevolent God, did a considerable amount of business, and won a packet on it.
I was interested to hear about my hon. Friends' experiences of betting prior to the degree of liberalisation that we have today. My hon. Friend Mr. Howarth talked about Mr. Dunn taking bets in his caravan. My own experience relates to my granddad, who in the late 1950s and early 1960s would take me for walks during which he would try to find a telephone. When he got through to whoever was on the other end, he would say, "Hello, this is Lucifer." I always thought that rather strange, because mum always called him Jack, but of course he was on the phone to his bookmaker. For a man with almost no hair, he spent a considerable amount of time at his barber's. It was only many years later that I realised that the barber collected his money for him. There is a moral to the story, which is that if people are not allowed to gamble legally, they will do it illegally. As far as I am aware, my granddad and his barber did nobody any harm by having their bets.
Growing up in Liverpool in a part of town that nowadays would be given a euphemism such as "facing serious challenges", I was aware of the dice games that were played on pavements outside pubs. Landlords could lose their licences if they allowed gambling in their pubs, so they invariably did not, and the men would take their dice games out on to the pavements. Even to my young eyes, the piles of money on those pavements were impressive. I suspect that many a family's housekeeping was lost in those dice games. My right hon. Friend the Minister proposes in his White Paper to make gambling debts legally enforceable and to repeal the Gaming Act 1845. Hiding behind that Act if one did not want to pay the gambling debts incurred in one of those dice games was probably not a wise step. If one did not pay those debts, one would be introduced to somebody with a name like Harry "Eat Your Giblets" Smith, who tended not to be an expert in Victorian jurisprudence. One would certainly not be allowed to argue that one's debt was not legally enforceable.
I tell those stories simply to reinforce the fact that we must have an environment in which gambling can take place in a proper and controlled way. That said, I find myself somewhat disoriented, because I seem to be more in favour of deregulating the sector than most other hon. Members—even the hon. Member for Henley. I never thought that I would find myself in that position.
We still have a tendency in this place to be patronising about gambling. We can make decisions about whether we gamble, but others might be led down the path of vice and error, so they need guidance and controls. I suspect that if we were to try telling our constituents that we know better than they about how they should spend their leisure money, we would probably get pretty short shrift from them. We must be careful before we advance such arguments.
The market is an important influence in deciding what works in a gambling sense. I entirely take the point about keeping crime out of the gambling sector. I am aware that the Gaming Acts, as John Thurso said, were designed to get the Krays out of the gambling industry. They have worked extremely well and we dare not make the error of allowing that sort of influence back into the system. However, we must be aware of what has happened in the past year or so in places such as Paris, where draconian measures have been taken to limit the availability of gaming machines.
In Paris, people now have to buy one-armed bandits from illegal suppliers. There was a report in a newspaper that I read towards the end of last year where a cafe owner made the mistake of buying his one-armed bandit from the wrong bunch of crooks. He was subsequently found dead. The pathologist was reported as saying that there were so many bullets in the cafe owner's body that he could not count them. We cannot allow that sort of system to recur.
I am delighted with the efforts that my right hon. Friend the Minister has made in pulling the White Paper together. The Budd report was a good start. I have been extremely critical of some parts of it and have described some of them as barmy, and I do not withdraw my comments one iota. However, my right hon. Friend has done a remarkable job of sorting out the good parts of the report, of which there were many, from the barmy parts. There are still some things in the report that we need to be careful about and to which we should give more thought. That will inevitably happen as we start to produce the legislation that will come forth soon.
My right hon. Friend says that he is hoping to get the legislation into the 2003–04 Session. I am rather disappointed with that. I would like to see it come forward more quickly. However, if it is to be 2003–04, that at least gives us the opportunity, if I may hint this, of some pre-legislative scrutiny during the next Session. That would help us all to try to iron out any more wrinkles that there might be. The Bill might then have a quick passage through the House late next Session, if parliamentary time were to open up. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that we might seek ways of speeding up the process.
As for the casino sector, I am entirely in favour of the liberalisations that have been set out in the White Paper. There are daft notions of 24-hour rules and not allowing casinos to advertise. It is certainly time that we dealt with these. There is a casino in my constituency. It is an important part of the offering that we make to tourists who come to my constituency. However, we cannot tell any of them about it. Unless they come for longer than 24 hours, they cannot use it. If someone comes to Ramsgate for a long weekend and they do not realise that there is a casino there until Saturday, and they then put in their request to use the casino, they will not be allowed to use it until 24 hours have passed, by which time they are usually on their way home after their weekend. That is nonsense, and it is clearly right to deal with that situation.
