With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 71, in
clause 1, page 1, line 8, after second 'crime', insert
'or being operated by anyone with a criminal record,'.
Amendment No. 72, in
clause 1, page 1, line 9, after 'fair', insert 'socially responsible'.
Amendment No. 36, in
clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
'(d) ensuring that there is no link between excessive drinking after licensing hours and casino gambling in city or town centres.'.
Amendment No. 37, in
clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
'(d) ensuring that the views of the Chief Constable for any police area determine the appropriateness of any increase in gambling provision in that area.'.
Amendment No. 73, in
clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
'(d) ensuring the development of new gambling opportunities is gradual and controlled to minimise the potential for social harm.'.
Amendment No. 80, in
clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
'(d) promoting fair competition between those associated with gambling.'.
I am delighted to debate amendment No. 1, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I hope that I will have the opportunity to say a few brief words about some of the other amendments in the group with which we have a great deal of sympathy.
Clause 1, ''The licensing objectives'', begins by stating:
''In this Act a reference to the licensing objectives is a reference to the objectives of—
(a) preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime''.
I doubt that there is a single member of the Committee who would have any concern about those words. However, I believe that we should add public nuisance to the list.
The Committee is well aware of the distinction between public nuisance and disorder. I have no doubt that the Minister, in looking for ways to suggest that the issue is already covered, will have considered the definitions of the two offences. Disorder, which is covered in the legislation, refers to a disturbance of the peace or public order. It is a criminal matter and, obviously, we hope that nothing in the Bill leads to an increase of it; we do not want increased disorder.
However, public nuisance is much more a civil offence. Depending on the definition that one uses, it is something that offends the public at large. The three categories in the clause do not cover the whole range of negative social consequences that could arise from gambling, and they do not offer much in the way of scope for local authorities that might understandably be concerned about the potential public nuisance effects of the introduction of a casino in their area. They do not have the opportunity to deal with that issue. Indeed, local authorities' policies, as we shall see, are fairly low down in the hierarchy of considerations.
The code of practice that will flow from the licensing objectives and the guidance that will come from the gambling commission should be drawn up with regard to those objectives, which should include the issue of public nuisance. Committee members do not need me to remind them of the sort of examples we might be talking about: fighting, shouting, loud car stereos and horns, car doors banging and all forms of antisocial behaviour.
Why is it important that we deal with that in the objectives? The answer is simple. As the Bill stands, the local authority is unable to take account of effects that may occur not in a new casino or on gambling premises, but further afield, outside those premises. It is crucial that local authorities have the opportunity to do so. Indeed, the Local Government Association said when it wrote to all Members about the Second Reading debate that the prevention of public nuisance should be a licensing objective:
''The licensing objectives set out in Clause 1 of the Bill do not address potential problems of nuisance arising in the street outside gambling premises. This is particularly likely late at night and when alcohol has been consumed. While the Environmental Protection Act 1990 places a duty on local authorities to deal with statutory nuisances arising from the premises itself, and to investigate residents' complaints, it is not possible to use this legislation to deal with street nuisance, even where the problem is directly attributable to a particular venue.''
Use of the Environmental Protection Act for such matters is therefore not possible. The LGA goes on to say:
''This omission will seriously hamper the ability of councils to ensure effective management of the environment around gambling premises and provides residents with little scope to make representations should street nuisance occur. The LGA believes that a new licensing objective of the prevention of public nuisance should be added to Clause 1.''
I entirely agree with that, which is why I have tabled the amendment.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendments tabled by others. I shall be interested to hear from the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) when he speaks to his amendments. I have some concern about amendment No. 37, which places a great deal of power in the hands of the chief constable; I believe that a wider range of opportunities should be available. I look forward to hearing the comments of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) too.
I have huge sympathy for amendment No. 73. Committee members have made it clear that we all share the aspiration expressed by it. Whether the end of line 11 is the most appropriate place to insert the words is perhaps debatable, but we entirely support the sentiments behind it. I note, too, that there is an opportunity in debating the matter of public nuisance to consider some of the wider issues covered by the Bill.
I would like to get something on the record early on in order to secure a response from the Minister that might influence subsequent amendments. Many people are deeply concerned that the Government are quite rightly addressing in respect of the Licensing Act 2003 and related matters whether clubs and pubs should be able to stage special drinks offers such as happy hours and charge cheap prices. I am concerned about the potential for public nuisance partly because of the well established practice in casinos of offering cheap and often free drinks to some customers. If we find a solution to that problem along the same lines as the Government's solution to the problem in pubs and clubs, it may minimise the potential for public nuisance. Public nuisance, however, is different from disorder, and it is vital to include it in the Bill. That is why I am pleased to move the amendment.
Before we proceed, the Committee will have realised that the amendments associated with amendment No. 1 effectively embrace the entire clause. I shall probably not therefore be minded to allow a stand part debate. Hon. Members may wish to know that in order to avail themselves of the opportunity to speak on a fairly broad basis.
May I add to the comments already made that it is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Mr. Gale? I apologise if I am not very well heard this morning, but as sod's law would have it, I have had a massive cold over the past few days and I am finding it difficult to speak. As long as the Minister can hear me, that is the most important thing.
I wish to move amendments No. 71, 72, 73 and 80, but before that, I wish to make a quick comment about amendment No. 1, moved by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).
