Clause 267 - Gaming machines

Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 14 December 2004.

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Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 369, in clause 267, page 118, line 30, leave out 'one or two' and insert 'four'.—[Mr. Moss.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley 2:30, 14 December 2004

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

No. 370, in clause 267, page 119, line 15, leave out subsection (7).

Clause 267 stand part.

No. 364, in clause 268, page 119, line 20, leave out

'an on-premises alcohol licence in respect of premises' and insert

'a premises licence under the Licensing Act 2003'.

No. 365, in clause 268, page 119, line 23, leave out 'they think that'.

No. 366, in clause 268, page 119, line 25, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

'(a) relevant representations relating to the licensing objectives have been received and upheld,'.

No. 367, in clause 268, page 119, line 33, leave out from '(3)' to end of line 36.

Clause 268 stand part.

Government amendment No. 363.

Government new clause 16—Gaming machines: automatic entitlement.

Government new clause 17—Pub gaming machine permits.

Government new clause 18—Removal of exemption.

Government new schedule 2—Pub Gaming Machine Permits.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

Welcome back to the Chair, Mr. Pike. Before I was interrupted by the lunch break, I was discussing permits and asking a few questions about whether they will be required by pubs exercising their grandfather rights in order to retain the same number of machines. I was discussing also the prescribed fee if that were the case. Earlier, the Minister was unable to provide any idea about the scale of the fee, but perhaps he has some further information that will be of use to the Committee.

Currently, in order to get a machine into a pub, a case must be put to a magistrates, and—I presume—the applicant gets a piece of paper akin to a permit. I presume also that one must pay a fee per machine or   per permit. If a fee is charged, it would be useful to know what it is, what the Government's thoughts are about the fee alluded to in new clause 16(2)(b), which is to be prescribed by the Secretary of State by regulation, and whether that fee will be akin to the current charge.

We have before us an amendment that strikes out two clauses, some new clauses in lieu of them and a new schedule. The British Beer and Pub Association is particularly exercised by the way in which the local authority—the licensing authority—can literally step in and question, and presumably remove, the permit for machines in a particular pub. Under the Licensing Act 2003, the local authority has a similar power to move in and revoke the licence that it has offered or given to a pub or establishment. Before the local authority can do that, however, it must go through several different stages, which involves taking information from the general public, such as interested parties, local residents and people who have drawn the authority's attention to the matter, or from responsible authorities such as the local police. Before the local authority can even write to the pub, saying, ''It has come to our notice that—'', it needs firm evidence from either interested parties or responsible authorities.

In the Bill and in new clause 18, which the Government propose as a replacement for one of the existing clauses, the licensing authority can just make an order disapplying section 264. The legislation does not mention interested parties or responsible authorities; the local authority can just go in. An amendment considered earlier would have removed the words, ''think that'', which make it far too easy for a local authority to move in and do something about the machines at a particular pub or location.

At the heart of our amendments is the desire to clarify the situation so that the discretion in the hands of the local authority is not so open-ended and wide-ranging that it can muscle in as and when it chooses. It must have concrete evidence that something is amiss. We are attempting, as I am sure are the Government, to protect children from harm—to ensure that no under-18s play the category C and perhaps category D gaming machines.

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

My hon. Friend will recall that I said in a debate this morning that organisations such as the British Beer and Pub Association had referred to making local authorities both judge and jury, which the Licensing Act 2003, with which my hon. Friend dealt in Committee, manages carefully to avoid. Does he agree that one reason why the BBPA is right to be worried about any legislation that says simply that authorities can act if they think that something is the case, is that it is terribly dangerous and moves away from the traditional way in which courts have previously considered issues such as this, and alien to the way in which our law has developed over the centuries?

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. I believe that the Government have realised that the words ''think that'' are probably   inappropriate, as they have struck out the clause in which they occur. They have not replicated the words in the new clauses. They have concluded that the wording is inappropriate and are seeking to address the matter in a different way, but even in new clause 18 we do not have the comfort zone—the back-stop—of a requirement for proper evidence, a proper hearing and an appeals procedure.

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

My hon. Friend says that the Government have not replicated the words, but paragraph 15(1) of new schedule 2 states:

''The licensing authority which issued a permit may cancel it if they think that''.

In fact, the Government have gone back to ''think that'' in the new schedule.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

They have had second thoughts.

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

As always, I am grateful for the wit of the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell).