One of the arguments that has struck me, not only in today's debate but more generally, is the suggestion that we should change planning law and make a new class order for casinos. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South mentioned that, and I think that it is the right idea. It would deal with many of the worries about casinos flourishing all over the country in all sorts of unsuitable places, because the local planning committee would have a say. I would find that process far more convincing than the 2,000 sq ft rule.
I can imagine perfectly reasonable opportunities to set up casinos that take up less than 2,000 sq ft; let me give my right hon. Friend some examples. If someone who owns a country house hotel wants to operate a small casino there, and the local authority thinks it a good idea, which would make the business more viable and encourage more people to come to the hotel, what could possibly be wrong with that? Why should we say that people cannot do that unless they provide 2,000 sq ft of gaming space?
Perhaps it would not be economic to run a small casino in that environment, because of the number of employees needed, and all the safeguards that we are insisting that people build in to casinos—but if some entrepreneur thinks that it would be worth his while to set one up, and the local authority thinks it appropriate, why should we put some daft figure down on a piece of paper and say, "I'm sorry, but you haven't got 2,000 sq ft of gaming space, so we can't let you do it"?
I fully appreciate that the new gaming commission will need the resources to monitor all the facilities, and will not want lots of small casinos springing up before it has the resources and can inspect the premises. However, there are practical measures to deal with that problem, such as giving the gaming commission the power to alter the square footage rule as it acquires more resources. Alternatively, the rule could say that the development had to have a beneficial effect on the local economy, and that if the gaming commission thought that that criterion was met, it could give a licence for a casino.
There are practical ways of dealing with all those problems, and I do not think that we should try to interfere in the market as the White Paper suggests and say, "We know best. Casinos should all be the size that we say." One idea is that casinos should all occupy more than 10,000 sq ft. I can understand why someone who believed that the availability of gambling would inevitably lead to people with gambling problems might make such a suggestion. However, as I have already said, I think that that is patronising.
There are better ways of organising things, one of which is giving local authorities a clear planning power to limit where casinos are sited in their areas. In my seaside constituency, I would want my local authority to encourage the development of more casinos in the tourist areas of our towns, rather than in the high streets. We have a casino on the seafront in Ramsgate, and in the neighbouring constituency of North Thanet there is one in Margate. I certainly would not want to see lots of small casinos flourishing in my local high street—but I trust my local planning committee to make such decisions sensibly if we give it the appropriate powers.
I am afraid that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South about resort casinos. I do not see how we can argue that Blackpool should be given a competitive advantage over everywhere else that might want a resort casino. I can understand why Blackpool is asking for that. If it is going to invest a lot of money, of course it will take every possible step to get a head start on the competition. I also see why we might not want there to be more than one resort casino in each region—but a resort casino in Margate would have no impact on the viability of one in Blackpool or Brighton, because they would be operating in different markets.
I do not know whether a resort casino will prove viable. In this country, a different financial model backs casinos from that in the United States. In America, casinos work on very high volumes and low margins, but in this country they tend to work on much lower volumes and higher margins. The high-density gambling of American resort casinos can be achieved only if we adopt their model. Perhaps some people think that they can make that model work in this country, and if they do, good luck to them. If they want to invest their money and have a try, there is no reason for me to stand in their way, but such entrepreneurs should be entitled to look around the country to find the best opportunities—regardless of whether they are in Blackpool or in my patch. There is no merit in the idea that we should restrict a trial to Blackpool.
In gambling debates such as this, my first love is the campaign to protect the seaside arcade industry, and I am grateful to Mr. Greenway for acknowledging my role in that campaign. Indeed, most of the barmy arguments in the Budd report related to that industry. My one criticism of the White Paper is that it seems to repeat the Budd report's obsession with the idea that, because machine gambling is repetitive, it is more likely to cause problem gambling and compulsive behaviour than any other form of gambling. Although there is a lot of speculation to that effect, I have seen no objective evidence. According to Gamcare's own figures, it received just 375 genuine calls relating to the playing of pub machines, even though there are some 6.9 million people who play such machines. I am not suggesting that people do not occasionally develop gambling problems as a result of playing such machines, but there is no evidence that they are more likely to lead to problems than any other form of gambling. The notion that machines are somehow more dangerous than other forms of gambling perfuses the Government's response to the Budd report, but I do not buy it.
Nevertheless, congratulations are due to my right hon. Friend the Minister, who has sifted out the bulk of the barmy bits in the Budd report relating to the seaside industry. The industry breathed a huge sigh of relief when the White Paper was published, because it could see a future for itself once again. Its only remaining concerns—they may seem minor in the scheme of things, but it considers them immensely important—have already been touched on. According to the White Paper, category D machines are to be kept indefinitely at the 10p stake, £5 prize limit. Although my right hon. Friend has not said that he wants such machines to become uneconomic, wither away and die, that is what those involved in the Budd report have said in the press. Indeed, that was their intention in suggesting that the stake be frozen.
