With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on casino policy.
Today I am laying a draft order identifying 16 local authorities that will be authorised to license the eight large and eight small casinos permitted by the Gambling Act 2005. I do not intend to authorise a regional casino.
My right hon. Friend Tessa Jowell established the casino advisory panel to advise on the location of the 17 new casinos permitted by the Act. The panel considered applications from 68 local authorities and made its recommendations after detailed consideration.
Before I make further progress, the House will want to know that, since we last discussed those matters, the chair of the independent panel, Professor Stephen Crow, has passed away. I hope that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to his family and paying tribute to the integrity and dedication that he brought to his role.
Last March, an order incorporating the panel's recommendations was defeated in another place. Since then, the Government have reflected on the range of views expressed in both Houses and beyond. There was a consensus that the eight large and eight small casino licences should be awarded to the 16 licensing authorities identified by the casino advisory panel. That view was expressed by Opposition Front Benchers and their lordships in their message to this House, calling for the 16 to be incorporated in a fresh order.
Following last year's local elections, my right hon. Friend James Purnell invited all 16 councils to state whether it remained their wish to license a new casino. All 16 have requested inclusion in the new order.
However, there was and is no consensus on a regional casino. There are important differences between the regional casino on the one hand and the large and small casinos on the other. The regional casino would have been allowed up to 1,250 unlimited stake and prize gaming machines—something not previously seen in the United Kingdom. The large and small casinos would be allowed to offer 150 and 80 category B1 gaming machines respectively, with a maximum £2 stake and £4,000 prize. B1 machines are already in use in Britain today.
There are two principal and independent reasons for my decision not to proceed with a regional casino. First, concerns were expressed in both Houses about the potential negative impact of a regional casino operating on the proposed scale. I have not seen anything to suggest that the will of Parliament has changed. Secondly, I have considered the evidence, both old and new, on the impact of regional casinos. This evidence, including the scoping study by Lancaster university, which I am laying in the House today, points towards the uncertainty of the risks involved and does not dispel those anxieties.
The Gambling Commission's prevalence study, published in September, highlights the fact that problem gambling, although small, remains persistent. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has concluded that regional casinos are likely to have no, or only marginal net benefits compared with other means of economic and social regeneration. In the light of that and the evidence about the uncertain levels of risk, I do not intend to authorise a regional casino.
I know that my decision will disappoint many in Manchester, particularly east Manchester, one of the most deprived areas of the country. Taking forward the conclusions of the report published today, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will lead an ad hoc ministerial group to work with Manchester council and its partners to identify and bring forward a range of regeneration alternatives. The group will produce its first report by the end of March. Considerable support has been expressed in both Houses for the regeneration of Blackpool. My right hon. Friend has today announced a package of investment for the town worth close to £300 million.
I seek the consent of the House to authorise eight small and eight large casinos, because I am satisfied that they do not pose the same level of risk— [ Interruption. ]
Order. The House should please allow the Secretary of State to speak.
I am satisfied that they do not pose the same level of risk to the public as a regional casino. That said, my instinct is to proceed with caution at all times considering measures to protect young and vulnerable people. Therefore, any new casinos authorised by the order will be required to abide by strict new rules, including in respect of: providing non-gambling areas where customers can take a break from gambling; prohibiting the provision of free drinks to customers while they are gambling; prohibiting the use of credit cards to purchase chips or play gaming machines; ensuring that any cash machines are located away from gaming areas; and requiring casinos to have policies to identify problem gamblers and provide information about support for addiction. Operators who break those rules risk losing their licence, fines and up to 51 weeks' imprisonment.
Taken together, those measures make up the toughest regulatory regime for gambling in the world, but today I am signalling my intention to go further still. Regulators, legislators, operators and owners all have a duty to act in a socially responsible manner, accepting that for some gambling is an addiction, not a leisure pursuit. I was surprised to find that only 360 of the 3,800 licensed operators have so far made contributions to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust this year, which offers advice and treatment to people with gambling addictions and is chaired so ably by Mr. Greenway. That is not acceptable. Promises were made, and I expect them to be kept.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has called for the introduction of a statutory levy. Unless the industry delivers a substantial increase in contributions by the end of this year and makes contributions in a timely fashion, I will seek the approval of the House for a statutory levy, at a rate to be determined. Secondly, I believe that it is a good principle that all casinos are subject to a period of closure every day, when individuals are required to leave the premises. Currently, casinos are prevented from offering gambling over 24 hours, unless they apply to local authorities for an extension. However, I wish to rule out the possibility that some may remain open round the clock, by requiring them to close their doors for at least six hours.
