I beg to move amendment No. 311, in schedule 8, page 163, line 38, leave out 'may' and insert
'shall, after consultation with—
(a) one or more persons who appear to represent local authorities,
(b) one or more persons who appear to represent chief constables of police forces,
(c) one or more persons who appear to represent the interests of persons carrying on relevant gambling businesses which will be affected,
(d) one or more persons who have knowledge about social problems relating to gambling,
(e) to such extent and in such manner as appropriate, members of the public,'.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 312, in schedule 8, page 163, line 39, leave out 'propose to' and insert 'shall'.
No. 313, in schedule 8, page 163, line 40, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
No. 314, in schedule 8, page 164, line 2, leave out
'need not (but may) have regard to' and insert 'shall follow'.
No. 315, in schedule 8, page 164, line 3, leave out 'have regard to' and insert 'follow'.
No. 320, in schedule 11, page 189, line 19, leave out
'need not (but may) have regard to' and insert 'shall comply with'.
No. 321, in schedule 11, page 189, line 20, leave out 'shall have regard to' and insert 'shall comply with'.
No. 322, in schedule 11, page 189, line 21, at end insert—
'(4) The licensing authority shall ensure that the statement of principles does not in any way conflict with the licensing objectives or guidance issued by the Commission.'.
Welcome back to the Chair, Mr. Pike. Amendment No. 311 lists the parties that we think ought to be involved in the consultation before the licensing authority prepares its statement of principles to apply when exercising its functions under the schedule. Those whom we think ought to be involved include
''one or more persons who appear to represent local authorities'', which would probably include some local councillors. The best people would be members or representatives of the licensing committee. We also think that the following people should be involved:
''one or more persons who appear to represent chief constables of police forces''— in other words, some of the local police;
''one or more persons who appear to represent the interests of persons carrying on relevant gambling businesses which will be affected'', which is straightforward;
''one or more persons who have knowledge about social problems relating to gambling''; and finally
''to such extent and in such manner as appropriate, members of the public''.
As I said, we have included, in sub-paragraph (1)(d), people who have knowledge about social problems relating to gambling. We have been approached by representatives of Churches and groups who think that they ought to have an input at some stage, particularly at a local level, on how the matters will impact on protection of young people and the vulnerable. Before the statement of principles is formulated, full consultation ought to take place with all those people referred to in the amendment.
Amendment No. 312 would replace the words ''propose to'' in line 39 with ''shall'', and amendment No. 313 would replace ''may'' in line 40 with ''shall''. It is critical that the basis on which decisions about applications are made is clearly set out and unambiguous. That will enable applicants to understand what is required of them in order to comply with their permits. Let us remind ourselves that any breach of that permit would make an individual liable to conviction of an offence under clause 30, without defence. It is essential that the requirements are set out clearly in the Bill not only for that reason, but to achieve compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. In addition, the Budd report specified that the principles under which local authorities should act should be set down unambiguously to ensure uniformity and consistency of regulation. Those safeguards should be enshrined in the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 314 and 315 would also firm up the words in the Bill. Sub-paragraph (3) states:
''In exercising their functions under this Schedule a licensing authority—
(a) need not (but may) have regard to the licensing objectives''.
That is far too sloppy and weak. By taking out the words
''need not (but may) have regard to'' and replacing them with ''shall follow'', amendment No. 314 would leave us with a clear statement of intent, which would strengthen the Bill. We feel that if the licensing objectives are important, the licensing authority ought to take them into account in issuing permits.
Amendments Nos. 320 and 321 are consequential amendments which would take the same wording and replace it with the words ''shall follow'' in schedule 11. I need not deal with that any further. Amendment No. 322, which again relates to schedule 11, would insert a new sub-paragraph (4), which reads:
''The licensing authority shall ensure that the statement of principles does not in any way conflict with the licensing objectives or guidance issued by the Commission.''
We would expect common sense to prevail in such matters, and licensing authorities should not do anything contrary to the gambling commission's views, but including the requirement in the Bill would make it clear and unambiguous that nothing that the licensing authority does in relation to the permits should run counter to the clear aims of the commission.