I do not accept that proposal in any way, and nor does the industry: it is not a valid objective. I do not want to be too harsh, but I find it slightly dishonest that that was not spelled out in the report. If the withering away of such machines is indeed the objective, the report should say as much. Those involved in the report should not present an idea, and explain the real motive behind it only afterwards in the press.
The machines are an important component of the seaside arcade. They are harmless fun, nothing more. We should allow the stake and prize—10p and £5—to be reviewed periodically. It may not have to be done that frequently. I should like it to be undertaken every three years, as currently happens. The gambling commission should do it when it reviews the other stakes. We should say explicitly that our motivation is not the disappearance of the machines, which are an important part of seaside businesses.
Let us consider cranes. A decent quality fluffy toy has to cost at least £5 or more. Simply getting a safety certificate for the toy costs money.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Does he agree that having a more expensive fluffy toy would be an incentive for people in the arcades to buy domestically manufactured items, which comply with British safety standards, not cheaper, imported toys that do not?
I agree. We must ensure that the prizes are of decent quality. Restricting the stake and the value of the prize means changing the machines so that people cannot win as often. That is the only way in which to make the machine pay. We would therefore be kidding our children; we would effectively be saying that we will pass a law that makes it more difficult for our kids to win a fluffy toy. That is not Labour policy, but the policy of other political parties. My right hon. Friend the Minister, who is loved by children everywhere for saving their seaside arcades, will be praised to the hilt if he ensures that such a law is not passed.
I represent a seaside constituency, and gambling is an important part of what we offer. Furthermore, the cranes in seaside arcades are made in my constituency, as are the pusher machines, in the tops of which people insert a coin so that a little paddle knocks some coins off the shelf. Excellent businesses in my constituency maintain and supply the machines. Apart from the casino and our seaside arcades, we have a range of betting shops and other gambling activities.
Gambling is an intrinsic part of the seaside offering to our visitors. Hundreds of my constituents rely on work associated with the machines for their livelihoods. We cannot simply tamper with them thoughtlessly. My right hon. Friend appreciates that, hence his dramatic changes to the Budd recommendations. If he takes note of my points about the prize machines and the proposed 10p stake, £5 prize category D machines, he will gain our thanks for taking that small extra step towards ensuring that the seaside in this country continues to be viable and a home for our children.
When I take my little girl, who is eight, on holiday, she loves running around seaside arcades with a handful of coins to play the pusher machines. I have said it before and I shall say it again: if she develops a gambling problem later in life, it will not be due to a couple of happy hours in Torquay or Ramsgate playing on the machines. Our legislation should reflect that reality.
I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend Miss Begg on pyramid selling schemes. We all receive letters about that, and she has led a campaign on it for some time, with some success. She appeared on television this morning to speak about it, and I could not agree more with her.
From listening to the other speeches, I realise that I arrived here uneducated in some of life's realities. My father never called himself Lucifer, I have not done anything ropy with a fluffy toy since I was very small, and I had never been in a betting shop. Shortly before I was elected, however, I was invited into Ladbrokes; I discovered just how important these establishments are and had to reappraise my view of the industry.
The Budd report's recommendations made me seek to learn a great deal more about the industry. Like all right hon. and hon. Members, I received an enormous number of letters from clubs, not all co-ordinated in the first instance, particularly about gaming machines in clubs. That made me find out more about the industry in general, the Government's modernisation of it and the role of the members' clubs that play such a vital role in our communities.
A modern regulatory framework for the gambling industry is essential. As the Budd report and the Minister have both said, gambling law is severely outdated. It was formed in a different age and desperately needs modernising to take new social mores and economic realities into account. Gambling is no longer a marginal moral activity, and we have to allow the gambling industry to compete properly and fairly in the global market. That means being able to respond to new developments such as the internet, new technology and new economic assumptions such as competition from overseas lotteries. At the same time, gambling must be conducted fairly and remain free of criminal influence, which has itself influenced legislation in this area until now.
The broad shape of the Budd recommendations was about right, with managed relaxation of outmoded restrictions leading to extension of choice for adult gamblers but balanced by the need to protect children and vulnerable adults. Crucially, however, the Government did not accept the Budd recommendation that members' clubs should lose their entitlement to what have been described as category B gaming machines. The report effectively said that they should have only category C machines, which would provide the clubs with less revenue. That recognises that well-run clubs should be able to continue to benefit from the revenue streams that category B machines can offer in return for the appropriate siting of machines, protection of children from machines within the premises and openness to the same kind of regulation that other premises with similar machines have.