Order. At this point I had better explain the arcane methods by which we operate. The hon. Gentleman will realise, but some newer members of the Committee may not, that although it is open to any Member to speak to any of the amendments, they will not be moved until we reach the appropriate place in the Bill, at which point they will be moved formally. It is open to any Member to indicate later in the proceedings when the appropriate point is reached that they wish to initiate a formal division, and, if so, the Chair will consider that wish sympathetically. For the moment, however, the only amendment that can be moved is amendment No. 1.
I take your guidance, Mr. Gale.
As far as amendment No. 1 is concerned, the idea of public nuisance was introduced as an amendment in debates on the Licensing Bill. For whatever reason, the Government saw fit not to accept it. In retrospect, it might have been a very useful addition, bearing in mind the increase in binge drinking and the problems associated with it in our towns and city centres since those debates and the enactment of the Licensing Act 2003. If that increase is to be complemented—I cannot think of an alternative word—by large numbers of people visiting large casinos in the same town and city centres, we may have even more of a problem.
If the regional casinos at the top end of the scale are to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and if the rules on membership are swept away as the Government propose, the binge drinkers will simply turn out of the pubs and head for the casinos where the bars are still open. That will place an enormous amount of responsibility on the shoulders of those people running the casinos, and something in this Bill that relates to public nuisance may indicate to them that they have serious responsibilities.
Turning to amendment No. 71, which refers to paragraph (a), we have no problem with the Government's proposals and the licensing objectives for
''preventing gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder; or being used to support crime''.
We agree with all those objectives, but do they cover preventing people with a criminal record from becoming involved in the operation of casinos, or anything relating to gambling and betting? No doubt the Minister will explain why the words in my amendment are not needed. They are intended to tease out whether the words used in the Bill would include people with a criminal record. Those people may now be going straight—if that is the right term. However, we do not want those kind of people associated in any shape or form with gambling.
I would have thought so. A criminal record is a criminal record. We do not want people from abroad with criminal records coming to run our betting and gambling organisations. So, yes, the provision would be all-embracing. This is a probing amendment to discover whether the Government have considered that and whether in their view the wording in the Bill would cover that point.
Amendment No. 72 would insert the words ''socially responsible'' after the word ''fair'' in paragraph (b). At the heart of the Government's problems with the Bill is the fact that there is no control—or does not appear to be—over the number of larger or regional casinos that might develop. Numbers in the region of 20 to 40 have been bandied around at the top end. Forty regional casinos, each with a maximum of 1,250 category A machines, would mean that suddenly we could go from nothing to, potentially, 50,000 category A machines in casinos around the country.
To many people, that is a huge leap in the dark in the sense that there is little evidence to hand on the impact of the machines in this country and on problem gambling in particular. Some work has been done in Australia, but it is fairly threadbare at this point. The Government seem to expect Parliament and the electorate to embrace an idea of what might be described as proliferation. Mr. Haslam from Blackpool said that in his view that number of regional casinos and category A machines constituted ''proliferation''. If that goes ahead, the impact on local communities will be immense.
At the heart of the Government's problems is also the conflict between what they are saying on one hand about their desire for protection—the thrust of their comments so far has been that the Bill is all about regulation and protecting the vulnerable and children—and what they are saying on the other hand about not knowing how many regional casinos there might be and not really caring, because market forces will determine that.
The initial plan was that the regional planning bodies would decide where the casinos would go and local authorities would then take that on board. However, the numbers would not be constrained by any limit imposed by Government or in any other way. In the end, it would be those who wish to invest in such facilities who would decide whether the market would
stand 40 or 50 casinos, or whether there should be fewer than that.
The thrust on the planning side is to place the facilities where regeneration would be easy to obtain, and more obvious and measurable. That brings us into city centres and to run-down areas of our large conurbations. So, it is possible that casinos will be placed right in the heart of large populations of people. Of course, that is where the regional casino developers want them to be, so that there is the greatest market potential and the greatest access by the majority of people to their facility. Any business man in their position would think in exactly the same way. That would mean that the problems of convenience and of ambient gambling would raise their heads in a way that is different to anything that we have experienced in this country hitherto.
I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but will he reflect on the representations that I and, no doubt, he have received saying that we already have an ambient gambling problem with the growth of opportunities in high-street betting shops, not least because of fixed-odds betting terminals? I hope that we return to that issue.
I agree with that point: there is a problem but it is nothing like on the scale of the potential problem if we had 40 or 50 regional casinos with huge numbers of machines in them.
So there is a problem. The Government say that the Bill is about protecting the vulnerable and, especially, children. However, because of the way in which the Bill is structured, there could be 40 or more huge casinos, which will be in our city centres, not in the countryside. Some may be in coastal resorts, but the majority will, under the planning conditions, go where regeneration benefits would be greatest. That will be in city centres, right in the middle of the so-called vulnerable populations that the Government say they are trying to protect.
One reason why there has been such a massive reaction to the proposals is that people do not know what they are signing up to. Parliament does not know what it is signing up to. If there are changes to the Bill, it will be fine. We hope that we will come on to those changes later and that the Government will move in the direction that is desired not only by us, but, judging from the small rebellion on Second Reading and the speeches made by many of their colleagues, by many Government Members.
We feel that the words ''socially responsible'' ought to form a key ingredient of one of the Bill's objectives so that the gambling commission, who will be managing those objectives, can say to regional casinos, ''There are problems, not just with the operation of your facility but with the knock-on social effects of where you are and what you are doing.'' That may mean that social organisations are brought into the consultation process. Mandatory environmental impact assessments are part of many
planning applications. Why not have social impact assessments in this context? I am not suggesting that we put them in the Bill, but I believe that there needs to be some constraint and some acceptance of social responsibility.
