Gambling Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 16th November 2004.

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[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 9:30 am, 16th November 2004

Order. Before we commence this morning's proceedings, I have to report that the Programming Sub-Committee has met and that there will be a half-hour debate on an amendment to the programme order.

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

I beg to move,

That—

(1) the order of the Committee made on 8th November, as varied by the order made on 11th November, shall be varied so as to provide for consideration of clause 7 immediately after schedule 4; and

(2) the resolution shall also be varied so as to provide that the words ''5.30 pm on Tuesday 16th November'' shall be deleted.

By way of explanation—[Interruption.]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. I am sorry to interrupt proceedings, but it is clear that we are having difficulty getting some strangers into the Gallery. May I ask hon. Members who wish to hear the proceedings but are not members of the Committee to take the seats available to the rear of the Opposition Benches? That should allow sufficient space for those who wish to listen. I am also prepared to allow House of Commons pass holders to use those seats.

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

By way of explanation on the programme resolution, I shall make a short statement. We have taken careful note, as promised, of the concerns raised on Second Reading about the casino proposals in the Bill, particularly the provisions for regional casinos. In the debate, there was a large measure of support for the view that the proposed licensing controls, working alongside the planning system, would not be strong enough to guard against the proliferation of gambling facilities hitherto untested in this country, or against the location of regional casinos in unsuitable areas.

The Government regard the regional casino framework, which was much strengthened by pre-legislative scrutiny, as robust and comprehensive. However, we are happy to provide additional reassurance to those who prefer a more cautious approach. We have therefore decided to amend the Bill, if possible in Committee, but at the latest on Report, to address concerns without losing the opportunity to broaden consumer choice and add to the regeneration of areas that might benefit from regional casinos.

Our analysis has always suggested that the number of regional casinos would increase gradually in the early stages of the new licensing environment because

of the safeguards that we are putting in place. As an additional reassurance, we will limit the number of regional casinos in the first phase to eight. They will be able to open after the Bill is brought fully into force, which we expect to be in 2007.

Whether more regional casinos will be allowed in due course will depend on the results of careful evaluation of their impact after the initial period. We will expect the independent gambling commission, supported by expert research, to advise on whether the introduction of such casinos has increased the risk of problem gambling. What happens then will depend on the assessment and on judgment about protection of the public from social harm. We will also want to know, with the help of the regional development agencies and regional planning bodies, what regeneration and other economic affects there have been in the areas concerned.

Within the tough regulation framework established by the Bill, it will be for the market to decide whether there is a true demand for regional casinos. However, if Parliament agrees that the first phase has provided the expected level of reassurance, more regional casinos will follow. If the Government decide on the basis of the assessment to allow more regional casinos to be established, an order will need to be approved by resolution of both Houses.

When tabling amendments, we shall set out in detail our proposed arrangements for determining where regional casinos will be located and how licences to run them will be awarded, any consequential changes relating to other categories of casino to avoid the proliferation of small or large casinos, and other such matters on which a number of views have already been expressed.

At this stage we do not propose to rule out any part of Great Britain as a suitable area for one or more of the eight regional casinos that will initially be authorised. We are clear that there should be an overarching national policy statement that brings together the requirements of gambling regulation and the roles of planning and economic regeneration. That will set out the principles that should guide decision making about casinos. We intend to publish a draft of that statement when we table the amendments so that Parliament and the public can fully understand the overall policy context.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. Before we proceed to a short debate on the programme resolution I want to clarify one or two points. Under the Standing Orders of the House the debate will terminate not later than three minutes past 10. I also want the Committee to be clear on two things. First, the resolution effectively means that today's sitting is open-ended and will terminate only with the motion to adjourn moved by the Government Whip. Secondly, while that is literally the case, private indications from the Programming Sub-Committee suggest that it is intended that the Committee will rise at 6 pm. The programme resolution does not say that, and further considerations between the usual channels later in the day could affect that. Should the Committee determine

that it wishes to sit later than that time I shall suspend the sitting automatically, either for a Division of the House, or for a comfort break for the staff, or both.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

May I first make it clear that we support the resolution of the Programming Sub-Committee? In response to the Minister's statement, I say to the Committee that making such a fundamental change to the most controversial element of the Bill at this stage in our proceedings is an extraordinary development. It is a humiliating climbdown for the Government. It might not have been necessary had they listened to the concerns that had been expressed for some considerable time by Members from all parties and by outside organisations ranging from all the Churches through to the UK casino industry itself, not to mention a wide spectrum of the media.

