The clause allows the gambling commission to void a bet if it is satisfied that the bet was substantially unfair. Again, although the intention is laudable, problems may emerge because of the way that the provision is constructed.
Let us consider a situation in which the connection of a racehorse lays his horse on a betting exchange at an attractive price, in the knowledge that the horse will not run, is unfit or will be stopped by his jockey. That is known as laying to lose, and that type of activity has generated a great deal of adverse publicity for racing in recent months. Let us say that the commission becomes aware of that corrupt activity and voids the bet. As I read the clause, only the bet or bets entered into by the person who interfered with the outcome of the event will be voided. However, thousands of other people are likely to have placed bets on the same race, and all of those bets will have been affected in some way by the corrupt activity. For example, hundreds of betting shop punters may have backed the horse that did not try to win, and were therefore defrauded. Equally, the horse that wins the race might have lost if all its opponents had run on their merits.
It is not difficult to imagine that there would be considerable unrest and disillusionment if betting shop punters were to learn that, although a particular bet had been voided because of corrupt practice, all other losing bets in the race would stand. The effect would be that anyone who backed the non-trier along with the perpetrator of the fraud would get their money back, but other punters who had backed the same horse with a bookmaker would lose.
Voiding all bets on a horse or race would not be a practical solution because the majority of cash bets are settled quickly, and it could be some time after the race that the alleged corruption was exposed. It would then be impossible to inform, trace or identify punters entitled to their money back.
There is no suggestion that the perpetrator of that type of fraud should be allowed to benefit, or that those with whom they bet should be disadvantaged, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister's explanation of what other sanctions he feels a perpetrator might face. For example, will the commission have the power to ban the perpetrator from betting in future? Can the commission prosecute the individual, or will it refer matters to the Crown Prosecution Service?
I do not think that the industry as a whole is opposed to the Government's aims as outlined in the clause, but it is keen to know what measures would be put in place as a real deterrent to the return of the circumstances that we have discussed. Would the Government take strong action against the offender in addition to ensuring that he received no benefit from his corrupt activity?
I shall give the Committee the general background, and then come to the specifics that the hon. Gentleman raised.
The clause gives the gambling commission the power to make an order to void unfair bets. The order will cover bets accepted by, or through, the holder of any of the licences mentioned in the clause. When the order is made, the unfair bet in question will be void, and any contract or other arrangement relating to the bet will also be void. Any money paid in relation to the bet must be returned to the person who paid it. That mechanism is an essential safeguard to customers and betting operators, and will enable the commission to support sports regulators.
We recognise that the power must come with some qualifications. The commission can make an order only once it is satisfied that a bet is substantially unfair. In deciding whether a bet was unfair, the commission must consider the factors listed. The commission can issue an order to void a bet only within six months of the result of the bet being determined. When a party has been convicted of cheating, the commission will be allowed an unlimited time to issue an order. We can remedy injustice through voiding, but it is unfair and unnecessary to void all bets on the race. We cannot deal with everything. The point does not apply. So, on the specific point, the answer is yes, but on the general point, it is no.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 315 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That further consideration be now adjourned.—[Mr. Watson.]
On 16 November, I set out to the Committee our proposals to set an initial limit of eight on the number of regional casinos. I promised that there would be a statement of the Government's overarching national policy on casinos and that we would describe in more detail how the initial limit would work in practice. There is considerable interest in Parliament and elsewhere about the proposals, and with your permission, Mr. Pike, I will use this opportunity to set them out in more detail.
The Government's policy on casinos is, as everybody knows, based on the three broad objectives of the Gambling Bill: to protect children and the vulnerable, to prevent gambling from being a source of crime and to ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way. Britain has a low level of problem gambling, and we are committed to maintaining that record. Casinos are already tightly regulated and the Gambling Bill will strengthen the strict controls that are in place.
There are, however, a number of regulations that the Government believe are outdated. The 24-hour rule, the ban on advertising and the permitted areas rule unnecessarily restrict customer choice and discourage investment and economic regeneration. The tourism and leisure industries are increasingly important sectors of our economy. The casino proposals in the Bill, with the emphasis on increased regulation, can make a positive contribution to those sectors. Regional casinos, in particular, offer clear potential for regeneration. They not only provide gambling activities but may also include a range of other facilities such as hotel accommodation, restaurants, live entertainment and other leisure attractions. Many parts of the country could benefit greatly from regeneration through such leisure developments.
The Government recognise, however, that the casino proposals in the Bill represent a significant change and that we need to take a cautious approach to assess whether their introduction will lead to any increase in problem gambling. We have taken the view that the risk of an increase in problem gambling will be reduced if a limit is imposed on the number of casinos. We announced our intention to set a limit on the number of regional casinos, and I said at the time that the Government would consider whether any consequential changes were necessary to avoid proliferation of other categories of casino. Our conclusion is that the limit on the number of regional casinos will lead to a significantly greater rise in the number of small and large casinos than would otherwise have been the case.
That has made us reconsider the potential risk posed by small and large casinos. We now believe that, as with regional casinos, it is right to set an initial limit of eight each on the number of large and small casinos. The Government believe that, in order properly to assess the impact of those new casinos, there needs to be a sufficient number of casinos in each category to allow their impact to be assessed in a range of areas and types of location that might be suitable. Those include, for example, urban centres and seaside resorts in different parts of Britain. A limit on regional, large and small casinos of eight each is consistent with that aim and ensures that any risk is minimised.
The Government will appoint an independent advisory panel to recommend where the locations of the regional, large and small casinos should be. No earlier than three years after the award of the first premises licence, the Government will ask the gambling commission to advise on whether the introduction of the new types of casino has led to an increase in problem gambling or is increasing the risk of that. We believe that such a period is necessary to ensure that a full assessment can be made.