You may recall, Mr. Pike, that during our last sitting I spent a little time going through all the ''mays'' that would allow the Secretary of State to introduce regulations. I said at the time:
''I do not know why we are even bothering to debate the Bill. Why does the Bill not simply say, 'The Secretary of State may, by regulation, determine what is going to happen'? Then we could all go home.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 7 December 2004; c. 448]
It appears that this malaise is catching because the Government now want to introduce ''may'' back into the provisions relating to the licensing authority—the licensing authority ''may'' prepare a statement of principles. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) that that uncertainty should be completely removed from this part of the Bill. Surely one of its most important aspects is to ensure correct and proper licensing. We need to see exactly how it will all operate, not whether the authority ''may'' draw up a statement of principles.
Earlier on in the Committee's deliberations, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) spent some time on the question of rowdy clubs in Guildford. He pressed the matter to a Division, in which the Government were not minded to vote with him. I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend because I know that particular stretch of high street, which has a string of clubs, and on Friday or Saturday nights it can be very ''exciting''—the police are frequently present. My hon. Friend asked what would happen if one of those clubs were to apply for a licence to run a casino.
The bodies that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire has detailed in amendment No. 311 should be consulted so that it is clearly understood that the licensing of any casino has been checked and vetted by all the bodies with an interest in ensuring that it is a proper and fitting place in which to run such an operation. My hon. Friend was very good about not wanting to take up too much of the Committee's time, so he did not go through each of the individual bodies and their relevance.
However, we all know that if a local councillor is worth their salt, they will know what is going on in their area and will know the places that look likely to apply for licences. Surely to goodness they should be consulted. Surely the police, too, should be consulted. They are in the area, they know the type of people who go to the various places and, probably, whether those making the application are fit and proper people to hold a licence. It is only right, too, that those who understand the social problems relating to gambling should be involved in the licensing of any gambling establishment. Those of us on the scrutiny Committee visited GamCare and other organisations interested in and concerned with the social problems caused by gambling. Surely those people should be consulted on whether an establishment is the right and proper place to be given a licence.
Turning to the issue of fair play, those people who are interested in gambling should be consulted on whether the application that is being made is proper and whether it is being correctly treated.
When one considers the whole body of opinion that should be consulted, it is absolutely right that we should change the word in the clause from ''may'' to ''shall''. That way everyone would know where they stand. I do not say to the Minister that every one of the phraseologies and titles in my hon. Friend's amendment is perfect. The Minister may wish to shave them and produce a more polished wording; nevertheless, it is absolutely right that a licensing authority ''shall'' prepare a statement of principles. My hon. Friend has done an excellent job in preparing the basis of such a statement of principles. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on the subject.
In their defence of the Bill when introducing it, the Government made a great deal of the right of local communities to exercise influence, or even control, over the gambling that takes place in their area. Much has been said in earlier debates about the so-called triple lock mechanism. When the Bill in its original, wholly free market state was to allow gambling to take place anywhere there was demand for it, the only thing that the Government could say in defence of their plans was that, while there would a market-driven mechanism, local communities could say that they did not want gambling to take place in their area and the triple lock mechanism would ensure that those who did not want it had the right to say no.
That is important because I am sure that there will be many areas—I hope that mine will be one of them—that are not enthusiastic about the proposals. Even if there were areas that wanted some form of gambling, I think that local people would want to take control of what kind of gambling that would be. Therefore, the idea that there should be a statement of principles set out by the local authority which is binding rather than consultative—and does not adopt a ''take it if you like and don't if you don't'' approach—is entirely right. I am shocked that the Government have been so mealy-mouthed in schedule 8 about what local authorities must do when an application for permission for a gambling premises is made in their area.
For example, the idea that a
''licensing authority may prepare a statement of principles that they propose to apply'', is clearly far too subjective and indecisive. That provision could be ignored, given that the law will not insist that it ''shall'', as set out in the amendment. Given that many local people will want to have a say, I hope that a statement of principles shall be exercised, so that when the go-ahead is given for gambling in a particular area, local people know what framework it will have, that it is sacrosanct and that it is not a question that the statement ''may'' fit in with local principles but that it will.