The Government's decision was very welcome and came after much anguish had been expressed by members' clubs across the country. It was finely attuned to the principles of the Budd review and to the vital role that members' clubs play in all our constituencies. There are many such clubs in my constituency. In addition to many sports, bowling and golf clubs in Falkirk, West—although there are no cricket clubs—we have two Polish clubs, and many of my constituents are members of the Royal British Legion. My constituency has the unique honour of having three senior football clubs, which have varying results, in addition to two junior football clubs, which rely heavily on their associated social clubs to keep them afloat.
These clubs offer much appreciated social services to their respective communities. I belong to the Camelon Labour club.
Indeed, it is the finest Labour club in Falkirk and one of the best in Scotland, if not Britain.
The club has the benevolent effects of a well-run members' club, not only for its members but its community. The Camelon club serves as a fine example of the kind of institution that will benefit from the Government's decision on category B gaming machines. It was founded 40 years ago by a small group of far-sighted and community-spirited local people in an area where little social provision existed. Their achievement has endured to become one of the most valuable community-binding institutions in my constituency.
It is a matter of great pride to all members of the club that, because it is extremely well run and well patronised, it is able to contribute to many local charities and ventures that, in effect, define the community. The Camelon gala day is the village's largest community event every year; almost everybody attends it.
Recently, after a break-in at a local church, the club was able to help by providing alarms for all the churches and their community halls. Of course, it is sad that we have to put alarms in churches and halls, but they contain valuables and without the alarms the break-ins would have continued. The club's act was extremely helpful.
The club was able to use its operating surplus. I realise that not all members' clubs have a substantial surplus, but when they do I suspect that they often spend that money on good local charitable causes. It is especially gratifying to see benevolence with a community purpose in action in my constituency.
The Government's decision on category B gaming machines did not mean the difference between life and death for clubs which have a healthy surplus, such as the Camelon, although it helped the club to continue with its community work and charitable efforts. However, for some clubs, such as the two Polish clubs in my constituency, the machines provide crucial marginal revenue that keeps them afloat. Last year, the Ochiltree club had to close and had to cancel a Christmas lunch for pensioners. That was very sad, although another club took up the event, and the Ochiltree club will be greatly missed. As a result of the Government's decision, many such clubs will be able to remain open.
The debate is important because it flags up how we can modernise a major industry for the social and economic realities of the 21st century, while protecting some of the best traditions of the 20th. Community-minded members' clubs represent one of those traditions, and I speak for the clubs in my constituency when I say that the Government's approach to modernising the gambling industry, especially their decision to keep category B machines in clubs, has helped to secure the future of many clubs for some years to come.
Until recently, I always approached gambling from my position as a member of the Methodist Church with a healthy scepticism as to the merits of hard gambling in particular. That might make Mr. Goodman classify me as a roundhead, although I am sure that the whole House will agree that the description "repulsive" is entirely inappropriate.
The debate is topical. It takes place after the World cup, which was the biggest-ever betting event. Only yesterday, I was told that I could have turned about £10 into £330 if I had bet—with Ladbrokes—that Brazil would win the cup and that Ronaldo would be the top scorer. Patriotically, of course, I backed England and have learned my lesson. In future, I shall bet only on surefire certs, so I shall back Wales to win the Six Nations tournament.
About £200 million was spent on betting on the World cup, which shows how popular betting on football has become. It is a far cry from the 1960s when smoke-filled betting shops catered mainly for punters interested in horse racing. Nowadays, betting customers have much wider interests: from the performance of the Senegal football team to the traditional performance of Duty Whip's Fancy in the 3.30 at Doncaster. Internet and telephone betting probably accounted for about £100 million of the World cup betting.
We are witnessing a radical change in the way that customers gamble in our society, so it is right that the Government embark on modernising the gambling laws. That is right, too, because of the crucial importance of gambling to our economy: more than 125,000 jobs and more than £1 billion in taxation cannot be ignored.
As hon. Members have rightly highlighted, gambling is also a key contributor to community life. The 8,000-plus betting shops throughout the country help to generate the footfall to support other key shopping outlets in district centres. Fruit machines are crucial to the running and income of local clubs. The bingo club traditionally provided a source of entertainment, which my grandparents certainly continue to celebrate with enthusiasm. More recently, the queue in the local newsagent for the last-minute lottery ticket on Saturday night has become a regular feature of life.
