Betting Shops

– in the House of Commons at 2:23 pm on 19th July 2011.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford 2:24 pm, 19th July 2011

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to create a new planning use class for betting shops which would require the granting of planning permission;
to provide that local planning authorities assess demand for betting shops when considering applications for premises in that planning use class and place a cap on the number of betting shops for which planning permission may be granted in any area;
and for connected purposes.

In 2005, the Yellow Pages business directory created a league table for high streets in London. Deptford high street came first, beating Kensington high street into second place as the most diverse and vibrant high street in London. It is full of colour, and noise and smells, and people who originated in every part of the globe. It is not precious, and never pristine. Some establishments have been there for over a hundred years, such as Manze’s Pie and Mash; others are much newer, such as the Train Carriage café. Deptford high street is much loved by locals, and its diversity is a matter of pride.

But a change is being brought about in Deptford high street. It is unsolicited, unwelcome, and out of control. Betting shops are proliferating, squeezing out diversity and attracting antisocial behaviour. Again and again, when a property becomes vacant, another betting shop chain bids for the premises. Such properties have included some of the high street’s most iconic buildings. I am not opposed to betting, and it is clear that many of my constituents use such facilities; rather, it is the number of betting shops that is the problem and the lack of any opportunity for local people to have a say on the profound changes affecting their environment. That is why I am introducing this Bill today. It seeks to make a simple change to the planning laws, to put more power into the hands of local people.

Let me first pay tribute to the interest that Lewisham council has taken in this matter. In 2009, the council developed a proposal under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 for a change in the law. It had responded to local protests in Brockley in 2008 against a betting shop, and had turned it down. The bookmakers won their case on appeal, although the appeal judge said that had he been allowed to take demand into consideration, he might have refused the appeal. In its submission, the council said:

“The Gambling Act had what we believe was the unintended consequence of disempowering communities and local government by removing the ‘demand’ criterion for new bookmakers’ premises and replacing it with criteria including the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people which, while welcome, have proven ineffective in preventing unpopular applications being allowed and which allow no consideration of the number of existing bookmakers.”

Clearly those unintended consequences were not spotted in time, and Lewisham council was not successful in its bid to change the law.

A turf war is now under way, as bookmakers, including new entrants, seek to seize market share. The matter was aired again in an Adjournment debate on 24 November last year by my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, to whom I pay tribute for leading this campaign. He is one of my Bill’s sponsors today. He graphically described the effects of betting shop proliferation in Haringey, saying:

“Cultural landmarks that have been anchored in our communities for decades are evaporating and betting shops are opening in their place…The latest application for a betting shop on Tottenham High road—the 10th along that stretch of road—would mean a betting shop replacing one of the most famous independent music shops in the north London area.”—[Hansard, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 403.]

In the same debate, Tessa Munt, another of my sponsors, reported on a similar problem arising in her coastal towns, indicating that this is not just an inner-city problem.

Let me now return to Deptford, and to the latest campaign, led by my constituent, Ms Sue Lawes. About 1,000 individuals, alongside shop owners and other local businesses, rejected proposals for a Betfred to replace a building society. Ms Lawes said in her letter to the planning department:

“On behalf of the petitioners I strongly object to this application since it will be the eleventh betting office in the vicinity of Deptford high street, the eighth actually on the high street, and the sixth within a 150m stretch that already has five other betting establishments, two pawnbrokers and one money lender. As an A2 use, like banks and building societies, they”— that is, Betfred—

“state that they expect to attract footfall throughout the day. However, very unlike banks and building societies, they also expect to attract footfall in the evenings, as well as weekends, especially Sundays. This does not sit well with residents, many of whom have signed the petitions or have written their objections.”

Clearly, something must be done.

In response to the Adjournment debate to which I have already referred, the Communities and Local Government Minister, Robert Neill told my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham that

“a localism Bill will give local authorities more discretion in regard to the way in which they reflect local need in the planning process. Before too long, we will present proposals relating both to the Bill and to associated planning reforms. I do not suggest that that will automatically provide a silver bullet either, but we will keep these matters under review.”—[Hansard, 24 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 410.]

Since then, the Localism Bill has passed through this House, during which process another concerted effort was made by Labour Members to get amendments accepted on Report. New clauses 30 and 31 were tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham and supported by me. Amazingly, for a Government supposedly committed to empowering local people, Tories and Lib Dems voted down the new clauses.

The Bill that I present today mirrors those new clauses. Taking betting shops out of their current place in use classes order A2 alongside banks and building societies would make it possible to make planning judgments appropriate to the local area. Local planning authorities would be able to assess demand for betting shops, and indeed place a cap on the number of betting shops for which planning permission may be granted. This simple measure would not inhibit the industry from creating a natural spread of outlets, but it would give some hope to areas such as mine, in which extreme clusters are totally unacceptable.

Deptford is the 87th highest in the indices of multiple deprivation. The two wards surrounding Deptford high street are among the top 10% for deprivation in the country, and those in work are earning below the London average. Sadly, we have high levels of substance abuse, addiction and mental illness. Is this really a community that needs 11 betting shops, or is it a community that is being cynically exploited by corporate business?

Overall, however, Deptford is a vibrant and resilient community. It has an amazing arts and cultural scene, including the annual Deptford X festival. Over the past 10 years, I have campaigned for a new railway station on Deptford high street, and in April I cut the first sod. Developments around the station are under way, and much investment is in place. Given all this community endeavour, it cannot be acceptable that bookmakers should be allowed, in the pursuit of their own profits, to trample over the wishes and aspirations of the local community. I urge Ministers, as they undertake their review of the use class order system, to give my local constituents and those of other right hon. and hon. Members much-needed control over their local environments, and their local representatives the power to respond to local demand. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 2:34 pm, 19th July 2011

Joan Ruddock has spoken with great enthusiasm, passion and obvious care about her constituency. Because of other business taking place in one or two Committees here today, I do not intend to divide the House on the Bill, but I want to put forward another way of looking at this issue that might not have been considered.

