I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing 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 welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike. I am delighted to see you, as I was having a little trouble just before we adjourned. I am sure that, with your fingertip control, all will go smoothly from now on.
If I remember correctly, I was saying that the Government made a big mistake in not agreeing with the scrutiny Committee's advice on a more coherent
pattern of guidance to the regions. I remind hon. Members what the Joint Committee said:
''While we acknowledge the Government's reluctance to publish national guidance relating specifically to regional/leisure destination casinos, we believe that it could help to ensure a consistent approach between regional authorities and avoid the need for applications to be called in for determination by the First Secretary of State.''
Amendment No. 73 goes to the core of the debate and touches on this matter to a significant extent. In response to the Joint Committee, the Government stated:
''The Government accepts that national planning policy guidance should, where it is appropriate, deal with casinos.''
The response then says that various papers
''and the two joint statements already provide a comprehensive policy framework.''
I was taken aback by that response, and subsequent events have shown that the public and the media have come down very much on the side of the Joint Committee rather than that of the Government, hence all the media excitement of the past couple of weeks.
Amendment No. 73 is key to the whole debate. If the Minister were inclined to accept it, we could all pack up and go home. If we could be clear about how new gambling opportunities will be developed and expanded, everyone would know exactly where they were.
When my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) spoke to amendment No. 73 and was asked what he had in mind, he mentioned pilot schemes. Perhaps the Government should actively consider that route. The Joint Committee suggested that the Government examine very closely the French system as a means
''of ensuring the development of new gambling opportunities is gradual and controlled'',
to quote from the amendment. In France, central Government say to various cities and towns that they can have a casino, and then the city or town negotiates with the various bidders to get all the benefits that it thinks it needs.
We visited one centre that had recently been granted permission to have a casino. The casino operator built a new theatre, and many roads and other means of access were improved. That type of benefit could accrue, but the interesting thing was that the new casino developments were dictated by central Government. I am not saying that that is the way to go, but it is obvious that the public have comprehensively taken fright at the idea of unbridled expansion. The Government are on record as saying that the market should decide. In an issue such as this, the market should not decide. We need careful regulation and development, and we want to ensure that everything goes the right way.
There have been comments about rowdiness in casinos. I am not a great casino attendee, but in those that I attended as part of the work of the Joint Committee we saw no drunkenness or rowdiness. In fact, the people playing the tables and slot machines looked decidedly miserable to me. They did not look
as though they were enjoying it at all; they looked like they needed a bit of cheering up.
No, I entirely concur with the hon. Gentleman's comments about the 131 existing casinos. However, does he not share my concern about the new breed of casino, the new super or regional casinos, in the Bill, where circumstances might be very different because of the large number of people likely to attend?
The hon. Gentleman has obviously seen exactly what I am going to say next, because I have a little note that says ''50–50''. He is absolutely right that, going on the experience in America, the new super-casinos—whether they are called resort or destination casinos is by the by—will take their revenue with an almost 50–50 split. Some 50 per cent. of revenue will come from gaming, and the greatest percentage of that will come from slot machines, but the other 50 per cent. will come from various leisure activities, including shows, entertainment, meals and so on. [Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) waving at me?
There is an assumption in this Committee, and before it becomes received truth it should be examined, that the large casinos will somehow inevitably lead to rowdy behaviour. That problem can be dealt with by a raft of measures, and the hon. Gentleman has already said how well ordered existing casinos are. Why can we not assume that that will be extrapolated to the new casinos?
I have no objection to what the hon. Gentleman says. Dredging my memory banks, I do not think that I have said anything to the contrary that should make him leap to his feet. Casino staff are trained; they are not the average lad, with no training in how to deal with drunks and rowdiness, who has been asked to serve behind the bar at the Pig and Whistle for half an hour on a Saturday evening. Due to their training and numbers, casino staff are perfectly able to deal with problems if they occur, so I do not make any of the assumptions that the hon. Gentleman tries to put into my mouth.
As I think my hon. Friend knows, I agree with several of the points that he has made. As far as a number of current casino operators and, indeed, many potential operators, are concerned, there is no danger. Does he recognise, however, that when, as in the case very close to my constituency that I mentioned, the very same person who operates all the late-night drinking venues currently causing problems also applies for the casino licence, one must consider whether the Bill will ensure that only the reputable people who will take the precautions about which my hon. Friend talks get the chance to run casinos?
