Clause 1 - The licensing objectives

Part of Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 9th November 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:45 am, 9th November 2004

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.