Once that assessment has been made, it will be easier to judge the continuing need for a limit. If, on the basis of that assessment, the Government decide to allow more casinos to be established, the order allowing that will need to be approved by Parliament. None of those provisions will affect the ability of a local authority to refuse to have any new casinos of any size category in their area. Today, we are making available a document that sets out our policy in detail, including the role of the advisory panel on new casino locations and arrangements for existing casinos.
I will briefly set out how the different parts of the process will fit together. The independent advisory panel will make recommendations on the locations of the new casinos. It will be appointed by the Secretary of State and will need to have knowledge and expertise in a range of issues, including planning, securing regeneration, tourism and addressing the social impacts of gambling. In order to ensure that the impact of the new casinos can be assessed on the basis of a broad range of information and experience, the advisory panel will be asked to identify areas for the new casinos that will provide a good range of types of location and a good geographical spread of locations across Britain.
Subject to those criteria, the panel will be asked to choose areas likely to benefit from a casino in economic development terms. It will be asked to present the Minister with a list of up to eight recommended areas for each of the three categories of casino. After consulting the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly, the Secretary of State will decide which location to choose.
I will say a few words about the role of the planning system. In England, regional planning bodies, as part of their development of the regional spatial strategies, will need to consider possible broad locations for regional casinos within their region, taking into account national planning policy guidelines. Before the panel finalises its recommendations on regional casinos, it will need to ensure that they are compatible with the broad locations identified in the regional spatial strategies. The identification of specific sites for all three categories of casino will be a matter for the local planning authorities in their local development frameworks, having regard to national policy and the regional spatial strategy.
Local planning authorities will also be responsible for deciding applications for casino development. Operators will be required to apply for planning permission in the usual way and all applications will be considered on their merits and in line with national and local planning policy. Applications may come forward at any stage. The decision on whether they should be called in—the decision by the First Secretary of State—will be made in light of the Government's call-in policy and the particular circumstances of the case.
On the licensing system, the gambling commission will award operating licences to companies on the basis of the usual licensing criteria, but the process will incorporate an additional stringent test on social responsibility, to reflect the fact that the casinos will present new risks in relation to social harm. Operators will need to demonstrate a commitment to reduce the risk posed to vulnerable people and to make information and assistance available to people using the casinos who may be affected by problems related to gambling.
There will be no limit on the number of operating licences that may be granted. The initial limit on the number of new casinos will be given effect through the premises licensing. A local licensing authority will only be able to award a casino premises licence if one has been identified for its area. The process for awarding a premises licence will have two stages. The first will be a regulatory test to ensure that all proposals satisfy the premises licensing requirement, which is in the Bill. The second stage will be triggered where there are more applications for a casino premises licence than the local licensing authority is permitted to grant.
The second stage will involve a competition held by the local authority on the wider casino proposals. We will consult the Local Government Association and others about how the competition should be conducted. The competition could be judged on a wide range of issues, reflecting the issues, concerns and priorities that are important to that area. Those might include, for example, employment and regeneration potential, the design of a proposed development, the financial commitments by the developer to local projects, the location, the range of facilities and other matters. The local authority may also wish to provide an opportunity for consultation with local people. It would set out its priorities and concerns in a set of objective key considerations and then invite operators to submit entries to the competition.
The eventual winner will be eligible for a full premises licence once planning permission has been obtained and the casino has been built. The operator will therefore need to have an operating licence, a premises licence and planning permission. Planning permission is likely to be conditioned with the planning obligations. The premises licence process and the planning consent process will need to be conducted taking account of the need to separate clearly the licensing and planning functions.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the DCMS will issue guidance to local authorities on the propriety issues surrounding those processes. The applicants proposed in the preferred option would not be a material consideration in the planning decision. However, once planning permission has been granted and the casino built, the operator will be able to apply for a full premises licence, which it could expect to obtain provided that there had been no material change in the proposals since the competition.
Finally, I shall say a few words about existing casinos. The arrangements for regional large and small casinos are aimed at minimising the risk of problem gambling that would come from a large increase in the number of casinos, particularly from a proliferation of the high-stake and high-prize gaming machines. Existing casinos must be allowed to continue to operate and to have the opportunity to compete for the new licences. We do not believe that it would be appropriate to allow them to have all the new casino entitlements in circumstances where a limit is imposed on the establishment of new casinos. Accordingly, we propose that there should be no size requirements on those casinos and that they should not be subject to the ban on advertising and the 24-hour rule. However, they will be restricted to the equivalent gaming machine entitlement of 10 gaming machines of up to category B and they will not be allowed to provide bingo or betting on real or virtual events.
To achieve that, there will be a separate category of premises licence for casinos that already had a licence under the Gaming Act 1968. A company operating one of those casinos may apply for a regional, large or small casino premises licence. If one is awarded to an existing casino, it will be able to operate with all the new entitlements authorised by the new licence.
My officials and parliamentary counsel have been working pretty hard to prepare amendments that give effect to this new policy. It is important that the Committee should have the opportunity to debate the amendments before the Bill returns to the Floor of the House on Report. The Government intend to table the amendments as soon as possible. Some will be new clauses and new schedules, which we will be able to consider during our sitting on 11 January. I hope that we will be able to table the amendments before the House rises for Christmas. If that is not possible, I shall write to all Committee members to give them notice of the amendments before we table them, which will be as soon as possible in the new year. I want to make sure that all Committee members can consider the details proposed in good time, before the Committee meets.
If Committee members want to communicate during the recess, they should leave their addresses, which may be different from those of their constituency offices, with us. We shall make sure that we communicate directly with them.
In conclusion, it is clear that the range and framework of casinos need to be reformed. As I have said, casinos have the potential to contribute to the leisure and tourism sectors, and to the economy's economic development much more widely. However, we are clear that we need to take a cautious approach to avoid the proliferation of casinos in high streets across the country and to maintain Britain's good record on problem gambling. The proposals offer that balance, and a cautious approach.
