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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House who have brought the legislation to this stage, and in doing so I should like to recognise that this is an issue that for many presents fundamental difficulties and conflicts of moral principle, but I am grateful to the House for the spirit of tolerance in which all stages of the Bill so far have been conducted.
It is important to recall the principles that underpin the legislation—that children and vulnerable adults should be protected, and that gambling in Britain should be kept crime-free, and conducted according to the principles of fair play. Everything in the Bill will be judged against those principles. If we secure the legislation, we shall have the toughest, most comprehensive regulatory framework in the world to protect the public interest and to prevent the exploitation of children.
This is legislation that has been shaped over the past five years. A major contribution has been made by the Joint Committee, to whose members I pay tribute, particularly to Mr. Greenway. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that the Government have listened to the concerns raised, as we undertook to do on Second Reading.
It is a curious thing in modern British politics that in one breath Ministers are accused of being arrogant, out of touch and refusing to listen, and in the next breath, when they have listened and responded positively, they are accused by the same people of a humiliating climbdown or a screeching U-turn. Ministers are damned if they do listen and damned if they do not, so they may as well listen—otherwise, what is the point of Parliament? We have listened to the concerns raised about the Bill, and it is a better Bill as a result, in relation to casinos, bingo, charity lotteries and the important issues raised by colleagues in connection with seaside arcades.
I rise briefly to express the sincere thanks of the parliamentary group for non-profit-making members clubs to the Minister, and to Mr. Illsley, for accepting in Committee the amendment increasing the clubs' weekly bingo jackpot from £1,000 to £2,000. That will be welcomed by the whole clubs movement. May I say that I never cease to be amazed at the fairness and reasonableness of this Government and this Secretary of State?
I thank my hon. Friend; I am tempted to stop now, while I am on top.
I believe that we now have a Bill that will give greater protection to the public, a vital role for local authorities, a fair deal for the industry and the prospect of more and better jobs for industry employees. Indeed, right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches will know about the strong support given to the Bill by the GMB and the Transport and General Workers Union, and also by the Labour group of the Local Government Association, all of which I warmly welcome.
In conclusion, the Bill is essential because without such legislation, gambling technology is leaving the law in its wake. If we do not modernise, people will not be protected. Without the Bill, there would be no gambling commission with the objective of social responsibility in gambling at its heart, internet gaming would continue to go unregulated, and there would be no powers to deal with roulette machines in bookmakers' shops, or the chain gifting schemes about which I know hon. Members will have received representation from constituents, and which continue to exploit women.
For all those reasons and many others, I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it be read the Third time.
We have always made it clear right from the start that there is much in the Bill that we agree with. It contains a number of important measures that will help to introduce controls over remote gambling, for instance, and give new powers to the gambling commission. Since Second Reading there has, however, been the most extraordinary saga.
The Government rightly began their preparation of the Bill by consulting widely and then subjecting the draft Bill to scrutiny. I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Greenway and his Committee for their work. There is no doubt that the scrutiny Committee improved the Bill. Indeed, the Government's troubles started when they departed from its recommendations on regional casinos. Having done that, they appeared surprised at the chorus of opposition that they encountered. That led to not just one but two U-turns, reverses or whatever the Secretary of State chooses to call them, during the Committee stage.
The Government certainly appeared for a long time to be in a state of blind panic. What they have done has completely changed the whole thrust of the Bill, and at the very last stage of its passage. They have done so without any consultation with the industry and without any proper scrutiny. In some areas, they have turned a Bill that began life as a liberalising measure into one that will put in place a more restrictive regime than exists at present. By doing so, they have ended up satisfying almost no one. The overseas investors who were led to believe that there would be an opportunity for them in this country now feel betrayed because they will be restricted to a small number of locations. The domestic industry saw £0.5 billion wiped off its share values as a result of the Minister's statement in the Committee. The local authorities, many of which looked on the Bill as offering potential regeneration benefits, also feel let down. Those who are concerned about the dangers of gambling addiction still feel that the Bill may allow too many regional casinos and too many category A machines.
The Government should listen. As there was so much criticism from both sides of the House—indeed, more criticism probably came from the Labour side—about the unlimited number of casinos, what is wrong with the Government responding to the views of Members of the House of Commons? They have taken the right turn, and I therefore support the Bill.
