Morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to what I am sure will be a contented series of sittings. Before we go any further, I shall deal with some housekeeping arrangements. When I am in the Chair, hon. Members may remove their jackets at any time. I cannot speak for my co-Chairman and I take no offence from those who pre-empted my consideration for their comfort.
I beg to move,
(1) during proceedings on the Gambling Bill, in addition to its first Meeting on Tuesday 9th November at 9.30 am, the Standing Committee shall meet when the House is sitting on Tuesdays and Thursdays (except for Thursday 18th November, Tuesday 23rd November, Thursday 25th November and Tuesday 21st December) at 9.30 am and 2.30 pm;
(2) 20 sittings shall be allocated to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;
(3) the proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the table below and v shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of the table.
Clauses 134 to 218
TABLE Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings Clauses 1 to 11; Schedule 1; Clauses 12 to 14; Schedule 2; Clauses 15 to 19; Schedule 3; Clause 20; Schedule 4; Clauses 21 to 28; Schedule 5; Clauses 29 to 119; Schedule 6; Clauses 120 to 132 5.30 pm on Tuesday 16th November Clause 133; Schedule 7 5.30 pm on Thursday 2nd December Clauses 219 to 231; Schedule 8; Clauses 232 to 242; Schedule 9; Clauses 243 to 259; Schedule 10; Clauses 260 to 272; Schedule 11; Clauses 273 to 278; Schedule 12; Clauses 279 to 284 5.30 pm on Tuesday 14th December Clauses 285 to 312; 5.30 pm on Thursday 16th December Clauses 313 to 333; Schedules 13 and 14; Clauses 334 and 335; Schedule 15; Clauses 336 and 337; remaining proceedings on the Bill 5.30 pm on Tuesday 11th January 2005
Clauses 134 to 218
May I begin by also welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Gale. This is the second occasion on which I have had the privilege to serve under your chairmanship. We spent a happy couple of months discussing the Communications Bill and I have no doubt that we shall have an equally enjoyable experience while examining the Gambling Bill under your guidance.
The Bill has been subject to considerable debate and discussion for several years. It stems from the Budd report, which is coming up to three years old, since when there has been extensive consultation with those who are affected. There has been much debate, and the draft Bill was examined by the Joint Committee. Perhaps I could again put on record our thanks to the scrutiny Committee for its work. There is no doubt that it carried out an extremely comprehensive examination of many of the issues raised and its recommendations have improved the Bill in those areas where they have been accepted. We believe that in those areas where its recommendations were not accepted, the Bill would be greatly improved if they were taken up.
Our deliberations in Committee will be aided by the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) who served on the scrutiny Committee, and by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who is not present at the moment but who was also a member of that Committee. The fact that the Bill has already been examined in detail does not mean in any way that it should not be subject to close parliamentary scrutiny. It has 337 clauses and 15 schedules; it is a comprehensive piece of legislation and, although the scrutiny Committee did good work, it did not go through the Bill clause by clause, which we believe would be beneficial.
It has occasionally been said that a scrutiny Committee's examination of a Bill reduces in some way the need for a Standing Committee to spend much time on it. That is not the view I took on the Communications Bill. You will probably bear out, Mr. Gale, that that Bill was subject to much controversy and some amendment in Standing Committee, despite the work of the scrutiny Committee which had examined it previously. I have no doubt that the same will apply in this case.
Since the scrutiny Committee carried out its work, there have already been some changes in the Government's position. We particularly welcome the concession that the Secretary of State gave on Second Reading when she met one of the concerns that had been expressed: the loophole in planning law that would have allowed any leisure facility to be converted into a casino without additional planning permission. That was a clear loophole and on Second Reading the Secretary of State belatedly agreed to close it. However, there are still many other areas of concern on which the Government have not yet said that they are willing to amend the Bill accordingly, and we shall press those matters in the Committee.
