I have given the reasons why we reflected on the consultation on clause 7, and I repeat that my statement this morning was made in good faith. Even though, as you rightly say, Mr. Gale, there will be reference to the House, I want to put on record the fact that the Secretary of State's integrity has been upheld by the Committee's proceedings. I have reported back to the Committee this morning, as I said I would.
Some hon. Members indicated that they thought my statement cobbled together, and some said that it was made in haste, but I assure the Committee that the consultation has been wide. We have come to the decision to add another lock, capping the number of casinos at eight. We believe that, as the desire for that principle was clearly expressed on Second Reading, we should follow it through. However, as members of the Committee have said, a number of consequences flow from that. That is why I said in my statement that I believe it is important to consider the context as we bring forward new clauses. There are still a lot of questions to which answers are being found, in discussions in the Department and after wider consultation with the industry.
We are consulting, and shall continue to consult, on how regional casinos in Scotland and Wales will be affected. As I said in my statement, there will be potential consequences, which we have not worked through yet, for large and small casinos. We shall come back with a statement and considered amendments. I do not believe that it would be right this morning to go into all that detail, because we would be accused of cobbling proposals together. This is an important issue, which should be considered in detail, and we shall come back with a considered statement and considered amendments to deliver what I set out in principle to the Committee this morning.
Order. Before we proceed, I should like to place on record something that I intended to say before I called the Minister. Clearly, there has been some discussion this morning, as a result of which all the amendments to clause 7 were not moved. It is not in my gift to determine which amendments, if any, will be selected for consideration on Report, but I propose
to make it absolutely plain to the Chairman of Ways and Means that, given the procedure that has taken place this morning, any amendments to clause 7 tabled on Report should be treated with a very open mind.
Thank you, Mr. Gale, for that very helpful comment.
This is a slightly curious debate, because we are now debating clause stand part in the knowledge that the clause will certainly not survive in its present form when the Bill is enacted. We have heard the Minister's statement about the Government's intentions, but inevitably, it was a little sketchy. We shall want to return to those issues as soon as the Government table detailed amendments. However, even though they indicated their acceptance of the concerns that have been expressed, and their proposals about how best to meet those concerns, it is perhaps worth at this stage setting out why we have those concerns, and why we concluded that a pilot scheme is necessary.
The history of casino regulation in this country has been one of caution, and that is entirely correct. The Gaming Act 1968 was brought in to deal with a number of concerns about the way in which casinos operate, and since then, the UK casino industry has operated in a responsible manner, without many problems of criminal activity or a significant problem of gambling addiction. We are keen to preserve that.
Over the years, there has been liberalisation; for example, the last Conservative Government gradually lifted some restrictions, such as reducing the delay in membership from 48 to 24 hours and allowing the use of debit cards. We support further liberalisation and, as I said on Second Reading, we accept that there is probably no longer a need for the 24-hour delay and that there is a case for allowing advertising. Those are liberalisation measures that would apply to the existing industry.
The development of regional casinos or, as we prefer them to be called, destination casinos, is an entirely novel concept—a leap in the dark. Regional casinos are a concept unlike anything that exists in the UK. Over the past few weeks, my colleagues and I have spoken to a number of the operators of huge international casinos that are anxious to establish similar facilities in the UK. To take one example, Caesars Wembley sent an attractive brochure setting out its proposals for a vast enterprise. It says:
''It will be a 'stand-alone' resort with 1,250 slot machines and 110 gaming tables, complemented by a luxury 400-room hotel, spa, shops, restaurants . . . in all occupying 13 acres of . . . development.''
One can see the attraction for the Government of the prospect of hundreds of millions of pounds coming into many cities across the country. People have asked what on earth the Government think they are doing, but it is simply that. I accept that such regenerative benefits offer real advantages. However, we should not throw open the door.
These enterprises represent hundreds of millions of pounds. One operator that we spoke to yesterday was talking about up to 20 facilities, which calls into
question the Government's estimate of 20 to 40 casinos in total. Each facility would have been of the value of about £100 million, which would make £2 billion of investment by just one operator. If operators invest that amount, they will obviously expect a return. They would not be doing it unless they were convinced that there would be a demand for casino gambling unlike anything before in this country.
There would be a gigantic leap in the number of people gambling on slot machines in casinos. In itself, that may not be a problem, but the truth is that we do not know. That is why we have always felt it sensible to proceed cautiously and assess the impact before moving forward. We can examine the experiences of other countries in which there has been liberalisation.
It has been said that the Government's first sign of cold feet—or perhaps I should say concern—stemmed from a visit by the Minister to Australia. What took place in Australia is not what the Government propose. The massive proliferation, particularly of category A machines, not just in casinos, but in bars and clubs across the country, has undoubtedly been the major cause of the massive increase in problem gambling. It is estimated that 2.5 per cent. of the Australian population have gambling problems. There was an enormous increase in gambling, not just in casinos, but across the country, with millions of dollars being spent. Australia is a warning that we should heed. Equally, Atlantic City is a warning of what can happen if there is a proliferation of casinos.
