Clause 231 - Family entertainment centre gaming machine permit

Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 7th December 2004.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

May I say how grateful I am to the Minister for advising me that this clause would be a useful opportunity to raise the issue of fish and chip shops yet again? I do it briefly, but it is important to hear some explanation as to why the Government are going to make it impossible for any organisation that does not have either a premises licence or an alcohol licence to have machines. We have debated the issue before and the Minister will respond that this was a recommendation from the scrutiny Committee—and that is true. However, I think that, having examined the evidence from that Committee and having talked to various representatives of the bodies that will be affected, many people have had the opportunity for second thoughts. I have had such an opportunity and I hope that the Minister has, too.

The Minister has acknowledged that the research on category D machines is mixed, and he acknowledged today that there is a need for much more research into the likelihood of their leading to a significant growth in problem gambling. I have mentioned these figures before, but it is important that we are aware that there are currently something like 44,500 machines in 30,000 unlicensed premises. Ultimately, those premises will lose out if the Government have their way. They will prevent the use of the machines in places such as hotels, bowling alleys, cafes, mini-cab offices and fish and chip shops. However, the Government will allow the use of category D machines in a number of other institutions; for example, in motorway service stations.

I would be interested to hear from the Minister why he believes that having a category D machine in a motorway service station is less likely to lead to problem gambling than having one in a fish and chip shop. Surely, he would agree that the level of supervision of the use of the machine in a fish and chip shop would be far higher than that in a motorway service station. I would be grateful if he would tell us about that.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I have heard the hon. Gentleman agonising over ambient gambling during debates on earlier clauses. What does he think is the impact of having the machines in places such as cafes, chip shops and kebab houses, where they are clearly played by young people who are not of an age where they should be allowed to access them? Does he not

think that it has an adverse effect on people's gambling in future years? Does he think that we are right to take action to stop that?

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

If the hon. Gentleman believed what he said, surely he would be advocating almost immediately that the powers given to the Secretary of State in clause 157 be invoked; immediately, the machines would be removed from family entertainment centres, motorway service stations and many other locations. We must be clear about whether we believe there to be a problem. At the moment, there is no clear research on the matter. We have debated the issue at some length, and we find that the research goes both ways.

If the hon. Gentleman were saying that, in light of prevalence studies, it may, at some future date, be appropriate for an age limit to be placed on the use of machines in certain settings, there would be a powerful argument to support him. However, the answer to his question whether there is any clear evidence showing that the use of a category D machine—where people are looking to win a cuddly toy, a £5 cash reward or tokens—leads to problem gambling in later life is that the research does not demonstrate that. The problem gambling that occurs for some young people tends to tail off. I do not deny that it exists, but it is not related to problem gambling at a later stage. That view is based on the current research that was so helpfully put together in an enjoyable document—more bedtime reading for me—by the Government recently.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham 4:45 pm, 7th December 2004

I wonder why we are going to all this trouble to license premises if what the hon. Gentleman says is true. Why would we be so concerned about young people having access to gaming machines, which we have discussed throughout our consideration of the Bill, if there was not evidence that they can have problems in later life having had access to such machines, which they should not be playing? Throughout my constituency, problems are caused by there being access to machines in places where children hang out in the evening.

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

I am not disputing what the hon. Gentleman is saying from his own experience. As I have acknowledged, there is some research that would back him up, but there is also research that casts huge doubt on both his experience and some that have been reported to me.

There is an issue to do with level playing fields and what is fair. I ask the Minister to explain why it is perfectly safe to have these machines in a motorway service station, where a young person can play them, but it is significantly less safe in a fish and chip shop where, based on my own observation, the supervision is often much greater. Why is it fine in one set of circumstances and not in another, bearing in mind that the Henley centre report, which is covered in the Government's regulatory impact assessment, suggests that up to 600 such businesses will close as a result?

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

Our proposals have been sent to the National Federation of Fish Friers. It has yet to contact me or any of my officials. I have said that before in Committee, and I may well have said it in the House, too, because I have asked my officials whether a representation has been made. If the scenario that the hon. Gentleman paints about fish and chip shops is true, one would have thought that there would have been some representation from the federation, but it has yet to contact me or my officials.

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

I was hoping to intervene on the hon. Member for Bath, but he has obviously got tunnel vision these days and was avoiding me.

We all want youngsters to be protected from gambling that will lead to problems. However, what evidence has the Minister got that machines in places such as fish and chip shops are causing a problem for youngsters? I am not a great visitor of fish and chip shops, unlike the hon. Member for Bath, who obviously has a season ticket to his local fryer so that he can see what is going on there. However, whenever I have visited fish and chip shops, I have not seen rows of youngsters gambling away; I have only ever seen people occasionally slipping their change into machines on the chance that they may be able to cover the cost of their meal, and then they go away to eat their food.

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

The hon. Gentleman knows about recommendation 61 of the Joint Committee. Evidence that machines in these locations were often illegally sited has been accepted, and there were serious concerns that the machines were not properly supervised. The Gaming Board also gave evidence to the Joint Committee about illegal siting of machines in fish and chip shops and adult-only machines.

Parts of motorway service stations are family entertainment centres. They have a permit or a licence—depending on the machines—which contains an obligation to supervise. Therefore, there is a requirement for the proper supervision of those machines.

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

I do not want us to lose sight of the earlier point, because it is important. The Minister told us that the National Federation of Fish Friers Ltd. has not been in touch with his Department over this issue. I draw his attention to paragraph 2.24 of his departmental Gambling Bill regulatory impact assessment, which gives the views of the federation. I assume that it shared those views with the Government, otherwise they would not have included them in their assessment.