Amendment No. 73 would insert paragraph (d), with the objective of
''ensuring the development of new gambling opportunities is gradual and controlled to minimise the potential for social harm.''
I covered many of the points that relate to the amendment. We have tabled an amendment to clause 7 which raises the issue of restricting the number of regional casinos through pilot schemes. I do not want to rehearse the arguments that we will use at that time. It is an attempt on our part to ensure the gradual development of regional casinos, which are the main problem. The larger of the smaller casinos will take care of themselves in time. However, a huge explosion in the number of regional casinos over a short period would take us into an area into which we have never been. Indeed, I do not think that any country of the UK's size and density of population has given such huge numbers of people access to such casinos. Parts of Australia have liberalised gambling, although we perhaps do not want to go down the same road. However, the population density in Australia is nothing like what it is here, and access to category A machines is nothing like what it would be if regional casinos were established in our city centres and other densely populated areas.
We therefore want development to be gradual so that we can measure the impact of the new casinos on the social and economic fabric of their areas. That means taking things slowly, adopting a piecemeal approach and ensuring that we get things right before allowing further expansion.
Will the hon. Gentleman expand on what he means by gradual implementation? How would it be achieved? Could he specify the numbers involved?
I did say that we had tabled an amendment to clause 7 which relates to pilot schemes. Those would be our starting point. The Government would then commission a report and present it to Parliament, which, on the basis of the evidence, would decide whether to go for another four, 10 or 20 casinos. So, the process would be gradual, and it would start with a pilot scheme. However, I do not want to rehearse those points now.
I do not want to anticipate the debate on that subject, but how would the four be allocated? Would that be done through the planning mechanisms, or would Parliament decide?
I am not going to rehearse all the arguments that we shall deploy later, but we could proceed in several ways. There is no reason why the Government could not say that they would have four casinos in areas A, B, C and D. Indeed, they may decide on more than four, although we hope that there will be some movement on that. Equally, certain regions could be asked to tender for one casino, which could then be put out to a bid process. So, we could proceed in all sorts of ways, but the essential point is
that we start with a small number and check to see how they are working before we increase the number by between 20 and 40, which is the scale that the Government seem to envisage in the Bill. We are saying that that is unacceptable and that we want the development to be gradual, if possible.
Amendment No. 80 would add the objective of
''promoting fair competition between those associated with gambling''
in line 11 of page 1. It would increase the power of the gambling commission—which will, of course, be delivering on such objectives throughout the industry—by providing that it can act to prevent a distortion of the competitive market and ensure that consumer choice is enhanced by effective competition, so far as that is consistent with the other licensing objectives. It also seeks to ensure that the licensing objectives are applied uniformly and consistently. Underpinning all policy should be the objective of fairly implementing the revised regulatory scheme, which will achieve equity for consumers and operators, with safeguards against discrimination.
There has been quite a reaction from the existing industry to the Government's proposals subsequent to the scrutiny Committee's second report on regional casinos—[Interruption.]
Order. Can hon. Members try to resist the temptation to engage in private conversations in the Room? There are wonderful green Benches provided for that purpose outside the Room and they are extremely comfortable.
Thank you, Mr. Gale; that was helpful.
I was talking about the existing casino industry's resistance to the Government's response to the second report There is a breakdown in communication, a breakdown in trust and a breakdown in co-operation, not just across parties, but with the people on the scrutiny Committee who did an excellent job over a long period. All the previous consultation with the industry in this country seemed to count for nought when, out of the blue, the Government suddenly came up with the final proposals that are enshrined in the Bill. I hope that we can chip away at those, but essentially that relationship broke down.
The amendment seeks to reintroduce some fairness and equity. We are dealing not just with a commodity that is traded on our high streets and through our normal business channels. At the level of regional casinos, gambling is highly profitable. Let us not kid ourselves; people will make a lot of money. Those profits will be made on the back of ordinary people, not just the high rollers that I happened to see in a club in London the other week—I went on an investigatory expedition, of course. I could not possibly afford the stakes that I saw being used on a blackjack table, but such gambling goes on. I do not want to do it myself, but I see no problem if other people want to. However, a lot of money is involved. American investors talk about 10,000 to 20,000 people going through their doors during a weekend; that is their threshold. It is like a football crowd going through the doors over two days. It is a huge number of people. Many of them will not be able to afford the £25 chips that I saw being
tossed on to a blackjack table the other night, but people on modest incomes will be tempted to go the extra mile for prizes.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would agree, following his fact-finding visit, that the vast majority of profits, particularly from the new super-casinos or regional casinos, will come from machines. He said that the amendment is concerned with promoting fair competition between those associated with gambling and he will be well aware that there is a rather mixed view within the British industry on how best to achieve that. Some argue that the best way would be to have no category A machines in the new super-casinos, which would make it fairer for existing casinos. Others say that we should perhaps allow some category A machines in existing large and small casinos as they will be defined. Does the hon. Gentleman have a view on the way forward, or am I pre-empting something that he may wish to return to later?
Yes to all those questions. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point: if we want to establish a level playing field, there must be equal opportunities for all. As he well knows, under the Bill category A machines will go only into regional casinos. Existing casinos, whether large or small, will not have access to them. He is right in saying that the machines will deliver the profits, not the gaming tables.