When the Secretary of State first talked about the Bill she said that the Government would have failed if there was an increase in problem gambling and she indicated her confidence that that would not be the case. However, I do not think that any outside observer believes that there will be no increase in problem gambling. If there is a huge increase in the number of people participating in gambling—that must be the case for companies to stand any chance of making returns on their investments—problem gambling will inevitably increase also.
Given the independent studies into the issue that have been conducted and the estimates that have been made, it is not possible for the Secretary of State to say that there will be no increase. For instance, the Henley Centre has said:
''The impact of the proposed Bill is expected to increase'' the number of problem gamblers
''by a further 200,000 . . . due to the growth in the number of casinos and the introduction of unlimited stakes and prizes machines.''
However, in the regulatory impact assessment the Government have sought to cast doubt on the Henley Centre's analysis. They say that there are serious doubts about how the analysis has been conducted and that
''the methodology employed . . . cannot adequately model the radical change in market conditions that the Gambling Bill will allow.''
That may be correct and it may not be.
At the same time, however, NERA Economic Consulting has produced a similar study that says:
''Under a scenario of 60 regional casinos . . . we estimate that there could be up to 500,000 casino-related problem gamblers in 2010, approximately 400,000 more than at present.''
Of course, that might be wrong as well. Also, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has said:
''The Government's assertion that, while expanding the gambling market in the manner proposed, it will be possible to control the inevitable large increase in excessive gambling, is naive and totally unjustified. It is also inconsistent with the experience in other countries where gambling has been deregulated.''
Perhaps all those bodies are completely wrong and the Government are right. Perhaps we can experience a huge increase in gambling in this country without any significant increase in gambling addiction. However, in looking at the two sides of the argument and deciding which one I am more likely to believe, I find that the combined evidence of the Henley Centre, NERA, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and many other outside observers weighs more than the assurances of the Secretary of State that there will be no increase. That is why we suggest proceeding cautiously, with a limited number of casinos and an assessment of their impact. We obviously welcome the fact that the Government have finally accepted that argument.
Before I move on, however, I should say that earlier the Minister made much of the Government being a listening Government. Obviously we welcome it when the Government listen, but what has happened is somewhat like a deaf man who suddenly, at the 11th hour, discovers that he can hear. It is a matter for huge celebration that the man can suddenly hear, but it is a pity that he could not hear earlier.
We welcome the Government's concession of a pilot scheme. In answer to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), we tabled an amendment that suggested four. The Government have returned to the matter and suggested eight. We shall want to look at the detail of that proposal before deciding whether we can support the figure of eight.
We tabled an amendment proposing four because we wanted a pilot scheme. At that stage there was no proposal for a pilot scheme; the
Government were resting on their belief that there would be about 20 to 40 super-casinos, although there was no provision in the Bill to limit them to that number. We felt that there should be a pilot scheme and we proposed four. We were not absolutely wedded to that number; we were eager to debate whether there should be four, six, two or eight, as we shall in due course. We will be interested to hear why the Government decided on eight and where they propose to locate them. We have our own ideas, but the Government will have to introduce such proposals.
The answer to the first part of my question is that the hon. Gentleman plucked the figure out of the air and that he has no idea how to determine where the four, or eight, should be.
We will see how the Government determine their figure of eight and whether it is the result of careful and rigorous analysis or has been plucked out of the air. We can have a debate about the number; four is preferable to eight, because if we start with four and there are no problems, the number can be increased to eight or more. However, if there are eight, and the assessment reveals significant problems, one cannot then go back to four. If a pilot scheme allows some casinos to be established, we could not say after five years that their licences might be withdrawn. That is why caution is the most important principle and why it is sensible to start with a small number and increase it, rather than going for a higher figure initially. We will debate the matter when we have the Government's detailed proposals.
The hon. Member for Bath is absolutely right that location is equally important. The original proposals led to discussion of a huge number of schemes, many in the heart of cities. We know from expert evidence on the matter that many feel that the greatest driver of an increase in problem gambling is the location of casinos in high streets, close to where people live. It is the possibility of ambient gambling that is most likely to lead to addiction. That is why casinos should be outside towns and cities.
Many accept the concept that appropriate locations are resorts and tourist areas that people make a conscious effort to visit because they want to spend an evening taking part in all the activities that the casino has to offer, including gambling. I am sure that the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) welcomes the fact that we agree that Blackpool would be an attractive option for one of the first casinos. It is ironic that although people have focused on Blackpool, if the original Bill had been introduced, and a large number of casinos had been developed, there would have been a much greater possibility that any casino development in the north-west would have been located close to the heart of the population centres of Manchester and Liverpool. It is likely that Blackpool would not have got a casino if that option had been available. By limiting the number we may have increased the possibility that Blackpool will benefit. We are not completely opposed to any
casino development, as there are great advantages to be had. However, we want to know the details of the Government's proposals.
We would like an answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) about the legality of the Government's proposals. We originally proposed a pilot scheme, but there was speculation that a cap on the number might be in breach of European law. Indeed, I have received a communication from one legal adviser who responded to our suggestion by saying that it would be likely to be struck down under articles 43 and 49 of the European Community treaty. I am sure that the Minister had considered the legality of what is proposed before making his announcement this morning, and has an answer to that point; it would be of benefit to the Committee to hear it.
