Clause 25 - Duty to advise Secretary of State

Part of Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:40 pm on 16th November 2004.

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Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport 5:40 pm, 16th November 2004

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—