Equally, I hope that the Minister will take on board amendment No. 311, whereby instead of stating that those authorities that need to be consulted ''may'' be consulted, it is stated that they ''shall'' be consulted. If there is a statement of principles and the amendment is agreed to, the relevant authorities must be consulted to establish whether the statement has been adhered to.
Debating an amendment last week about whether local authorities should be allowed to take money from casinos to provide local services, the Minister was vigorous in his defence of the right of local councillors to make difficult decisions. I argued that such provision should be set out in law rather than left to local discretion. The Minister said, however, that councillors should decide such things, because they have the wherewithal to do so, and that he would therefore resist the amendment. If we are to give local councillors such power, they should be consulted about the licensing authority's statement of principles and about any potential modification of that statement, where an application seems to fly in the face of the original statement set out when permission to locate gambling premises in that area was first applied for.
Local councillors should, or, as in our amendment, shall be consulted. That is important, but equally important is the attitude of local police, because one concern that we have with this legislation is its potential to create more criminal activity in our communities. There is a big question mark over gaming activities elsewhere in the world. They pull in a criminal element, because such activities are a potential means of laundering money. The views of local police are important when it comes to the organisation of a statement of principles about the way in which the licensing of any one authority should be applied. Local chief constables should be consulted. If there is a worry that gambling is attracting criminal activity in a certain area, they will want to be consulted on any extension, because giving the go-ahead for more gambling premises will only inflame the situation. It is important to allow chief constables or a representative of the police force to take a view.
To be fair to those who already have a gambling business locally, the legislation should state that they ''should'' be consulted rather than that they ''may'' be consulted, because competition in the area will affect their business. They should not have a binding say, but they should be entitled to a say and it is only right that their views ''should'' be solicited rather than ''may'' be solicited. Gambling is controlled by legislation. It is not like a shop in the High street. It is a more restricted activity and the state seeks to interfere in the market. Gambling premises exist because statute rather than the market allows them to do so, so the operators should be consulted, although I would not give their interests the same weight as those of local councillors or chief constables.
Many people in the area will be affected by the consequences of the Government's proposal to extend gambling. My concern is that even the Government's more modest proposal for 12 regional casinos will unleash a gambling problem in those areas because they will be situated in large population centres. Those people who deal with the ensuing social problems should have a say on any application for additional gambling premises and how that affects the statement of principles that was set out by the licensing authority when the premises were first allowed in that locality. That is important if the Government are serious about keeping the lid on problem gambling. I hope that the Government will firm up schedule 8. That would not be a major concession, but it would be a reasonable one.
I particularly hope that the Minister will consider our amendment to paragraph 7(3), which states:
''In exercising their functions under this Schedule a licensing authority—
(a) need not (but may) have regard to the licensing objectives''.
That is an extraordinary statement to put in a schedule. It obviates the point of a schedule if people can do something if they want to, but do not have to if they do not want to. If people are to have confidence in the licensing authority's powers and relevance, due process needs to have taken place before applications are considered and given the go-ahead. To provide such an overwhelming catch-all that if people do not want to do something they need not bother to do it would weaken considerably the control of the community and those whose interests are affected over the roll-out of gambling in an area.
I hope that the Minister will listen to what I have said and that he will not take offence when I leave the Committee shortly to see my little man's nativity play. I may not hear the Minister's response and I hope that the Committee will forgive me for that unintended offence.
On a point of order, Mr. Pike. During my brief contribution earlier, I referred to a licensing authority and that it ''shall'' prepare a statement of principle. I might have referred to the licensing of casinos when I meant the licensing of gaming machine permits. I did not mean casinos and I might have misled the Committee.
We have had an interesting debate this morning. Does schedule 8 comply with the Human Rights Act? The answer is yes. None of the amendments is needed to achieve human rights compatibility. The authority is always under an obligation to comply with human rights legislation.