We are still of the view that the Bill is badly flawed. The Government are fond of saying that the Bill is 90 per cent. regulatory and just 10 per cent. liberalising. That may be so, but the 90 per cent. that represents mainly regulatory measures is essentially a fundamental overhaul of legislation that is more than 30 years old. The Bill goes on to take account of new developments that have never been legislated for, such as online gambling. It will have an enormous effect, not just on the gambling industry, but right across the leisure industry. That is why it is important that all the provisions are examined closely to ensure that we get them right. Having said that, the Government are correct that the greatest controversy surrounds the 10 per cent. of the Bill that is liberalising.
It is an astonishing achievement of the Government that they have taken a Bill that was widely welcomed and for which almost everyone agreed there was a need, and managed to produce legislation that almost everyone is opposed to—other than some Labour Members and the American casino companies. The creation of such a coalition is quite an achievement. It comprises not just the UK gambling industry, but the Churches, the Christian Institute, the Salvation Army, the Methodist Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury—who has said he has serious concerns about the Bill—and the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, who has said that it could undermine the social fabric. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that the Bill
''in its present form is very likely to result in a considerable increase in individual and social disorder as a result of excessive gambling''.
The Guardian has said that the Bill
''could be one of the most destructive aspects of Labour's legacy and a dreadful metaphor for the Government's uncertain purpose''.
It has been joined by the Daily Mail, which has said that the
''Bill is a cast-iron guarantee of human misery''.
Perhaps most extraordinary of all is a statement that I thought I would never hear: Polly Toynbee has said that she thinks that the Daily Mail is right on this issue.
The Bill has also united opposition throughout the House. On Second Reading, just a week ago, 29 Labour Members voted against the Bill and many more abstained. Curiously, none of the Government Members who voted against the Bill have been fortunate enough to be selected to serve on the Committee, which is a sadness. It is odd that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has not been selected. He said:
''This is a truly nasty Bill.''
Indeed, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), said:
''I believe that the Bill would be bad for the country, bad for hard-working families and bad for the party.''—[Official Report, 1 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 54.]
Order. I am afraid I am a truly nasty Chairman. The hon. Gentleman is trying very hard and almost succeeding, but not quite. We had better return to the programme order.
I am merely indicating why it is important that the Bill be scrutinised, given the depth of concern about it throughout the House. However, I shall abide by your ruling, Mr. Gale, and not continue to quote the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who said that the Bill was ''gaga''. It is a matter of some concern that the Committee does not fully reflect the views of the House, as expressed a week ago on Second Reading, which makes it more important that we should speak for those Government Members who have expressed concern but will not have the opportunity to set that out in Committee.
Just to put the record straight, of the 29 Government Members who voted against the Bill, not one applied to serve on the Committee.
I suspect that that was because they realised the response that they would have received had they done so.
It is important that we examine the Bill closely. Lord McIntosh, the Secretary of State and the Minister have said that the Government are in listening mode. They have dropped heavy hints that they are willing to make concessions and that they will listen to argument. Indeed, we are beginning to see a flow of Government amendments, and we anticipate and hope that there will be more in due course. That makes it even more important that we examine the Bill carefully, because if the amendments are to go as far as we would want in order to make the Bill acceptable, they will have to be substantial. That will mean that we will be looking at a very different Bill to the one put before the Joint Committee and, indeed, the one before us today.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government were wise they might return to something close to the recommendations of the Joint Committee, so ably chaired by our hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), and that if they were to do so they might find that they had diffused a lot of the critical storm that they have most unwisely stirred up?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He is right to say that, if the Government had accepted the recommendations of the second report of the Joint Committee, many of the issues would have been diffused, there would have been less concern and they would have perhaps found it easier to get the Bill on to the statute book. I am not sure, however, whether that would now be enough. The level of concern that has been expressed requires additional measures, and although I hope that the Government will adopt the recommendations that they additionally rejected, we will press for further safeguards. In particular—this will form part of a debate this afternoon or later this week—the level of concern is such that it makes sense to adopt a pilot scheme to try out the provisions and assess their impact on a small number of areas.