Our view is that there should be equalisation somewhere, and we will come to that later. We do not have a fixed view that there should be x number of machines here, there or wherever, but existing casinos—probably just the large ones, not the small ones—should have access to category A machines in limited numbers. Alternatively, the stake payout could be increased for category B machines, which currently have a limit of £2,000. It is incredible that the Government are saying that someone on a modest income could wander into one of these new regional casinos and gamble away on category A machines. The one in east Manchester, if it gets built, will be on one of the most run-down housing estates in the city.
There is nothing wrong with that, although there is evidence to suggest that a great temptation will be placed in people's way and they may gamble more than they expected to. But compare that with the member of the London club casino that I went to last week: he was gambling huge amounts of money on the blackjack table. The Government say that he can do that, but he cannot spend more than £1 in a category B machine; it is fatuous. A sensible playing field needs to be established. We would like to see it set out in clause 1, under objectives, that the gambling commission must seek a fair and level playing field.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's point. I was glad that when he mentioned the new casino in east Manchester, he added, ''If it gets built.'' When considering where these casinos will be built, we must bear in mind the danger that large inland, inner-city casinos might prevent the successful operation of casinos in our run-down resorts. We will have to look at where these casinos should be and what the Bill
should say about that. I certainly would not want to accept that Manchester is bound to have a casino, because it might damage the chance to help resorts in the north-west.
I take on board what my hon. Friend has said. I know that he has close ties with Blackpool. If he wants me to put it on the record that I have no preference for east Manchester over Blackpool, I am happy to do so, but speaking as a Mancunian, it just slipped out that I knew about the proposals for east Manchester. Certainly, we have made no decision on where the casinos should be. Having said that, there is a strong case for one in Blackpool; there is a strong case for resort casinos. The concept behind these mega-complexes is that people will have to make an effort to go to them to experience a range of leisure activities.
I am not going to say now what I want to say to the hon. Gentleman when we deal with his amendments to clause 7, but is he seriously considering regeneration possibilities in the context of the whole area? He will know that Manchester has enjoyed enormous regeneration over recent years. How would a large regional casino fit into what is already a booming city with enormous regeneration potential? There is a difference between the widespread regeneration of a town or area and simply a large development in an area, which does not link to that wider regeneration context.
Indeed. I could do with some of her fishermen's friends at the moment.
The hon. Lady made a strong plea for Blackpool over Manchester. I would not wish to interpose myself in that argument. She makes a good point. Manchester already has many developments and the regeneration aspect and payback for Blackpool would far outweigh any commensurate and proportional impact in Manchester.
Does my hon. Friend not think that the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) has pointed out precisely what is wrong with this Bill: it will attract investment to the wrong places and not the right ones? That is a very good critique of the Bill.
We still stand by the need for regeneration. Hopefully, regeneration would be a key component of any regional casino development system that is decided on and that evolves. We make that point later in our amendments to clause 7. We do want the maximum benefit to be derived from these developments. How that is measured is another open question, because regeneration is not the same as section 106 agreements or the tariff under the new Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. They are all different, but I believe that we have an idea about what regeneration really means, and the
Conservative party is keen to ensure that any regional casino developments yield very important and measurable regeneration results.
Does not this demonstrate the problem that we are creating for ourselves? I accept that we do not want a free-for-all in the marketplace so that the market determines where the casinos go, but we have just been given the example of Manchester v. Blackpool. I sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman says about limiting the numbers and having pilots, but surely he must have a mechanism for determining where the casino should go, whether that is Blackpool or Manchester. One cannot simply say ''pilots'' and then leave the question up in the air without having some idea of how one will determine it.
Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; that debate does come later. I appreciate that the early stages of discussion of a Bill such as this can sometimes be difficult because waters get a little muddy, but very clear amendments have been tabled to clause 7, which is probably when this debate should take place.
Thank you, Mr. Gale. I did not want to be seen to be doing your job, but I will happily debate those issues then. They are critical to the Bill. Most of the Bill and its nuances here and there can be adjusted, but the guts of it lie in where the casinos go, how many there should be and what criteria we use to choose where to put them. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) is spot on, but we will have that debate a little later.
I believe that I have covered all my amendments to clause 1.
I have some sympathy with the points made by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, because it is very difficult for anyone to argue that we should be against social responsibility in the gambling industry. There is, however, something rather patronising and almost Victorian about this debate. People will not be forced to go into casinos. They will not be rounded up and driven into them; they will go into them willingly. Although one must be relatively cautious, particularly when moving into new territory, it is necessary to remind the Committee that in the end people are responsible for their own actions.
The hon. Gentleman refers to Victorian values. If I remember rightly, there were gin shops in the Victorian era, which caused huge misery and problems for women and children. Is he saying that that sort of responsibility should be abrogated?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I did not say ''Victorian values''. That would be a very stupid thing to say. I leave it to the former Conservative Prime Minister to come up with such sayings. Little boys used to go up chimneys, too, as the
hon. Gentleman knows. He also knows that I would not be in favour of that, although if I remember rightly—not personally, of course: I might be old, but I am not that old—there were all sorts of lurid tales and suggestions that if little boys were prevented from going up chimneys, it would mean hunger and starvation for their families and they would lose their jobs. There is a Victorian aspect to what I am hearing this morning. I said that there is something Victorian about it; I did not refer to Victorian values.
In situations such as this, it pays the Opposition—opposition to the Bill crosses the Floor; there is opposition among Members of all parties—to paint the most lurid possible picture of what might happen: huge casinos on every street corner causing poverty, distress, destitution, suicides, family break-ups and civilisation as we know it to grind to a halt. That is a rather lurid picture. We ought to keep what might happen in some context.