I commend my hon. Friend Mr. Joyce for his excellent judgment in making one of his first priorities after his election a visit to Ladbrokes. Ladbroke Racing Ltd. has its headquarters in my constituency and employs some 1,000 staff nationally. It sits in Rayners Lane, a key district centre that could not support the various other outlets there without it.
I had always made it a rule never to predict the outcome of elections. That was until the last general election, when Ladbrokes persuaded me and my Conservative opponent to engage in a charity bet. I am delighted that, thanks to the good judgment of my constituents, some £400 went to the excellent Headstone Manor football club. The unkind had suggested that my opponent actually got the better deal. He—one Daniel Finkelstein—now writes for The Times, commenting on the performance of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition at Question Time. I must get in touch with him, because I do not think that he does justice to the performance of the Prime Minister.
There have already been several sensible reforms of the management of the gambling industry. I think, for example, of the replacement of betting duty with the gross profits tax. That has facilitated the return to the United Kingdom of all the major gambling companies' offshore internet and telephone gambling businesses. In my constituency, that has meant that Ladbroke's has been able to create an extra 125 jobs, opening up, for example, a new telephone betting service.
I hope that I can encourage hon. Members to take advantage of that service. They might want to join me in backing the excellent Harrow Borough football club to win the Rymans premier league next season. They might want to join intelligent football fans across the United Kingdom and back Arsenal to do the double again, or perhaps if they were very shrewd they might want to join me in backing Kate to win "Big Brother" this time round.
In general I welcome the Government's response to the Budd report. I consider that, as hon. Members have said, the law has become badly out of date, but adults are entitled to much greater choice and we need to recognise that gambling is part and parcel of modern recreation and leisure. The proposals in "A safe bet for success" put in place additional safeguards against problem gambling and, crucially, to keep the industry crime-free.
I welcome the Government's proposals, which other hon. Members have mentioned, to draw a clear distinction between gambling and the use of amusement machines. I welcome their rejection of the proposal to remove from members' clubs the right to operate jackpot machines—a measure that, as was rightly said, would have threatened the income of many clubs that are at the heart of local community life. I think of clubs in my constituency such as the excellent United Services club in Pinner, which organises the only Remembrance day service in Pinner and a variety of other social events. It would have been very hard hit if the Government had not shown their good judgment once again by not accepting that proposal from the Budd report.
The gambling review and "A safe bet for success" highlighted several issues on which additional clarity in my right hon. Friend's reply would be useful. The Budd report underlined important gambling problems and the dangers of under-age gambling. It is worth restating that report's conclusion—this is perhaps not rocket science, but it is nevertheless important—that increasing the availability of gambling will lead to an increase in the prevalence of problem gambling. I hope that that conclusion will turn out to be wrong.
We certainly appear to be in the fortunate position that the number of problem gamblers in the United Kingdom is much lower than in other countries, but it is estimated that there are 275,000 to 370,000 in this country, so there are no grounds for complacency, not least because of the terrible impacts on individuals and their families that problem gambling brings. Unhappiness, depression, divorce and attempted suicide are all significantly greater for problem gamblers than for those in wider society.
Of course we need to recognise that problem gambling has an economic impact. Further research is necessary into the cost to our nation of problem gambling. The Budd report stated that, in the United Kingdom, it costs some £100 million according to the lowest estimate. In the worst-case scenario, the cost might be some £13 billion. Retrospective studies have shown that adults who are problem gamblers are significantly more likely to have started gambling in their childhood or adolescence and to have a parent who was a problem gambler.
Worryingly, too, the Budd review noted that the proportion of problem gamblers among adolescents in Britain could be as much as more than three times that of adults, but perhaps the most worrying submission that the Budd report chose to highlight was that from Gamblers Anonymous, which said in its evidence to the review that it had noticed a rise in the number of adolescents being brought along to its meetings by parents because they had a serious gambling problem.
The Budd report also makes it clear that, despite the excellent work of Gamcare and Gamblers Anonymous and the responsible attitude of the vast bulk of the gambling industry, much more needs to be done to tackle problem gambling. It highlights the fact that there is little research into the nature of problem gambling, that there are too few initiatives to treat and support problem gamblers, that little is known about the relative effectiveness of possible treatments and that little funding is in place to tackle it.
The Government and the industry were right to support the recommendation to establish a charitable trust to promote research into problem gambling. The industry deserves some praise for already delivering £800,000 in annual funding to the trust, but it is worth noting that the Budd review recommended a £3 million annual budget for the first three years. The Government should certainly retain a reserve power to secure the funding of that trust, and I welcome the acceptance of that recommendation.