I start by welcoming my right hon. Friend's announcement about the limit on the number of casinos to eight, but I want to talk about location rather than just numbers.
I am saddened that the debate has concentrated on numbers, because the number of casinos in itself is not the issue. We could have three, four or five in a particular location, serving the function of regenerating a town or city, but the same number spread out nationally, so that everyone in the community was within half an hour's drive of a casino, would limit regeneration potential. I will explore the issue of location rather than numbers, but I must begin by welcoming the Government's announcement that they are being cautious.
In limiting the numbers, the Government have recognised the need for caution, which was recommended by Sir Alan Budd in his report. He talked about resort casinos—they were called resort casinos then, but they seem to have changed their name in each year of the past three that we have debated the issue. In paragraph 24.30 of the report, Sir Alan stated:
''Our proposed changes would permit them''
''The development of a resort casino or resort casinos in a particular location would depend on local authority planning decisions and on the commercial judgment of businesses that wished to provide them.''
That is a perfectly acceptable starting point, and indeed it was the Government's starting point, but Sir Alan Budd and his colleagues emphasised that we need to proceed cautiously. Paragraph 3.29 states:
''Since we are uncertain about the effects on individuals and on society as a whole of changes in regulation we suggest fairly cautious moves in the first place, with scope for further deregulation in due course if the results are acceptable.''
I am pleased to say that that is the situation we are now in.
It is wise to consider the impact of a new system of operating casinos. We have had casinos for many years, but not on the scale we are now talking about, and they do not offer what large regional casinos will
offer. Blackpool has three casinos, and I have been into one of them. I did not gamble, because I am not a member—they are members' clubs. We are talking about something on a much bigger scale, offering entertainment and a whole range of other facilities, so we need to move cautiously.
I make no apologies for referring to Blackpool because everyone else keeps doing so. I welcome many of the comments that Members of all parties have made about my constituency and my town. Blackpool has led on the debate for many years, and has been actively involved in promoting the idea of regeneration through casino development and in reinvigorating the tourism product through casinos and changes in gambling legislation. The Minister's announcement has allayed many of our fears about the possibility of gaming sheds appearing outside our towns and the proliferation of gambling. He has quite rightly focused on a limited number so that the Government can address the issue of regeneration.
When representatives of Blackpool borough council met members of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee in December 2002, they emphasised that
''these new casinos are harnessed for regional and urban economic development through investment in projects which generate local community benefits in areas of greatest need.''
Again, we need to emphasise that location is important. How are we going to determine those areas of greatest need?
I am pleased that the Minister has announced that there is to be a national framework. I argued for that on Second Reading, because there must be clarity in the decision-making process. A detailed and precise national framework is vital. Within that new regulatory system, we need to ensure that we secure genuine regeneration as opposed to simply development benefits. That will guard against proliferation and help to guard against an increase in problem gambling.
I see this debate as an opportunity to lobby the Minister while he is considering developing the details of the proposals that we will come to later. I personally favour tourism-based regeneration in relation to casino developments, so that there is the potential to grow the net revenue, rather than simply to displace and recirculate local spending. That is why a destination casino is so important. The fear is that, if casinos are placed in our major cities, the money in that locality will merely be recirculated; the population base and the money is already there. If people choose to go to a particular destination, however, they put new money into that economy, which will enhance regeneration opportunities.
Does the hon. Lady accept that some of the research indicates that money going into gambling, albeit for regeneration, comes from other leisure sectors, often in the same area? Research shows that money spent on gambling is money not spent on other leisure pursuits.
I disagree. When visitors go to a particular area, they budget for what they are going to spend, but if there is a new opportunity for casino gambling in that leisure destination, they will take that into account alongside how much money they will be spending on restaurants, family amusement arcades—talking about Blackpool—and other things.
Since the hon. Gentleman's constituency is not too far away from Blackpool, I am sure that he will have seen the excellent report by Pion Economics, which was commissioned by the regional development agency and the Lancashire West partnership on behalf of the eight local authorities in west Lancashire. The report gives a detailed assessment and expresses a view about how much extra money will come into west Lancashire, how many extra jobs will be created and the potential for improving the skills base of the local people. That is an area that has not been mentioned, but Blackpool and the Fylde college—my excellent local college—is already considering putting on extra courses and improving the skills base of the local economy.
Bob Russell rose—
There is a duty to see what is going on at the college and what preparations it is making, but does the hon. Lady accept that the Pion report is to some extent speculative? We are talking about something completely new and unique in the United Kingdom, so those figures cannot be as firm as they appear. Anxieties have been expressed by some business interests in Blackpool that they will lose out—perhaps in the case of restaurants that are not incorporated in the casino complexes.
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about speculation. We are all speculating, which is why I applaud the Government's cautious approach. Nevertheless, the report was produced in consultation with the eight local authorities and local business, and it had a lot of support.
Most of the figures are based on the best guesses that anyone could have made in the circumstances. The key factor is that circumstances have changed; we are now talking about limiting the numbers and looking at where the new regional casinos will be. We must then ensure that they are focused on the areas of greatest need; without a shadow of doubt, one area of need is our resorts.