In some areas, we welcome the fact that the Government have listened—indeed, we would have preferred them to listen rather earlier. As I said earlier, many of the problems would have been avoided if the Government had listened to the Joint Committee's original recommendations. Obviously, we welcome the fact that on some matters, the Government have moved in the direction in which we have urged them.
The Government have now agreed to introduce a pilot scheme for regional casinos, but the proposed number of casinos is still too large. We also regret the fact that they are unwilling to introduce or maintain an identity requirement for those using casinos.
On seaside arcades—a matter of great concern to many hon. Members—I welcome the commitment from the Minister for Sport and Tourism this evening to conduct a review. However, we would have liked him to make it clear at this stage that the Government will remove the clause giving the Secretary of State reserve powers to ban children from using those machines. Because of the movement by the Government, and because we support the measures to give powers to the gambling commission and to tackle remote gambling, we do not intend to vote against Third Reading.
Despite the enormous amount of preparation time, the Bill has not received proper scrutiny. It was changed dramatically on the last day in Committee, when we did not have a proper opportunity to examine those changes. Even tonight, there were five whole groups of amendments that the programme motion did not allow to be debated. I hope that those in another place will now subject the Bill to the scrutiny that it still badly needs. I accept the Secretary of State's point that the Bill is better than when it started, but it is still flawed, and the fact that we do not propose to divide the House tonight does not mean that we do not believe that the Bill is capable of significant improvement in another place.
My remarks this evening are tinged with sadness. Although I recognise that the Government have moved significantly on a number of important issues, as Mr. Greenway said in support of the number of experiments, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is difficult to put back.
The concept of responsible gambling is a contradiction in terms. All Governments have a pathetic history of dealing with addiction problems—for example, alcohol. We are not coping with the problems. I tabled amendments, which we unfortunately failed to reach, to introduce specific references to finance and expertise, both to try to prevent gambling problems from developing and to treat people with gambling problems.
When my hon. Friend Alan Simpson spoke to amendment No. 1, which unfortunately, we did not have an opportunity to vote on, he mentioned that there are three times as many problem gamblers in households earning less than £15,600 a year as in households earning more than £32,000 a year. A wide body of opinion suggests that the Bill will at least double the number of problem gamblers to about 750,000; some estimates are even higher. For each problem gambler, the lives of half a dozen people in their immediate vicinity are seriously damaged, so the Bill will affect millions of people. As the Opposition do not intend to vote against it, it will go to the other place, where I sincerely hope that it will be substantially amended.
I remain unable to support the Bill. In many ways, it does a lot to control gambling, but it throws open the barn doors for casinos, and I find that totally unacceptable.
The Secretary of State began by saying that the Bill had been a long time coming, and she was right. I, too, pay tribute to the many people who have been involved in the deliberations that have gone on during those years. In particular, I praise Mr. Greenway and members of his Committee for their work. It is interesting to note that we have needed all that time just to work out the precise number of casinos in this country—only tonight did we finally get the definitive answer of 136.
As the Secretary of State observed, many parts of the Bill have a great deal of support on both sides of the House, and outside the House—for example, the provisions concerning internet gambling, tougher social responsibility requirements, and a tougher regulator in the shape of the gambling commission, which will replace the Gaming Board—but many people have deep concerns about other aspects. That is particularly true in relation to casinos. The Secretary of State said that the Government should listen. Of course they should, but the real question is this: to whom were they listening when they first came up with those proposals? I know of very few people who have expressed any real desire for the massive increase in gambling opportunities proposed by the Bill in its initial form.
I am delighted that the Government have belatedly listened and made a welcome U-turn. It is right to have a pilot period, and a cap on the number of casinos during that time. However, much remains to be done in another place. Mr. Griffiths raised several issues, not least trying to ensure that casinos do not open on Christmas day. Because of the shortage of time, or the Government's unwillingness, we have been unable even to determine the value of a teddy bear in a family entertainment arcade.
Although a great deal of work remains to be done, I have no doubt that the Bill is far better than it was on Second Reading. I pay tribute to all those who have worked to make it a better Bill during its passage in Committee and tonight.
The House has had an opportunity for full discussion. Clearly, there are issues to be raised in another place, but I echo the sentiments of several hon. Members of all parties who have said that scrutiny has made the Bill a better measure. The people of this country need the protection that the Bill offers, and I commend it to the House.