In conclusion, the order we are laying today is an enabling order, giving 16 local authorities the ability to proceed with plans for small and large casinos. Whether to do so is entirely a matter for local decision, and I hope that local people will be consulted and involved at all stages.
Small and large casinos will bring local economic benefits and provide enabling development with the potential to create new community facilities. But, as the Lancaster study concludes, there are costs and benefits of casino development that need to be weighed in the balance. That is why I shall at all times proceed with caution, and continue to keep gambling policy under review according to my responsibilities under the Act, to take advice from the Gambling Commission, and to be guided by the evidence. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance notice of his statement. I appreciate that he is new to his brief, and that not all the issues surrounding the statement are of his own making. I welcome certain elements of the statement, particularly the commitment to increased resources going to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, which is run with great tenacity by my hon. Friend Mr. Greenway. We also add our condolences to the family of Professor Stephen Crow.
The Secretary of State mentioned his concerns about problem gambling. The Government's own problem gambling prevalence study, published in September, identified internet gambling as one of the fastest growing areas of problem gambling, yet he did not mention it. Is he aware that nearly one in 10 adults who gamble online have an addiction? Do the Government have a policy to prevent online gambling addiction? If so, why did the Prime Minister, in his last Budget as Chancellor, introduce a new 15 per cent. tax for online gambling operators? This has resulted in not a single one re-registering in the UK, where children and other vulnerable groups are protected by much safer and stronger regulations. Does the Secretary of State now think that it was wrong to liberalise gambling advertising in September, in a way that has made it easier for overseas gambling operators, who are not subject to those regulations, to promote their online products in the UK? In the absence of a coherent approach to problem gambling, is there not a danger that the Government's efforts to appear tough on the issue will be perceived more as PR than reality?
The Government's policy on casinos appears even more confused. First, there was to be no limit on the number of super-casinos, then the limit was 96. Then it was 40, then eight, and then one. Today it is none. There is to be no super-casino, but 16 larger casinos instead. That is not so much a U-turn as an S-bend. The House will remember that this policy started way back in 2005, the year that saw the then Deputy Prime Minister gallivanting in a cowboy outfit around the ranch of Philip Anschutz, who was then hoping for a super-casino licence.
Given the time and money that have been wasted since then, will the Secretary of State at the very least apologise to the people of Manchester and Blackpool? Will he contest the legal action that councils there and in other parts of the country might bring to retrieve the costs of their super-casino bids, which were made in good faith but have now turned out to be a total waste of money?
The Prime Minister said that he was going to end sofa government. Will the Secretary of State therefore explain why the super-casino decision was taken last July without consulting the Cabinet? He has spoken of new rules for the new casinos. Will he acknowledge, however, that none of the rules in his statement is new, and that they are all covered by existing Gambling Commission licensing conditions?
Finally, will the Secretary of State show me one paragraph in the Department for Communities and Local Government report on alternative regeneration strategies that is not already known to Manchester, Blackpool or any other council trying to regenerate? Is there not a risk that this report will be seen as yet another piece of hurried window-dressing for a decision that has already been made from on high?
Our position on the 16 larger casinos remains unchanged. It looks as though the Government might finally have fumbled and stumbled their way to more or less the right solution, but, until they have a coherent anti-problem-gambling strategy, are we not being faced with the worst possible option for the industry, for the public, and for gambling addicts—namely, a jumble of half-baked policies, zigzags and U-turns?
It took time, but we got there in the end, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's indication of support for the order. I am also grateful for his words of support about the Responsibility in Gambling Trust and I would like to reiterate what I said in my statement—that our intention to introduce a statutory levy is very real, unless we see a significant improvement and unless payments are made in a more timely fashion. I understand that the trust needs to plan and make preparations for the year ahead. I emphasise again the importance of proceeding in a timely manner, and I hope that that will be heard beyond the House.
