Premises licences: specific cases: casino premises licence: overall limits
'(1) No more than eight casino premises licences may have effect at any time in respect of regional casinos.
(2) No more than eight casino premises licences may have effect at any time in respect of large casinos.
(3) No more than eight casino premises licences may have effect at any time in respect of small casinos.
(4) The Secretary of State shall, having consulted the Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales, by order make provision for determining the geographical distribution of casino premises licences within the limits specified in subsections (1) to (3); for which purpose the order shall—
(a) specify which licensing authorities may issue casino premises licences of a specified kind, and
(b) in respect of each specified authority, specify the number of casino premises licences of each kind issued by the authority that may have effect at any time.
(5) An application for a casino premises licence may not be made to a licensing authority if subsections (1) to (3) and the order under subsection (4) would prevent the authority from granting the application.
(6) An application for a provisional statement may not be made to a licensing authority if it relates to a casino and is made at a time when subsections (1) to (3) and the order under subsection (4) would prevent the authority from granting a casino premises licence in response to an application made in reliance on the provisional statement.
(7) Schedule [Applications for casino premises licences] (which makes provision about the treatment of applications for casino premises licences and provisional statements) shall have effect.—[Mr. Caborn.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.
Question again proposed.
I shall begin by reciprocating your good wishes for the new year, Mr. Gale. Although you were not present to hear me, before lunch I sought to set out our concerns about how late in the proceedings the new clause is being considered and the real difficulties that that has caused us. To some extent, that means that we shall wish to explore the Government's precise thinking in greater detail on Report, when we shall table amendments, but I want to outline a number of general concerns today.
The new clause implements not one but two U-turns by the Government. As they are two wholly separate U-turns—one of which we welcome, the other we gasp at—we must consider them separately because our attitude to each is different.
The first implements the Government's decision to impose a cap on the number of regional casinos. Certainly, most of the publicity attached to the Bill has concentrated on regional casinos, and many of the concerns relate to the impact that they will have, particularly in relation to the possibility of problem gambling. We have always argued that a major change of this kind must be made cautiously and that, before we go further, we must ensure that the concerns of many people are not justified.
Originally, the joint scrutiny Committee recommended that the controls on the number of regional casinos, which it was widely felt were necessary, should be introduced by means of economic measures, particularly in relation to the minimum size threshold. We considered that a suitable method and very much regretted the Government's decision not to adopt that recommendation. If they had done so, many of the difficulties that they have subsequently experienced could have been avoided. Instead, they tried to reassure us that there would be no more than 24 regional casinos, but there is no obvious control in the Bill to bring that about. The casinos represent a wholly new concept in the United Kingdom, as well as investment on a scale never before seen and an increase in the numbers participating in casino gambling on a scale never before seen. They will also contain, for the first time, category A machines, and many of the anxieties about a possible increase in problem gambling relate to the use of those machines, based on experience elsewhere in the world, to which the Minister has referred following his visit to Australia. For those reasons we suggested the adoption of a pilot scheme.
When the Government proposed imposing a cap of eight casinos, we generally welcomed that. We discussed whether eight was the right figure; some people had suggested that it should be smaller. I think that we initially said four, the British Amusement Catering Trades Association said four and others advocate one per region, but there is a legitimate debate around the number. We may wish to explore that further in due course, too.
It was because of the completely untested nature of the casinos and the machines that they will contain that we considered a pilot scheme appropriate, followed by a full assessment of its impact and then further consideration of whether to allow more casinos. In principle, therefore, we support that part of the new clause: the Government have gone a long way to addressing concerns and conceding our points. However, the concerns that we expressed and the reasons why we felt it appropriate to adopt a pilot scheme and a precautionary approach apply to regional casinos, but not to large and small casinos.
Large and small casinos are not a novel concept in this country. We have large and small casinos; we have had them for a considerable time. Indeed, the Government have acknowledged on many occasions that this country has been remarkably successful in avoiding many of the problems experienced by other countries. There is not a significant level of problem gambling in the UK or of organised crime in our casinos. The existing UK industry has a good reputation for behaving responsibly and has adopted measures to prevent those problems. Therefore, the arguments for a precautionary approach for regional casinos do not apply to large and small casinos.
Furthermore, many of the concerns about the danger of an increase in problem gambling relate to the introduction of category A machines, which in other countries have been the driver to significant levels of gambling addiction. The Government decided—a decision not necessarily welcomed by the industry—that the large and small casinos would not be allowed to have category A machines, which would be allowed only in the regional casinos. Again, there was no need to apply the same safeguards to large and small casinos. It is still a mystery to every outside observer, and indeed to us, why the Government, suddenly and out of the blue, produced proposals to put a cap of eight on the number of new large casinos and eight on the number of new small casinos. All those campaigning against the Bill had focused on regional casinos. I do not believe that even the Daily Mail, which has been perhaps the most vocal campaigner, called for a cap on large and small casinos. Certainly we have not been lobbied to that effect.
The only explanation that the Government have given is the statement in the policy paper issued by the Minister relating to the overall effect. It says:
''The Government has 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 would half agree with that: we agree with a limit on the number of regional casinos, which was where the danger of problem gambling was seen to lie. There is no justification for simply equating the two. Then the Government decided that, if they were to impose a limit, the number should be the same. There has been no explanation why eight is an appropriate figure for small or large casinos, or for regional casinos. That, too, is something that we will want to explore.