This is another extraordinary development in what has been the most bizarre saga of the Bill's consideration. Today, the Minister has announced major changes to the Bill—changes that alter completely the whole thrust of the Bill. He has done so when we had just finished considering clause 310 of a Bill that consists of only 337 clauses.
The Minister sought to portray those changes as a refinement or clarification of the Government's strategy. The truth is that he has put a coach and horses right through the centre of the Bill. The changes come on top of what was itself a pretty extraordinary announcement: the limitation of the number of regional casinos to just eight. Now the Minister says that no more than 24 new casinos of any type at all will be allowed in the country for the foreseeable future. That announcement has come just as the Bill is about to come out of Committee, and it has been made, as far as I can see, without any consultation whatsoever with the industry. It has not been subject to any scrutiny. The Bill has been through months and months of scrutiny by the Joint Committee. It has been subject to consultation, the Budd review and a White Paper, yet now the Government at such a late stage have decided to change the entire thrust of the Bill, the overall effect of which is that the liberalising, deregulatory measure that we started with will, in some respects, impose a more restrictive regime on casino development than exists at present.
I want first to hear a rational explanation of the Government's decision. The logic of their position looks pretty shaky and we have not heard any detail of how they reached such a decision. I shall come to some of the essential questions to which we need answers before we decide whether we agree with the Government's proposals.
Let me explain matters in a little more detail. We need to examine the Government's proposals for regional casinos—an issue that we continue to be concerned about. Our worries are based on the fact that regional casinos will be a new development in the country. They will be investments of £150 million-plus, based on a business model of 20,000 people or more going through the door each week and of each casino containing up to 1,250 category A machines—a type of machine that has never been introduced into the country before. That is why we felt strongly that we needed to proceed cautiously and that a pilot scheme should be set up before we decide whether to allow into the country a greater number than that which is now proposed. We believe that there is a real danger that regional casinos and so many category A machines could lead to an increase in problem gambling.
As for large and small casinos, at present there is nothing to prevent them from being built as long as it happens within the permitted development areas. Indeed, the Secretary of State has repeatedly stressed the fact that the Government are imposing the triple lock, which would act as a barrier against proliferation. We pointed out that there was a flaw in the Government's argument, which was the loophole of use classes. That could have allowed developers of casinos to get around the triple lock and convert leisure facilities into casinos. Finally the Government recognised that argument and announced that they would close the loophole and establish a separate use class order.
At the same time, the Government stressed that they would impose minimum size limits for small casinos and that the minimum size would have to be 1,500 sq m, making it an investment of about £6 million to £8 million. For large casinos, that cost would be up to £30 million. In their response to the Joint Committee, the Government said specifically that, by imposing such restrictions,
''The Government believes that the minimum size for new small casinos of 500mŽ2? of table gaming area is sufficient to prevent more proliferation.''
They are now saying that that is not correct and that there is a danger of proliferation, so it is necessary to impose the additional limitation on large and small casino developments.
''The practical obstacle created by a cap is that the whole thrust of the regulatory and planning system is to leave decisions about new casinos to local people, but if an arbitrary limit is imposed, what do we say to those authorities—there may be a significant number—that present applications for new casinos just as the cap is about to be reached''.—[Official Report, 1 November 2004; Vol.426, c.35.]
We now have a problem with the Minister's announcement that there should be just eight small new casinos across the entire country. When we are talking about regional casino development of £150 million-plus, eight casinos seems roughly the number to consider. We want to debate how the Government reached the figure of eight for regional casinos, although it is roughly in the ballpark, but the only possible justification for an eight, eight, eight restriction is a vague for some symmetry. Other than that, it is utterly bizarre to say that there should be the same number of £150 million-plus developments as of £6 million-plus developments. The Minister has not explained why the Government have chosen an eight, eight, eight configuration.
There will be some who have opposed the Bill from the start who think that the configuration should be six, six, six.
It was an illustration of how it would be in the Bill. However, eight, eight, eight has no more logic than six, six, six. This is an extraordinary decision that puts the planning body, which the Government will establish, into a difficult position.
That is another alternative. One thing that is certain is that there are likely to be a large number of applications for small or large casinos.
To move the debate beyond the question of numbers, if the hon. Gentleman is unable to set out the figure he regards as appropriate, does he support the idea of a cap on the number of casinos?
I can see that the reason for capping the number of large and small casinos is to prevent proliferation. However, we will want to consider carefully what the number should be and I am pretty certain that we will not feel that eight, eight, eight is the right result.
We have been told about this huge change, which will alter the entire thrust of the Bill, in the past 20 minutes and with no warning. To expect us to be able to respond with detailed scrutiny at this moment is extremely unreasonable. I wish to return to the timing of this proposal and the amount of time that will be left to press the Government to provide us with further information on how they have come to the decision, because the serious time constraint will jeopardise effective scrutiny of the Bill.
I have to agree with the hon. Gentleman that the super-casinos are something new that has not been seen before in this country. However, does he agree that whatever number is chosen—whether it is eight, 10 or 15—is completely arbitrary and nonsense? Would it not be better to leave it as it is at the moment, with the market in permitted areas deciding what the limit should be?
That is a very interesting observation. The hon. Gentleman is, effectively, articulating the Government's argument, but the problem is that it is their argument from last month, rather than the one they are using today. He may have to discuss that with the Minister. Nevertheless, he asks a question that we will wish to address further when we return to the matter after Christmas.
The Government have to deal with how the advisory body will decide which eight areas of the country are to be allowed to permit the development of small and large casinos.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the points that he has made about the shambles that the Government have got themselves into, it is surprising that in this statement of national policy—the Government's latest series of U-turns—there is no reference to the need for casinos to be used for regeneration? That was such a big theme of the scrutiny Committee's work, which a number of hon. Members referred to as a concern, including the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and me. There is some tangential reference to seaside resorts, but does my hon. Friend agree that that is yet another peculiarity of this major change that the Government have dumped on us this morning without warning?