''Tomorrow's Tourism Today'' is an excellent document, and the Government are to be applauded for recognising the situation in our seaside towns. Their plight had never before been recognised. The report demanded that resorts be visionary and that they should reinvent themselves. They now have the opportunity to do so.
When considering detailed proposals for the location of the eight casinos, I hope that the Minister will take account of the fact that their location needs to be considered in the context of detailed regeneration plans. I say again that Blackpool is unique. It has developed a master plan over five years, and casinos are an integral part of that. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at the possibilities of regeneration. I hope also that he will remember that casinos should form part of the local tourism strategy, which is another of his departmental responsibilities. The two should be linked. I emphasise again that location is important. The number of casinos not a problem; the danger is in putting them in locations that might not benefit.
The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford regaled us with stories of American developers. Blackpool has local developers who want to help to regenerate the town through the new regional casinos. Leisure Parcs, which owns Blackpool tower, the Winter Gardens, the three piers and many other properties in the town, is run by a Lancashire business man and is leading in the development of the area. Hilton Hotels, which has a hotel in Blackpool, is also interested.
It is not only American international money makers who want to make money from regional casinos. Blackpool has a home-grown product, and we want to see it developed. I am aware that eight of the 34 proposals already made for regional casinos are in the north-west. I am looking over my shoulder, Mr. Gale, but my colleagues from Greater Manchester are fortunately not sitting behind me. It will be a real problem for the Government to decide how to allocate regional casinos. With its eight proposals, the north-west has even more than Greater London, which has five.
The regeneration potential has been recognised by many local authorities. I am glad that I will not have to decide where to locate those eight regional casinos. My colleagues in various parts of the country all have areas of deprivation in their constituencies that would benefit from the proposal. It will not be an easy decision.
I would not deny other areas the opportunity for regeneration through regional casinos, but as one of the Blackpool MPs I have to argue the case for the town. And as one of the seaside MPs, I must argue that our seaside towns need to regenerate the tourism product that they have successfully offered for many years. Now, in the 21st century, the product needs to be reassessed.
This is clearly a significant U-turn, but the Minister seeks to dress it up by saying that the Secretary of State had committed herself to consultation. Most Members of this House, let alone most members of the Committee, assume that the usual procedure is that consultation takes place before the Government publish legislation. On this occasion, there was a great deal of consultation before the Bill was published. We had the Budd report, the various meetings of other bodies and more recently not one, but two, reports of the Joint Committee. Sadly, it is
clear that the Government were not in listening mode for much of that time. At least, if they were listening, they were not listening very carefully.
The Government's introduction of a cap on the number of regional casinos is a major U-turn. After all, only at the end of last month when talking about the new super-casinos in his monthly press conference, the Prime Minister said quite clearly that the market will create between 20 and 40. It was quite clear that he believed that the best way forward was to allow the market to decide. It was reference to market prediction of the number of new super-casinos that led the Secretary of State to tell the House on Second Reading that between 20 and 40 were anticipated.
Clearly, the Government had not been listening, particularly to the Joint Committee, which says in paragraph 20 on page 9 of its report:
''It cannot therefore simply be left to the market, as Ministers have suggested.''
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of what I said, which was that if the Government were seeking to reduce the number of super-casinos, they could, for example, consider one or two per region. As he will see if he studies what I said during that debate, that was if there was to be a limit. My preference was for there not to be an expansion of this new type of casino or an unlimited number of highly addictive category A machines. That is on the record. Many of us look forward to a debate on where the super-casinos are to go when we hear more from the Minister, but I shall return to that point in a second.
My point is that it is a bit late for the Government suddenly to say that this is not a climbdown or a U-turn but evidence of a listening Government, when we would expect them to listen to the expression of clear views much earlier. Rather than predicting what the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) might be about to say, may I say that I entirely agree with his request for the Minister to give us a very clear assurance that adequate time will be provided on Report to enable us to consider the proposals that are to be advanced then, if not before, by the Government? After all, the Minister has said little of substance about the proposals; indeed, the mystical number of eight is all that we really know. No details have been given on why the figure is eight, on where those eight will be located, on what the procedure for locating those eight will be, or on what controls will be placed on them and on other large and small casinos that may well proliferate as a result. There is very little detail other than that magical number of eight.
I do not want to trespass on your advice to me earlier, Mr. Gale, about who said what to whom, but it is very clear from today's press reporting that
members of the Labour party knew last night of the figure of eight. I entirely accept the Minister's statement that they were not given that figure in the parliamentary party meeting, but at least some members of the Labour party have been briefed about what the figure was. At no stage in any discussions that I have had with the Minister or anyone else has that figure of eight been mentioned.
We need time to discuss in detail the proposals that the Minister will bring forward in due course. After all, we have cause for concern that the Government do not know a great deal about these issues. I referred on Second Reading to the Government's confusion about even the number of existing casinos. The Prime Minister told us it was 120. Lord McIntosh initially said that it was 126. We were subsequently told that he changed his mind and that it was 130, yet according to the parliamentary answer that the Minister gave on 9 November at column 600W it is 134.