I ask the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) in particular to reflect on discussions earlier this week about family entertainment centres and the great defence that was put up for them—and rightly so, as they are a very important part of our seaside resorts particularly. Schedule 8 expands on clause 231 on family entertainment centre gaming machine permits. This is about category D machines. Money laundering has been mentioned, but I cannot imagine the Kray twins putting 10p pieces into category D machines for such purposes. In response to all the speeches about licensing we have said that we want a light touch for family entertainment centres. The very clear message from the Opposition was that they wanted to allow these family entertainment centres to continue in the way that they have done.
All we are doing is enshrining the provisions of the Gaming Act 1968 in the Bill. I have not seen money laundering through category D machines or in family entertainment centres in the recent past. I have not seen the disruption of family entertainment centres that has been described in support of the amendment. Schedule 8 is about family entertainment centre machine permits. It is specifically about category D machines—10p stakes, £5 payout. We want to bring them under the licensing regime by providing for permits. Why permits? That is because we want a light touch for family entertainment centres. We do not believe that they have been centres of unrest or of money laundering, although from the contributions this morning anyone would think so.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of what we are dealing with. There was nothing in what I said to suggest that I did not understand what I was proposing—for the record. Any criticism that fired across the Committee should not have been aimed in my direction.
Yes we are dealing with unlicensed premises. The Bill states categorically that if one has a premises licence one does not need to go through the requirements of schedule 8. I understand that, but what is the difference between such an unlicensed place getting a permit for some machines and fish and chip shops—apart from the fact that they sell fish and chips as the primary source of income?
I will explain. The hon. Gentleman put forward logical and not emotive arguments, and it is true that the amendments are about the procedure for obtaining permits for family entertainment centre permits, but I am afraid that we cannot agree with them. They would place an additional and unnecessary strain on the licensing authority without adding any benefit to the way in which it carries out its function in respect of family entertainment centres.
Family entertainment centres with such permits are, of course, those that offer only category D machines—the type that children can play. Many of our seaside resorts offer such facilities. Schedule 8 is intended to give the licensing authority the discretion to take into account local circumstances when considering whether to issue a permit. In doing that, the authority needs to take account of the relevant guidance from the commission and it can consider the licensing objectives in its judgment. Licensing authorities should be given discretion over the granting of permits, and that is what happens under the current law. The 1968 Act enshrines that.
The authority understands the local environment in which the premises and machines will be operating. Therefore, it is in the best position to judge whether the application merits a permit. If the local authority acts irrationally, public law remedies will be available to stop it making a perverse decision. However, we must retain discretion for the local licensing authority.
The hon. Gentleman will note that there is an obligation on the authority to consult the local police before granting a permit under paragraph 9(b). We believe that that is the appropriate level of consultation for the permits. If we make the provision for a permit excessive, we might just as well require that FECs hold an operating licence from the commission and we do not want to do that. I am sure that we would all agree that that would be disproportionate to what we are trying to achieve in respect of category D machine family entertainment centres.
I turn to the amendments that have been tabled in respect of prize gaming permits under schedule 11. I understand the motives behind them, but I do not think that they would assist licensing authorities or applicants. As with FEC permits, the licensing authority should have discretion to grant permits, as it does now under the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976. An attempt to curtail that discretion would not add anything to the Bill. Amendment No. 322 covers an additional suggestion, which is that the statement of principles produced by the authority must not conflict with the licensing objectives or the commission's guidance. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be open to the authority to produce a statement that conflicts with the commission's guidance.
I am sorry. For the record, then, it would not be open to the authority to produce a statement that conflicts with the commission's guidance.
It is open to authorities to take account of the objectives. However, as I have just explained, authorities should not be constrained about the matters that they take into account when making decisions about permits. By having the permit, FECs and fish and chip shops have arrangements for supervision of the machines. Given my explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation and clarification of one or two key issues. We have no real problem with there being a light touch. The least regulation that we can get away with, the better for all concerned. However, I wonder why paragraph 7(1) gives the licensing authority the discretion to prepare a statement of principles. The Minister said that such a provision was lifted from the 1968 Act, or was it the 1976 Act?