The hon. Gentleman is also right to raise issues around online gambling. There is, of course, a connection between today's statement and the growing popularity of online gambling, but my statement was specifically about casino policy, which is why I did not deal with online gambling directly in it. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's concern, however, which is why we have asked the Gambling Commission to conduct further research of the data in order to find out more about the risks and causes of problem gambling on the internet. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the prevalence study, which found that the less than 1 per cent. level of problem gambling has remained unchanged. There can be no possibility of complacency on that matter, but the overall rate remains unchanged, although there has been an increase in online and other forms of gambling. As I say, we are not complacent and we keep these matters under review.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned super-casinos and referred to the 16 large casinos, so let me explain again that today's order authorises eight large and eight small casinos, which are very different in character. They will include only machines that are currently available in casinos that are operational today. That is why I am satisfied that it is appropriate to authorise and move forward with these 16 identified casinos.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Government would apologise to Manchester and Blackpool, but if I understood it correctly, it was his policy to stand up against the potential for a casino in those locations, so he should make that point clear. We have put together a package of support for Blackpool, which I believe will be widely welcomed across the House and in the other place. It is worth close to £300 million and will take Blackpool further forward. We will also look closely into issues surrounding the regeneration of east Manchester, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has made some announcements today that will begin that process. There is a serious intention to look into alternatives to casino-led regeneration.
On the hon. Gentleman's last point about why there was no further action since last July, I remind him that all this did not begin last July, but in the House of Lords in March. It would have been arrogant of the Government not to have reflected on the views expressed in the other place and in this House, as we wanted carefully to consider how to take forward a casino policy that has a degree of consensus in Parliament. Following the local elections, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions wrote to local authorities—rightly, in my view, as the change of political complexion could have led to the emergence of different views on casino policy. Towards the end of last year, some local authorities asked for more time to make their judgments about whether to proceed with casinos, but by the end of the year they had all come back to us, indicating a wish to proceed. I then considered the evidence and consulted Cabinet colleagues in the devolved Administrations, which brings us to today's process. I believe that we were right to listen to concerns and in the end, as the hon. Gentleman himself concluded, the order before us is the right order.
May I tell my right hon. Friend that people in Manchester will not think it "arrogant" of the Government but bonkers of them to accept the will of the non-elected House of Lords, particularly at the expense of 3,000 jobs for people in my constituency and surrounding areas? This must be very disappointing for my constituents, so may I ask the Secretary of State very specifically for an absolute guarantee that the Government will now commit themselves to finding the regeneration structures that will ensure that the still high levels of poverty in the city of Manchester are dealt with? I look to my right hon. Friend to give that commitment from the Dispatch Box today.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I can assure him on his main point that the Government have the serious intent and commitment to work quickly to establish the alternatives for regeneration. Proposals are already on the table, some put forward by Manchester city council, and if we all work quickly to evaluate them, we should be able to produce a first report by the end of March, as I said.
As for my hon. Friend's description of the decision as "bonkers", it should be stressed that the regional casino was a very different entity from the large and small casinos, not just in terms of the number of machines but, principally, because it would have introduced something entirely new to the country. The views expressed in the House of Lords were clear, but in this House, too, there was concern and uncertainty about whether that was the right way to proceed. Having reflected on all those factors, I decided that it was not the right way to proceed, but I was able to conclude that the eight large and eight small casinos are acceptable.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, however. We will work quickly to identify alternative regeneration possibilities, and I hope he will feel encouraged by that.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for giving notice of his statement. I join him in his condolences to the family of Professor Stephen Crow.
As the Secretary of State said, it was back in March last year that Liberal Democrats in both Houses proposed a mechanism by which to proceed with the eight large and eight small casinos. Despite the answer that he gave earlier, I fail to understand why there have been 11 months of needless delay.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is important for local people to be consulted on more than just planning for specific casino proposals? Will he explain how that will happen? I welcome today's publication of the two reports, but the scoping study was due to be completed in November 2006. Why has there been a 16-month delay?
As we have heard, the Government initially wanted, and voted for, an unlimited number of super-casinos. Then they wanted eight, then one, and now they have dropped the idea altogether. Has not their flip-flopping led councils on an expensive wild goose chase? We understand that £1 million of taxpayers' money has been wasted.