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that wording in the new schedule, as I had not seen it. He is absolutely right, and the Government have not addressed an issue that is of concern to the industry. I hope that they will address it at a later stage. We shall have to wait for what the Minister has to say.

A new definition in new schedule 2, which deals with the pub gaming machine permit, caught my eye. Paragraph 1(1) states that the licence holder ''may apply''. I would have thought that such permits would be mandatory. In other parts of the Bill, one is breaking the law if one does not have a permit, so I do not know why the word ''may'' occurs in this instance. If someone needs a permit, they have to apply to get one. It would be interesting to hear the Minister's comments on why the word ''may'' is used in that sub-paragraph rather than the word ''shall''.

Paragraph 5(1) states:

''A licensing authority may not attach conditions to a permit.''

Again, some clarification is needed. It seems that the process simply involves stamping a piece of paper; in other words, if one applies for a permit, they will get one. If conditions cannot be attached in any way, shape or form, why bother applying for a permit in the first case? If applicants will not be examined, if their background will not be researched, why bother with a permit?

Then we come to paragraph 9, which deals with fees. It refers to the payment of

''a first annual fee to the issuing licensing authority within such period after the issue of the permit as may be prescribed''.

In other words, one pays an up-front charge to the local authority for getting the permit, and then it

''shall pay an annual fee to the issuing licensing authority before each anniversary of the issue of the permit.''

Every year it will cough up another fee—for the privilege of what? The local authority will certainly have recouped the cost of the initial processing of the permit. I am at a loss to understand why one has to pay an annual fee. Of course, the fee may well simply be a way of giving local authorities yet another income   stream, which I have to admit they drastically need, but it seems unfair on the permit holders that they have to pay an annual fee for the privilege of the permit.

It would be fine if the local authority were to say, ''We need to send our man or woman out there to conduct spot-checks to see whether under-18s are playing the machines.'' I understand that that is a possibility. It would be helpful to have the point clarified by the Minister. If, on the other hand, local authorities acted only on evidence from members of the public or responsible authorities about misuse and illegal playing of machines, I see no reason why there should be a group of spies nipping around to have half a pint and checking whether children are playing a category C machine at that moment. We need more clarification on that.

I turn to paragraph 21 of new schedule 2.

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

The hon. Gentleman is giving a detailed analysis of the new schedule. Before he jumps to the end, I ask him whether he shares a concern that I raised earlier with the Minister. Paragraph 10 says that

''An occupier of premises in respect of which a permit has effect commits an offence if without reasonable excuse he fails to produce the permit on request for inspection by —

(a) a constable,

(b) an enforcement officer, or

(c) an authorised local authority officer.''

In those circumstances, does the hon. Gentleman not question, as I do, why the occupier is referred to when, in paragraphs 9(1) and 9(2) reference is made to the holder of the permit? The occupier of the premises could be a tenant, so it would be strange if the tenant was the person guilty of the offence that was a result of something that should be the responsibility of the holder of the permit. Does the hon. Gentleman share my confusion?

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I could not have put the point better. I am sure that the Minister heard that exquisite argument. The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. There are possibilities as to why a different word is used, but we ought to know the reason for the distinction between the holder of the permit in one paragraph and the occupier in another.

I was leaping forward to paragraph 21. It says:

''A licensing authority shall—

(a) maintain a register of permits''.

For what purpose does it have to have a register of permits? Further on, the paragraph says that:

''The Secretary of State may make regulations—

(a) requiring licensing authorities to give to the Commission specified information about permits . . .

(b) requiring the Commission to maintain a register provided to it''.

So it goes on.

This is bureaucracy gone mad. We are using paper at a rate of knots to achieve nothing. Most pubs have got one or two machines. Permits are given for a lifetime, unless the holder breaks the law, in which case the local authority will move in and remove them. Why do we need to keep a register of permits and pay somebody to keep that register up to date? Some parts of the new schedule defy logic. 

I have covered most of my main points. At the heart of the matter is the need for pubs and licensed premises to have the comfort that a local authority or a particularly officious official in a local authority cannot muscle in and cause difficulties for them on a whim or because, based on his own thought processes, he believes something is amiss. Many pubs and licensed premises rely financially on the income from those machines. We need something tighter in the Bill so that licence holders have recourse to a procedure that is fair and equitable on all sides. We had that in the Licensing Act. I really do not know why the Government have not replicated that in the Bill. The new clauses and new schedule represent a complete change in the way in which this area of the Bill is written. Two clauses have been taken out. We have tabled amendments to achieve the ends that I have talked about.