The Bill is a welcome development, offering large numbers of opportunities for regeneration and enhanced facilities. People will have the opportunity to go into casinos, which they do not have now because of the limited number of them around the country. Although it is good to talk about social responsibility, in the end people must be responsible for their own actions. We in this place are taking people's individual responsibilities away, because someone will always say, ''What are the Government going to do about this? Why don't the Government do something about this?'' I get sick and tired of hearing that. It is necessary to move with caution, but not to be overly patronising in our view of the population as a whole. If we can resist temptation—well, if most of us can resist temptation—why on earth cannot the rest or the great majority of the population? Oscar Wilde said:
''I can resist everything except temptation.''
Perhaps that quotation has led the Government very sensibly in clause 23 to specify what the code of practice established by the new commission should contain. I assume that the hon. Gentleman will support that clause. Does he not accept that that is absolutely about social responsibility?
I was going to say that. Everyone wants to do your job, Mr. Gale.
I did not argue against social responsibility, but I am trying to inject a greater measure of reality and trust into our approach to this issue. Somehow we feel that we are okay, but that we must protect everyone else. I do not feel that we need to do that. From my contact with the gambling industry, I am fairly certain that there is a great deal of social responsibility in it already. The industry does not want to destroy its own trade and right to work. It has to be socially responsible. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire said that this is about making profits. Of course it is, but if it were a question of gambling operators wringing people dry, no one would want to go into a casino. There has to be a fair distribution of money in casinos and machines in order to make gambling attractive. We need to say that in
the end people must be responsible for themselves. Although we must include realistic safeguards, we should not be patronising about it.
Having heard what the hon. Gentleman has just said, and having for years listened to him making speeches about how we wants to ban hunting, I am amazed that he is such a liberaliser on this issue. Does he not accept that he could have made precisely the same speech in debates on the Licensing Bill, and that we know that that Bill has led to positive harm with binge drinking? We must be very careful to ensure that the public and the vulnerable are safeguarded.
I am not arguing that we should not put in place adequate safeguards; I am merely saying that we should give credence to people's ability to handle their own affairs. I have to address the point, and shall do so briefly, because the hon. Gentleman challenged me on it. There is a big difference between what people do to themselves and what they do to others, which includes other species. There is no conflict in my views. If the hon. Gentleman did not realise that I would have thought the issue through, he underestimates me. Of course there is a difference, and that is all I need to say.
I was making the point that we must not assume that everyone is so feeble-minded that they cannot make their own choices based on their own judgment and what they want to achieve.
Bob Russell rose—
I suspect that in much of the legislation that we had in the past, and in the situation prior to 1961 as well, the issue was about regularising activities that people indulge in. If we do not properly regulate such activities, criminal fraternities will step in and do it for us in a way that we would find socially undesirable.
No, I was not. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for educating me about that. I know that the situation is limited now, and that, for instance, in West Ham the football club wants to operate a casino but is unable to do so. [Hon. Members: ''Ah! Now we know.''] Given the fact that that was in the newspapers, it can hardly be called a well-kept secret. West Ham has to find some way to get people to go to the ground if not for the football. I speak as someone who has the privilege and pleasure of representing much of the area covered by the
ground, although I have never been a supporter of the club. That gets me into difficulties from time to time, but, under the circumstances, one has to stand up for one's belief. One can change many things in one's life, but one should never change one's allegiance to a football club.
There are opportunities, but I return to the original point, which is that we should by all means safeguard those whom we believe to be vulnerable, but we should not get things out of proportion. The great majority of people in this country will be able to go to a casino if they want to, although many people will not want to. Personally, I do not find casinos at all attractive, but I do not see why I should be part of a process to deny people that opportunity.
I want to begin, as I did my speech on Second Reading, by referring the Committee to my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests. To go a little further than that, a recent article suggested that the Government had packed their side of the Committee. However, the article, although absolutely accurate as far as it went, also included a reference to what I said on Second Reading, but by omission gave completely the opposite impression of the facts. I made it quite clear on Second Reading that I wanted to talk principally about the casinos issue, as I in fact did, although I also mentioned that since I had ceased to be the shadow Minister responsible for gaming I had undertaken a small consultancy for a British company. I made it clear that that company was not involved in the casino business, nor would it be.
By not including the second part of my declaration, the newspaper that referred to the composition of the Committee gave exactly the opposite impression of the facts. It is clearly of some concern that when the national press report the proceedings on this Bill, they should seek to give the opposite impression to the facts by leaving out salient information when Members make speeches.
I will concentrate on the two amendments against which my name appears first, although I will touch briefly on the other amendments against which my name appears, simply to say that I support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for Bath.
I understand that the genesis of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bath was the views of the British Amusement and Catering Trades Association, with which I have worked happily for many years since I was the hon. Member for Blackpool, South. BACTA does a great deal through its charitable work, such as its work with Gamcare to help solve the problems of those who are addicted to gambling. I have worked with BACTA on an amicable—and, of course, unremunerated—basis on several pieces of legislation. Over the years, it has shown through its advice to Members on both sides of the House that it has the interests of the whole community at heart, so I was happy to add my name to amendments suggested by BACTA.
I particularly support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. As he knows, I share the concerns that he mentioned, to which we will return in our debates on clause 7. I abide by your ruling, Mr. Gale, that we should not anticipate that debate. However, you asked us to indicate when speaking to amendments if we wish to press them to a Division, so I will say that I am anxious to do so with amendments Nos. 36 and 37.
