Deferred Divisions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:19 pm on 28th March 2007.

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Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Shadow Minister (Culture and Tourism) 6:19 pm, 28th March 2007

This has been at times a passionate debate, with heartfelt contributions from both sides of the House. I am sure that over the past few weeks many hon. Members—like me—will have been bombarded by letters, reports and e-mails from Manchester, Blackpool and a whole host of organisations that are lobbying for and against different locations. However, the debate tonight is not about one location or the other; it is about getting the right decision. It is about Parliament getting the right decision and having the opportunity for full and proper scrutiny of the casino advisory panel's recommendations.

There is one sentence in the Lords Committee report that resonates not only around the House, but among the many organisations that have concerns about gambling. The report states:

"Adding maximisation of profit into the consideration...seemed to have a greater weight on the Panel's recommendations than minimisation of harm."

The Government cannot feel comfortable reading those words when reducing harm and protecting the vulnerable were a crucial element of the Gambling Act 2005 and central to their aims.

We heard a number of contributions. In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend Mr. Swire raised the interpretation of the casino advisory panel remit, the concerns of the Church, the uncertainty of the outcome of the regional casino in terms of regeneration and social impact, the casino advisory panel methodology and the changing and shifting of the criteria as the process went on.

Mr. Foster raised issues about the Secretary of State's last minute offers to her Back Benchers. Those offers do nothing to address the issues relating to the scrutiny of the order. He also spelled out the fact that, despite the Government's intentions to try to do something about the huge concerns over remote and internet gambling—I have heard Ministers address this matter before—clearly we still have no progress on that. Indeed, it is going to be difficult for any Government to do anything about remote or internet gambling.

We heard from my hon. Friend Mr. Whittingdale, who has spent a considerable amount of time on the issue. He pointed out that the Government's problems began some years ago. There is a sense that, because the issue has gone on for years, the Government simply want the decision over and done with, thus denying Parliament the opportunity for proper scrutiny.

Jeff Ennis spoke highly of the pre-legislative scrutiny process but said, with some sorrow, that he could not support his Government tonight. He was joined by Mr. Wright and my hon. Friend Mr. Greenway, who added their considerable insight to the debate. My hon. Friend pointed out the important difference between a destination casino and a casino that relies on ambient gambling, and the important difference in the impact that they have on local people and on the harm that gambling can do. My hon. Friend Mr. Evans pointed out early on that the Secretary of State had a choice tonight: she could have split the order.

The hon. Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) delivered particularly passionate speeches, endorsing the message that we have heard from both sides of the House, which is "stop and look again". The comments made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood were particularly fair and measured, bearing in mind her interest in a casino for Blackpool. She asked only for proper scrutiny, as she went to some lengths to explain. I am not quite sure what the Government Whips were promising her during the debate, but good for her for sticking to her guns, not just for her local constituents, but for Parliament. In contrast, Tony Lloyd persisted in telling us about Manchester's needs. The debate this afternoon is not about the needs of the people of Manchester; it is about—I say it again—proper parliamentary scrutiny.

My right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith rightly pointed out that there is some uncertainty —[ Interruption. ]