I too welcome the extra help for Blackpool and Manchester, but given that the Secretary of State did not answer the question asked by Mr. Hunt, how does he respond to Manchester's claim that much of the rumoured help is already in the pipeline? Does he accept that while we debate the introduction of 16 casinos, far more are creeping into the country through the back door? In 2005 Mr. Caborn, then Minister with responsibility for gambling, said,
"we can say with certainty that there will be no more than 150 casinos."—[ Official Report, Standing Committee B,
We know that there are already 144 casinos, and if we add 16, the total reaches 160. However, will the Secretary of State confirm that according to the Government's latest figures, up to 125 applications under the Gaming Act 1968 are still in the pipeline? That brings the total to not 150, but 285. So was not the former Minister wrong? What is the Secretary of State's estimate of the likely number of casinos?
I congratulate the Secretary of State on being consistent in one respect. He is the third successive Secretary of State since 2003 to threaten a compulsory levy if the gambling industry, most notably the internet gambling industry, does not contribute more to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. He wants a substantial increase, but without a clear target and deadline, does he not risk sounding like the boy who cried wolf?
The Government may have arrived at the right solution in the end, but the process of reaching it has been a sorry saga of dithering, wasted opportunities and considerable cost.
Although I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, I could not work out whether he supported the order; but let me take him on directly in regard to his accusation about dithering. He spoke of 11 months of delay. Surely it would have been wrong not to reflect on the deep concerns expressed on both sides of both Houses, and wrong not to take soundings from the local authorities involved. We allowed time for local consideration of the issues, and I feel comfortable that that was the right way to proceed.
I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman about the consultation of local people. This is essentially an enabling order. It is right for the decision to be made at local level, and I expect local authorities not just to use the powers and observe the requirements to consult provided by the Gambling Act 2005 but, as good practice, to consult local people and communities at every stage of the process, particularly when the detail of the proposal is clear. It is very important that there is an expectation of consultation all the way through.
On the number of casinos under the 1968 Act, the hon. Gentleman put out figures last week claiming that potentially 300 casinos were in the offing. They are not our figures; I do not recognise them at all. There could not under any scenario be anything close to 300. He is right that 144 are in operation. The order would allow for 16 more. Others have been turned down and are awaiting appeal, and others are being processed by the Gambling Commission, but the numbers come nowhere near the figures that he published last week.
May I say a word about the legislation that we have introduced? Under the old 1968 Act system, the House had no control over the proliferation of new casinos. Applications could be authorised through a local process. However, under the Gambling Act 2005, which we passed in this Parliament, the will of Parliament has to be heard before any new casinos can be created, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, we suspended further applications under the 1968 Act some time ago.
I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's comments. I think we responded rightly to the concerns raised, and I hope that he and his colleagues will support the order when it comes before the House.
My right hon. Friend referred to the ad hoc ministerial group that is to be set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to work with Manchester city council on regeneration alternatives. In her letter to the leader of the council today, she talks about
"replicating the kind of job creation numbers that the casino could have delivered."
While my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd of course has a primary interest in the location of the casino, because the jobs would have been spread widely all Manchester Members of Parliament have an interest in job creation and regeneration, and I should be grateful for an assurance that the Gorton constituency will be well included in such plans.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I am sure that he will join me in celebrating the success of the Manchester economy in recent times, and that he would want to pay tribute to the city council for the remarkable job it has done in bringing Manchester around from its position in the 1980s and early 1990s. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government leads on regeneration matters, and I know that she was listening carefully to his comments.
Of course, in east Manchester we are building on the legacy of a successful Commonwealth games. My Department has a role to play in ensuring that we build on that sporting legacy and further enhance the sporting potential of that region, and use it as a catalyst for regeneration. As we have seen, sport can be a catalyst for regeneration. I give my right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman an assurance—as I did a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central—that we will work with good intent to develop a strong package that will respond to the needs that Manchester city council has put to us.
Is the Secretary of State aware that most people will regard his statement this afternoon as the final chapter in a saga of total shambles and incompetence? Does he understand the resentment that is bound to be felt in authorities such as Blackpool that chose to put in an application only for a regional casino licence? It is one thing to lose in fair competition, but the competition has now been scrapped entirely. Should such councils not at least have another opportunity to apply for a licence for a large or small casino?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, as I know that he has taken a close interest in these matters over a long period. I think, however, that it is also true that he supported the recent gambling legislation when it passed through this House, so although he talks about a long saga it appears that he has supported the Government position fairly consistently throughout the process.