The Government have given us an undertaking that they are willing to listen, and we hope that they will be open to our suggestions and amendments during our proceedings, but we do not have that long in which to go through such a substantial Bill, so although I do not oppose the programme order, I must make it clear that we have a lot of ground to cover in a short time. It is unfortunate that there has been barely a week between Second Reading and the beginning of proceedings in Committee. The old convention about the length of time that Committees are given to draft and table amendments seems to have gone out of the window completely; it has become quite common to give us just a week. The Government say that they are willing to listen and at least entertain arguments about the ways in which the Bill can be amended, but that task is made more difficult if we are not given sufficient time to consult with those affected and to draft and
table amendments. We will abide by your rulings throughout, Mr. Gale, but we will be operating under some pressure to table in time amendments to what is inevitably a detailed and complicated measure.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is particularly unfortunate that the Government appear not only on this occasion but with several recent Bills to have completely abandoned that convention, and that there seems no reason at all for such indecent haste when they have already made it clear that the Bill will carry over into the next Session? There is plenty of time, and it suggests to me—I do not know whether it does to my hon. Friend—an air of desperation from a Government faced with hostility from the media and so many organisations.
Again, my hon. Friend makes an interesting point. We accepted that the Bill should be carried over so that there would be more time and it would not run into the buffers at the end of this Session. There should be plenty of opportunity for debate. There is some apparent concern about another possible event next May, which might get in the way, but that is completely outside our control, and I am sure that the Minister has no regard for it either. Rather than rush the Bill on to the statute book in order that we can get it through Parliament before anything that might or might not happen next May, it is important to get the Bill right.
The Bill is potentially dangerous, but if we build in the right safeguards we can avoid realising many of the concerns that people are expressing. If we get it wrong, it could result in considerable hardship and misery for many. That is why it is desperately important that we go through the Bill very carefully to be absolutely certain that we have built in the right safeguards. So, rather than rush at it in a desperate race to get it through Parliament, we are determined to take our time in order to get it right.
I am about to take up a minute of the Committee's time, but I will add it as injury time to the half hour available for this debate. We clearly have a problem in the Public Gallery: a large number of people wish to hear the proceedings, but there is inadequate space. I do not know whether I will be able to do anything about that later. We do not normally address the strangers in the Gallery, but I will just say to anybody who holds a press card that there is a Press Box, and using that would release another four seats for people waiting outside who would like to come in.
Once again, I am delighted to serve on a Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Gale. I welcomed the contribution from the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), particularly when he referred to the cross-party coalition that exists when expressing concerns about some aspects of the Bill. However, on the programme motion, I am rather more optimistic than he is about how much time it will take to deal with the issues.
The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that there is a great deal in the Bill that every member of the Committee, and I have no doubt the whole House, supports. Many Members spoke on Second Reading and made that clear. There was clear support for bringing remote gambling—whether it be internet gambling or interactive television gambling—under regulation. There was a great deal of support for enshrining in the Bill social responsibility requirements for casino operators, and for some of the measures that attempt to give greater protection to children. There was certainly cross-party support for the introduction of a new, more powerful regulator, with the move from the Gaming Board to the gambling commission.
On those issues—whether we are talking about 80 or 90 per cent. of the Bill; the proportion does not really matter—there is a great deal of support, and I am optimistic that, subject to a few minor technical amendments from the Government, we will be able to make progress quickly through those parts of the Bill. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to draw our attention to the key areas of concern, which may well require considerable debate in Committee.
Those issues are the introduction of the new super-casinos, the so-called regional casinos, and the introduction in those particular establishments of the new, highly addictive unlimited prize machines—the so-called category A machines. There are considerable concerns about those matters and the Committee will need to spend time deliberating on them in some detail. I have no doubt that Members on both sides of the Committee will wish to explore with the Minister their concerns about how the provisions could create an uneven playing field for our home-grown, indigenous casino operators, who over the past 40 years have been successful in developing a reputation for integrity and crime-free operations.
There is a need to consider the speed of the introduction of unlimited prize machines, and there will be concerns—they were expressed by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford and many others on Second Reading—about the likely impact of the new types of casinos, with their unlimited prize machines, on problem gambling. I referred in my Second Reading speech to my extreme surprise at the statement by the Secretary of State to the Joint Committee. She said:
''If this legislation gave rise to an increase in problem gambling then it would have failed and it would be bad legislation''.