I happen to know the string of wine bars and pubs in Guildford to which my hon. Friend refers, and I can only agree that they cause enormous trouble, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings. A great deal of police time is occupied in trying to sort out a very young clientele who are behaving in a perfectly disgraceful fashion.
I beg your indulgence, Mr. Pike, because I am about to move slightly away from the subject—
I shall be back in 30 seconds. The answer to my hon. Friend is that the granting of a licence is not a simple process. Permission must be granted by the gambling commission and then various uses must be granted by the local authority. If I was on the local authority and I saw that the area was causing nothing but riots and chaos every Friday or Saturday night, I would be disinclined to give planning permission and the casino would not get the licence to operate anyway.
I will now quickly return to the subject; last time, I was led astray, but I am trying to reform. This is where the role of the gambling commission is going to come in. The whole thrust of amendment No. 73 is that the development of new gambling opportunities needs to be
''gradual and controlled to minimise the potential for social harm.''
It is all there. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State, realising that she was being sent out to bat on a rather sticky wicket and seeing yawning chasms under her feet and all the other clichés that come to mind, did a lot of back-pedalling and made a series of quite substantial promises. The amendment is the Minister's big opportunity to put flesh on the bones of the Secretary of State's words. What are the gradual and careful developments that are necessary to ensure the minimisation of social harm? The obligation is on the Minister and I look forward to hearing what he will say.
I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Pike. I think that it is the first time that I have been under your chairmanship and I shall look forward to the objectivity and sense of fair play that you are renowned for in the House.
It was an interesting morning, which was completed by the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page). We have had Victorian values, West Ham football club, fox hunting, a sortie into the north-east referendum and the inevitable letter to Mrs. Foster. I shall try to keep succinctly to the amendment paper.
The amendments would extend the scope of the licensing objectives. Amendment No. 1 would include preventing gambling from being a source of public nuisance. Amendment No. 71 is intended to preclude anyone with a criminal record from being a gambling operator. Amendment No. 72 would make social responsibility part of the licensing objectives. Amendment No. 36 would include the objective of preventing a link between casino gambling and excessive drinking after licensing hours. Amendment No. 37 would involve the chief constable in assessing
the impact of increased gambling. Amendment No. 73 would add a new licensing objective requiring the development of new gambling opportunities to be gradual and controlled. Amendment No. 80 would add to the objectives fair competition between gambling providers.
Amendment No. 1 would particularly affect the way in which premises licensing is carried out by local authorities. It would allow local authorities to take public nuisance considerations into account when deciding whether to grant a gambling premises licence and what conditions to apply to it, or when reviewing a licence that was already in force. The Government do not accept that that is either necessary or desirable.
Some gambling premises—casinos and bingo clubs—are allowed to serve alcohol to their customers, and the Bill will not stop that happening. Their entitlement does not spring from gambling laws: as one or two of my hon. Friends have said, it comes from the licensing law itself. Casinos and bingo clubs in England and Wales get their entitlement from the Licensing Act 1964. However, by the time the Bill is on the statute book, the Licensing Act 2003 will have come into force. The equivalent licensing laws govern casinos and bingo clubs in Scotland. The 2003 Act includes the prevention of public nuisance as a licensing objective, understandably so given the unfortunate connection between excess alcohol intake and bad behaviour. That was referred to by a number of hon. Members this morning.
The relevant risks associated with licensing of pubs, bars and other premises on which alcohol is sold include noise and antisocial conduct, particularly at night. That has been referred to in connection with Guildford. Accordingly, it will be open to licensing authorities, when considering applications for casinos and bingo halls to be licensed premises under the 2003 Act, to take account of the public-nuisance risk just as they do when considering any other application. If any casino were to put its alcohol licence at risk by allowing public nuisance, it would almost certainly put its continued existence and its licence at risk. Therefore, it is unnecessary in the case of casinos and bingo clubs to duplicate provisions that are already in licensing law.