If there is to be a light touch, why do we need the provision? Does the Minister have any idea how many licensing authorities have a statement of principles? Would the provision apply in areas with a large number of family entertainment centres, such as seaside towns and resorts where the local authority might like to make it clear that, to maintain its overall standards, it had laid down principles and expected those who applied for permits to meet the requirements in their operations? If we want deregulation, why do we need to bother even stating that a local authority may, if it so chooses, prepare a statement of principles? I should be grateful to the Minister if he could answer that point.
I shall try to do so. Under clause 327, a licensing authority has to make a general statement. Paragraph 7(1) is an additional tool to that end under schedule 8.
I follow the logic. Perhaps we should have tabled an amendment to clause 327. If the principle is right—that there needs to be such a provision—that is fine, but what if the principle, given the light touch, is that we do not need to be too fussed about the statement of principles? Behind my question was the issue of whether such statements are important. How many will be made? How many authorities will bother to make them? What is the purpose behind the provision? The Minister cannot just say, ''Well, it is in clause 327, therefore it follows that it must be in schedule 8.'' It may be wrong in principle wherever it occurs in the Bill. What is the experience? Why do the Government think that the provision ought to be included in this part of the Bill?
Clause 327 deals with three-year licensing policy. We are not saying that an authority has to make a statement of principles under schedule 8, but that it may. It is about getting the right balance. The provision gives the opportunity to extend the licensing requirements in clause 327, and such a statement may add strength. It is an opportunity for the authority.
I am listening carefully to the Minister and I am with him as far as he goes. Let us take the example of a local authority such as Blackpool. An operator may have several family entertainment centres in Blackpool and a number of them in Southport, just down the road. The respective licensing authorities in Blackpool and Southport may take completely different approaches in this context. One might say, ''We have these principles, to which we must adhere'', and the other might not bother.
In the interests of consistency, so that small businesses know where they stand, why do we need to include the provision? If it is important, it should be included, but if it is not that important, I do not see the point of including it. I do not want to thrash this to death, but I do not think that the Minister has answered that. If he wants to reflect on it and return to it later, I would be more than happy for him to do so. Operators of more than one premises ought to know where they stand across the board, rather than their having to deal with different situations in different jurisdictions. That is my point.
Different conditions may prevail in different areas and an authority might want to take such actions. However, both authorities would need to issue a statement on licensing under clause 327 anyway. Different conditions may prevail and we want to give authorities flexibility to make a statement if they find it helpful. I do not believe that that is wrong. We are bringing licensing much more into local authorities' remit.
To digress for a moment, I met representatives of the Local Government Authority yesterday to discuss a number of issues, one of which was the question of licensing and how the regulations would be policed. We will have to revisit that; we need flexibility on one hand and consistency on the other—I accept that. We also need far better operation of the regulations at local authority level, and we will be discussing that with the LGA. We are consistent: we have provided for flexibility but the broad principles will be outlined under clause 327. If different conditions prevail in different areas, the authority has the flexibility to act accordingly.
I am still not absolutely sold on the idea, but I am not going to divide the Committee on it. Nevertheless, we ought to reflect on it.
Given the financial pressures on local authorities, I envisage that most will not make such a statement if they do not have to do so. Therefore, the question remains hanging in the air as to why anyone would want to set down a set of principles about family entertainment centres—we are talking about the unlicensed ones, not the licensed ones with the premises licences. I do not think that local authorities will bother very much about doing that; very few will do it. I wonder why it would be done in the first instance. What would a local authority wish to establish in monitoring the operation of such establishments?
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
This minor amendment relates to schedule 8, paragraph 10(2), which states that
''A licensing authority may satisfy sub-paragraph (1)(b)''— that sub-paragraph is about the application for a permit for the machines—
''by giving the applicant an opportunity to make—
(a) oral representations
(b) written representations, or
The words ''at the applicant's option'' should be inserted to make it absolutely clear that the applicant has a choice. He or she could then say, ''I choose to do A'' or, ''I choose to do B.'' Oral representations would be easier to make, could be made on the telephone or in a face-to-face interview, and would not require applicants to sit at their computers to type something out. The amendment is minor, and designed to reinforce what I think is behind the wording of the Government's sub-paragraph anyway: the notion of giving a certain amount of choice. The amendment would just firm that up.