I strongly agree. For some, one of the great attractions of regional casino development was that it was to bring regeneration benefit. It was obvious that the investment of £150 million-plus would transform certain areas, which is why we were keen for regional casino development to be directed to destination resorts that would benefit from regeneration. However, in the case of small casinos, for which the investment required is far less, regeneration benefits inevitably will not be nearly as great. That raises the question of the criteria that the advisory body will use in determining which areas of the country will be permitted the eight new small and eight new large casinos.
In his statement, the Minister laid great stress on the fact that local authorities will still be able to decide not to allow any casino development at all. A clause will be introduced that gives them the power to say no. Unfortunately, the Government have taken away from local authorities the power to say yes. The local authority might believe that it is very much in the interests of the area to permit the development of a small or a large casino. The authority might even have been allowed to permit that up until the Bill becoming an Act, if it happened to be in a permitted development area. However, the Government now say that they will take that power away and that unless the local authority happens to be in one of the eight selected areas, it will not be allowed any new casino development.
The Government are essentially establishing a lottery and it will be up to them to decide which eight areas will win prizes. One could even argue that the Government should register with the gambling commission as a body running a lottery with the prize of new large and small-scale casino developments.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. [Hon. Members: ''He can.''] He might attempt to. He is trying to have it so many ways, he could be a Liberal. He is arguing for a free-for-all. He is arguing that the planning authorities should be given the power at a local level to have a casino if they want one. He began the Committee stage by arguing for a cap on regional casinos; now he seems to be arguing completely the opposite.
We have consistently made it clear that we regard regional casinos as something entirely different, new and untested—as opposed to large and small casinos, which we have had in this country for a long time and which have been operating without giving rise to any significant gambling problem. That is why we felt that we should proceed very cautiously with regional casino development. There may be a danger of proliferation because of the imposition of a cap on the number of regional casinos and as a result it might be sensible to have some limit on large and small casinos. However, does the hon. Gentleman really believe that eight, eight, eight is a sensible limitation on each category of casino? The Government have come up with no explanation of how that decision has been reached.
We want very carefully to consider the issue, which has been bounced on to the Committee at the 11h hour. Although I do not necessarily relish the prospect of spending the entire Christmas recess reading the documentation that the Minister has kindly promised to drop down my chimney on Christmas day, we will need to consider the matter extremely carefully because it represents an enormous change to the Bill. To some extent, we have been wasting our time for the past four weeks, because the Government have now changed the Bill so much.
I realise that the hon. Gentleman has not been able to join us in many of the sittings over the past four weeks, but has he read Hansard and, if so, does he not feel that we have had much of this debate already?
We have debated other parts of the Bill that we think are important and wish to be on the statute book, but the Government are jeopardising their objective by this announcement. We have not been able to debate the aspects of what they have announced today because they have only just, at the 11th hour, changed the whole nature of the Bill. The Bill is now a complete and total shambles. It has not been properly consulted on or scrutinised, and we have been left with one day in Committee to consider the forthcoming amendments, which will not be published until the House rises. We will then return to the Floor of the House for a programme motion on Report.
One of the first things I would ask the Minister to consider is whether the motion should now be lifted to ensure that the House of Commons has a proper opportunity to examine the question in detail. It is not satisfactory to push the Bill through the House of Commons, with essentially one day in Committee and one day on Report, when such enormous changes have been made. If the Government insist on that, I warn them that the other place may feel the Bill has not been properly considered and may want to do so in great detail. The Minister knows the consequences of that. We want to see the Bill on the statute book, but the Minister is not making it easy.
Order. Before I call the next Member, may I comment on a couple of points that Mr. Whittingdale has just made? This Committee of course has no power over the out date; that is a matter for the Floor of the House. If he wishes to pursue the matter, he will need to raise it in business questions, because it would need a new resolution of the House. We can change our sitting hours, but by order of the House, we must finish, at the latest, at 11.59 pm on 11 January. We could adjust the time by changing the programme motion to that time, if we so wish. We have done that in a previous Committee, but we cannot go beyond that time. At the moment, we will finish at 5.30 pm, but it is within the Committee's power to change that, if the Committee so wishes.
The Government have stated their intention to try to table before the recess the new clauses and appropriate points arising from the Minister's statement this morning. The final date for tabling any new clauses that may be debated on 11 January is 4.30 pm on the Friday before the Committee sitting. I hope that that clarifies the matter. I have checked that position, because with us going into the recess I was not quite sure about it.
I am extremely grateful for that clarification, Mr. Pike. It is very helpful. However, this change is so substantial that, although we will want to consider the new clauses, instead of continuing until one minute to midnight in Committee, it would be much more preferable and important to lift the motion for the amount of time available on Report, so that the entire House of Commons has longer to examine the changes.
That only underlines my point. The House, not this Committee, must change that motion. I was stating what was within the scope of this Committee. The question arose in a previous one, although not exactly in that format. I know what our powers are, because we had to check particularly carefully during that previous Committee.
May I start by welcoming the Minister's announcement? He promised to come back to the Committee with a statement, and he has. He has therefore enabled us to debate the issue today and to consider it in further detail when the amendments are tabled, and there will be a further opportunity on Report. He has provided a detailed statement, which will merit much closer examination, so I look forward to seeing the detail of the amendments.
Certain questions need to be asked, based on the statement. One or two points leapt out at me from what the Minister said, and I give him notice that I am likely to come back with even more. He said that the identification of the operators and locations of the new casinos will be subject to broadly the same arrangements in each case—whether the casino is regional, large or small. Will those arrangements include the planning arrangements and the discussions that he outlined? As has been said, the smaller casinos will not bring the regeneration benefits that the larger casinos, and certainly the regional casinos, will, so I would like some clarification of what those arrangements in each case will mean.
My right hon. Friend said that an independent advisory panel will be set up. Who will be on it? Clearly, that will be a key issue.