I will be prepared to withdraw my amendment if the Government are prepared not to press their changes. Earlier we heard that they may well amend the amendments and new clauses that they have tabled. If that is the case, why not leave the Bill as it is? We will not press our amendments, the Government will not press theirs and we can revisit the matter on Report when they have had a little more time to think about the issues. I understand that the consultations with the British Beer and Pub Association are proving extremely profitable on both sides. Perhaps the Government can come to some arrangement that satisfies all groups.

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport 2:45, 14 December 2004

Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on what he has just proposed? We would have difficulty supporting one of his amendments—that relating to an automatic entitlement to four machines. I hope that he may be prepared to exclude that from the deal that he seeks to broker with the Minister on behalf of the Committee.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I thought that I explicitly said that I would not press any of my amendments, including the one that seems to offend the hon. Gentleman.

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

I was seeking to point out that, were the hon. Gentleman unsuccessful in his negotiations with the Minister, I hope that he would not be minded to press that particular amendment to a vote at this stage.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I am sorry. I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I am not setting a condition. It is an open-ended deal. The Minister can accept it if he likes, but I suspect that he probably will not. In the interests of getting proper and efficient legislation on to the statute book, the Government ought to reflect on the arguments that have been advanced. They have indicated some sympathy with—

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

Yes, they have indicated some sympathy with the tenor and approach of the British Beer and Pub Association. It is in the Government's interest not to press the changes at the moment, but to reflect on them and to come back with something that does the job better for all parties.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) on a well argued case. He displayed a huge command of the detail of what the Government are proposing. I agree that those proposals are extremely flawed. I suspect that some of his experience was gained during the passage of the Licensing Act, which he took through the House on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition and which had similar flaws to those in the Bill.

The thing that comes over most strongly is the bizarre bureaucracy that the Government wish to establish in relation to relatively innocuous gaming machines in pubs. The Government have a reputation for bureaucratising every aspect of our lives. Since 1997, regulation has come at something of a pace. The level of bureaucracy established in the new clauses seems, as my hon. Friend has suggested, completely unjustifiable and incomprehensible.

That reflects the Government's obsession with the paper chase and creating jobsworths in local government without producing anything that is of any benefit to the public. Of course, someone has to pay for it, and we are worried—as with the Licensing Act—who that might be. To a certain extent, it will be the pubs, and I have great sympathy with their predicament. They are right to say that there are many threats to their profitability at the moment, coming largely from the Government's agenda. It is a vibrant sector, which must be successful if the Government's employment record is to be successful—they often like to tell us that it is. We need pub jobs. They are a good way of soaking up flexible employment opportunities throughout the UK.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

Forgive me. I fear that, yet again, the Bill will be akin to the Licensing Act in damaging the pub industry throughout the UK. If it does not damage the pub industry by creating new licences that have to be paid for, it may end up attacking local ratepayers—a worse outcome for politicians—who are already exercised about council tax. Despite the Government's largesse in the recent Budget announcement, I fear that that will be a big issue in the run-up to the general election. Someone has to pay for what the Minister proposes in the clauses, and neither the pub industry nor council tax payers are fair targets. Both communities will be deeply unhappy when they realise what is in the offing.

The lack of a consistent case in the Government's arguments throughout the passage of the legislation is bizarre. When we first set out to allow a different style of casino in the UK—the Las Vegas-style casinos with category A machines—the Government were more than happy to allow the market to decide where those creatures would be placed. The Government spent an   awful lot of time on Second Reading saying that there was no problem and that the market would ensure there was no rise in the number of problem gamblers because of the proliferation of hard gaming casinos. They told us that we could rely on the balance between demand and supply to create a fairly benign environment. That was their argument concerning category A machines in regional casinos, as they have come to be called.

The Government did not get away with that argument and they subsequently presented the option of just having 12—still too many in my opinion, but nevertheless it is a cap. If it was okay to limit the number of regional casinos, which are much more damaging beasts as far as problem gambling is concerned than category C machines in a pub, why cannot the argument apply to pubs?