I have some sympathy with the amendment. The hon. Gentleman wants to ensure that applicants are able to have their say, as is absolutely right, if an authority proposes to turn down an application. We want that too, and the paragraph already gives all applicants the right to be heard in those circumstances.
However, in our view the authorities need some discretion over what form representations should take. In exercising discretion, authorities will have to consider the rules of natural justice anyway. In some circumstances an applicant may well be able to make his case effectively in writing, without any damage being done to the fairness of the proceedings. Therefore, we want the assessment to be carried out by the authority, which will be in possession of all the facts relating to each application. The authority will be able best to determine whether an oral hearing or written submissions are appropriate. Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot agree with the amendment.
The same has to be said about amendment No. 323. As it stands, the Bill would treat all applicants fairly and give them the necessary rights. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. An applicant may—dare I say it—not be terribly literate or capable of a making written submission, even though they are running an extremely profitable and sound business. As I understand the paragraph, the local authority has discretion, as the Minister rightly said, in determining what form of representation the applicant should make. In very rare circumstances, an applicant might be embarrassed at having to submit a written application. Getting that done by someone else might cost extra money, but the applicant would be more than able to give an oral representation in support of their application.
I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division, but there may well be circumstances in which, in the interests of natural justice, the applicant should be given the benefit of the doubt and be able to choose. In the light of what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 317, in schedule 8, page 166, line 32, at end insert
'and there has been a material change in circumstance since the original granting of the permit'.
The amendment relates to paragraph 18(4)(b) of schedule 8, which deals with the renewals of permits for gaming machines and contains the second ground for refusal—
''that renewal would not be reasonably consistent with pursuit of the licensing objectives.''
Our amendment would add to that the words
''and there has been a material change in circumstance since the original granting of the permit.''
It is felt that there should be a presumption that provided that an application has been granted initially, the circumstances when the initial grant was made should be deemed to be consistent with the licensing objectives. It could be inequitable if a licensing authority were entitled to re-interpret the same set of circumstances and judged them to be inconsistent with the licensing objectives. We are attempting with our amendment to clarify that situation should it arise.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is trying to give some extra reassurance to the amusement machines industry. We have already agreed, in earlier proceedings, that family entertainment centres throughout the country are well run and offer real entertainment for families. No doubt the vast majority of family arcades will never cause concerns that might give the licensing authority reason to refuse the renewal of their permit. However, paragraph 18(4) allows for those unusual circumstances where the FEC was no longer run responsibly. In such circumstances it is right to refuse renewal.
The grounds for refusal are clear. The licensing authority has to provide evidence that allowing the FEC to continue operating will involve some threat to the licensing objectives. Not only are those grounds clear, they are constrained. The authority cannot refuse to renew a permit on a whim or fancy.
A case that might merit refusal could, for example, be based on evidence that the permit holder was encouraging children to play machines excessively, perhaps during school hours. Such evidence would have to involve a material change in the circumstances since the time of the application, otherwise the permit would not have been granted in the first place.
I hope that with that explanation the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
Under paragraph 12—''Duration''—permits are effectively handed out for a 10-year period. I should like clarification that that is replicating the existing period under the Gaming Act 1968 and the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976.
Paragraph 15 deals with the lapsing of a permit. The words
''A permit held by an individual shall lapse if . . . he dies'' or she dies, are fine, but sub-paragraph (2) says:
''In any other case a permit shall lapse if the holder—ceases to exist''.
I am not sure what that means. Why not ''dies''? Of course, the holder might be a company. I should like clarification that that is what the Minister was alluding to.
Yes, 10 years, but it can be longer. The current minimum is three years, but it can also be longer. The phrase ''ceases to exist'' covers companies, not individuals.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.