Having said that, we welcome the fact that the Government have now agreed to set a limit on the number of regional casinos and that there will be a pilot scheme subject to assessment after a period. Indeed, what the Minister has announced bears a remarkable similarity to our amendment No. 70 to clause 7, which proposed exactly such a pilot scheme. The only difference is that the Minister has announced that the limit should be eight rather than four. We will wish to explore that when we come to debate clause 7 itself. A number of areas remain of concern to us. We will want to hear more about the location of the casinos and the Government's proposals for assessing their impact. We undoubtedly welcome the nature of the scheme that has been announced this morning but will we wish to examine it in detail.

This is a step forward, however, and to facilitate it, the intention of Front-Bench Members—obviously I cannot speak for all my colleagues—is to withdraw our original amendments to clause 7 so that we can have a full debate on clause stand part about the whole regional casinos industry. We will then want to see the exact detail of the amendments that the Government are to table, either during the remainder of the Committee proceedings or on Report. I hope that the fact that we will withdraw our amendments at this stage will allow us to table amendments on Report, should we feel that the Government's changes do not go far enough.

Later in our consideration of the Bill, we will press on the Government one or two other measures that will provide additional safeguards that we believe to be necessary. At this stage, I can say that we welcome the Government's last-minute change of mind.

I have one further point to make. When we debated the emergency amendment to our programme order last Thursday, to provide for a delay so that the Minister could consult his colleagues before agreeing to these changes, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) specifically asked the Minister

''for a clear undertaking that any announcement that he makes about major changes to clause 7 . . . will be made first to the Committee and to no other organisation.''

The Minister said in his response that

''there will be no public statements or announcements before I come to Committee.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 November 2004; c. 89-90.]

It was, therefore, with some surprise this morning that I heard on the radio that the Secretary of State had briefed the parliamentary Labour party last night on the changes that have been announced. The report was not based on a speculative briefing or on sources close to the Secretary of State, but on a statement by the right hon. Lady, on the record, to the parliamentary Labour party rather than to the Committee. That seems to be a breach of the undertaking given to the Committee by the Minister a few days ago. I will be interested to hear his observations on that matter.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I join the hon. Gentleman in saying that we are happy to support the programme resolution and to follow the Conservatives' approach in agreeing to withdraw any of our amendments to clause 7, so that we can have a full debate on the Minister's proposal and also consider those other matters at a later stage.

I make it clear, however, that two important issues arise from our amendments which I hope the Government will take on board when they table their amendments. First, there is a need for a clearer definition of casinos, not least to enable a definition of the area in which only certain categories of people are to be allowed, and for entry to which identification will be required. Secondly, we would like the opportunity at a later stage to discuss a point mentioned by the Minister in his statement—the location of any new super, or as he calls them, regional casinos. There will no doubt be lengthy debate about the joint scrutiny Committee's proposal that any new super-casino be a destination casino, to avoid the problems of ambient gambling that would occur were those casinos to be sited, for example, on the main streets in major towns and cities.

That said, we welcome the brief draft proposals that the Minister has given us in respect of the significant U-turn that the Government are now making on this most controversial clause. We said that we were concerned about the potential for huge proliferation of those untried super-casinos, and about the impact that that might have on public health if there were an increase in problem gambling. We also expressed concern that those casinos might not produce the large regeneration benefits that the Government has claimed for them. I hope, therefore, that there will be an opportunity during the stand part debate on clause 7 to discuss those matters with the Minister in more detail.

Many of us find it surprising that there was no reference in the Minister's statement to the number of category A machines. I suspect that Members on both sides of the Committee hope that the Minister will shortly make proposals at least to limit to a small percentage—preferably to zero—the number of category A machines in the eight new trial, or pilot, super-casinos proposed by the Government.

I share the anxiety expressed by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) about the fact that the statement was made elsewhere before it was given to the Committee a few minutes ago. The hon. Gentleman said in a previous sitting that he would like the Minister to give us

''a clear undertaking that any announcement that he makes about major changes to clause 7, or any other part of the Bill, will be made first to the Committee and to no other organisation.''

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Minister gave the Committee the following assurance:

''In reply to the hon. Member for Bath, there will be no public statements or announcements before I come to Committee.'' —[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 November 2004; c. 89-90.]

It is clear from what many hon. Members will have heard on the radio and read in our newspapers this morning that an announcement was made last night to a body of people other than members of the Committee. Although I do not question the Minister's integrity, I am deeply concerned that someone from his Department—namely the Secretary of State, who I am sure was well aware of the assurance that the Minister gave the Committee—nevertheless was prepared to break that clear undertaking.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet 9:45 am, 16th November 2004

Order. I have to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, as it is inappropriate for any hon. Member to criticise another in his or her absence without giving notice of the intention to do so. The Secretary of State is not a member of the Committee and could not be present this morning. I therefore advise the hon. Gentleman that if having heard what the Minister says in response he or any other member of the Committee is still dissatisfied, the matter could, and should, properly be raised with the Speaker on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I am most grateful for your advice, Mr. Gale, which I, and no doubt other members of the Committee, will follow. In fairness, it is right and proper, as you suggest, that we should first hear the response to our concerns from the Minister, whose integrity I do not call into question.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to debate the Minister's statement in our discussions on clause stand part. I repeat that we support the programme motion.