We cannot even be clear how many casinos there are at present in this country. It is therefore not surprising that we have concerns about the Government's views and understanding of these issues. Indeed, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford referred to that classic statement by the Secretary of State to the Joint Committee:
''If the legislation gave rise to an increase in problem gambling then it would have failed and it would be bad legislation''
Many members of the Committee are deeply concerned that any expansion of casino operations could lead to an increase in problem gambling. Again we want to have the opportunity to explore those points in detail. That is why we urge that we have plenty of opportunity to discuss it on Report.
I should like to raise some other issues relating to clause 7. First, I remind the Committee that Lord McIntosh told the Joint Committee at question 47:
''I see gambling reform, which would be introduced by the Gambling Bill, as having three aspects: one is regulation, and that is clearly what the Bill is about, and that is most of what you have been covering; the second is the tax regime; and the third is the location regime. You will not fully understand the gambling reform unless you have all those three legs of the stool in place.''
I have mentioned the tax regime before and its importance in our understanding of where this may lead. In its evidence to the Joint Committee, the British Casino Association said that the viability of any new casino cannot be assessed
''until the future tax and duty regime has been resolved.''
We clearly need information about any future tax plans. I hope that that will be covered by the Government's amendments. When the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and I asked the Chancellor about the tax regime, we got this brief reply:
''The Chancellor keeps all taxation under review.''—[Official Report, 11 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 801W.]
Well of course he does, but given that this is such an important part of our understanding of the impact of the Government's amendments, I hope that we will get something clearer. I am therefore grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House, who gave the following clear statement:
''On the gambling tax, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman— my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)—
''is making—as the House will know, the Standing Committee is currently considering the Bill, and Members have requested information. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is aware of the point that has just been made.''—[Official Report, 11 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 929.]
I hope that the Minister, too, will confirm that the Committee needs information about the issue of tax and that he intends to produce it.
On the issue of location—the third leg—we again have no detail from the Minister. He will be well aware that, as the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood rightly said, there is great concern about where these new casinos will be located. We know that the Government were keen to see them almost anywhere, because they rejected the Joint Committee's very strong advice that they should be leisure destination casinos. We have, indeed, tabled an amendment today—it has not been moved—to propose that that should be the name, with all the implications that will flow from that for the new casinos. As yet, however, the Minister has not told us the Government's thinking on the issue.
We know that the Joint Committee believes that it is vital that these new super-casinos are not located on high streets, with the problems of ambient, ''walk in and play'' gambling that can arise. It is important for the Minister to be aware that, although many of these new super-casinos are likely to be run by American operators, many of those operators themselves have expressed concern about ambient gambling. A letter that I suspect many members of the Committee have received from one such casino operator says that the important point in any increase in problem gambling is the accessibility of machine gambling. It goes on to say:
''A plethora of casino opportunities on every high street, as opposed to out-of-town regional sites, will give rise to impulse gambling in easy reach of passing shoppers. It will also''— this picks up on a point raised in an intervention on the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood—
''displace the leisure spend from traditional town centre entertainment venues''.
Therefore, there is clear concern about the issue of destination, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that the eight will meet the requirement of being destination casinos.
I also hope that the Minister will tell us—it is a pity that the issue is not before us now—that the locations chosen will meet the requirement that they are areas where there is clear evidence not only of the need for regeneration, but that regeneration will take place.
I agree with a considerable amount of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but does he accept that London should qualify for a destination regional casino, given the number of tourists who visit the city? Clearly, it is a destination favoured by many people around the world.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and such a consideration could be taken into account, although the location within London would also have to be considered. I referred specifically to leisure destinaton casinos, not seaside resort casinos, so the hon. Gentleman's point is well made.
It has become a habit for members of the Committee to pre-empt others' thinking, and the hon. Gentleman is doing so now. I shall no doubt have the opportunity later to tell the hon. Gentleman whether it would be beneficial for my constituency to have such a casino, but the straight answer to his question is that I have no doubt that Bath would fall within my understanding of the definition.
Mrs. Foster and I disagree on a number of points—not least, I might say, the vote that the House is shortly to take on fox hunting, and possibly that on gambling, too.
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's answers to the questions that he has been asked. His delightful constituency of Bath and, for that matter, the delightful city of London already have a huge number of attractions, which bring many visitors to the United Kingdom for a tourism experience. Surely he thinks that it would be better to locate casinos where they would bring in regenerative benefits, as well as visitors.
The hon. Lady is jumping ahead, but I am grateful to her for doing so, because I was about to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Iain Wright) about whether I thought it was a good idea to have a new super-casino in Bath. My clear answer is no. Part of the reason for that is that I do not think that it would meet the clear requirement of regeneration benefit. I genuinely do not believe that a large super-casino is right for my constituency. Having put that firmly on the record, I can say that the letters page of the Bath Chronicle is full of people telling me that I have got it wrong. There are now bound to be far more, but I like to share with the Committee my honest views on such matters.