This morning, I questioned the Minister when he prayed in aid the experience of Australia. We are pleased that the Government are cautious about changing our gaming laws, having been to Australia to see what a complete disaster was brought about when it changed its laws on gambling. We are encouraged by their caution, but the worry in my mind is that the caution is misplaced. It did not exist with the important issue of category A machines, but it exists in spades with the fairly benign regime that has existed for many years in the UK.

No one has ever suggested that there is a problem in pubs on the street corner that want to have or to keep gaming machines that are much less addictive in encouraging punters to play on them. Category C and D machines are completely different from category A machines. I would not mind how many casinos the Government allowed throughout the country if they were not proposing to put category A machines in them.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

The hon. Lady suggests that category C machines are less addictive than category A machines. On what does she base that statement?

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

I base it on the experience of America and Australia where there have been serious problems when category A machines have been introduced. In areas where casinos offer that sort of entertainment, problem gambling is much more prevalent in the local population than in areas with access to category C and D machines, which do not have gambling problems in their communities. Category A machines seem to have an impact.

The idea of regeneration and money to spend in those communities would not exist if money did not follow the introduction of category A machines. That happens only if more people are enticed to play them. Some people are enticed to play them without a problem arising, but for others it destroys their lives and the lives of their families. If the Minister had been to Earls Court not so many months ago, he might have seen a display of gaming machines. I had never been launched into such a different world as the one that surrounded me when I walked into Earls Court that day. Very clever people spend their lives producing   machines that are designed to entice players to spend more than they can afford, not just what they can afford. That is the point of them.

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

It would be useful to put on the record the fact that my hon. Friend is, I think, referring to the Amusement Trade Exhibition International that the British Amusement Catering Trades Association organised at Earls Court.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

My hon. Friend is assiduous about such matters. That was the exhibition that I visited. I am sure that he was also there but, sadly, we did not meet. He was also right to tell me that there will be eight and not 12 regional casinos, but that is still too many.

To return to my original point, the issue is the bureaucratic measures that the Government are seeking to introduce for pubs that want to have more than two gaming machines. Under the present benign regime for gaming in the United Kingdom, which offers plenty of opportunities and creates few problems in relation to those opportunities, the average number of gaming machines in pubs is just over one, although more are allowed. That means that many pubs throughout the country do not want machines, would not think of having them and would find that their clientele—I would be one—did not want to go into them if a wretched machine was dinging in the corner all the time. However, other pubs find them a useful way of maintaining reasonable profitability.

The market has already decided that only a certain number of pubs would find gaming machines attractive and that many others would not go near them with a bargepole. Given that the market has already established that loudly and clearly for the Minister, why can he not see for once that the way forward is not to create enormous bureaucracy and a paper chase to restrict pubs to two machines? If a pub is changing and wants more slot machines, or a new pub is being introduced, there could be a simple rule that it could have up to four, because few would take up that offer. Those that did would almost certainly be allowed to have them anyway under the Government's procedures for bureaucratising the process. It is a demand-driven issue. We have already established that, on average, only one gaming machine exists in pubs. Why not let those pubs that attract a clientele who enjoy gaming machines have their four machines without creating such bureaucracy? The country pubs that do not want machines should not have to have them. From a historical perspective, the market has been shown to work.

I hope that the Minister takes up the offer on the new clauses from my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. More discussions with representatives of the pub industry would be valuable. A much more reasonable compromise could be achieved, which would be good for everybody. It would be good for local council tax payers if we could cut the paper chase. It would be good for pubs to reduce bureaucracy—the average pub manager runs the gauntlet of bureaucracy every time he opens the   door to his customers. It would also be good for the UK if government in general stopped wrapping people up in red tape. It is a significant and potent charge against this Government that everything they seek to do, they seek to do by regulation, and by overly bureaucratic regulation.

The measures under discussion are the perfect example of bureaucracy gone mad. I hope that the Minister has listened to the arguments from Opposition Members and to what the broad brush of Opposition want to do with the new clauses, despite our differences with the Liberal Democrats over details. I hope that he will think again on Report.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley 3:00, 14 December 2004

May I make it absolutely clear in response to what has just been said that only one amendment, No. 369, has been moved? There are a number of amendments in the group. In accordance with normal practice Government amendment No. 360 is not selected—amendments to delete clauses are not selected, as I told the Committee earlier. I will put the question at the appropriate stage, when the clauses stand part of the Bill, and Members can vote against the amendments if they do not want them to be accepted.

