Clause 2 - Licensing authorities

Part of Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 3:15 pm, 9th November 2004

I take the opportunity to thank the Minister for what he said, because I spoke before his response. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire that we have learned the

valuable lesson that, whenever the Minister reads out an official brief very fast, we can assume that we are on to something and keep pressing the matter. The Minister's comment that he will return to us with a definition was helpful.

Under clause stand part, I can refer in more detail to my concerns about the regional aspect of the issue. I know that it will, to some extent, be dealt with by a later part of the Bill but it is relevant here, because there is a danger of confusion in the scheme that the Government have put forward, which is unnecessarily complex. The best body to decide whether there should be a casino and its related developments in a particular area is the local authority. That issue is covered by the licensing authorities clause—clause 2.

There is also the spectre of regional bodies deciding where in the region the casino might be appropriate. Only after that will the more local local authority, if I may put it like that, consider the proposal in relation to licensing. The scrutiny Committee and, in particular on Second Reading, its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), whose work on the Bill has been widely recognised on all sides, made the point that it would be more sensible if Parliament took a national decision about what is appropriate. Many people on the Opposition Benches, and on the Government Back Benches, who are less in favour of liberalisation than I am, also believe that it is the responsibility of Parliament to decide on issues such as the one that we are talking about.

I remember vividly that, on Second Reading last Monday evening, the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), a widely respected Member, whose view of the legislation is different from mine, said that Parliament ought to decide that there should be just one new casino—a pilot one. He said that he would be perfectly happy for it to be in Blackpool. Whichever view one takes on whether there should be one, four, six or any number of new casinos, surely that decision could be taken nationally, with the subsequent licensing decisions taken by the most local councils as set out in clause 2.

What worries me is that the Government and, in particular, the Deputy Prime Minister and his closest allies, including the Minister, want to use the Bill as a mechanism for giving more power to regional bodies. We know why they want to do that. They have always wanted to turn the UK into a place divided into regions, fitting in with the European Union's regional agenda. That is in the face of huge public hostility such as we saw in the north-east, where they tried out the regional referendum because they thought that it was their best chance of getting it through. We know from last week's vote that, if that was their best chance, they have no chance in the rest of the country. That is what they are up to. Anyone who does not realise that has not read the Deputy Prime Minister's speeches of the 10 ten years.

Mr. Banks rose—