Clause 1 - The licensing objectives

Part of Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 10:15 am, 9th November 2004

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.