I tabled the amendments because of issues that affect the town closest to my constituency, part of which includes wards in Guildford borough, where there is a problem about which the previous chief constable of Surrey, Denis O'Connor, who has just retired and is now a member of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, has briefed all Surrey Members of Parliament. At a meeting, a year or so ago, he showed all Surrey MPs a CCTV video of the kind of thing that goes on in Guildford town centre late on Friday and Saturday nights. He showed us the activities of what he called the Guildford warriors: young people—principally, but not exclusively, men—who drink far too much and then get involved in serious violence. That is a problem for law-abiding citizens in Guildford town centre, and for the police. Sadly, many of the police officers who try to sort those problems out and protect law-abiding people have been the victims of assaults, sometimes serious, and have suffered quite serious injuries.
Excessive drinking is clearly an issue in any town centre. However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel: I have seen a lot of press coverage about parts of the country in which local authorities have taken steps to abolish or prevent so-called happy hours, after which there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of offences committed. When one is dealing with a Bill such as this, which may allow people who have drunk too much in town and city centres to then go into new casinos, one is bound to be concerned. Amendment No. 36 would ensure that
''there is no link between excessive drinking after licensing hours and casino gambling in city or town centres'',
and amendment No. 37 would ensure that
''the views of the Chief Constable for any police area determine the appropriateness of any increase in gambling provision in that area'',
adding safeguards to the Bill. In the Second Reading debate at the beginning of last week, the Secretary of State spoke a great deal about her much-vaunted so-called triple lock. Adding those extra safeguards would put some extra locks in place.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that excessive drinking causes problems for the police, but I am sure that he would accept that it also causes problems for many other people in our towns and cities. Therefore, I wonder whether he would explain to the Committee why the wording of his amendment No. 37 refers to
''ensuring that the views of the Chief Constable for any police area determine the appropriateness of any increase in gambling provision in that area.''
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his wording precisely means that the chief constable would be all-powerful in such matters? I would have far preferred
an amendment that sought to ensure that the views of the chief constable would be taken into account alongside the views of various other organisations, not least those of the local authority.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman, the chief constable's views should be paramount in the decision making because we are seeking to protect our fellow citizens by keeping out organised crime and avoiding social problems. Who better than the chief constable to do that, particularly in the light of the example that I have given from Guildford? The chief constable is more aware than anyone else of the problems and has specific responsibilities for the safe policing of an area. He is the man more responsible than any other for ensuring that the twin objectives of safety for the law-abiding and keeping out organised crime are met. I would have a great deal more faith in the decisions of chief constables than in those of the sort of regional authority to which the Government seem to be wedded and which I was delighted to see the voters of the north-east so decisively reject, to the enormous anger and frustration of the Minister's former boss, the Deputy Prime Minister.
I hope that we will give the police a greater role. Putting matters to consultation is not enough. We all know that people can be consulted to death. I often feel when I read Liberal Democrat policy proposals that they believe so much in consultation that no decision would ever be reached at all. There is death by consultation in any area of the country where Lib Dems are within an iota of power. I do not believe in consulting but in decision making. I happen to have a great deal of faith that chief constables would make the right decisions on the matter because I know how much they worry about what happens in their area.
There is a second reason why I use the example of Guildford. It just so happens that the man who owns nearly all the late-night drinking bars in the part of Guildford where all the clubs are next to one another and problems arise—all Surrey MPs have seen the closed-circuit television—has already publicly made it clear that he wishes to have a casino under the provisions of the Bill. He wants to turn some of the late-night drinking clubs into a casino operation because he envisages great opportunities for making money. I have never met the gentleman, nor do I know much about him, other than what he has himself said publicly, but I would be very concerned about that. I know the effects that his clubs have on law-abiding citizens, including many of my constituents for whom Guildford is a centre that they wish to visit. I know of the problems.
I may have identified at least a possible solution. I do not completely rule out some alternative wording, as long as it is not just about consultation to death. I do not ever suggest that my drafting is much better than that of anybody else in the Committee.
No, I have not, for precisely the reason that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire and I complained about the
programming. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has just arrived. The Government know that there used to be a convention that the Committee stage of a Bill was not started until a clear week after Second Reading. That week would have given us time to consult before the Committee stage. [Interruption.] The Minister says, from a sedentary position, that this proposal has been many years in the genesis; of course it has, but it has changed dramatically. The Government's proposals are very different from those in the draft Bill that went to the scrutiny Committee.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire said, members of the Committee have had only a limited time in which to table amendments. However, I do not doubt that there will be time for further consultation before the Bill goes to the other place. As I said on Second Reading, I suspect that what will determine the final shape of the Bill will be the views of many Labour peers, some of whom served with my hon. Friend on the scrutiny Committee. They have already said that they are much happier with what the scrutiny Committee said than with what the Government propose. I know those Labour peers and how much influence they have on their colleagues. The Minister and the Secretary of State are well aware that they will have to make huge concessions in this House. If they do not, their proposals will be changed dramatically not just by Conservative peers and Cross Benchers, but by Labour peers who want the Bill to be much closer in spirit to the measure that went before the scrutiny Committee.
I have said all I need to say about my reasons for speaking to amendments Nos. 36 and 37. I support what the hon. Member for Bath said.