First, I want to look at what betting shops are. They are no longer the seedy establishments that they might once have been. They are places where people can have an innocent flutter on the grand national, on the Cheltenham gold cup—which takes place in my constituency—on the Derby, or on the 2.35 at Lingfield on a rainy Tuesday. The betting industry, of which the shops are obviously a part, supports more than 40,000 jobs across the country. In addition to corporation tax, they pay extra betting duty, and all that tax put together amounts to £700 million being paid to the Exchequer every year.

The betting industry also pays the horse race betting levy, which goes a long way towards funding the sport of horse racing, which is the second most popular spectator sport in the UK, and employs many thousands of people on top of those employed directly by the betting industry. Betting paid £60 million to racing through the levy in 2010-11. On top of that, the industry pays millions of pounds in voluntary contributions as sponsorship of the sport.

It is important to look at where that money from betting shops goes. Yes, some of the money from those bets goes to prize money for the top races such as the grand national, but it also goes to many races that are worth less than £2,000. That money in turn is redistributed to trainers, and to jockeys and stable staff, many of whom are not very well paid at all. It also funds training and education, including the schools programme. It pays for integrity and regulation in horse racing, which keeps the sport clean. It pays for veterinary education, science research and advances in science. It is not only prize money that the betting shops pay for; they also fund the education of youngsters. There are moves to change the way in which the levy system works, but the betting industry will, without doubt, continue to contribute towards horse racing in a big way. There is an awful lot more to the role of betting shops than might meet the eye.

The Bill would introduce a planning requirement that applies to very few other businesses. First, it would restrict the number of betting shops in a particular area, although competition is hardly ever considered to be a valid planning objection. The Bill would also require an assessment of the demand for extra shops, but surely the person or company proposing to open the business will already have carried out such an assessment. The Government are now proposing to refine the planning guidance that they issue, but I hope that they will not be tempted down the road of preferring one business to another. I do not believe that that is the role of the Government.

The argument for restricting the number of betting shops is based on the so-called proliferation of problem gambling, but that problem does not exist. With less than 1% of those who gamble being defined as having a problem, the UK is way down the list in the international league of countries that might have problem gambling. It is also wrong to suggest that there has been a proliferation of gambling itself. It is important to remember that the amount of money that people gamble is not the most important statistic; the important measure is the amount that people lose, and that is not a problem for very many people in the United Kingdom at all. Nor is it the case that two shops operating on a high street instead of one would lead to double the amount of money being gambled in that area, because the law of diminishing returns will set in. Even so, the number of betting shops across the country has fallen from about 15,000 in the 1980s to about 8,800 today. That is almost a halving of the number of betting shops in the country. Indeed, in the right hon. Lady’s own area, I understand that there has been an overall fall in the number of betting shops. I also understand that Haringey council has recently refused a number of applications for betting shops, so the power to turn down those applications already exists.

Nevertheless, it is important to say that the betting industry contributed £5 million last year to support the research, education and treatment of problem gamblers, and that the Gambling Act 2005 requires the vast majority of betting shops to have an operating licence, a personal management licence and a premises licence before they can start trading. There are a number of safeguards in place—and quite rightly so.

To conclude, we have betting shops and the industry more generally paying a lot of money in taxation; employing thousands of people; funding horse racing and its associated activities, some of which involve education; and, yes, responding to market need. I thus ask where is the problem that requires even more nanny-stateism, even more needless regulations and even more costs to be added to businesses and local authorities? I would suggest that the problem is not there. With great respect to the right hon. Lady who is trying to introduce this Bill, it represents a solution looking for a problem. As such, although I will not divide the House for the reasons stated earlier, if the Bill makes progress, I will seek to oppose it in its later stages.

Question put and agreed to .

Ordered,

That Joan Ruddock, Debbie Abrahams, Heidi Alexander, Tom Brake, Mr Mark Field, Mike Gapes, Mr David Lammy, Tony Lloyd, Mr Andrew Love, Caroline Lucas, Tessa Munt and Mr Virendra Sharma present the Bill.

Joan Ruddock accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January 2012, and to be printed (Bill 223)

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been the manner of the House that, before making a speech, one declares an interest. We have just heard a speech by Mr Robertson and it is my understanding that he has a role supported by the betting industry. It should have been declared before his contribution, which, frankly, felt like a speech that had been written by the industry itself.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

That is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter for each Member to decide whether they feel it is relevant to declare their interest.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I made the speech, and I think most Members would understand that I came from a horse racing background. I am indeed joint chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on racing and bloodstock, but that group is not supported by bookmakers.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

I think that answers the point of order. I want no more points of order on that subject.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

On a different point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It used to be the convention of the House that when a Member opposed a ten-minute rule Bill, it took the opposition to a vote. Will you consider whether that practice should be reinstated, Mr Deputy Speaker. Quite frankly, it is a waste of the House’s time for somebody to oppose my right hon. Friend’s Bill today, but not seek to divide the House so that the opinion of Members can be tested.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

I can reassure the hon. Member that that is not the case. It has always been an option not to seek a Division. Furthermore, we are now eating into the debate by raising points of order rather than making good progress. I want us to make some progress now.