On the Blackpool and Manchester question, it is important to say that when local authorities put forward applications it was entirely their own decision whether to apply to the independent advisory panel for one of the licences. Although I was not in the Department at the time, I understand that authorities that did not bid for all the potential licences were advised that they could do so should they wish to change their original bid, but Blackpool and Manchester remained as bidders purely for the regional licence. It is a matter for local authorities to decide their own strategies in pursuit of regeneration opportunities. It would be entirely wrong for me to reopen that process and allow a new process to begin. We should proceed with the eight and eight locations, as the panel advised us to do.
My right hon. Friend knows full well that his Department instigated the taskforce for Blackpool in the context of very strong support last year in both Houses for Blackpool's position. He referred to the statement and document from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about Blackpool's funding package. It remains to be seen how much of that is new and focused money, and that will obviously be examined carefully. Given the moral responsibility that his Department bears in this issue, will he use his good offices—his strongest offices—to work with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ensure that those proposals are for new money and that they begin to fill the regeneration hole left by the removal of the prospect of a super-casino in Blackpool? Will he use his best endeavours, with his senior officials—
Order. I think that the Secretary of State gets the point. We must have brief questions and answers. [Interruption.] Short and sharp would be fine.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) for the way in which they have pursued Blackpool's case in recent times. As a north-west MP, I know that, along with other Members across the House, people agree and sympathise with the case that my hon. Friends have made for regeneration in Blackpool. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has asked the Government office for the north-west to report back each quarter on progress made against the taskforce recommendations published today. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South that there is a further proposal for the creation of an events site at the tower festival headland to showcase Blackpool's cultural connections and provide a centrepiece so that it becomes the "capital of dance". That is a serious proposal; it is being considered by my Department, and we hope to make further progress on it shortly.
I thank the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend Mr. Hunt for their support for the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. May I point out to the Secretary of State and the House that funding for the treatment of problem gambling has increased more than tenfold since the trust was formed six years ago? Last year, we launched the gambleaware website. We have a business plan and we are launching a problem gambling national strategy later this year. But this has to be funded, and I welcome his support. The major bookmakers, casino operators and trade associations all support the trust. Will he ask the Gambling Commission to use the voluntary funding mechanism agreed between the trust and the trade associations in assessing the licence obligations of other operators who are currently not paying the trust?
The hon. Gentleman's welcome for what we have announced today is heartening. I assure him that this is not an empty threat: this system has a final chance to work on a voluntary basis. It might be shown not to work, and I shall be interested to hear his views on whether it is working as we make progress from this point before making a final determination on whether we need a statutory levy. I pay tribute to him and to his colleagues at the trust. The gambleaware website has been a very welcome development. I shall listen to him carefully over the coming months before deciding whether we need to take further action on the status of the levy.
My right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman made the point about spin-off job creation not only in east Manchester but throughout the east side of Greater Manchester. When the ad hoc ministerial group that has been announced identifies and proposes a range of regeneration alternatives, will the Secretary of State ensure that they are of an equal strategic nature in respect of the wider eastern part of Greater Manchester, as undoubtedly the spin-off job creation from the super-casino proposals would have extended into constituencies such as mine?
I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes and I point him towards the work that the Department for Communities and Local Government has published today, because it considers the question of a possible displacement of jobs by a regional casino. It also questioned the extent to which jobs created would be truly additional. The task facing the ad hoc group is to identify proposals that will have a lasting benefit for the whole of the Manchester economy, and I am confident that it can come forward with such a package.
Most Members will be aware that I was never in favour of a super-casino for east Manchester, mainly because I had serious doubts that it was a suitable vehicle for regeneration. Given that the Government have now accepted that a super-casino would not deliver the regeneration that east Manchester deserves, they needed to come up with concrete proposals to create skilled local jobs for local people. The announcement today is merely a vague set of pre-election rumours or, as the Manchester Evening News described it, a piecemeal package of possibilities—
Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman, who is a newer Member, is keen to put his message across, but if we do not have short, sharp questions and responses, we cannot get through this statement.
Concrete proposals are exactly what we intend to make: that is the purpose of the group that we have established. As I said in my statement, it will produce its first report by the end of March. There was a separate process set up for Blackpool which started work ahead of this process. I do not think that anyone would question the proposals offered to Blackpool, but we want concrete proposals for east Manchester that constitute a sustainable package that will have a wider beneficial impact across the city's economy.
And racecourses and so on. Indeed, masses of illicit cash are already generated through prostitution and drugs. It is the ultimate insult to people in Wolverhampton to talk about regeneration on the back of a game of pitch and toss in a casino. That should be outwith the lexicon of Labour policies.