No one who I have spoken to on any side of the argument, other than the Secretary of State, believes that the Bill is unlikely to increase the problem, even with some of the amendments that may be made.
The Committee will also need to debate in some detail the location of the new super-casinos. We are well aware that the original intention was that they should be destination casinos, which would require people to make an effort to get to them. It was not intended that they would be on the high street, with the opportunities for ambient gambling and the increase in problem gambling that would ensue. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the Joint Committee, the Government changed their view on the
matter at the last minute and the proposal in the Bill is no longer for destination casinos but rather for ubiquitous regional casinos. We will need to consider that in some detail.
The Committee will have difficulty in its deliberations because of the absence of crucial information. For example, the code of conduct that will be drawn up by the new gambling commission may have a significant impact on people who are considering whether to open a new super-casino, yet we have no idea what it is likely to contain. The Committee will also be conscious of the significant number of additional powers for the Secretary of State, and therefore of the secondary legislation that will arise from the Bill, but we have not had an opportunity to see any of the details. I hope that some of that information may become available during the Bill's passage.
The hon. Gentleman raises the important issue of as yet unseen secondary legislation. Does he agree that it would be enormously helpful if the Committee were able to include some of the most crucial points in the Bill? Clearly, there would be huge uncertainty for many people in the industry and in local communities if what were to emerge from the Bill were a blank cheque. The Government would come along later and, through secondary legislation, deal with vast swathes of important issues that would not get the scrutiny that this Committee would give them.
I agree in large measure with the hon. Gentleman's comments. I hope that when the Minister winds up this debate he will give us, at the very least, an assurance that the Committee will be able to review some of the secondary legislation, even if only in draft form, if matters cannot be dealt with through amendments.
I made it very clear that I am rather more optimistic than the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford. I hope that the Committee will agree to amendments, whether introduced by the Government or any member of the Committee, which will control the proliferation of super-casinos; significantly reduce the likely rapid growth in the number of category A machines; redefine the new super-casinos as destination casinos; deal with money laundering and problem gambling by requiring people who enter the super-casinos to produce some form of identification; and introduce even stronger powers for local councils to reject casinos. If such amendments were tabled soon, we would make quick progress.
Is not one of the key facets of the Bill the role of the gambling commission in monitoring and overseeing this whole brave, new venture? Much of the legislation that the hon. Gentleman refers to will be introduced as a result of the advice that the commission will give the Government. It is vital that the commission's remit is clearly defined in the Bill. We do not need to worry too much about the immediate legislation, but we must be very careful to ensure that we get right the powers for the future.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I expressed concern about information that we do not have, but perhaps I should have placed on the record the real concern that we do not have any information about possible changes to the tax regime, which may make a huge difference to what will happen. [Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry, Mr. Foster; I was going to wait until you had finished but I have been trying to negotiate something while you were speaking. The Committee will appreciate that parliamentary proceedings have not only to be heard but be seen to be heard, where possible. Therefore, I propose that we allow members of the press and parliamentary pass holders to use not just the first box but additional seats. That should allow in just about everybody who needs to come in. I am sorry to have interrupted you, Mr. Foster.
I am grateful, Mr. Gale. It is important that our deliberations are heard.
I shall end quickly by saying that I am an optimistic member of the Committee. I believe that the programme motion gives us an opportunity to raise all the issues, subject, of course, to my belief and that of the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford that we will hear some significant announcements from the Minister on the points that I raised. I genuinely believe that that will happen; I certainly hope so. As you know, Mr. Gale, were I to be successful, I would look forward to writing a long string of letters to Mrs. Foster about such successes.
Question put and agreed to.
I remind the Committee that there is a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution in connection with the Bill. Copies are available on the Table in the Room. I also remind all members of the Committee that adequate notice of amendments must be given. As a general rule, my fellow Chairman and I will not accept manuscript or starred amendments, including starred amendments that may be reached during an afternoon sitting of the Committee.Clause 1 The licensing objectives