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We have not received any recent representations on the future of the bingo industry, but I am aware that such representations are being made to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We recognise the important social role that bingo plays in many of our communities, and continue to engage with the industry on a range of issues affecting the state of the sector.
Sadly, we have not got very far with the Treasury. Many of my constituents have contacted me to say that they are very worried about the future of Southend Mecca, and that they thoroughly enjoy playing the game. One hundred bingo halls have already closed over the past three years because of the 32 per cent. tax. Will the Minister have another word with the Treasury, in order to establish whether it can provide parity for the industry and lower the tax to the rightful level of 15 per cent.?
We continue to have frequent discussions with the Treasury, but the hon. Gentleman will know how much work the DCMS itself has done to support bingo. He will know, for instance, that in February we increased the permitted number of B3 machines in bingo halls from four to eight, and also examined stake and prize levels for category C and D machines.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the number of bingo halls that have closed. In fact, between 37 and 40 have closed over the past 12 months, which represents 6 per cent. of the industry, but that is still too many clubs. We are aware of the important part that bingo plays in our communities, and we will continue to work with the industry and the Treasury to try to alleviate its problems.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but surely there is a need to lobby the Treasury to ensure that there is some consistency in the tax rates. If ever there was a need for a taskforce to work on saving one of our great British institutions, this is it. Would my hon. Friend consider leading such a taskforce?
I am always happy to be involved with a taskforce, but given my hon. Friend's reputation for becoming involved in key issues, he might want to chair this one. He will know that the Prime Minister has been involved in the discussions about bingo. He met a deputation from the Bingo Association, along with my hon. Friend Mr. Illsley, to consider the issues in greater detail. We continue to work with the Treasury and others to ensure that we add to the work that we have already done to support bingo.
When I next speak to those at the very successful bingo club at the Elephant and Castle, or the very successful bingo club in Surrey Quays, will I be able to tell them that the Minister's Department will look again at the taxation of bingo, and lobby the Government, as soon as we know the court decision on participation valued added tax? That will give the Government another opportunity. The Department lost the last battle, but can the Minister assure us that it is determined to win the war?
The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. We await the outcome of the court case, but we continue to work with the Treasury. For example, we are discussing the current consultation on gross profits tax relating to gaming machines. As the sponsoring Department, we are working closely with the industry in the sector to try to ensure that its case is heard wherever necessary.