Later, we will reach the Government amendments and new clauses in the group. They are being debated but they have not been moved. The Minister can say, if he wishes, what he intends to do at that stage, but those amendments have not and will not be moved during this debate. I hope that that clarifies the position for all members of the Committee.

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

I have great sympathy with the concerns of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) about the proliferation of machines. She argued from a very good standpoint. Some of her arguments do not fit the conclusion, but we will leave that. It amazes me that here we are debating a permit, which probably includes a little bit of bureaucracy, but the amount of bureaucracy that will be removed has not been considered. I have referred to the Licensing Act 2003 on several occasions. In that legislation, we are condensing six licensing regimes into one. By any standards, that will save hundreds of millions of pounds over time, and that saving will, I hope, be reflected in efficiency and prices as well.

The Gaming Act 1968, again by any standards, is bureaucratic and draconian, but even if one wants only to change the amount of money put into a slot machine or the amount paid out as a prize, we in Parliament have to do so by statutory instrument. The aim in 1968 was to drive crime out of gambling, and as a result, one of the most draconian Acts ever—which included the casino licence, the most difficult licence to obtain—was put on the statute book. The authorities go back about four generations to ensure that there are no criminals in one's family, so it is a bit difficult to get a licence these days. Yet we are arguing about issuing a permit because it will supposedly bring down the industry. Quite honestly, I have never heard such   claptrap in my life. Hon. Members should stand back and look at what we are trying to achieve. We are removing bureaucracy; we are streamlining the system, which the industry has broadly welcomed; and we are modernising in a way that many people did not believe possible.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

The Minister is being careful about what he chooses to draw the Committee's attention to. Even if I were to accept the Government's argument—I will in part, for the sake of this debate—the fact is that more bureaucracy could be removed and that would not be a bad thing to do. Therefore, if the Minister says that he is getting rid of some of it, that does not mean that he should not try a little harder to get rid of the other bits to which we object. If he were really being honest—I shall not press the indulgence of the Chair too much on this point—he would admit that the Government have introduced many other measures that the pub industry is upset about. The licensing of gambling is just one small part of the bureaucracy that has been the hallmark of this Labour Government.

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

I shall not go down that avenue. I should be delighted to discuss the leisure and hospitality industry, and what the Government have done to try to streamline it, modernise its skill base and bring it into the modern electronic age. There are many parts to the hospitality industry, and this sector is one of them. If one were to link it with tourism, the figures would speak for themselves. It is clear that the measure is about removing bureaucracy, and streamlining the sector and making it fit for the 21st century.

Photo of Julie Kirkbride Julie Kirkbride Conservative, Bromsgrove

I wonder whether the Minister would let us know when he last had a conversation with Mr. Bob Cotton, who represents the leisure industry. I do not believe that he would tell the same story.

Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester

At the Sheffield trades and labour club.

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

Not at the Sheffield trades and labour club but in London. I work closely with Bob Cotton on the hospitality and tourism industry, and he is on the committee that I just set up for the implementation group on tourism. I speak with him on many occasions. Just to digress—

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

Order. Please return to the amendments.

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

I just want to put it on the record that Bob Cotton's job on the hospitality for the Olympics was absolutely superb—first class. It is very good working with him. I shall now try to answer some of the specific questions that have been asked.

I understand the concern expressed by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire about the licensing authority's judgment when considering removing the exemption to allow gaming machines. However, I genuinely believe that it is right that an authority's use of judgment is not restricted. New   clause 18 goes further than clause 268 in setting out the steps that an authority must take when considering making an order to remove entitlements to gaming machines. It states that the authority must notify the licence holder of its intention to make such an order. It also states that the authority shall consider representations made by the licensee and hold a hearing if one is requested. If an authority decides to proceed with an order, it must inform the licensee in writing of its reasons for doing so. There is also a full right of appeal in the magistrates court against the making of an order. We believe that it is right to establish such checks and balances.

On application for a grandfather permit, the licence holder will have to apply for a permit and pay a fee. The permit will be granted automatically. Just to give a feel for the figures—the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire asked for them—the present fee for a permit is £32, and I would expect the new figure to be about that.

The hon. Gentleman asked why no conditions would be attached to the permit. The application will confirm the appropriateness of the applicant. The permit itself is clearly defined and needs no conditions.