The issue is entirely a matter for local decision making. I would be shocked and amazed if my hon. Friend were not able to make his views heard as forcefully locally as he does in this House. I refer him to the detailed work done by Newham council to gauge the level of support locally for any proposed casino. I would hope that any local authority, as a matter of good practice, would involve local people before making a final decision on what are, as he rightly says, very important matters.
I have some sympathy with the Secretary of State, who was left holding the parcel when the music stopped on this fiasco, which has been going on for far too long. It is worth pointing out that we could have got there so much more quickly had his predecessor agreed to reintroduce a single order, as we suggested about a year ago. The statement is rather ambitiously called "Gambling Policy", which would be a start as far as the Government are concerned. Is it still part of the Government's policy to make Britain the online gambling capital of the world, and what work has his Department done since the Ascot summit?
The hon. Gentleman says that we could have got there more quickly; I have been through the process by which we arrived at the conclusion today, and while we could say many things about it, the one thing that we could not say is that it has not been deliberative and consultative. We have shown a willingness to listen, but as I said to the shadow Secretary of State, it is important that we keep everything under review and consider the effect and prevalence of online gambling when making any decisions about gambling in casinos or elsewhere. I intend to do precisely that and there will be a further prevalence study. As I say, the last one showed that while we might feel that levels of problem gambling are uncomfortably high, they are not increasing.
In relation to gambling policies, could it be the case that the smaller casinos, in particular, result in further unfair competition for bingo halls and seaside arcades? As the Secretary of State knows, those businesses have already suffered drastic reductions in their incomes and also increased compliance costs. What urgent action will he take to address that problem as we approach the beginning of the season?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The bingo industry and bingo clubs play an important part in the constituencies of many people in this House, including mine, as do amusement arcades in seaside towns. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport regularly meets the representatives of both industries. We continue to listen carefully to their views and in doing so we consider at all times the important social role played by bingo halls in particular.
Will the Secretary of State elaborate on the part of his statement where he drew a distinction between the proposal for 16 small and large casinos and the previous proposal for a regional casino? He said that he was satisfied that the proposed casinos do not pose the same level of risk to the public as a regional casino. Will he outline, then, what level of risk the present proposal poses to the public where those casinos will be situated?
I apologise if that was not clear enough in my statement. The point that I was making was that we are dealing with a known quantity: category B1 gaming machines. The difference is that the proposal for a regional casino would have introduced a large number of unlimited stake and prize gaming machines—category A machines—which would have been entirely new to the UK. That is the clear distinction. The regional casino would also have been a much larger entity. There are clear differences and those are the issues that I have considered. Given that there are already category B1 machines in existing casinos in this country, I am satisfied that on the balance of risks the eight small and eight large casinos can safely proceed.
The statement means the loss of 3,500 jobs for Manchester, which were won in a fair and open competition, yet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in a letter to Manchester city council, said that there will be no special treatment and no immediate creation of new jobs. Why are we not trying to overturn the views of the bishops and unelected peers in the other place, who put us in this situation, or giving Manchester special treatment to replace the jobs that will be lost because of the decisions in this statement?
I feel that it would have been wrong simply to return to the House with the same order as was defeated in another place last March. However, Manchester's case for east Manchester and the need for regeneration is well made, and that is why the ad hoc group has been established. I encourage my hon. Friend to reserve judgment until that group has completed its work. At that point, he will be entitled to judge whether this proposal is an acceptable package as an alternative to a regional casino. The decision was clearly taken on the balance of evidence about a regional casino and, as I have just explained to Mr. Campbell, the risks that that could have posed to the public.
When the Government changed their mind about Northern Rock, the private sector preferred bidders were compensated in full for the cost of their bids. Why are the Government not treating the public sector bidders in the same way in this instance?
As I said to Mr. Whittingdale, it was entirely for local authorities to decide whether or not to pursue an application for any of the three categories of casino authorised under the 2005 Act. As part of the process, the independent panels went back to the local authorities that bid to say that they could extend their range of applications at any time. At least one local authority that bid for a regional casino got a large casino in the end because it put in a bid for a large casino, too. The decisions about what to bid for were made locally and local authorities have to live with the consequences of those decisions.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of London's O2 arena shows that it is perfectly possible for the private sector, working with the public sector, to help regenerate large areas by means of leisure complexes? They can do that without having to resort to super-casinos, whose machines offering unlimited stakes and prizes are highly addictive and could have raised our rate of problem gambling.
