Clause 5 - Facilities for gambling

Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 11th November 2004.

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Amendment proposed [9 November]: No. 82, in

page 2, line 27, leave out the words 'operates and administers' and insert the words

'in whole or in part or operates'—[Mr. Moss.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley 9:30 am, 11th November 2004

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 83, in

clause 5, page 2, line 29, leave out

'in the operation or administration'

and insert

'directly or indirectly in the operation'.

No. 40, in

clause 5, page 2, line 35, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 84, in

clause 5, page 2, line 35, leave out 'operating or administering' and insert 'or operating'.

No. 41, in

clause 5, page 2, line 43, leave out '(despite subsection (3)(d))'.

No. 85, in

clause 5, page 3, line 3, at end add—

'(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that a specified activity or an activity carried on in specified circumstances is or is not to be treated for the purposes of this Act as providing facilities for gambling.'.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who is on his way, hotfoot, I would like to begin. I am sure from examining Hansard that I had finished speaking to my amendments Nos. 82, 83, 84 and 85. I shall now speak to amendment No. 41, which would remove from the clause the words ''despite subsection (3)(d)''. The only reference to subsection (3) in the clause is the one to which I am referring and there is no paragraph (d). I cannot see what that wording refers to in the Bill; I suspect that it is from the draft Bill and has not been cut out. It would be helpful if the Minister illuminated the Committee as to what it refers to. We have not got very far—we are only on clause 5—and we have already found some incredible errors.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath has now arrived so I shall leave him to move amendment. No 40.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Order. I remind you, Mr. Hawkins, that you cannot move that amendment; only one

amendment can be moved at a time. You can speak to it.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I apologise for being a little delayed. I suggest that the Committee ought at least to consider removing subsection (2)(b), as the amendment would do. I am a little out of breath because I had to receive on the fax machine in my office a three-page fax about the Bill from Blackpool council. I thought that it would be silly to rush up to the Committee until I had all three pages because it was clearly relevant to this morning's proceedings.

When my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) and I were considering subsection (2)(b), the phraseology seemed somewhat circular, as it refers to

''providing, otherwise than in the course of providing, operating or administering arrangements for gambling or participating in the operation or administration of gambling''.

My hon. Friend and I thought that there might be a more elegant way of expressing that, because anyone who reads the words

''providing, otherwise than in the course of providing''

would be bound to describe it as gobbledegook. The Plain English Campaign would not approve of that, and that lack of clarity is the reason for amendment No. 40.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I shall deal first with amendment No. 82, which was moved on Tuesday. The history of the gambling regulations teaches us that business has been very sharp at exploiting weaknesses in the law. I have experienced that during the last two or three years—since I have been responsible for gambling—and I can assure hon. Members that this industry is very innovative and has some bright people working for it. As soon as a potential loophole is identified, everyone tends to pile through it rather quickly.

In preparing the Bill, we have thus taken considerable care, as I am sure hon. Members will agree, to ensure that it adequately covers the ground and provides for effective regulation not just for current practice in commercial gambling, but for what might be done in the future. I remind the Committee that we have tried to give the gambling commission future-proofing powers as well. It would take a lot to persuade me that it is sensible or prudent to remove words from the definition in clause 5, since that clause is one of the cornerstones of the Bill. If a practice does not constitute the provision of facilities for gambling, people can do it without needing to be licensed and without committing an offence.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I want to make it clear that I do not disagree with the Minister. The legal definitions need to be precise. Of course I understand what he said about the amount of work that went into drafting the clause. However, I hope that he understands that, when an ordinary person, or even someone involved in the gaming industry, looks at a subsection that begins

''providing, otherwise than in the course of providing'',

their natural instinct will be to think that it is very confusing. All that amendment No. 40 asks the

Minister to do is consider with his officials, perhaps before consideration on Report, whether there is a way of drafting the clause that is not so confusing and circular and does not lose the legal significance.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I shall come to that point when I deal with amendment No. 40.

I return to the lead amendment, No. 82, which effectively offers a deal. In exchange for omitting the concept of administering the arrangements for gambling, the amendment would introduce the concept of providing arrangements in whole or in part. I do not think that it makes things any clearer, nor do I understand what is wrong with the reference to ''administering arrangements for gambling''. That covers people who control the way in which the gambling is offered, even though they may not control what is made available or be responsible for the operation of the gambling.

I make no apologies for the fact that there may be an element of belt and braces in the definition. I suggest to the Committee that the last thing that we want to do is open up a new loophole in the system of administrative control. I stress that the integrity and credibility of the industry flows, to a large extent, from the Gaming Act 1968. We have tried to maintain the integrity of gambling in this country by translating those provisions into the Bill. It is against that background that many of the explanations that I will give are deployed. Therefore, I cannot advise the Committee to accept the amendment.

Amendment No. 83 also seeks to remove from the definition of provision of gambling facilities any reference to those who administer gambling being done by other people; for example, staff employed to administer betting rings. Instead, the amendment would provide that anyone who participates indirectly, as well as anyone who participates directly, in the operation of gambling thereby provides facilities for gambling. I cannot see that the amendment is any improvement on the Bill. The concept of indirect participation is obscure; the concept of administration is clearer. In the interest of ensuring that the Bill is as clear as possible without narrowing its scope, I advise the Committee to vote against the amendment.