It is widely recognised in this country and internationally that the gaming and betting industry in the UK is largely free from corruption and criminal elements. That is the result of tough enforcement, which the Bill will reinforce. I therefore welcome paragraph (a), which sets out the objective of preventing gambling from being the source of crime and disorder. I sympathise with amendment No. 71, as it is important that those who run casinos or who are involved in gaming should not have a criminal record.
It is not so much that the operation of casinos or licensed betting outlets may involve organised crime as the fact that they may be used to launder large sums of cash. At present, there is clear protection and reassurance because people have to join casinos, so the operators and gambling commission know, or can identify who is laying the money. I am anxious that, if there is a large explosion of super-casinos, with no membership rules and no form of identity required, they will be used by unscrupulous individuals to launder large amounts of cash, possibly using different individuals to do so.
constituency as people have to explain why they have large assets and where certain amounts of cash have come from. We do not want casinos and the gaming industry to become an easy way to get rid of or ''to clean'' large amounts of money that have been generated from the drugs industry, which causes misery to our constituents.
I welcome the new forms of gambling in the Bill, such as exchange betting, which has become popular. However, I have a word of caution: people using betting exchanges can remain anonymous in laying bets against one another. We need to look at that, because it is one way of laundering large sums of cash. The argument is that we would know that the money was to be paid into some other account. We would, but we would not know who was betting. It does not take a genius to work out that such a method could be used to deal with large amounts of cash.
I do not want to anticipate a later debate—I mention it now because the hon. Gentleman may not have had the chance to read it—but my amendment No. 26 to clause 9 deals with some of the points that he makes. In the light of what he said, I look forward to some sympathetic consideration when we reach that point.
I am grateful for that intervention but I want to raise the matter now.
It would be sad if we passed the Bill without tightening some of its provisions, because we could inadvertently give organised crime new opportunities. We do not want a criminal element to become involved in gambling; it is universally recognised that, to date, it has not been involved. It is about not just the operation of the Bill but ensuring that people cannot use gaming and gambling casinos as a way of ''cleaning'' their ill gotten gains.
I appreciate that it may be difficult for the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to understand the word ''consensus''.
I put it on record that I have been participating in the Parliament and Industry Trust scheme for some months. I have been placed with the Gala Group. There is no financial interest in it, but it has provided me with a little insight.
I shall concentrate on amendment No. 1, which is to do with public nuisance. I could accuse the Government of many things, but would never accuse them of deliberately wanting to promote public nuisance. In the spirit of consensus to which the Minister alluded, the amendment would go down well in communities that are concerned not so much about casinos, despite many people's grave reservations, but about their spill-out effect, which would be similar to that in our towns and cities when people spill out from major drinking establishments.
It would be a positive sign of the consensus that the Minister seeks if he were to take the amendment on board, because public nuisance is the cause of considerable concern. To include such a provision in the Bill would go a long way to assuring people that
there is a lot of sense behind what the Government propose.
I respond briefly to something said earlier. It was suggested that Government Back Benchers all support of the Bill. Although I voted with the Government on Second Reading, I made it clear that they would not get my support in future if the Bill were not significantly amended. The suggestion that we are all in agreement about the Bill is not correct.
The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford prayed in aid a number of organisations. I commend those organisations for their consistent approach. However, we could not say that of the Opposition. The former Front-Bench spokesman on culture, media and sport, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), said that he welcomed the liberalisation of gambling. Having spoken to small clubs and gaming bodies, he indicated that his main concerns were for good causes and for the small clubs. He made no reference to regional casinos or the other concerns raised today by the Opposition. There is an inconsistency in their approach.
Mr. Moss rose—
I shall finish the point before giving way to the hon. Gentleman. It is a shame that we are so close to an election. We are clearly seeing Members of Parliament posturing in preparation for a general election. This is the sort of Bill that, generally, MPs can deal with in a mature way that benefits constituents. There is a duty on those on both Front Benches to deal with the Bill in a sensible way that benefits the public, not party positions.
It would be interesting to know when my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk made the comments reported. I suspect that he was in that post four years ago, before the scrutiny Committee considered the Bill and the reports were written. At that time, no one knew—in fact, no one on the scrutiny Committee knew—that the Government's proposals would be such that there might be up to 20 or 40 regional casinos. That was not even on the horizon. We are in favour of liberalisation; we have not said that we do not want to liberalise the law. All we are saying is that we must proceed cautiously.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is sufficiently broadminded to accept that the Bill is before us today because the Government chose to introduce it less than a year before we all expect there to be a general election. Furthermore, he criticises MPs who oppose the Bill for playing politics with it. Surely he has been in the House long enough—I think that he has been here longer than me—to know that any measure dealing with gambling is bound to cause a great deal of concern among Members of Parliament.
As we have said many times, on Second Reading and even today, we can all be happy with 90 per cent. of the Bill, because that 90 per cent. is modest and reasonable. The concern relates to the 10 per cent. that deals with casino gambling. No one has changed their position on that matter—it is a new phenomenon that the Government are introducing, to which many of us object.
The hon. Lady continues to make my points for me. I thank her very much. Given that we agree with 90 per cent. of the Bill, and if there is so much that is good about it, I am surprised that hon. Members have voted against it. The duty of hon. Members is to amend legislation. Our duty is to improve that 10 per cent. of the Bill, so that we can move forward with consensus. It is important that there be consensus on such a Bill.
Let me move on. I sympathise with the intention behind the amendments, but I have to question whether this is the right part of the Bill to deal with the issues that they raise. If, as a consequence of the Bill's introduction, we finish up with disorder on our high streets as a result of people over-indulging in alcohol, the legislation will have failed. Frankly, if the Bill sanctions over-indulgence in alcohol as an accompaniment to gambling, it is a squalid Bill that will fail to protect people from the worst forms of exploitation that we can imagine on our high streets. However, I do not think that the Bill is going in that direction.