I am disappointed by my right hon. Friend's announcement that the Government do not think that a separate national planning policy is required. He talked about using the regional assemblies' proposals for their regional spatial strategies. As I mentioned on an earlier occasion, interest in the development of casinos differs from region to region. He well knows that in the north-west there has been the largest number of expressions of interest. Therefore, determining locations in the context of individual regional assemblies' regional spatial strategies may result in certain regions identifying a need in their region for more than the eight casinos and other regions identifying a need for none.
I would have thought that it was preferable to have some national policy statement that could be a framework within which decisions could be made. I am sure that many colleagues in the north-west would look forward to having more than one or two regional casinos in that area.
I also noted my right hon. Friend's references to competition. As somebody who is no expert on planning laws—I make that statement openly—I wonder how a competition process can be set in the context of planning laws. He says that the ODPM and the DCMS will issue guidance to local authorities on the issues surrounding the processes. That will be vital. If a local authority says that it has one site, asks who wants it and then has many bidders for that site, how it deals with the bidders will be vital. It must be protected from criticism that it has acted unfairly in respect of any of them.
In Blackpool, we already have competition for the one site that has been identified in Blackpool's master plan. Blackpool council, the councillors on the planning committee and the local authority as a whole need clear guidance on how to respond to the different bidders.
As the hon. Lady knows, I sympathise with the view that she is expressing on behalf of Blackpool, which I represented between 1992 and 1997 as the MP for the old Blackpool, South constituency. On her other point about needing national guidance, does she agree that there will be much greater difficulty in ensuring that casinos go where the regeneration is needed if the Government are not prepared to give a firm indication in the Bill of a national policy? The difficulty with a regional context is that some inland towns might be able to out-muscle seaside resorts such as Blackpool. Does she share my concern? Blackpool's plans would be severely damaged if large casinos were put in places such as Manchester, Liverpool and Preston, and not Blackpool.
The hon. Gentleman is repeating the argument that I made on Second Reading. If the matter is simply left to the regions, their priorities may not be the same as the Government's central priorities on regeneration.
As well, there must be a much clearer definition of regeneration. Local authorities operate within a framework where they recognise development gains from large developments, and some are very skilful in exploiting those gains. However, in the regeneration of a seaside town, for example, we are considering a much wider argument, involving environmental issues, transport infrastructure and the other businesses in the area, in a wider context than that of the development that is going to take place. We need clear guidelines on how the regional spatial strategy for the regional assemblies will take into account the definition of regeneration. We all think that we know what it means, but people have different ideas about it.
I made a point earlier about how decisions will be made and how they will link to local tourism strategies. Regional development agencies have responsibility for developing tourism in their areas. Some are doing that very well and recognise the economic importance of the tourism and hospitality industry. How will the independent advisory panel engage with the tourism debate? Will it consider the wider issues, rather than focusing on a narrow definition of economic development?
How will all those elements come together in the time scale the Government have set out? If I have experienced one serious disappointment, it is the time scale, which refers to the end of 2006. In Blackpool, a master plan is already being implemented. Anyone who has been to the town recently will have seen the developments on the south promenade to the southern gateway into the town. We now have development of the central gateway into the town. In both those imaginative proposals, the local authority is moving ahead with its master plan, but the resort casino proposals are a vital part of that, and link to the aspiration for a new conference centre and new entertainment centres, and the desire to bring in new visitors.
Those factors are all linked. If there are delays in the announcement of where the regional casinos are to be sited—and large and small casinos—it will be difficult for a local authority such as Blackpool properly to co-ordinate the planning process.
That authority has risen to the challenge that the Government have set in the ''Tomorrow's Tourism Today'' document, and it is reinventing the town. It is pulling all those ideas together and it will need to know, sooner rather than later, where the regional casinos will be, whether Blackpool will get one and where the large casinos will be. I applaud my right hon. Friend for recognising that large and small casinos will have an effect on the regeneration that can come from regional casinos. Will the large casinos be in the same eight areas as the regional ones? Does the Minister anticipate eight different locations for the small casinos, the large casinos and the regional casinos? That will impact on the regeneration potential of the regional casinos.
Finally, returning to the planning rules and regulations, the Secretary of State's announcement that recognised the need for a separate planning use class for casinos was welcomed. At the moment, planning proposals are coming from operators of other entertainment venues, including family entertainment centres and the like, which wish to change their use to casinos. Will there be a planning vacuum while the Government are changing the rules on the new planning use class? What will happen in those circumstances? Will the local authorities be required to act under the existing planning guidance until we get new planning guidance? How will that impact on the development of small casinos?
My hon. Friend touches on some important points in relation to planning, because one of the consequences of the regulations is that the regional casinos will start at different times. It is possible to envisage a regional casino opening in Blackpool in 2008, and if St Helens were fortunate enough to be chosen to be a site for a regional casino, one opening there in perhaps in 2010–11. That would give the panel reviewing the regional casinos a real problem. How would it be able to assess across that time span whether such casinos created specific problems? At the end of one three-year period, another regional casino could be just about to open.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The Government have made it clear that they want a review of the impact of regional casinos, but we need to ensure that there is a proper time frame to work out how those casinos impact on the local community. The RDA will assess the economic regeneration potential and the impact on the larger economy, and the gambling commission will consider the impact of the new casinos on the local community and whether there has been an increase in problem gambling. We need an appropriate time frame within which to ensure that that assessment can be made.
I welcome further clarification on the timing issue from my right hon. Friend the Minister. How soon will the Secretary of State liaise with her colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to come up with the vital new planning rules—on the change of planning use class—that councils can operate with now? What response are the councils supposed to give now to the people who are coming forward with proposals? How will the Department develop the new guidance that the local authorities will require, both to consider whether they want to develop regional, large and small casinos and how the competition is supposed to operate?