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

There might be a simple explanation for such matters in that the federation expressed its view to another body, and the Government noticed it. Paragraph 2.24 states:

''The National Federation of Fish Friers Ltd, which represents the interest of 8,500 fish and chip shop outlets has expressed concerns about the proposals that gaming machines should only be allowed in premises specifically licensed for gambling or the sale of alcohol.''

That clearly excludes the provision.

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

For completeness, that representation was made before the proposal of the scrutiny Committee, which was made before the pre-legislative scrutiny changes.

Mr. Page rose—

Mr. Hawkins rose—

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

I will not give way to the hon. Member for Surrey Heath The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire has been in Committee throughout debate on these matters.

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

The Minister is right. We discussed the matter at some length in the scrutiny Committee, but I did not see any conclusive evidence that pointed to the danger. I simply asked him what evidence he had that such matters were a danger for youngsters? I was not criticising the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee.

Matters concerning motorway service stations took up a great deal of time in our debate. The hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) will back me up that we were of the opinion that the designated areas inside motorway stations were not supervised at all. They are often tucked away and have an entrance that is not readily visible by anyone in authority, and youngsters can go in and play machines to their heart's content.

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

If that were happening, licence conditions would be being broken and the authorities would have to deal with it. The Gaming Board gave evidence to the Joint Committee about the illegal siting of machines in fish and chip shops and adult-only machines. I recall that the complaint was raised in the debate between the Budd report and ''A Safe Bet for Success''. The inability to police such matters was a matter of real concern to local authorities, so permits and licensing were introduced to assure the general public that such machines would not be abused.

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

I wanted to follow up the exchange between the Minister and the hon. Member for Bath about the response or otherwise of the National Federation of Fish Friers. Since the Government came to power, most Departments, not only but certainly including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, have seemed to believe that, if they put a request for something on their website, each representative organisation would spot it. That might be why the hon. Member for Bath can read out a specific point from the Government's regulatory impact assessment saying that a representative body was commenting on their proposals.

The Minister has said that the federation has not commented again after the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. It commented the first time, so perhaps it thinks that the Government should continue to listen to its original proposal and that there is no need for it to respond again to what was quoted in the regulatory

impact assessment. Just because it did not respond the second time does not make it wrong. If the proposals are similar, the federation's response is still valid.

I wish to know how the Government's civil servants have tried to contact the National Federation of Fish Friers. If, as I fear, it was a matter of simply putting something on the Department's website, the Government must understand that most people still respond to letters and do not trawl though websites.

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

The hon. Gentleman is wrong again; we sent the federation a letter.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I want to clarify the position of ten-pin bowling alleys. The scrutiny Committee concluded that the Government have acknowledged that consideration would be given to the treatment of ten-pin bowling centres, which made the point that they are more like family entertainment centres or adult gaming centres than a pub and queried the restriction to two machines. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have made any moves in respect of bowling centres.

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

Yes. The hon. Member for Bath listed a number of areas that he said were banned but are not banned. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire is right that, if all the conditions are met, bowling alleys or cafes with an alcohol licence could apply for a family entertainment centre licence. Only certain premises will be banned.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

That was not the question that I was posing. The Minister is confirming that bowling alleys will be classified in the same category as pubs, so they will be able to have two machines automatically, but will have to apply for more. That will cause a bureaucratic nightmare because many of them have 20 or more machines at the moment, which will presumably have to disappear, and they will then have to apply for permits for a lot more. The same applies to pubs.

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

The hon. Gentleman has got that wrong. The recommendation of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee, which we have accepted, is that an area such as a bowling alley can have a family entertainment centre within it. A motorway service station may have a licence for part of the building to be an FEC and the same would apply to a bowling alley.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

That would allow only category D machines, not category C machines.

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

No. It depends whether a permit or licence for category D or C machines is applied for. A permit is required for category D machines and a licence is required for category D and C machines. It depends what they apply for, but that is within the permitted area.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

That is understood. I have one further question. Would there be an exclusive area for category C machines as opposed to category D machines?

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

Just to end the deliberations so that we can make progress, the excellent Fat Friar fish and chip shop in Batheaston on the outskirts of Bath has quite large premises and has even taken into its premises the operation of our local post office. Would the Fat Friar be able to apply for a permit for part of its area and meet the necessary requirements?

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

If it was wholly or mainly for machines, it could apply for an FEC licence, but the fish and chip shop would have to be very big.

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

We return to the dilemma of the FEC beside a regional casino and the ''knocking down of the wall'' scenario that we discussed earlier. If the Fat Friar in Batheaston had a separate area, however small—perhaps sufficient for just one person and one machine—would it be able to apply for a permit?

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

I am reflecting on that. I am advised that the gambling commission will offer guidance. However, so as not to raise the hon. Gentleman's expectations, the answer is that one machine in one fish and chip shop would probably not be designated an FEC. Guidance will be given by the gambling commission, but I do not want to raise expectations because the fish and chip would probably have to be much bigger and genuinely have an FEC.

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

The Minister has not seen the wonderful premises and does not know how big they are. They are quite extensive.

We have made progress and we might have helped at least one fish and chip shop in the country. When we come to schedule 8, we shall have an opportunity for a similar debate about a range of other premises that are currently affected. The Minister will have had time to reflect slightly more on the nature of the guidance that is likely to be offered by the gambling commission. I hope that we can now make a bit of progress.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 231 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Watson.]

Adjourned accordingly at Five o'clock till Thursday 9 December at half-past Nine o'clock.