There is no intention of allowing other gambling premises, such as betting shops and machine arcades, to sell alcohol, and there is no reason to apply to them a nuisance test over and above the law on noise and other nuisance. There is no well established association between betting and nuisance of the sort that unfortunately exists between alcohol and nuisance. We do not believe that there is any reason to single out betting shops for special treatment in contrast to grocery shops, newsagents or any other shop.
There are provisions in the general criminal and civil law on the control of public nuisance. If they are not thought to be adequate—I am not expressing a Government view on this—the solution is to strengthen the general law, not to adopt specific measures for gambling premises on the basis of no
evidence of need. In practice, all licensed gambling premises are more likely to conduct themselves responsibly than the general run of premises, if only because they will have to satisfy not just the local licensing authority concerning their present licence, but the powerful gambling commission in relation to their operating licence.
Amendment No. 1 would be regulatory overkill. The official Opposition, who continually badger us about red tape and over-regulation, should reflect on their amendments in the light of my explanation. Amendment No. 1 would only reinforce the apprehension in the gambling industry that local authorities will be over-zealous in regulating premises, and I do not believe that those fears are well grounded. It would impact significantly on the matters that could be taken into account by local authorities and would go beyond what is reasonable. I cannot advise the Committee to accept it.
Amendment No. 71 is also unnecessary and heavy handed. It is unnecessary because clause 66 already provides for the gambling commission, having regard to the licensing objectives, to be able to refuse an application for an operating licence on the grounds that the applicant is unsuitable. One of those objectives is the prevention of crime in connection with gambling. Further, clause 67 provides for the commission to be able to refuse an application solely on the grounds that he or she has been convicted for a relevant offence, as listed in schedule 6, even though the applicant might otherwise be suitable. The offences are either intrinsically serious or directly relevant to the conduct of gambling.
I believe that to be so. If it is not, I will write to the hon. Gentleman. The offences concerned are those in schedule 6.
The provisions do all that we believe is necessary to keep gambling crime-free—a desire that has again been stressed clearly this morning and this afternoon. Amendment No. 71 is over the top and would appear to exclude from employment in the gambling industry anyone who has a criminal conviction for any offence whatever that is not yet spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. If the brother of the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire had a conviction for speeding or dropping litter, the amendment would prevent him from setting up as a bookmaker or bingo club proprietor. One has only to state such a consequence to see how disproportionate and ridiculous that would be. There are ample powers in the Bill to prevent criminals from joining the industry, and the amendment would not add anything useful to them.
I have no quarrel with amendment No. 72, and what I take to be the intention behind it. We all want gambling to be provided in a socially responsible way, and the Bill marks a giant step forward in that direction. The present law does not recognise social
responsibility as a function of gambling regulation, which is why the Gaming Board has to rely on voluntary codes of practice agreed with trade associations as a way of hoping to prevent mischief such as excessive play. I am, however, reluctant to write into the licensing objectives the words in the amendment. We may all have a general idea of what constitutes social responsibility, but I am far from sure that it is a definitive enough concept to stand as a licensing objective in its own right.
In the context of gambling regulation, previous calls for the industry to act in a socially responsible way have been calls to take proper measures to prevent their customers from gambling excessively, and to ensure that children and adults with potential or actual gambling problems are kept away from opportunities to gamble. That is exactly the area covered by the third licensing objective, which is set out in paragraph (c). If, as the amendment seeks, social responsibility were added to paragraph (b), it must mean something different from protection of children and the vulnerable. What could that different thing be? Some might argue that it was socially responsible to prevent any advertising of gambling, whereas others would strenuously disagree.
The intention behind the amendment is praiseworthy, but I fear that it would infect the Bill with uncertainty and vagueness from the outset. I reassure the Committee that the Bill as drafted will through licence conditions give the gambling commission and licensing authorities all the powers that they reasonably need to ensure that operators act with social responsibility. I cannot therefore advise the Committee to accept an amendment that converts social responsibility into a licensing objective of its own. It is an umbrella concept that includes fairness and protection of children and the vulnerable.
Amendment No. 36 is aimed at ensuring that casino gambling in town and city centres is not associated with excessive drinking. I am unsure why the Opposition think that excessive drinking is all right in places other than town and city centres, but I will let that pass.