The final point that I should like to make is to welcome something that the Minister said in his relatively brief and relatively detail-free statement. One of the areas that would be covered by amendments being tabled to clause 7 is the proliferation of the other two categories of casino, the large and small, which might arise as a result of the limit of eight super-casinos. That has been overlooked in the Committee's deliberations so far, and I welcome the Government's intention to table amendments on that issue.
In summary, I wish that the Government listened more carefully and earlier. I hope that we shall see detail that will limit the location of the new casinos to destination casinos, that we shall have a clear assurance that they will only be in areas where there
will be clear regenerative benefit, and that we shall discuss and receive information about the tax regime. I welcome the fact that there will be proposals about the proliferation of non-regional casinos.
I end by drawing attention to the area about which we have heard nothing at all from the Minister, and which I touched on earlier: the category A machines. There is a clear concern, not only about the number of super-casinos, but about the introduction in this country for the first time of such highly addictive, unlimited prize machines. Concerns have been expressed by the current British casino operators about the unfairness of a regime that allows new super-casinos, but not large or small casinos, to have them, and there is a much wider concern about the impact that the introduction of those machines will have on increasing problem gambling, particularly on sites that allow ''walk in and play'' gambling.
I hope that we shall hear during the Minister's winding-up speech at least an indication about amendments to limit the percentage of category A machines allowed. We have a lot to hear from him, and look forward to hearing his response to this debate and to the detailed amendments that will be tabled. I hope above all that he will agree with the advice of the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire that we be given plenty of opportunity to discuss those amendments on Report.
I very much welcome the announcement made this morning by my right hon. Friend the Minister. On the statement allegedly made last night by the Secretary of State, I should like to compliment her for managing to say something memorable at a parliamentary Labour party meeting. That is a rare event, and I am only sad that I was not there to witness it.
I am absolutely delighted that the Government have listened. When I came to this Committee, I had already indicated that there were areas in which I was looking for change, and I was reassured that the Government were listening and that they were going to bring about those changes. We have seen evidence of that this morning.
After listening to comments made by Opposition Members, I think that they have dodged the issue. I hope that we shall hear from the Government how we shall determine where the casinos will go. If there are going to be eight, fine. If there are going to be four, fine. If there is to be just one, let us just decide on Blackpool and get on with it. I speak as a Member of Parliament for Greenwich, where there are rumours that someone wants to put a casino in the dome. Nobody has yet convinced me that we need a casino in my borough, but I am not here to argue any particular corner on that issue.
I am slightly disappointed that the programme motion did not ask us to consider clause 7 at a later date, as that would have given the Government the opportunity to table some amendments for the Committee to deal with. We are effectively debating invisible amendments in today's stand part debate. We
do not know how clause 7 will be amended, what will come out in the end, or how we will determine where the casinos go.
I listened to Opposition Members, and I asked both parties how they would determine where the casinos would go, to which they both gave the same answer: we are interested to hear what the Government will say about that. No doubt, they will then make speeches about how they know much better than the Government, and how the Government have got it wrong, but it would have been interesting if they had told us what direction we should take, and how we should determine where the clubs will go.
We have a problem. We have said that there will be eight casinos in the country, and we now need an open and transparent mechanism to decide where they will go. We cannot leave that to the marketplace. If we leave it to the planning process, it will come down to who purchases a site, who puts in a planning bid, who gets approval from their local planning authority, and who is in pole position to develop a major casino.
As a Back Bencher, I am able to give my own view, which might be taken up by our Front-Bench team. Would it not be a good idea to invite an auction among operators who wish to produce the casinos? We could ask them what the regenerative benefits would be in the location of their choice, and take the best of the bids.
That is an interesting proposal, which the hon. Lady will no doubt have the opportunity to explore further in this debate or on the Floor of the House as we deal with the Bill. I would prefer that local authorities, with local communities, have the opportunity to examine the issue before we reach that stage. If a local authority receives a proposal—for example, if my local authority received one about the dome, or if the local authority of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) received one from West Ham United football club, which is interested in having a casino, or if Brent received one regarding the new Wembley development—it should examine that proposal in the context of its unitary development plan for the local area, and demonstrate that it is not just a speculative or opportunist bid for a casino, but would sit neatly with the local authority's stated intentions. There should be some history behind that in the UDP on record. The local authority should demonstrate that a casino would fit in the proposed area, and with local authority plans for the area and for the development of the local economy. It should show how the jobs created would benefit the local area, that there is some history of tourism and that tourism would play a role. Having done that, the local authority should then say to the local community, ''This is what we think is a good idea for our local area,'' and ask what they think of the case that has been put forward.
The local authority should also consider proposals in relation to regional development, and ensure that they fit with the regional development plan. That may be an area for conflict, so some independent
arbitration would be required to ensure that there is an independent overview. Perhaps a recommendation could then be made to the Secretary of State, so that he or she could determine whether the proposal is a legitimate bid for an area to be designated suitable for the development of a casino.
I largely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but are we not trapped somewhat by the magic of numbers? We might have a number of propositions that the market will stand, where there are significant regeneration benefits, the public have been consulted adequately and planning consent has been given. The number might be more than the eight specified, however, and if so the Government will have to find an arbitrary criterion to reduce it to that figure.