The Government, the charitable trust and the wider industry need to tell us soon what progress they are making on problem gambling. It would be useful to know whether further cross-departmental work on problem gambling will take place between, for example, officials in the Department of Health and those in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We need to hear that new services to support problem gamblers will be developed. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will give us some clues to how the Government will make progress on that issue.
A key role for the gambling commission will be to continue to promote the highest standards of social responsibility by the industry. I hope that the Government will consider requiring at least one board member of the gambling commission to have a particular responsibility for problem gambling, and that the commission might be required to publish annually what it is doing to address, and keep aware of, problem gambling. Mr. Greenway made the interesting suggestion of a shadow commission. I would support that being considered, and perhaps such a commission could examine early on the development of further work on problem gambling.
Were there any doubt about the need for social responsibility, not just from the majority of the industry but all of it, the BBC programme, "Kenyon Confronts", as I outlined in my intervention, offers confirmation of it. The programme focused on the establishment of betting exchanges, which, in effect, allow ordinary customers to act like bookmakers by taking bets on, for instance, horses, without a licence, from other ordinary customers. That is a recipe for all sorts of problems. For example, an innocent customer who uses the exchange does not even know whether they are betting with a race horse owner, who may already know that his horse cannot win a race or will have to be withdrawn. Every other form of organised gambling requires the bookmaker to be licensed, to prevent crime and corruption and to uphold the honesty and integrity of the British gambling industry. We need to consider urgently how we can close that loophole.
One of the other recommendations that concerns me is on the development of new casinos. In general, I support the deregulation of the law on casinos, the abolition of the 24-hour rule and the abolition of the ban on advertising, which, as my hon. Friend Dr. Ladyman indicated, is entirely sensible. We must consider very carefully, however, the proposal to build casinos of just 2,000 sq ft. I am concerned that that could lead to a proliferation of casinos on the high street if the local licensing authorities were so minded. We need to bear it in mind that, under some of the new proposed powers, casinos will be able to offer customers considerably greater gambling services than they have done previously. Such an offering, were it available on the high street, would radically alter the fabric of the high street as we know it, and would not help to tackle problem gambling. A figure of 2,000 sq ft is too small, and should be increased significantly. The idea of my hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) that there could be a particular designation in planning law for casinos may also help to tackle this problem. We need to recognise, however, that, in urban areas, 2,000 sq ft is far too small.
On balance, the Government's decision not to allow side-betting on the lottery was right. That needs to be kept under close review, however, as, in some countries that allow side-betting on their lotteries, it does not appear to have significantly affected lottery receipts. As my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth and the hon. Member for Ryedale flagged up, Camelot seems already to have moved down that route with its Hot Picks game. Interestingly, Camelot believes that such side-betting would not affect the lottery, but it has so far refused to publish its research.
The Government's acceptance of most of the recommendations in the Budd report is entirely sensible. My concern is about the detail of some of the recommendations, such as that for a limit of 2,000 sq ft, and I also have concerns about betting exchanges. I also hope that we shall hear more soon from the Government and the industry about how to deal with problem gambling.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Minister and to the House. Because of other commitments, I have to head back to my constituency, so I will not be able to hear all his remarks.
I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate. From my point of view and that of my officials, it has been extremely helpful. As I said earlier, we are in the process of consulting and the debate will help us to refine our proposals before we start to draft the legislation.
The Budd report and the Government's response to it have underlined the approach that will be taken, and we will consider the submissions to the consultation. In the 1960s, the industry was used by the criminal fraternity for all sorts of reasons, particularly the laundering of money. Restrictive legislation and heavy regulation were then imposed and out of that came a transparent industry that had a tremendous amount of credibility. We do not want to lose that credibility because, if we do, it will be a lose-lose situation. Given the modern setting of the 21st century and the public's perception of the changing culture of gambling, if we can legislate to maintain a transparent industry that has the integrity on which people can rely, we will have a win-win situation for the industry.
As I said, this is a big industry. More than 100,000 people are already employed in it, and it could be used to encourage tourism and to assist regeneration if we manage the changes effectively. Change has not taken place in that way in some countries. Australia deregulated and then found it very difficult to reimpose controls. Therefore, we are taking a cautious approach to managing the modernisation of the industry.
Some themes were common to many of the contributions to the debate. My officials will study Hansard and, if I miss any points, I hope that they will respond. We are more than willing to try to give answers.
Several hon. Members raised the idea of a shadow commission. The Gaming Board has put several suggestions to us about how we can create some form of shadow commission. I support the idea, because uncertainty in industry can be very costly. Commerce and finance may not invest in an industry until there is some certainty. If people believe that they are dealing with a shadow commission that will make decisions in the future, they are more likely to move the agenda on investment forward. The basic principle is that uncertainty is normally very costly so, if we can remove it, we should do so. The concept of a shadow commission is therefore right. However, we shall have to wait a little before we decide exactly how we will move forward. None the less, I certainly do not dismiss the idea. If anything, I support it.