Yes, I think that that is true; it was just an error of drafting, and I concede that point. The main point is that casinos are licensed to sell alcohol under licensing law, not under this legislation. They cannot lawfully serve alcohol outside the hours during which they are licensed to sell it. The amendment sets up an imaginary problem that does not need to be solved. The powers in the Bill enable us to deal with casinos that allow excessive drinking to an extent that results in disorder. That is also the case if casinos allowed customers to gamble when drunk—that would certainly violate their social responsibility requirements to protect the vulnerable—so the amendment is unnecessary. It is a criminal act to sell alcohol to someone who is drunk.
I agree with the thinking behind amendment No. 73. In developing the policy expressed in the Bill, we have from the outset stressed that any relaxation of regulatory controls must be cautious, controlled and carefully monitored. The Budd report drew clear attention to the problems that had been experienced in places such as Australia.
I had the opportunity to go to Australia to see how it had dealt with deregulation. Many people in Australia wish that they could draw back from that deregulation, because it has created some real problems. The visit was a sobering experience, which had quite an effect on my thinking as I returned to deal with the Budd report and ''A Safe Bet for Success''. It is probably the worst example anywhere in the world of deregulation and the effect of the market on gambling. We must learn from that. Indeed, much of the Bill has been conditioned by the experience of Australia. That is why I think that when the Bill comes out of Committee it will be good legislation.
Where there has been over-aggressive deregulation and where it was proving difficult to rein back and deal with the social and public health problems, we have always taken the lesson to heart. The Bill provides a flexible framework of regulation. We propose to loosen the tap a little in certain areas, but we have made it clear that we are equally ready to tighten it again if that is necessary. Indeed, we could tighten the tap using measures in the Bill. That will be done if evidence of harm begins to emerge.
It is one thing to state that as a general policy approach; it is another to try to write it in to the Bill as a specific licensing objective in clause 1. The licensing objectives of clause 1 are not there for show but to do useful work. They will determine what the gambling commission does when considering applications for operating licences and in setting conditions for those licences. They will do the same for premise licences issued by a local authority. All those applications must be dealt with fairly and on their individual merits. If a local licensing authority had to have regard to an extra licensing objective of the kind proposed, what the authority could, or indeed should, do would be obscure.
As a statement of the general approach that the Government and the regulator should take in exercising their powers—whether to lay statutory instruments or impose licence conditions—I am happy to agree with the intention behind the amendment. However, we do not need a new objective. We have the powers that we need to achieve what the amendment seeks.
We are in favour of fair competition, but there is no need to add a fourth licensing objective in the guise of amendment No. 80. I leave aside any quibbles about what is referred to as ''those associated with gambling''. The key point is that the gambling business, like any other business, is and will remain subject to general competition law. It is the job of competition law and the competition authorities established under law—the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading—to pursue the objective of regulation. That is not properly the task of the gambling commission. If we were to ask the
commission to take that task on, it would significantly add to its costs and create duplication and conflict with the Office of Fair Trading. I cannot believe that the Committee wants that. Therefore, I hope that the amendments will not be pressed.
The purpose of the amendment and the way in which I presented it were aimed at overcoming the problem whereby only certain categories of casino—the regional casinos—will have access to category A machines. That means that the existing industry will not have access to those machines in their existing casinos. Is that not like granting planning permission for a brand new supermarket chain to compete with existing supermarkets in every location in the country, and giving them special treatment concerning the goods that they can sell over the counter?
That may be the case, but we believe that we are taking the right approach. There is no doubt that there are differences between the types of casino. That is why we have the categories of regional casino, large casino and small casino. There are differences between casinos and the hon. Gentleman refers to one of them. I do not believe that that judgment is in conflict with competition law and I am advised that it is not. If the judgment were against competition law and people were aggrieved, they would have the right to take the matter to the OFT or the Competition Commission.
This morning we were told that there would be no clause stand part debate because the debate would be wide-ranging. So, I conclude by saying that clause 1 is the cornerstone of the Bill. It sets out the objectives of gambling regulation and, therefore, sets the framework in which the gambling commission as the regulator for gambling operators and the local licensing authorities as the regulator for gambling premises should carry out their responsibilities. So it is an important part of the Bill.