That is a good point, although from my days many years ago as an adviser to this Department, I seem to recall that some public money was involved in the creation of what is now called the O2 arena. My hon. Friend is right to say that sport, leisure and culture can be a powerful catalyst for wider regeneration. There is evidence for that up and down the country, and I want to encourage exactly those public-private partnerships that he seems to be referring to.
The Secretary of State has made the right decision today about super-casinos, but I must pick him up on what he said about compensation. The Government have cancelled a competition that the city of Manchester thought that it had won. Surely he ought to accept that Manchester should be compensated for the costs that it incurred.
I welcome the welcome for the decision expressed by Paul Rowen, although I shall resist the temptation to respond to the sedentary comment from the Opposition Benches. However, I repeat that an ad hoc group is looking at all the issues that the decision raises, and I hope that it can conclude its work swiftly.
Following the Secretary of State's non-answer to Sandra Osborne, does he accept that another major flaw of the Gambling Act 2005 was the requirement to remove gaming machines with a £2 stake from bingo halls, adult gaming centres and seaside arcades? That has caused a catastrophic fall in business on such premises, and will he do something about it?
My right hon. Friend said that his instinct was to proceed with caution at all times and that he would take into consideration measures to protect young and vulnerable people. Will he confirm that admittance to casinos will be limited to people aged 21 and over, and will he expand a little further on his instincts in this area?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Act provides that 18 is the minimum age for entry to a casino, but my instinct is that 21 would be the right age. However, that is not a firm view and I am willing to listen to the views expressed by hon. Members of all parties before reaching a firm view. I have looked at the international evidence, though, and it seems that 21 is the age at which people around the world are admitted into casinos. I shall be interested to find out whether there is an appetite in the House for adopting a similar provision here.
Setting aside the illogicality of dishing up what I calculate to be more than half a billion pounds as a sop to Manchester and Blackpool, when the Secretary of State looks at the figures promised for Blackpool, will he not see that two thirds of that £300 million has been committed already by other Departments?
I think that people in Blackpool will be interested in what the hon. Gentleman has said. At the beginning of my statement, I said that we had listened carefully to the views expressed in this House and another place. It has been impossible not to be aware of the strength of feeling about Blackpool, and it is clear that people want a sustainable regeneration package for the area. That package will draw on a range of sources, and I set out a moment ago the further support that may be available from my Department. Taken together, that represents a substantial investment in improving Blackpool.
I spent many hours on the Bill that became the Gambling Act 2005, when the Government's policy often seemed to change not every day, but every hour. My right hon. Friend's announcement today has made me wonder whether all that effort was worth it—and, frankly, I do not think that it was. However, may I urge him to meet representatives of the British Casino Association before he introduces any more restrictions on casinos' operations? The 1968 Act has been criticised, but this country's casino industry has been largely well run and free of crime. Does he agree that the real problem is internet gambling?
My hon. Friend is right to say that casinos are, on the whole, well run and crime-free. Long may that remain the case. He says that the time has been wasted, but I do not think that he should conclude that. The Gambling Act 2005 is a much stronger framework for the consideration of such matters. The House used to have no control over the extension of the number of casinos; the Act, as well as introducing tougher new measures, gave us the ability to do so. I will meet the British Casino Association before considering any further restrictions in that area.
The Secretary of State has repeated his noble aim of requiring casinos, like bookmakers, to have policies to identify problem gamblers. I used to be a bookmaker, and I can say in all honesty that I never had any understanding of the detail of my customers' bank accounts, and so never knew whether they were betting more than they could afford to lose. Can he share his experience and tell us how operators are supposed to identify problem gamblers? Would that not put staff—often young or low-paid people—in the difficult circumstance of having to tell people that they cannot place a bet because they have a problem?