I turn now to amendment No. 40, which would remove subsection (2)(b). The purpose of that subsection is to clarify those activities that will not constitute providing facilities for gambling. Paragraph (b) is specifically concerned with those who supply articles that may be used in gambling. We do not want the clause to catch such suppliers; for example, if a pack of cards is supplied by a newsagent, the supplier is not involved in the provision of facilities for gambling. That may also be a belt-and-braces approach, but we think it important for the Bill to be clear on that.

Amendment No. 41 would remove the words that cunningly refer to a non-existent paragraph. I said I would come to this point. The reference was intended to be to subsection (2)(c) [Hon. Members: ''Ah!'']

That is exactly what Standing Committees are for—to scrutinise Bills line by line. I commend the official Opposition: they scrutinised the Bill and found a little mistake, which they became quite excited about. I will rectify that for them as we continue.

The cross-reference is necessary to make it clear that subsection (3) applies despite the exception on remote communication in that paragraph. We hope that that correction can be made without the need for an amendment when the Bill is reprinted. On that basis, I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments, but I commend the official Opposition for their forensic, line-by-line examination of the Bill.

Amendment No. 84 is also concerned with subsection (2)(b), but it would extend rather than narrow the scope of the exception. It is important that the exception applies only where the supplier of the article is themselves not doing anything covered by subsection (b) or (c). I assume that the amendment is consequential on amendment No. 82, and I have explained why we do not accept that, so I ask the Committee to reject this amendment as well.

Amendment No. 85 takes up the model of clauses 6, 7 and 14, which recognise that there is a balance to be struck between legal certainty and clarity on the one hand and flexibility on the other. In general, when Parliament makes law it is desirable for that law to include firm and settled definitions, so that all those affected, including businesses, know what they may and may not lawfully do, and can plan accordingly. It is sometimes necessary to build in some flexibility, and gambling is a case in point.

Gambling is a dynamic, fast-moving and increasingly global industry, where definitions in current law have broken down or been overtaken by developments in technology. We therefore thought it prudent to take some reserve powers to make sure that damaging loopholes do not emerge. For example, clause 6 provides for regulations to specify that something is or is not to be treated as a sport for the purposes of the Bill, the point being that playing a genuine sport for money should not constitute gaming.

The inclusion of such a power in clause 6 is prudent, because the concept of a sport is not precise. We want to guard against the possibility of an unscrupulous gambling operator dreaming up what is in reality a game of chance and claiming that it is a new and hitherto unknown sport. The game might involve racing beetles on a table top with stakes being placed on which beetle makes it across the table first. If we do not tighten the definition, that could, I suppose, be seen as a sport. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) would have something to say about the beetles, though.

The amendment would apply an equivalent regulation-making power to providing facilities for gambling. I am grateful for the suggestion, but we take the view that the definition is already clear enough. Such regulation-making powers should be used sparingly, because they potentially undermine the principles of making law and confer wide powers on the Government of the day. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press the amendment.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

With reference to the Minister's explanation of the wording relating to administration, we did not seek to weaken the Bill. We tried to introduce an amendment that was more specific and accurate than the provision. Having listened to the Minister's arguments, I will be happy to withdraw amendment No. 82. In light of his comments on amendment No. 41, we are pleased also that the obvious error is to be rectified. We will bring other obvious errors to his attention as we go through the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I just want to put on the record what this part of the Bill stands for. One key concept in the Bill is the provision of facilities for gambling. That provision triggers the application of the regulatory requirement of the Bill. The requirement to hold an operating licence or a premises licence is generally triggered when the person is providing facilities for gambling. It is fundamentally important that the concept of providing facilities for gambling is correctly defined. Too narrow a definition will leave commercial gambling operations outside the scope of effective regulation; too wide a definition will unnecessarily draw in activities that pose no real risk to the licensing objectives set out in clause 1.

The clause strikes the right balance. In particular, it catches commercial gambling operators, and those who provide services to the operator and are themselves directly involved in the arrangements for gambling. It does not catch services that are provided equally and equivalently to companies irrespective of whether their business involves gambling or gardening.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, Cotswold 9:45 am, 11th November 2004

I apologise to the Committee for hobbling around; I have a very painful knee.

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath, I am sorry to make the Minister return to the vexed subject of subsection (2)(b), but I want to read it out again:

''providing, otherwise than in the course of providing''.

Whether or not that follows the 1968 Act, surely we are in the business of trying to improve the wording? I suggest that it would be much better to leave the phrase out and simply say, ''or in the course of providing''. I seriously ask the Minister, with his officials, to consider that form of wording and to see whether an amendment that is more sensible can be tabled on Report.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said about plain English, but bit by bit we are getting there. I want to make it clear that what we include in the Bill is there for a purpose. Sometime we could do a little better with the wording, and the use of the English language, than we do at the moment. All that I can say is that the wording does what we want it to do. Whether it could have been simplified a little more is open to question. I hear what

the hon. Gentleman says, but at this point in the proceedings I am afraid that I cannot accede to his request. If my officials have been listening, and we can achieve the same meaning with clearer or plainer English, we will endeavour to do that. I assure him that, from time to time, I send back some of the notes that my officials give me, because even I do not understand them, so I do not think that hon. Members will.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.