When one hears an announcement like the one we have just had, one always considers issues about which one is not sure and wants to question the Minister. I reiterate that I welcome his statement, because we have a much clearer framework within which to advance this debate. That will be important in my constituency and in many areas that are considering establishing casinos to regenerate their towns.
On a point of order, Mr. Pike. I have been in the House for 28 years but I never had an experience like this before. Can you tell me what the status of this debate is? Will it finish at 11.25 am? Can it resume at 2.30 pm, or can it continue until an unlimited hour? Does it have any standing at all? I should be grateful if you could tell me, because it is most unusual.
The Whip can move the motion again at 2.30 pm. It lapses at 11.25 am, but if the Government Whip wishes to move it again at 2.30 pm, he can do so. Standing Orders allow only the Government to move a dilatory motion.
The motion has been moved for a specific purpose: to allow this matter to be debated. The Minister gave an assurance at a very early stage and I think that Committee members want to debate the issues. I cannot comment on the merits or otherwise of the issues—the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that—but the motion was moved for the Committee's convenience.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Pike. You rightly said that the debate that we are having, which is fundamentally important, could be resumed at 2.30 pm, but that that is at the discretion at the Government Whip. Before we decide who speaks next on this important issue, I would like to know whether this debate will be guillotined at 11.25 am or whether we can have an assurance that we will be able to continue it when we reconvene at 2.30 pm.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Pike. I suggest that if hon. Members want to discuss the matter, we should do it through the usual channels.
May I say how impressed I was with the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood, who managed in her final few remarks to totally cover her back? Earlier, she begun by asking herself a question; she wondered how all this matter would come together. She ended her remarks by saying that we now had a clearer framework in which to operate. She managed to have her cake and eat it, but I congratulate her on appropriately raising a number of significant concerns and questions to the Minister about how the new proposed way forward will work.
In the past few hours, we have been living in a pretty traumatic time in the world of politics. All sorts of changes in the Government have been taking place. No doubt, some thought that the Minister might not be with us today, but in some other position. I have now discovered why it is unlikely he would have been moved by the Prime Minister; the Minister has today made a significant U-turn. A massive change in Government policy has taken place.
If I may finish the point. Such a change in policy is not in accordance with the approach taken by the Minister's leader, the Prime Minister. The Committee will be well aware that the Prime Minister made that clear in his conference speech in September of last year. Echoing the words of Margaret Thatcher, he said:
''I can only go one way; I've not got a reverse gear.''
The hon. Gentleman seems to have a very selective memory. I recall, and he will recall, that I have expressed my concerns about the Bill in this Committee. He must concede that the Government said that they were listening and that they were prepared to make significant changes—and they have done. He should recognise that.
I think that I was recognising that by saying that it was a very significant U-turn and that the Minister has got a reverse gear. In a minute, I will say whether or not I welcome the U-turn. [Interruption.] I would like to give way to the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), but I will refer to him in a second and, after I have done so, he may wish to intervene.
I think that I got my come-uppance properly there, although I am grateful for that intervention.
The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) was asking why the decision was to go to eight, eight, eight. He wondered whether there was any different logic in going for, say, six, six, six, or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) suggested, nine, nine, nine.
When we initially heard that there would be just the one eight, the hon. Member for West Ham made a helpful contribution and told us that perhaps the number had been chosen because it is the atomic number of oxygen, because it is a lucky number in Chinese or because, in Buddhism, there is reference to the eightfold path to spiritual progress. He ended with various other suggestions, including the fact that eight is the symbol of infinity when the figure is on its side.
In light of the hon. Gentleman's contribution, I pondered the significance of eight, eight, eight. Eventually, it seemed appropriate to look for something relevant to the issues that we are debating—namely casinos and gambling. I eventually stumbled upon the answer on a tube journey two days ago. I noticed a large advertisement for the No. 1 internet casino in the world, which is none other than www.888.com.
I hear what you say, Mr. Pike, and I shall move on. However, it is not inappropriate to probe the Government on why those particular figures have been chosen. They have made a significant U-turn, and I am increasingly convinced that they are having second thoughts about the Secretary of State's belief, stated on Second Reading, that the Bill would not lead to an increase in problem gambling, and if it did, the Bill would have failed. It is increasingly clear that the Government, and certainly the Minister, are beginning to wonder whether they can rely on that belief.
I note that the Minister in his statement now refers to the need for the gambling commission during this pilot period
''to advise on whether the introduction of the new types of casino has led to an increase in problem gambling or is increasing the risk of that.''
There was also reference to the fact that we must ''reflect the fact that'' regional, large and small casinos
''will present new risks in relation to social harm.''
The Government are beginning to pick up on the fears and concerns of many people about whether a proliferation of casinos—particularly regional casinos, with their large numbers of untried and untested category A machines—would lead to an increase, and perhaps a significant increase, in problem gambling.
We will want to study the Minister's statement and any further information made available in some detail. If what is proposed is to be the way forward, I would like to ask him a number of questions about it. First, can he give the Committee an absolute assurance that he has checked that there will be no legal challenge to the proposals that he has made today? Secondly, can he assure the Committee that that advisory body that is to be set up, which will make recommendations on location, will be given guidance by the Secretary of State? In that guidance, will the crucial issue of location, which is particularly important for regional casinos, be central?
I mention that because I have on a number of occasions said that if we are to go forward with this untried, untested model of the new super-casinos, it is crucial that we take on board the advice and recommendations of the Joint Committee. It made it very clear that it believes that any regional casinos ought to be destination casinos to avoid the problem of ambient gambling.
I notice in the Minister's statement today that it will be the task of the advisory panel to give advice on
''a good range of types of location''.
I can understand the possibility of having a good range of types of location for regional casinos, all of which would meet the criteria of a destination casino. I hope that that is what the Minister means and that that is the assurance that we will get.