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford and the hon. Member for Bath have been moderate in their comments about the flagrant breach of the undertaking given to the Committee. If it were the only occasion on which such news management had taken place, we might be less concerned. However—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. I thought I had made plain my view on the matter. The hon. Gentleman must not try my patience. There will be an opportunity for him to seek to catch the Speaker's eye on the Floor of the House if he chooses to do so. Will hon. Members please confine their remarks to the programme motion?

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

Thank you, Mr. Gale. I accept your advice.

An opportunity arises from the Government's U-turn, going back to what was originally envisaged: that any new casino development should provide an opportunity for regeneration, especially in run-down seaside resorts. I hope that when the Minister responds to this debate, and to the debate on clause stand part, he will expand on the Government's dramatic change of policy and reassure the Committee that as part and parcel of the detailed changes there will be a return to the view strongly expressed by members of the scrutiny Committee so ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). That view was that run-down seaside resorts could benefit if the casino development profits could be used for the regeneration of those areas.

It would provide quite a lot of reassurance to those who have been so concerned about the risk of the proliferation of large casinos if it were made clear at this 11th hour that the Government had gone back to what was originally put forward by the pioneers of the concept about 10 years ago as a reason for such large casino developments. They made it clear that such casinos had successfully regenerated many previously run-down resorts in the United States. If we can get back to that, a lot of the public concern will be allayed.

Even with the limited number of casinos now being planned, my concern is that if all of them end up in major inland towns and cities, we will lose all those regeneration benefits that are so earnestly desired in places such as Blackpool. I had the opportunity of being briefed by the council's chief executive and one of its senior officers yesterday, as, I believe, did other members of the Committee. I hope that the Minister will be able to go a little further than his announcement of a dramatic reduction in numbers and go back to the original concept of regeneration as the pioneers saw it.

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

I welcome the principle behind the Minister's statement and I am delighted that the Government seem finally to have recognised the advice advanced by the scrutiny Committee several months ago. This is a classic case of legislating in haste, and I am worried that we will repent at leisure.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman; I know that the debate is short. I was slightly concerned when he suggested that the Minister's statement indicates that the Government are now following the recommendations of the scrutiny Committee. Does he acknowledge that many aspects of what the Joint Committee said—on category A machines and the need for super-casinos to be destination casinos, for example—were not included in the Minister's statement, as far as it went?

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

It is very kind of the hon. Gentleman to point that out to me, because that was to be the last point in my short contribution to the debate on the programme motion. Nevertheless, I am glad to be reminded to say what I was going to say.

The Bill shows all the hallmarks of legislating in haste. It is good that we have decided—I support my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford in advancing the idea—not to move the amendments and then, in view of the Government's appalling mishandling of the matter, to seek extra time on Report to debate clause 7 as it should have been debated in this Committee. I want a commitment from the Government to that effect.

In his brief statement on the programme motion, the Minister mentioned eight casinos for Great Britain, which obviously includes Scotland. I would be delighted to know whether he has reached an agreement with the Scotland Office on having casinos in Scotland, what percentage of the eight will be up there, whether the Scottish Executive will have to produce legislation to match our legislation, and whether our legislation will override any Scottish legislation. The Government, in rushing the decision, are getting themselves into a huge and serious hole. I sincerely hope that they do a little more thinking and planning before they proceed any further.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

I concur with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hertfordshire—

Photo of Mr Richard Page Mr Richard Page Conservative, South West Hertfordshire

South-West Hertforshire, at the moment.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

My geography has never been the greatest.

I give a cautious welcome to what the Government have said today, because at least the announcement is going in the right direction. Nevertheless, it raises more questions than have presently been answered, so we look forward to hearing answers from the Minister today. As has been mentioned, the Government have had not just months but years to consider the legislation, starting with the Budd committee a long time ago. A few weeks ago, they were all set to give the green light to 40 casinos throughout the country. It came as no surprise to me or to my hon. Friends when that caused great alarm in the House and among many organisations throughout the UK. Indeed, it surprised me that the Minister was surprised to get such a reception.

It was the considered opinion of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for a long time that the market, plus the so-called triple lock, would be sufficient to ensure the distribution of casinos across the country. All of a sudden, following the great furore that was unleashed in the House, the Minister has begun to talk—welcome as it is—about limiting the number of casinos. He has mentioned a figure of eight, and there are many questions to be asked about those eight: where are they going to be, how they will be distributed between the four countries of the United Kingdom, and why eight and not nine or seven or 12 or four or one?