I say to Opposition Members that the place to deal with the issue—I am putting my hon. Friends on notice that I might propose an amendment in a future debate—is clause 23. I am surprised that that clause does not mention anything to do with alcohol and gambling. We need to deal with the issue in the code of practice. If we create a situation in which, while gambling in casinos, people can indulge in alcohol to the extent that people fear, the legislation will have failed. It is essential that the code of practice includes a reference to alcohol to the effect that expectations are high.
I had the privilege of speaking yesterday to people employed in the gambling industry in America and I was astonished at the level of regulation in the American casino industry. They were very complimentary about the level of regulation. They also explained that staff are trained, including in how to spot people who are over-indulging in alcohol while gambling. There are notices in some casinos warning the public about drinking alcohol while gambling and asking people to come forward if they identify anyone who is too much under the influence of alcohol while gambling. The Bill should deal with those matters, rather than public disorder on our high streets.
I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point about alcohol. However, can he address the issue of public nuisance, to which my amendment relates? Does he accept that there is a distinction in law
between disorder and public nuisance? Many members of the public are already deeply concerned about public nuisance in relation to pubs and clubs. Does he not think that it would be appropriate to have the words ''public nuisance'' included in the Bill as one of the objectives to be avoided?
I do not think so. We are discussing establishments whose primary function is gambling but, as a result of the Bill, they may cause nuisance and disorder on our streets. I do not think that the Bill is an appropriate vehicle for trying to deal with the question of nuisance on our high streets, which is caused by elements that are licensed under other legislation, such as that covering alcohol. The hon. Gentleman is confusing the issue by trying to introduce a provision to deal with that matter under the clause. To ensure that we protect the public, we need to deal with that matter through the operators' code of practice.
On that argument, I presume that the hon. Gentleman would propose deletion of the word ''disorder'' in relation to clause 1(a). I would be surprised if he wished to do that.
The hon. Gentleman has already referred several times to the code. Clause 23, which is clearly related to this clause, provides that the code will have regard to the licensing objectives. If the code refers to the licensing objectives, it is vital that we get those objectives right.
I accept that that is correct, but I believe that the hon. Gentleman suggests in his amendment that the nuisance caused will be similar to that seen at late-night drinking venues and discos. I do not believe that this licensing legislation can deal with that element of public nuisance and public disorder. The clause concerns the regulation of the gaming side of the operation. He confuses the issue by introducing that aspect into the clause. If an operator is providing alcohol in a way that is creating a nuisance, that should be dealt with in the code of practice. That is the most appropriate and strongest way in which the gambling commission can handle the matter. Regulations already exist under which local authorities can deal with nuisance and licensing.
Mr. Foster indicated dissent.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I will conclude by reiterating what I said earlier. We need to strengthen the code of practice, because that is the most appropriate way in which to deal with the concerns raised by the amendments. The provisions in clause 1 are sufficient, and I shall not support the amendments.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, the hon. Member for West Ham and I served on the scrutiny Committee.
I am in a little difficulty at the moment, because having listened to what the hon. Member for West Ham said, I find myself to the left of him politically. That will put me into an extremely difficult position, but I shall try to overcome those problems.
As I am talking of degrees of difficulty, the scrutiny Committee had a difficulty in that the whole Bill was not available on day one to be gone through and seen as a piece. It emerged from some osmotic process, which shows the difficulty in getting the drafting of the Bill exactly right. I think that everybody agreed that the Bill was not exactly right on Second Reading.
Amendment No. 73 goes to the heart of the difference between the scrutiny Committee and the Government, and produced a torrent of concern from the media. I think that the media overdid it and exaggerated, but why let the facts get in the way of a good story? There has been plenty of publicity about the issue, and there we are. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), with her journalistic background, may wish to comment on the accuracy of journalism and the various areas that have an impact on politics.
The scrutiny Committee asked for comprehensive planning guidance and advice to be available from the various regional bodies, so that anybody making any form of application could know exactly where they were and what they were about to do in their application. We would all agree that those regional bodies are as new-born babes compared with the existing county council structure, and they do not have the tried and trusted case law to advise them on how to go forward with various planning applications. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath was cruel to refer to the recent result from the north-east, but I wonder what that will do for the effectiveness of the various regional assemblies.
Very briefly, as I am conscious of the time, one of the results of the Government's humiliation in the recent referendum in the north-east was that the chairman of the South East England regional assembly called for the abolition of his own assembly and others like it yesterday.
If I were to respond to that completely irrelevant and erroneous intervention, I would have your wrath come upon me, Mr. Gale. As the Committee has some days to go, I wish to catch your eye frequently and not right at the tail-end Charlie, which seems to have been the case in this instance. [Hon. Members: ''Oh!''] My experience tells me that, although I know that the Chairman is really quite a fair man.
Oh dear. I was hoping to be number one next time.
To return seriously to the matter, the advice to the regional bodies must be comprehensive and clear. We have already seen the problems that are being raised. What happens when two regions put forward their various candidates and the towns and cities are close to each other on the border between the two regions? The one thing that was agreed between Ministers from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was that the Deputy Prime Minister did not wish to arbitrate on all the cases put to him. The rest of it was not exactly a seamless whole, with the two Departments working closely and comprehensively together.
It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.