I hope that the Minister is not going to tell us that we will trial regional casinos in locations that would not meet the definition. I remind him that the Joint Committee made it clear that we should consider destination casinos for regional casinos and that the Minister in another place referred to the importance of not having gambling thrust in one's face. The Minister will also be aware that many other pieces of evidence suggest the importance of ensuring that, when talking about regional casinos, we are talking about destination casinos. I hope that I can have that assurance from him.
I also hope that we can have greater clarification on—perhaps in response to the debate, but certainly as soon as possible—the point raised by the hon. Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) on intervention. It was suggested that regeneration had not been mentioned in the statement, but that is not true. The statement refers to regeneration. The Minister said, in reference to the criteria that will be used to judge competition, that various issues and priorities would be taken into account. I quote from his statement:
''Those might include, for example, employment and regeneration potential''.
Particularly in relation to regional casinos—I accept that there is a difference when talking about small and large casinos—I find it extremely surprising that the statement says that the criteria ''might include'' employment and regeneration. I do not deny that the Minister said on numerous occasions in Committee that the social consequences must be the No. 1 priority. However, we were also told clearly in Committee that regeneration was the second most important criterion for regional casinos. That was also made clear to the House and the public at large. However, the statement says that the criteria ''might'' have regard to regeneration. During the deliberations of the Joint Committee and the ministerial responses to those deliberations, we were constantly told of the importance of regeneration. I hope that we eventually move to a point at which no regional casino will be accepted unless there is a clearly articulated plan for regeneration benefits to come from it and that that plan will be independently audited, so that it is not just reliant on what the developers or what the local council that intends to benefit say.
Nevertheless, I also say to the Minister that the Committee needs assistance on our understanding of the planning gain, which is where the regeneration is likely to come in under what we are used to calling section 106 agreements. The problem is that my analysis of the previous planning legislation and, more recently, of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, shows that a local authority is not allowed to obtain excessive benefit from any development. It is certainly not allowed to take a share of the profits. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain what the legality of the regeneration that is coming forward would be, if that regeneration is as significant as the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood hopes that it will be for Blackpool.
There are three processes, and one is through the gambling commission. The hon. Gentleman is right; the constraints of planning and section 106 agreements are well tested and could not possibly deliver the type of regeneration mentioned. If he refers to paragraphs 19, 20, 21 and 22 of the policy statement, he will see that economic gain can be achieved by local authorities through the premises licence.
I am grateful for the Minister's clarification, and I am sure that the Committee is. However, I hope that he can assure us that putting out a premises licence—for tender, effectively—so that a local authority can maximise the income will not go in any way against other legislation. I come back to my previous point: we need to be assured that there will be no legal challenges on the issue.
I—and, I suspect, other Committee members—have other concerns, which I hope will be addressed. The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood touched on the powers of local authorities. The Minister is well aware that, under clause 157, local authorities can give a blanket refusal to any casinos whatsoever for a three-year period. However, a local authority might, for whatever reason, be interested in at least exploring the possibility of having a casino in its area; the advisory panel may have recommended that one of the casinos should be located there.
In those circumstances, I hope that a local authority that had chosen not to use the clause 157 powers because it wanted to consider the possibility of having a casino would still have an absolute right to say no to a casino proposal. That absolute right of a local authority—always subject, of course, to judicial review—is crucial, but does not exist in planning law. A local authority can say no, but that can go for appeal to the Secretary of State as an additional procedure. I am sure that the Minister would acknowledge that a casino application could come forward to a local authority that was unhappy with it but that had not used clause 157 to impose a blanket ban on casinos. Such a local authority might say no to that casino, but the casino could win on appeal to the Secretary of State. That would mean that local authorities did not have an absolute power to reject a casino. I hope that we can work with the Minister and the Government to find ways to ensure that local authorities have such an absolute power.
My final point is about the demand test. The Minister will be well aware that some time ago we debated an amendment that I had tabled that proposed putting the demand test back into the system. At that time, he assured me that that was not necessary. I challenged him, and asked whether a local authority could include in their licensing policy statement their own version of a demand test. He said that yes, they could. I believed that all was well, and that we had the demand test. However, I have studied clause 145(2), and it is clear to me that that is not possible and that, somewhere along the line, we need to address how to put back into the system the demand test, which is one of local authorities' crucial powers.
I hope that we shall have the opportunity to discuss the issue of public nuisance again. When the guidance is drafted for the advisory panel, perhaps reference to that issue will be made. I am not the only person who is concerned about such matters; local councils and members of the public are, too. The Minister will be aware that, only a couple of weeks ago, his noble Friend Lord McIntosh gave a clear assurance to the House of Lords that public nuisance would form part of the deliberations about the location for the new casinos. Given that assurance, I hope that the Minister will give us another assurance today that matters of public nuisance will be part of the system that he is developing.
At the moment, I am not willing to say that the proposal of eight, eight, eight will receive the full support of my party. I have listed several issues about which we have considerable concerns and there are further areas about which we need more information to know how the system will work. I accept, however, that if we limit the number of regional casinos—which I welcome—it could have a knock-on effect on the number of large and small casinos that might be developed without control being placed over them.
As the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, I acknowledge equally that such a proposal is going against what local authorities might wish to do. However, on a first reading, it makes sense to acknowledge that any further growth in small and large casinos will be in a different climate from the current climate because there will be the added competition and implication of the regional casinos and, of course, the continuing growth of other forms of gambling, not least internet gambling. Notwithstanding their belief that they will lose power over this for a few years, local authorities might find it beneficial to have the results of the pilots that are being proposed for a few years to see what the impact will be. Although I am uncertain of the definitive position, we look favourably on the Minister's proposal, albeit with the concerns that I have expressed and the desire to obtain answers to my various questions.
I welcome the Government's statement. I recognise that they said that they would be moving in that direction and I understand the problem with setting a cap. It is difficult to define whether the figure should be four, eight or so on, but we must reach a conclusion about the approach to take. On Second Reading, hon. Members on both sides of the House were worried about proliferation, especially of the large, regional casinos, and wanted a stepped approach taken towards their development.