The hon. Gentleman is right. The figure of eight might prove insufficient. I sincerely hope that it does, because, as the Committee may have gathered from what I have said, on the whole I am not too happy about the Bill. I do not gamble, but I accept that other people will do so and that we need to legislate to ensure that local communities and our economy and not the private operators who intend to run casinos get the maximum benefit from them.
I fear that the hon. Gentleman may be right, and that eight is not a sufficient number. We must therefore make a decision about where casinos should and should not be located. The Government may be able to get themselves out of that hole by setting very high standards that must be satisfied in order to ensure that, when determining a decision, the maximum benefits and not just huge sums of money or planning gain are brought to the area seeking to develop a casino.
The decision should sit neatly with a carefully thought out local and regional development plan, and there should be clear benefits to the local community when determining a suitable place for a casino. That would prevent the proliferation of casinos on our high streets or in local areas to which many people have referred, and developments should clearly be destination casinos. The big casinos with category A machines must be located in places to which people make a conscious decision to go to have a bit of fun playing them. Those machines should not slip into bingo halls in town centres. I do not think that the Bill provides for that, but we do not want the proliferation of casinos as described in places such as Australia—pokies, where people pop in on their way home from work or after the pub and perhaps over-indulge in gambling. We must designate sites as specific places that people make a conscious decision to visit.
During later discussions, we should consider membership as part of the stipulations that we place on casinos. I accept that if they are to be places that people visit on their holidays, we may need to drop the 24-hour cooling-off period, but the identity of people going to casinos must be known and checked.
I entirely support the hon. Gentleman. Is he aware that, under the second EU directive on money laundering, identification on entry will be
required, and that, judging from the draft third directive, there is clearly no likelihood of that changing?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was not aware of that requirement, but I support it. Identification is important, particularly when large stakes are involved. It will also help to deal with money laundering to some degree.
We must set high standards throughout the Bill. When dealing with legislation on an issue such as gambling, the lowest common denominator should cause us most concern. We should think about the people who will adopt the sharpest practices, about those who will encourage people to drink and over-indulge in gambling, and about those who will treat their work forces in a way that we would not want any employer to treat their employees. Those people are present in the gambling industry and we have to legislate for that. That is why the clause is so important.
I await with interest the final proposals from the Government, because in determining where the eight casinos are located they will need to remove their responsibility for making Hobson's choice about which region should have one. There has to be some mechanism, and some logic, for deciding where those casinos go, and the Government have a duty, having placed a limit on the numbers, to come up with that mechanism.
That is what worries me.
The only fact we have is the magic figure of eight. The Minister puts a brave face on it, but he has my sympathy. He has been dropped right in it, so I will not be too rude about him. He has to carry this measure through and he will have the scars on his back until the day he leaves the House. It is, however, very interesting.
The hon. Member for Bath has left the Room, which is a great pity, but that will spare me from talking about the dangers or otherwise of category A machines, which I do not think carry such an amount of danger. A machine with a smaller limit of a mere £2,000 or £3,000 can be equally as addictive as one that may pay out £1 million, because even the slowest-witted person will realise that he stands less chance of winning £1 million than a couple of thousand pounds. Such matters will be monitored by the gambling commission, which will come up with the appropriate recommendations. I am, however, in favour of considerably raising the limits of those machines in the smaller casinos.
I recommend that, as the Government have got themselves into such a pickle, they can only look and learn from the scrutiny Committee. If they had just taken the Committee's guidance, we would not be
where we are today—we would be much further on. I refer the Minister to the Committee's report, in which we said:
''We strongly urge the Government to rethink its policy in this area [planning for regional/leisure destination casinos] and to pay proper regard to the evidence given to this Committee about how best to secure the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's policy objectives for casino developments which this Committee supports.''
The Government response states:
''we have made it clear'', in securing regeneration benefits, that
''it is for Regional Planning Bodies . . . where they consider it appropriate, to identify suitable locations within the region that would optimise their contribution to tourism and regeneration.''
The response then details the regions that have commissioned research
''to assess the likely demand for casinos in the region.''
I will not repeat the scrutiny Committee's advice that the Government were reluctant to publish national guidance relating specifically to regional and leisure destination casinos, because we all know that although the Government said that the
''joint statements already provide a comprehensive policy framework'', that is not so.
Can the Minister tell us how the eight casinos have emerged? Which regional planning bodies have submitted their applications for casinos and how have the Government selected those that will go forward and those that have been rejected? He mentioned that he has been in talks with Scotland and Wales, so presumably, included in this eight, there will be an allocation for Scotland and Wales. How has he decided which of the eight will go to Scotland and Wales? Does he actually have any authority over determining those numbers?
I wonder whether the Minister will look me straight in the eye and say that the figure has been plucked out of the air to satisfy political expediency. Is this the wetted finger approach? Is he saying, ''I think they'll swallow eight, let's have a go at eight'', or has the figure been properly calculated through regional bodies? Has the figure been properly calculated as was said in reply to the scrutiny Committee's statement urging the Government to have proper cognisance of redevelopment advantages and benefits?