A great deal of questions must be asked, not least because an answer that I received from the Minister's Department a few days ago said that putting a limit on the number of casinos would be against European

competition rules. So one wonders how the Government have suddenly been able to cobble together a proposal that does what many of us were asking for on Second Reading. I hope that the Minister will have some good answers to that question.

I welcome the Government's considerable climbdown, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford described it. I am not sure that the climbdown is yet sufficient to reassure me that there will not be problem gambling in the UK, but so far, so good. We look forward to the Minister giving us more details on the overarching policy that has been cobbled together this morning and announced to the Committee in the most unsatisfactory way.

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

The Opposition say that we have made a humiliating climbdown and a U-turn, but the Secretary of State made it clear that we would consult. Let us be clear: we are talking about a Bill, which we hope to get on to the statute book, that is being introduced to protect people. We have said that consistently. That is why the Budd review was set up, ''A Safe Bet for Success'' was introduced and the wider discussion and consultation has taken place. That has led to about 90 per cent. of the Bill, which is going through satisfactorily.

We are dealing with the part of the Bill on casinos. As I said in the statement, we thought that the triple lock that we proposed would be a gradual approach to the rolling out of regional casinos. Clearly, there was concern about that, and any responsible Government respond to concerns. The Secretary of State made it clear in the House and in public that she would take those concerns very seriously. If the Opposition believe that to be a U-turn or a climbdown, so be it, but they are being disingenuous. I think that the general public will say that it is good government, that the Government listen to people and they reflect such views in legislation. [Laughter.] One can laugh, and I have no doubt that Opposition Members will continue their barracking.

Regarding the Secretary of State, I told the Committee that there would be no public statement. The statement made in private to the parliamentary Labour party last night did not contain numbers. There are Members here who were at that meeting and heard the Secretary of State, who was giving a report on the activity of the Department for the year, and the development of the five-year strategy. Part of that report concerned gambling. She said that we had been listening and that I would be making a statement this morning. She made that statement in general, and never made any reference to numbers at the parliamentary Labour party meeting.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 10:00 am, 16th November 2004

The Minister lays great stress on the fact that the Secretary of State gave no indication of the number. Will he therefore explain why the ''Today'' programme was precise, and correct, about the number? Was it a piece of mind reading or a lucky guess by the journalist?

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

I remind the hon. Gentleman that throughout the wide consultation I have taken people into my confidence and that of the Government to try to resolve the issue. I am sure that he will acknowledge that I have tried to include the Opposition parties in that. I do not lay any blame on anyone here, but, the day after my discussions with Opposition parties, it appeared that there had been a humiliating climbdown by the Government and a figure was mentioned. That may well have come from the same people who put it in today's papers—I do not know. Wide discussion has taken place to try to develop a consensus, and information appeared in the newspapers the day after my private consultation with the official Opposition. I am not blaming the official Opposition, but that is what happened.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

That is extraordinary. Is the Minister suggesting that we made the policy and leaked it? He has announced this morning that there will be eight casinos. I had not heard that number until I heard it on ''Today'' this morning, and the suggestion that we might have somehow briefed the radio programme about what the Government would do is palpably absurd. Somebody who was a part of that decision briefed the media so that they were able to report it this morning, and I can tell the Minister that it was not us.

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

If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will find that I said that when there is wide consultation there is always the possibility of people putting information into the public domain. I am explaining first what happened last night and, secondly, that on a number of occasions after my wider consultations with many people to try to ensure that we returned to the House with a consensus, information appeared in the press the following day. The Secretary of State made a statement to a private meeting of the parliamentary Labour party last night. She did not mention figures. Where eight comes from, I do not know, but it has obviously found its way into the public domain. I also do not know how it appeared in the press after my private discussions with the official Opposition.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

Can we move on from who said what and when? The Minister says that the Government are listening and that the number arrived at is eight—

It being half an hour after the commencement of the proceedings on the motion, The Chairman put the Question, pursuant to Sessional Order C relating to Programming of Bills.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. It has been indicated that matters may be raised on the Floor of the House. Mr. Speaker has made it plain that he deprecates statements being made outside the Chamber before they have been made to the Chamber. He has also made it plain that he deprecates attacks on Members on the Floor of the House without notice being given to the Member concerned that such an attack is

intended. Could I therefore caution any Member who seeks to raise those issues on a point of order later in the day that they should observe the normal courtesies, and inform Mr. Speaker and any Member to whom they wish to refer of their intention?

We turn to clause 7. It has been indicated that various amendments to the clause are to be withdrawn. Amendments now appear on the selection list and cannot be withdrawn; they can be, however, not moved. As I call the amendments in any right hon. or hon. Member's name, if they are not to be moved, the Member should state, ''Not moved''.