The annual fee pays for enforcement and for inspections to ensure that there is not an excessive number of machines and that they are of the right category. Budd raised the problem of taxi offices and, to some extent, fish and chip shops and so on. The authorities had real difficulties policing such places. The problem had got out of hand, particularly in the capital, where some establishments were not even using what we now call category D or even category C machines. Some of the harder gambling machines were being found in some areas. The reason was that those areas were not properly policed, and we take responsibility for that.

People are concerned about this type of framework, as demonstrated by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove, who is raising the issues. If we establish the structure, it must be properly licensed and policed. If it is not, the whole thing will fall into disrepute. To some extent, that is what happened before. It is something that we had to start pulling back on. People were putting all sorts of machines into taxi offices and they were never policed.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

I take on board the Minister's arguments about policing, but as far as pubs are concerned there has been no argument about any substantial breaking of the existing law on the number of machine permits issued under the old system through the magistracy. So why are we trying to mend something that is not broken?

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

As with many such things, there were, as the hon. Gentleman knows, no figures on that. We took a realistic approach to the issue. Premises will have grandfather rights, and the status quo will continue: if establishments have five or six machines, they will continue to have those machines. The permit will be granted automatically and the fee will be dealt with automatically. As I said, there is, on average, slightly more than one machine per establishment, and   we propose to allow establishments to have two machines. We think that that is right and we have, at least, established a generous baseline. Any establishment that wants to apply for more machines can do so. If they are refused, there are ways in which they can appeal.

That is an argument that will go on. We believe that we made the right judgment. Why did the trade organisation want to set the limit on machines at four and not at three or two? We have, at least, tried to argue our case rationally. The hon. Gentleman may not accept the rationale, but there we are. As Brian Clough always said, I am convinced that we are right.

The hon. Gentleman raised the use of the phrase ''think that'' in the Bill. Counsel has considered those words carefully. We believe that they are simply plain English. They do not allow an authority to evade its normal decision-making responsibilities or process. It must consider all decisions properly. That is why ''think that'' is in the Bill and why paragraph 1 of new schedule 2 says ''may apply'' rather than ''shall apply''. It says:

''A person who applies . . . for . . . or who holds an on-premises alcohol licence'' will be automatically entitled to two machines. They can also apply for more machines by way of the pub gaming machine permit. They do not have to apply for a permit if they do not want more machines. That is why ''may'' is used rather than ''shall''.

Responsibility for compliance with the permit rests with the permit holder. Paragraph 1 of new schedule 2 explains who may apply for a permit.

On removal of exemptions or machines, we are aware that new clause 18 does not replicate the words in clause 268(2), and will table amendments to address that.

I move on to the register of permits. It is important for authorities to keep a record of the premises that have been issued permits under the Bill. That is to ensure the effective regulation of illegally cited machines. In the age of electronic registration, that should not be overly bureaucratic.

The hon. Gentleman asked us to withdraw the amendments. We do not believe that that is necessary. We have developed the amendments and expect to add more, but we are confident that they do the job and do it well.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs

Before we broke for lunch, I put a question to the Minister. He gave a response that I honestly do not understand and I would be grateful if he revisited it. Clause 267(7), which one of our amendments would have deleted, refers to

''a code of practice under section 23''.

In other words, the gambling commission would presumably be involved, at a remove, in much of the process.

At the time, the Minister referred to clause 16. He probably meant new clause 16. I cannot see where in new clause 16 that kind of relationship is referred to. If the Minister is unable to clarify the point now, perhaps   he could do so at a later stage or write to the Committee so that we understand exactly where the reference to codes of practice will occur.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike Labour, Burnley

We are debating new clause 16 in this group.

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

Yes. I shall clarify the point in writing. If there is a fault, we will rectify it.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 3:15, 14 December 2004

I drew that to the Committee's attention because I followed what the Minister said last time, but I could not make it stack up. Either there is an oversight, in the sense that the code of practice has not been written into the new clauses, or the Government have taken our amendment and deleted the reference from the Bill, in which case we are very grateful, because we have not had to propose it.

As I understand it, it is up to me to withdraw amendment No. 369. I am disappointed in the Minister's response because he has said on more than one occasion that amendments in this group will be taken up on Report, so we have not yet got it right. To include the new clauses at this stage seems slightly premature, but we shall no doubt revisit the matter on Report. On the basis of our discussion, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill, put and negatived.

Clause 267 disagreed to.

Clause 268 disagreed to.

Clauses 269 to 272 ordered to stand part of the Bill.