The hon. Gentleman is pressing the Government hard on the figure of eight. I am sure that his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) will be warning him of my question . How did the Conservatives arrive at the figure of four?
I understand that the arts portfolio is free at the moment, but I would not pass the physical.
We would do exactly as the Government have said. We would use recommendations from regional planning bodies, because they know their areas best, and ascertain which would produce the most regeneration benefits. We may have the difficult task of deciding between Bath and Blackpool, but that is how it goes. We would come forward with the four that we had chosen. It is a simple process; I do not know why the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) is trying to make such a complicated mystery out of it. We would evaluate the various claims. I asked the Minister how he has evaluated the various claims, but we will have to wait to see whether he will give an answer.
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that, although there has been a lot of speculation about 100-plus proposals, the only figure that I have seen is of 34 definite proposals. In two regions, no regional casino proposals have been submitted, yet eight have been submitted in the north-west, and five in London. Is he suggesting that the choice should be left to the regions? If so, how will he determine where to place a casino in a region in which there has been no expression of interest, and how will he deal with regions, such as mine and Greater London, that have far greater interest?
This will come as a shattering surprise to the hon. Lady, but the Conservatives are not in government at the moment—that is for the near future. We are discussing what the Government will do with the Gambling Bill. I was trying to help the hon. Member for Eltham, who found it difficult to grasp that we may want to evaluate competing bids from regions. I would not want a casino—destination or otherwise—to be imposed on a region that did not want it. I am simply asking, given the proposals that operators have undoubtedly thought about and worked on, what process the Minister has employed in order to arrive at the magic figure of eight.
When we took evidence on the scrutiny Committee, various Ministers made it crystal clear that they did not want any appeals to go to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, that they wanted to be out of the process, and that the Deputy Prime Minister did not want to decide between applications. However, we suddenly seem to have a process of selection. In an open and honest way, I am trying to find out how we got to the figure of eight.
The hon. Gentleman has just had a go at my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham, yet the Front-Bench team for the official Opposition have not said how they came to their conclusion on the number, and so we are deeply grateful to him at least for elucidating that. He underestimates his significance as well as his physical prowess. What he has said is probably just how the Government would do it, too. The Minister is no doubt feverishly taking notes.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for again advancing a free-market approach, with which I can only concur. I sincerely hope that the Minister will reply in line with what he suggests.
The reason why my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford did not go into intricate detail was, purely and simply, that he was under the impression that hon. Members would understand that that was an obvious way of going ahead. The fact that hon. Members were unable to grasp that just goes to show that one should never overestimate the Government.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bath was not here when I touched on category A machines, because I know that the subject is dear to his heart. He mentioned the legs of the stool and the tax aspect. That is exceedingly important, because no organisation will go ahead with a vast investment of perhaps hundreds of millions of pounds without knowing the tax implications. Perhaps the Minister could take this message back: the Chancellor will make a spending review announcement fairly shortly, and it would be helpful if some guidance for the casino operators came forward in that review.
I am very much a Government loyalist, and I regularly admire the sun rising from the nether regions of the Prime Minister, but I must say that I am not at all happy with what I am hearing—or not hearing—from the Minister on the clause. I have been on many Standing Committees in my 20-odd years in this place, and this is quite the oddest. That has nothing to do with your excellent chairmanship, Mr. Gale, or indeed my contribution; the fact is that it is normal for Committees to consider the fine details of a Bill before Report. That is what the Committee stage is all about. I fully understand what has been said, and it is good to know that a recommendation will be made to the Committee of Ways and Means, so that we will have adequate time on Report to debate clause 7 and the amendments that the Minister might table, but that is not the same as Committee. It is different, as we all know, and we are not being given the opportunities. As we have become immersed in the Bill, we should really be discussing, in fine detail, Government proposals on the clause.
Committee was still sitting? No doubt, the Programming Sub-Committee could meet again and we could go back to the clause and do exactly what the hon. Gentleman suggests.
Absolutely. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham that the provision should perhaps have come later in our deliberations, but I do not think that that is possible now. Once we have begun to debate whether a clause stands part of the Bill, that is it.
That would be a matter for discussion. I can see that discussions have already started as to whether that if feasible. This is a strange way of considering a Bill; that is one thing on which we should all agree. Our only opportunity is that, when the Minister comes to wind up the debate, he will give as much detail as he can—assuming that he has details to give us. So many questions are immediately raised when we say that there will be a number. I believe that it is eight, but we cannot be 100 per cent. certain.
A number of my colleagues have agreed that there should be a cap, but I do not believe that there should be; that is what Government said originally, and what we should have stuck to. Already, bids are coming in even from Committee members, who are saying, ''I would like a casino in my area.'' We certainly want one in West Ham, and I hope to expand later on why, and how far we are down that road.
I have taken preliminary advice on the point of order that was tacitly, if not overtly, raised. My understanding is that the only manner in which the concerns of the hon. Member for West Ham could properly be met within order would be for the Committee to negative clause 7, and for a wholly new clause to be tabled. Once the clause has been voted on, it becomes clause 7 of the Bill.
It being twenty-five past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.