''(a) the incidence of gambling,
(b) the manner in which gambling is carried on,
(c) the effects of gambling, and
(d) the regulation of gambling'', but only
''(a) in response to a request from the Secretary of State, and
(b) on such other occasions as the Commission thinks appropriate.''
Amendment No. 131 would introduce a provision for the gambling commission definitely to report no less frequently than annually. In the light of the Government's huge U-turn today, the new proposals
about casinos and all the promises that the Minister has made about the fact that the commission will look carefully at the evidence to see how the casinos progress, it is vital that we have regular reporting on the four categories in clause 25(1). It should not be a case of leaving it to the Secretary of State or to the commission as and when they think it appropriate. We should have a regular report specified in the Bill, so that we know that it will happen at least once a year, if not more often.
I was surprised not to see an annual reporting requirement in the Bill as drafted, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider the matter with his officials. I will not deal with amendment No. 152; I will leave that to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. However, I have put my name to it, and I agree with it.
The clause places a duty on the gambling commission to give advice to the Secretary of State on various aspects of gambling. Subsection (2) refers to the timing of the advice. The commission must provide advice when the Secretary of State requests it, and also at any other time when it believes that to be appropriate. Amendment No. 131 would include an additional requirement for the commission to report regularly to the Secretary of State. It would ensure that, at a minimum, the commission was required to report once a year.
As the clause stands, if the Secretary of State does not request advice or the commission determines that no advice is necessary over the course of the year, there is no requirement for the commission to report. Amendment No. 131 therefore raises a valid point.
Under clause 25(3), the gambling commission is to make available to Scottish Ministers any advice that it gives to the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 152 would require such advice also to be made available to the general public. That is likely to be achieved by publishing the advice on the gambling commission's website. I agree in principle with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, and there is no intention that the advice should not be available to the public. However, it would not be appropriate to put that requirement in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is due to come into force in January 2005. Under that Act, the public have a general right to access recorded information held by public authorities. The gambling commission, like all other public bodies, will be required to comply with that legislation. However, there will be cases where it is not appropriate to make certain information available to the public: for example, if the information is personal, confidential or commercially sensitive.
In such circumstances, the commission will be able to rely on the exemption under the Freedom of Information Act and not release the information. My concern is that requiring the commission to publish all the advice given to the Secretary of State will not be in the spirit of that Act and will put unnecessary burdens on the gambling commission. However, when it is appropriate to do so, I agree that the commission
should make public the advice given to the Secretary of State. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, so that—
I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, so that I may give the issues that it raises further consideration.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 26 to 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 5 agreed to.
Clauses 29 to 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Watson.]
Bill, as so far amended, to be reported.
Committee rose at five minutes to Six o'clock.