The role of local authorities in regenerating communities and developing their economies has been mentioned. We believe that making licensing the responsibility of local authorities and thereby linking it to land use, transport planning and regeneration is right. Given that local authorities are not subject to the departmentalisation of 10, 15 or 20 years ago, I think that that move is absolutely correct. It has the bonus, too, of bringing licensing under some democratic control. It is important when making any change to take communities with us. If we do not do so, there might be a backlash and unfortunate things could happen. We therefore decided to link gambling licensing with land-use planning, which is already under local authority control, and liquor licensing, which is about to come under local authority control. We think that that is the way to move forward. To use the jargon, a little bit of joined-up government does no harm.
With regard to crane machines, the Government tried in their response to the Budd report to draw a clear distinction between amusement on one hand, and gambling and gaming on the other. We did so by setting the 10p and £5 levels under category D. Those maximums are not set in tablets of stone. We just wanted to reassure the House and all those who made representations that, should we want to change those levels, it must be done by decree of this House—not by a commission, a quango or anybody else.
The argument about licensed members' clubs and the £250 jackpot—Budd was concerned about this—was predicated on the fear of children playing the machines. If there is such a danger—I do not think that there is—we must ensure that steps are taken to distinguish between amusement and gaming and gambling.
We had to consider, bearing in mind crane machines, whether a 10p price and £5 or a fluffy toy as a prize should be considered gambling. Should that be in a separate category, as a number of hon. Members have argued? I have told the industry, in response to its representations on crane machines and the 30p and £8 limits, that we will reflect on the matter, but I want to make it clear to the House why we have come to our decision. We have taken on board what Budd said and borne in mind public concern about young children gaming. Amusement is one thing, gambling is another.
We rejected Budd's proposal on the amount of time after which the matter should be reviewed. The House will remember that the report suggested a review of the issue of slot machines, but that led to tremendous uncertainty in the industry. We have therefore given the reassurance that if the 10p and £5 limits change, it will be as a result only of a decision by this House, and it will be backed up by research.
A theme of many speeches has been whether we really know what effect such things have on children. The honest answer is no. We must therefore conduct research to find out exactly what effect, if any, gambling or playing the slots for £5 prizes might have on children. In summary, we want, first, to engender certainty; secondly, to reassure the public; and thirdly, to research cause and effect.
I am still not quite sure from the Minister's explanation whether he thinks that crane machines constitute amusement or gambling, and whether he believes that children will be lured into gambling more merely by the prospect of winning a fluffy dog worth £8 rather than £5. I still do not understand the logic behind the reduction.
The hon. Gentleman misses the point. Our position on amusement is clear: it falls within the financial limit of 10p and £5. If we allow the 30p and £8 prize to be introduced, those who want the machines to be removed will argue that we have created two categories for amusement of 10p and £5 and 30p and £8. We have rejected the 30p and £8 prize. We need that proposal to be researched because people are concerned about children gambling. The hon. Gentleman might not accept that argument, but as a Minister I have to reflect on the 5,000 contributions to the Budd inquiry and the consultation. We do not dismiss those lightly. We have gone a long way to meet the industry's concerns, especially those voiced by the resorts, by rejecting the Budd report recommendation. However, we will manage change so that we reassure the general public and do not unduly alarm the industry.
I am grateful for the Minister's comments on crane machines. I would not have expected anything more at this stage. However, it would be easy to create a different category for them, because people play them to win a prize. As they do not win cash, a distinction can be drawn.
On the 10p and £5 category, I understand why the House needs to consider that, but will my right hon. Friend reflect on the possibility of instructing the new gambling commission to consider the level, say, every three years, and make a recommendation to Ministers so that the industry knows that it is under review?
My hon. Friend misses the more important point. We want to know whether there is a cause and effect aspect to gambling, but we do not want to put the cart before the horse. I want to put in train research so that we can prove or disprove that. It is important to do that so that we reassure those members of the general public who are worried about the link between the machines and problem gambling. We want sound findings on that, which can be achieved only through sound research. We have distinguished between amusement and gambling: amusement is for children; gambling is for adults. It will be for the House to decide whether we move away from that principle.
My hon. Friend Mr. Howarth and others were worried about protecting the lottery. We have taken the political decision to protect it and have given our reasons for that. I accept that if we protect the lottery, which is a monopoly, it has to take its responsibilities seriously. We have a choice: if we release the lottery on to the marketplace, do we let the marketplace participate in the lottery? Camelot wrote to us outlining the damage that that would do.