There are three objectives and we need to focus on them, because some of the publicity about the Bill and the debate has missed that. The objectives are keeping crime out of gambling, ensuring fairness and, importantly, protecting children and the vulnerable. All are necessary and all have equal weight in the Bill—as they will, hopefully, when it becomes an Act. Together, they will ensure that gambling is carried out in a socially responsible way.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham asked the interesting question: why the Gaming Act 1968? If one looks back, one finds that that Act, introduced by the then Labour Government, was designed to remove crime and money laundering from our society. It was a very specific and prescriptive Act. The Budd report, the White Paper, entitled ''A Safe Bet for Success'', and the Bill all reflect the need to come to terms with the new electronic age and the somewhat outdated 1968 Act. It is interesting to see what has happened since 1968, and we are absolutely determined to ensure that the underlying principles of the Act are translated into this Bill by making sure that gambling is crime-free.
The objectives proposed by the independent gambling review, chaired very ably by Sir Alan Budd, commanded general support, and we have carried them through into the Bill. I hope that with that explanation right hon. and hon. Members who are signatories to the amendments will withdraw them and not force them to a vote.
May I say how delighted I am to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Pike? You have experienced many Committees over many years, and you will not be surprised to see yet again the normal procedure of Committees unfolding, whereby the Opposition parties put forward suggestions to improve the Bill and the Government oppose them so that there is a strange changeover of our roles elsewhere. It is disappointing to hear the Minister agree with nearly everything in the amendments under discussion, while urging the Committee not to accept them.
The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire will be particularly disappointed by the Minister's response, because he was telling us only a few minutes ago that if we agreed to amendment No. 73, we could pack up and go home. It is clear that the programme motion will still be in force for some time, given that the Minister was unprepared to accept that amendment, although we all note with great pleasure that the Minister agreed with the thinking behind it and with the approach described. We therefore look forward with some anticipation to the debates on clause 7, when the Minister will describe in more detail how he sees us moving forward in the spirit of amendment No. 73.
Many of us would entirely agree with the Minister's remarks about the 1968 Act and the importance of retaining the principles on which it was based; namely, to ensure that crime is kept out of gambling. I therefore hope that when we come to deliberate on that issue and, in particular, the need to place in the Bill a provision requiring a form of identification to be presented on entry to a casino, he will be supportive of those proposals.
I want to comment on the Minister's response to amendment No. 1, which I moved. I wanted to include the avoidance of public nuisance in the Bill's objectives, but the Minister said that it was neither necessary nor desirable. He said that it was not necessary because the main cause of any public nuisance would be alcohol-related activities within casinos which are covered by the Licensing Act 2003. He absolutely assured us—although, based on that Act's track record, not totally convincingly—that it will be in force by the time this Bill is in force. The Minister smiles at that. He knows that the Act has not had a particularly good track record on implementation.
The hon. Gentleman is being a little mischievous. He knows that the first allotted day has been assigned and that the timetable is enshrined in the Act. It will become fully operational roughly this time next year.
The Minister remains cheerfully optimistic. He will be well aware that only a few
days ago he submitted for consultation the new fee structure. A storm of protest has already fallen on him and his Department about that. There may be a need to rethink things, certainly in regard to that.
The Minister made the point that it is only the alcohol-related activities in casinos that could give rise to public nuisance. Of course, he is wrong. We have many examples of public nuisance being caused by non-alcohol-related activities. One has only to look at the problems associated with fast food and takeaway shops, taxi ranks and cab offices, to know that what he says does not give us the whole picture.
The Minister also said that the amendment was not desirable. He said that it would be regulatory overkill. He is entitled to his view. However, I was disappointed to hear him go a step further and not only talk about regulatory overkill, but suggest that the amendment would enable local authorities to go beyond what it is reasonable for them to take into account. I suspect that local authorities may be particularly disappointed by that remark and by the fact that they would not be allowed, on behalf of the communities that they serve, to take public nuisance into account in respect of a gambling premises licence, but could do so only in respect of the alcohol-related activities in the casino.
That said, I would like the opportunity to reflect on the Minister's contribution, to consider some of his words and to have some further discussion with the Local Government Association before deciding what further action it might be necessary to take. To give me that opportunity, and to give the Minister the opportunity to reflect on his own words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment proposed: 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.'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 12.
Question accordingly negatived.
Amendment proposed: 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.'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 15.