With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 112, in
clause 21, page 9, line 31, leave out from beginning to 'the' and insert
'pursue and shall act consistently with'.
No. 113, in
clause 21, page 9, leave out line 33, and insert
'(b) permit gambling in a manner'.
I shall be brief. As the Minister said, the clauses relating to the gambling commission form probably one of the most important parts of the Bill; great power is to be given to the commission in an unprecedented way. My amendments would firm up in a more objective way what the commission shall and shall not be doing. We want to take out the word ''aim'' so that the clause reads: ''In exercising its functions under this Act the Commission shall pursue''. That would be a more objective analysis and would firm up the clause in a way that most of us would agree is necessary.
I cannot think that the amendments reflect any disagreement between the Government and the Opposition. We both agree that the gambling commission should be a tough regulator, working for the public interest and pursuing social responsibility. In developing the clause, the Government have sought not only to place demanding responsibilities on the gambling commission, but to ensure that it has a degree of flexibility.
If the hon. Gentleman's amendments were agreed, the commission may well find itself having to prohibit new forms of gambling that are perfectly acceptable. That is because it would be required to permit gambling only when it was wholly consistent with the licensing objectives. All gambling products involve some risks, particularly to vulnerable adults, so the test is one that few new products would be able to pass.
I presume that amendment No. 110 is meant to toughen up the duties of the gambling commission. However, we do not think that the deletion of that word will achieve much. Even if the commission were required simply to pursue the objective, it could only aim to do that on each occasion.
Amendment No. 112 would remove the duty of the commission to have regard to the licensing objectives where appropriate. I am not clear about the intention behind the amendment. Under various provisions in the Bill the commission is required to have regard to the licensing objectives—for example, when considering applications for operating licences under clause 66. Clause 21 makes it clear that the commission must have regard to the licensing objective in those circumstances. If amendment No. 112 were accepted, it would make the commission less accountable, not more. The amendment also requires the commission to act consistently with the licensing objectives, but that is inherent in its duty to pursue the objectives and therefore the amendment adds nothing.
Amendment No. 113 would require that the commission permit gambling only when it is consistent with the licensing objectives. It removes the commission's discretion to permit gambling where it is ''reasonably consistent'' with the objectives. If it were accepted, there could be a risk that the commission would be obliged to prohibit new forms of gambling that were perfectly acceptable.
As I have said, I do not think that there is any policy difference between us, but the amendments push the principles that we agree on too far and could have some perverse effects. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. We were attempting to firm up the clause. As he said, he and I are not a million miles apart on the objective. In view of his comments—particularly those relating to greater flexibility in future—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.