The hon. Gentleman's experience is far more extensive than mine, and I will listen carefully to him on such matters. I hope that operators would work with the organisation chaired by his hon. Friend Mr. Greenway to develop good policies enabling them to identify problem gamblers. I suspect that most people who work in betting shops, casinos and similar places know their regular visitors and whether they have a potential problem needing further help and support. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a good and fair point. That is exactly why the trust needs more resource: to help improve the quality of the policies that will be developed.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on putting the final nail in the coffin of the ridiculous and dangerous super-casino concept, and on recognising that investment in the creative industries, information technology, sustainable construction, skills and higher education represents the best future for young people in the Greater Manchester sub-region. Will he tell us more about his approach to gambling addiction and, particularly in view of the Australian experience, about how he will monitor any increase in gambling addiction as a result of the commission of 16 new casinos?
The main mechanism is the Gambling Commission's prevalence study. As I mentioned earlier, we want it to focus particularly on online gambling. That is how we will measure. We will keep the matter under review at all times. I welcome my hon. Friend's welcome for the decision that we announced today, and I agree that there is the potential to do something with the site available in east Manchester that is far more innovative and brings longer-lasting benefits to the north-west economy for many years to come.
Does the Government's alleged gambling policy recognise the link between alcohol and drugs and problem gambling? If so, is the Secretary of State concerned about the lack of screening of problem gamblers in alcohol and drug treatment centres in the probation and prison services, and will he make representations to those presenting the alcohol and drugs strategy that problem gambling should be included?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The Responsibility in Gambling Trust could look at that issue too, so I will consider it further. It is a good point.
Will the Secretary of State give a more convincing reply to my hon. Friend Miss Kirkbride and others about the plight of the seaside holiday resorts with amusement arcades, which have been badly hit by the consequences of the Gambling Act? Such resorts are in great competition with overseas holidays. The matter is urgent and serious, and it deserves a better response than his reply that he was keeping it under review. As he is in a mood of contrition, will he agree that mistakes have been made and that they must be corrected?
No, we do not accept that. As I said earlier, we pay close attention to the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised, which are important to many hon. Members. Of the casinos authorised today, only a small number are in seaside resorts, so it is not in seaside resorts that the order's impact will mainly be felt, but he makes an important point. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is in regular discussion with representatives of the arcade industry, and we will continue to keep the matter under close review.
I warmly thank the Government for dithering on the issue, because during all the dithering, Conservative-controlled Scarborough borough council has taken decisive action and has successfully persuaded Merlin Entertainments to build the new Legoland on the site for which the casino was in pole position. However, we will have a casino somewhere. In how many of the 16 cases will the opening of a new casino result in the closure of an existing casino that is unable to compete on equal terms?
The hon. Gentleman has illustrated very well the point that I sought to make in my statement: these are matters for local decision making. The new Legoland development sounds very enticing. It will be for his local council to decide where, how and if it uses the authority that we seek to give it through the order. However, let me make it clear once again that the decisions are local at all times. I do not seek to interfere further in them, although I should say that the process by which licences are awarded must follow the guidelines that accompany the order laid down today.
The Secretary of State's statement will be warmly welcomed by many, including myself and organisations such as the Evangelical Alliance, which has campaigned long and hard against regional casinos. However, the Government's unbelievable dithering on the issue will have cost the people of Manchester and Blackpool dearly. I am still not clear on why the Secretary of State changed his mind. Was it because he believes, as I do, that the so-called economic benefits are far outweighed by the social and economic costs?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady's welcome for the statement. Let me say again that it is less than a year since the Lords rejected the original order. It surely was right and proper to have a period of reflection before bringing any new order before the House. Indeed, if I remember correctly, lots of newspapers called for a period of reflection at the time. We have provided precisely that. It was right to consult local councils, and to give them time after local elections to decide whether they wished to proceed. All of that took until the back end of last year; it was only at the end of last year that we were able to get confirmation from all 16. Having held a consultative process in Government, we are coming forward with the order today, so I reject the hon. Lady's accusation that the process has been subject to delay and dither.
Further to the questions asked by my hon. Friend Miss Kirkbride and my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, does the Secretary of State really understand the grave crisis facing the amusement arcade industry? There are amusement arcades in King's Lynn and Hunstanton that are losing customers by the day. Surely he can now reverse the damaging changes to the £50 jackpot machines. That would go some way towards solving the problem.
I understand that the British Amusement Catering Trade Association, the representative body, has made a series of requests to the Department, which are being considered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. He informs me that he will write to those concerned and respond to the requests by the end of the week. Again, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we are not insensitive to the important issues facing seaside towns. The Department will come forward soon with a serious, substantial initiative to get further investment for seaside towns, so that we protect their heritage and improve their facilities.