We want to be fair. If we protect the lottery, which some would call an institution, it must take its responsibilities seriously because it is in a privileged position. It is a monopoly within the sea of competition, and we need clear dividing lines. I heard what hon. Members said about the new product that it is bringing on to the marketplace and realise that they are concerned that that could overstep the mark. The advice that I have received is that that will not happen, but I take the general principle that the lottery must respect the fact that it is in a privileged position and not move into other areas.
I hope that the trust will carry out the necessary research. The industry knows what Budd said and the £3 million that we want to raise. The trust marks an important commitment by the industry to take its responsibilities seriously. If the money is not raised over a period of time, we have reserved powers to introduce legislation to ensure that it is. We will work out a formula to determine how that can be fairly raised across the industry.
We are in contact with the Department of Health regarding the development and composition of the trust. It must be independent, and we are striving to achieve that, and it must take account of the various constituencies that will be affected by gambling deregulation. We are giving that matter comprehensive consideration, and I hope that we will be able to make further announcements in the near future.
I take on board the remarks of my hon. Friend Miss Begg about the need for legislation. The present consultation process does not debar consideration of the type of product to which she referred, and I shall closely examine any submissions made on the subject. There is a general feeling in the House that such schemes are neither investment nor gambling; they are a complete rip-off and a sham, and therefore unacceptable. My hon. Friend graphically described the way in which the matter has been knocking about between two Departments, and that is also unacceptable. I assure her that we will consider the issue very carefully.
During the break from the debate between 11 and 11.45 am, when a statement was made to the House, I asked my officials to give me a definition of "gambling". They said that they are still trying to arrive at a definition. If my hon. Friend's question is to be answered and if we are to legislate effectively, we need clear definitions of the terms involved, so I assure her that we will consider the matter. I hope that she will respond to the consultation document.
I am very pleased with what the Minister has said, particularly his assurance that one Department will take responsibility for the issue that I raised. I hope that we will be able to come up with a definition, although it will be difficult, so that we can legislate not only on schemes such as Women Empowering Women but on the whole range of such scams, which are outrageous and must be outlawed. I thank my right hon. Friend very much for his response.
I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks.
We believe that we have conceded every point, including the one about doubling the roll-over, made by society lotteries in their submission to the Select Committee. We believe that our actions will not damage the national lottery. If lotteries are to serve their useful purpose for good causes, we must strike a balance. There is no doubt that society lotteries do an tremendous amount of good, and that is why we regulated to allow them to move in the direction that they wanted.
I turn now to the development of resort casinos and to whether there needs to be apportionment in that process. My Department has received, and continues to receive, many representations about the matter. Local authorities now have many planning powers, and the gambling commission will also have such powers, so it will be possible to make sure that such development takes place.
The problem is that we are not beginning with a clean sheet. There are already 120 casinos operating in this country, so it will be extremely difficult to apportion development opportunities. The Department has received several representations on the subject, and I am prepared to revisit it. However, we will take a lot of convincing to move away from the position set out in the White Paper and the consultation document. We have gone a long way towards assisting development, which is very important to Blackpool and other areas, and we are introducing other measures, such as hypothecation in the business improvement tax, which is the responsibility of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
There is also the question of land use planning. If we bring all the factors together, we can involve the private sector and, at the end of the day, there will be a judgment as to whether the private sector wants to get involved. Putting in pilot schemes and giving special favours to certain areas is a dangerous course to follow. We have not closed the door on that issue and we are prepared to listen, but we would want some persuading before we moved away from the position in the White Paper.
I well understand the concerns that my right hon. Friend the Minister expressed on pilots, but will he reflect on the fact that an advantage of the pilot is not necessarily that it confers a commercial advantage on one particular resort casino, but that it enables various issues and concerns to be trialled and met before the scheme is rolled out generally?
I understand that argument, but there is also the question of special pleading. One must be careful in achieving a balance and in making changes in legislation. There is special pleading from the casinos and from others who want to protect their current position. If we look at previous legislation, we find that it was restrictive and gave some people comfortable and privileged positions for a good number of years. People tend to defend privileged positions very strongly and there are vested interests to take into account.
It would be difficult to justify pilot schemes, even by the criteria that my hon. Friend has put forward eloquently. I am bound to say that, to some extent, that falls into the category of special pleading. Nevertheless, we will revisit this matter and we are open to discussion. However, we would want some convincing before moving from the position as set out in the White Paper.
My officials will look at Hansard and if there are points that I have not dealt with, I will come back to them. If we have not done so in the next two or three weeks, hon. Members should contact my Department for full answers to their questions.