There is a problem, however, now that we have eight, eight, eight in the location of large and small casinos. If the cap were lifted in the future, that could determine the location of the next phase of regional casinos. When applications are made about the locations of the casinos, we must be clear whether we shall look favourably in future on the possibility of their becoming regional casinos or not. We must know whether that will be a possibility. If it is, that raises all sorts of other concerns about the stage at which they become a large or a small casino. We must take into consideration the long-term possibilities of their increasing in size.
The statement referred to competition at the planning stage. That is a difficult matter. Already, planning is fraught; it can become very litigious. Examples from America have shown that operators of casinos can be extraordinarily litigious. Some states have been tied up for years in legal wrangles with casino operators, so the guidance on how the process will be managed must be watertight and clear. At present, the planning process is started at the instigation of the developer. A developer will buy a location or reach some sort of agreement to purchase a location if planning permission is granted and then approach the local authority for planning permission.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) said that those processes may be out of sync. There may be a developer further down the road who has identified a site, and another potential developer-in-waiting. That could make it difficult for the local authority to determine how to proceed and with which partner, as a different developer may offer different things for the local community in terms of regeneration. Those things may be so desirable to the local authority that it wants to wait, rather than be forced into the process by the first developer in the queue.
There are all sorts of issues in relation to the planning process. If two or even three developers in tandem want to open casinos in the area, and there is only permission for one, how should an authority choose between them? That decision could land local authorities in a great deal of difficulty. The guidance on that must be absolutely clear and watertight.
It would be a fortunate local authority indeed that owned such a location, and I would wish it good luck. We must consider the ongoing benefits to the relevant area. Clearly, a local authority would have an inducement if it were to benefit from the profits.
Comments have been made about the possibility of public disorder and problems with other public services. A developer may want to make an ongoing contribution to such services. Planning permission can include obligations such as ensuring that areas are free from litter, an approach that is frequently used with the major takeaway chains in most of our high streets. That needs to be clarified.
How will the Government determine what constitutes problem gambling and what is a reasonable or unreasonable increase? We must be frank about this: there will be an increase. We are getting rid of the 24-hour rule and lifting the ban on advertising. If there is to be advertising on TV, I hope that there will be a 9 o'clock watershed. I do not want to see such advertising earlier in the evening.
I am conscious of the time and of other hon. Members wanting to speak.
How will we determine what is an acceptable increase? We must be clear about the fact that there will be an increase in gambling as a result of the measures, otherwise we would be proceeding on a false premise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood mentioned a national framework. The Government have to be fair. They must set a framework—criteria against which either regional or local planning authorities will operate when determining what benefits are sought from having a regional casino, whether large or small, in their area. If we go for the regeneration aspect—as we should—with employment and economic regeneration at its heart, we have to set a framework and clarify what we are trying to achieve. If we are to assess the impact of the casinos, we must have all or nearly all of them in place before the clock starts ticking on the three-year period. We cannot start a clock from when the first one is built and say that we will have an assessment in three years from then. We must have a clear framework.
The overlapping impact of subsequent developments on things such as problem gambling has been mentioned.
My hon. Friend will speak later and can respond to me then because others want to get in and I have taken slightly longer than I said I would.
My last question to my hon. Friend the Minister is this: can existing casinos apply for re-designation as regional casinos at their existing location? A reference in the statement that has been circulated says that they can. Does that mean that they can become operators elsewhere or that they can redefine the premises from which they currently operate?
The Minister asks me to welcome the statement, but it is something of a dog's breakfast. The questions raised, which I do not intend to repeat, are relevant and he will have as hard a time answering many of them as he had with the dog's breakfast that he has put on the table for us to chew over.
I want to return to the point about how on earth we got here. The Government have been preparing this legislation and considering how to change gambling laws for years. I hold no brief whatever for casino operators who, I am sure, will not send me any Christmas cards, but I feel sorry for them because the Government have led them up the garden path completely and utterly.
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I will say what the Government should do. Given that there have been so many changes to the Bill, I hope that there is still an option to do what the Government should have done in the first place—[Interruption.] Mr. Pike, I feel that the Committee is being rather boisterous and is not allowing me to pursue my argument in the way that I would prefer.
I want to put on the record my belief that the industry has been treated shabbily. I have had many representations from people in Blackpool, Coventry and all over the country who have gone about their business reasonably, given what the Government said initially. Even though I did not want the plans to come to fruition, I think that they have been treated shabbily and the recent Home Secretary's view of the leadership of the Minister's Department is accurate given the complete fiasco on this Bill. I notice that he does not react to that. Nevertheless, we all have our own opinions.
Would it not be sensible to do what I have always said would be the right way forward and give one or two permissions for a destination resort, which might involve more than one casino in the same place? As the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood knows, I am a big fan of Blackpool. Although it has been making the running, I do not see why it should not have been rewarded for its efforts in pursuing a gambling alternative for its tourism product. If the Minister had done that, he would have solved all the problems that other Labour Members have raised about his proposal. We could simply have had one resort destination casino in the country—or two if we must placate the Scots. It would have been clear what was on offer and the industry could have gone about its business knowing that there was one prize to achieve. That would have addressed all the Government's arguments about problem gambling.
I am pleased that, very late in the day, the Government have come around to the idea that there is such a thing as problem gambling and that it could be unleashed by their proposals. If they had acted in the same way as America and allowed a resort destination casino, they would be in a considerably better position now. They would also have got around the other complications that will ensue when determining how planning permission will be arrived at, given that so many planning applications will want to secure the agreement of the committee that the Minister wants to set up. Had he had one destination area in mind—he did not have to say that it would be Blackpool—he could have said, ''Give me your bids and tell me what you will do for the nation's resort areas where you want to have a casino.'' Whichever one offered the most to the local community would have got the prize, and he would have pleased Blackpool and another place.
It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.