Clause 255 - Section 254: supplementary

Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 9th December 2004.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester 2:45 pm, 9th December 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 348, in clause 255, page 113, line 31, at end insert—

'(e) not unfairly discriminate between different classes of club or institute when making such regulations.'.

The amendment has been carefully worded so that I can ingratiate myself with Labour members of the Committee, Conservative members of the Committee and, hopefully, my hon. Friends the Members for Bath (Mr. Foster) and for Southport (Dr. Pugh).

The clause as drafted commits members' clubs, commercial clubs and miners' welfare institutes to providing certain facilities for gaming without the need for any express authorisation. In order to qualify for the exemption, the gaming must meet a number of conditions, which are similar to those set out in section 40 of the 1968 Act, with the exception of the   restriction on linking games and of how to prescribe maximum stakes and prizes.

There is no justification for discriminating between types of club or institute. It should be made clear in the Bill that the purpose of making regulations on different provisions for different classes is not to allow such discrimination—hence my opening references to political clubs. There should not be discrimination because they are political clubs or, indeed, among political clubs of different colours.

Subsection (3) allows the Secretary of State to make regulations

''prescribing the maximum charge for the purposes of section 254(4).''

In other words, participation fees are not to exceed a maximum to be prescribed. Clause 255(3)(a) allows the making of

''different provision for different classes of club or institute.''

Paragraph (c) makes provision

''for different classes or descriptions of game'' and paragraph (d) provides

''for different classes or description of fee.''

Everyone has to be awake to follow that flow.

There is no indication of the basis on which different provisions will be made for different classes of club or institute. The amendment seeks to clarify that any policy setting a different maximum participation fee will not unfairly discriminate between classes of club or institute. It is suggested that the Secretary of State issue a statement under clause 220 regarding the basis on which such power will be exercised.

This is in many ways a probing amendment to ensure that the Government have taken such matters into consideration. While there can be different regulations for varying classes of clubs, the difference should not be discriminatory towards a particular club. In other words, regulations governing a miners' welfare institute should not be excessively strict in comparison with, say, regulations governing a snooker club or any other commercial club. I should point out that my interest in the miners' welfare institute movement is purely to ensure that the one in Eckington survives, because it is one I visit.

The Gaming Act 1968 granted the Secretary of State the right to specify differing sums for different clubs, so the power granted to the Secretary of State is at the heart of this clause and a carry-over from the 1968 Act. The amendment will ensure that the differences are within reason. The definitions of the three types of club are miners' welfare institutes, commercial clubs and members' clubs. I hope that the Minister will be able to give assurances and clarifications such that I may not wish to push the amendment to a Division.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

May I add a footnote? There is some possibility of unfair discrimination, because clubs are often judged by their titles and not always what they seem. Miners' clubs are not frequented only by miners. Wheel-tappers and shunters clubs are presumably not full of   anybody at all anymore, as there are no wheel-tappers and shunters around.

Certain clubs such as social clubs in Blackpool, some of which the scrutiny Committee visited, were originally set up with the objective of providing cheap entertainment for people who could not attend first-class, commercial entertainment. Those clubs now provide first-class, commercial entertainment, and are effectively lucrative and thriving businesses.

We also have the phenomenon of political clubs. In my constituency, the Birkdale Conservative club is full not of Conservatives, surprisingly, but of snooker players. [Interruption.]

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

May I assure the hon. Gentleman that one condition of joining a Conservative club is being a Conservative? If he has the names of anybody who enters those clubs who is not a Conservative, I would like to have them, because I would make sure that they were immediately barred.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the net effect of that would be very empty clubs. Some people may be under a serious misapprehension—

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

This point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on the radio a few weeks ago. He said that if every member of the Conservative clubs in his constituency had voted Conservative, he would not have won the seat.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

If I may add an anecdotal reference, there is a thriving Kirkby Liberal club, but the return from my constituency does not reflect the club membership. Similarly, Labour clubs are not universally full of socialists, although I suppose that the same could be said of the Labour party. There is a serious possibility that discrimination by category may not be that friendly to the interests of the clubs. [Interruption.]

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. In the spirit of seasonal good will, I ask the hon. Gentleman to come back to the amendment.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I was just pointing out that there is a real possibility of unfair discrimination.

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

This question depends on the type of discrimination that we are addressing, because the main purpose of the clause is to distinguish between different types of gambling, not political persuasion.

Amendment No. 348 addresses the maximum participation fees that clubs will be able to charge members to take part in certain forms of equal-chance gaming. The fees will be set by regulations. The amendment would ensure that such regulations do not discriminate unfairly among different classes of clubs or institutes. The regulations would never be used unfairly. The regulations should not discriminate between groups without proper justification. The purpose of the flexibility is to enable different participation fees for different types of clubs. For example, bridge and whist clubs enjoy higher allowances under current law. Without the flexibility, we would not be able to maintain that.

Why have the power at all? Section 40 of the 1968 Act, as amended in 1973, allows different sums for   members' and commercial clubs and institutes. The power already exists, and that is why we are following it through. With that explanation about flexibility without discrimination, I hope that the hon. Member for Colchester will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

I thank the Minister for clarifying and explaining how the Bill interprets fairness and discrimination. With that on the record, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 255 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 256 and 257 ordered to stand part of the Bill.