We were told that the other driver was the concern expressed in the House of Commons. The Minister has repeatedly told us that the Government have listened and that their amendments reflect the outcome of listening. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) told us just before Christmas that when he talked to his colleagues and expressed concerns about the Bill, none of them asked for a cap on large or small casinos. Therefore, when the Government say that they are listening, my first question is, to whom? I have not found anybody who feels that this is a necessary or sensible limitation. Its effect is to make the outcome of the Bill a regime that is more restrictive in respect of casino development than the existing regime.
The Bill was supposed to be liberalising—a cautiously drafted and gradual step forward, but one that would gradually liberalise the regime. We have now gone in the opposite direction and will end up with a Bill preventing the establishment of any more than 24 new casinos. That will halt the investment plans of many UK and overseas companies in their tracks. It will undermine the economic plans of many local authorities. It will have a significant economic impact and it will undoubtedly lead to loss of money, investment and jobs.
When we were debating the matter before Christmas, we speculated about why the Government chose the 888 formula. Slightly frivolously, I suggested that 666 might seem more appropriate to the critical observers of the Bill. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) suggested that 999 was appropriate. I begin to suspect that the correct figure is 555—5 May 2005. It seems to me that the Government are losing their appetite for the Bill in the approach to the general election.
Let me put the hon. Gentleman's remarks in the context of what we are asking the Committee to accept now and what the House was saying to us.
Let me deal first with the notion of limiting the number of regional casinos to eight—or, indeed to four, as would have happened had we accepted the official Opposition's amendment. All the evidence suggests that the demand is there. A lot of figures were bandied about in the trade, but there would probably have been between 20 and 30 regional casinos. Those casinos would have had 1,250 machines each. If we limited the number of regional casinos to eight and there was a market demand for 20 to 30 such casinos, there would be an unmet need. That is what the market was saying.
If we said that that need was going to be met and left the large and small casinos to the market, it would not be the case that the small casinos we have now, of which there are 136, would be anything like even the small casinos that will exist under the Bill. We are talking about eight or, indeed, 15 times—
Order. It is the job of the Chair to try to facilitate the debate. I was working under the assumption that the Minister was going to offer information to the Committee. I cannot allow him to make a speech at this stage because the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) has the floor.
I will be brief. I wanted to point out to the Committee that the 136 existing small casinos would not be the same as the eight small casinos and, therefore, that to say we will be judging the pilot on 150 such casinos would be misleading and would not be a response to the concerns expressed on Second Reading.
All the people I have spoken to from the industry—overseas investors and people from the UK industry—say that the concept of a regional casino is entirely different to that of a large or small casino. It is based on 20,000 people going through the door every week. Regional casinos will attract people who have never contemplated going to a casino before. They will go there because it offers all sorts of other attractions—restaurants, swimming pools, theatres and so on. It will be a new leisure experience. That is something that will not be offered by the other casinos. That is the business model of regional casinos and it is why investors believe that they will attract a new demand that does not at present exist in the UK. That is why investors are willing to invest such enormous sums in regional casinos. So, to say that because there are not going to be 20 regional casinos—there are going to be only eight—all the people who would have gone to the 20 regional casinos are going to want to go to large or small casinos is simply not right. It flies in the face of the business models that are being suggested for regional casinos.
It is interesting to note that all the overseas operators—MGM, Las Vegas Sands and other big international operators—have shown no interest in investing in large or small casinos. They do not meet their business model. Their business is large, leisure destination resort casinos, and that is an entirely different concept. I do not accept that there is a danger of a huge explosion in the number of large and small casinos as a result of imposing a cap on regional casinos.
Even if there were such a danger, the Government have repeatedly said that the measures in the Bill were designed to prevent proliferation. The Secretary of State clearly said that economic measures through the imposition of a minimum floor requirement would restrict the number and only a certain number would be economically viable. The industry told us that there is demand in this country for 200 at most. The Government are proposing 24 new ones on top of the 137, so this would perhaps put the number up to 40 or 50 at most, and, clearly, those are not large or small. I simply do not accept that the Government had to impose two additional caps in order to avoid a massive proliferation.
The hon. Gentleman touches on a point that I was about to come to. I entirely agree with him. Other mechanisms are available that would allow local authorities to decide whether they felt that a casino was appropriate or would allow the Government to take a national view. We would not have been required to impose an arbitrary limit.
To decide then to pick eight small and eight large simply because we had decided to pick eight regional casinos seems utterly bizarre. A regional casino requires an investment of £100 million to £150 million or more—there will be only a small number of investments at that scale—whereas the investment of £6 million for a small casino is probably equivalent to building a brand-new Tesco. There is likely to be a huge potential demand, yet the Government are allowing only eight across the whole country. It is difficult to imagine what criteria could possibly be used to decide which eight local authorities will win the prize of being allowed to offer the opportunity to build a casino.
The imposition of a second, additional cap is crude, arbitrary and unjust, and we will certainly want to consider alternative methods—perhaps economic controls or the planning system—of strengthening the ability of local authorities to determine whether they wish to allow casino development. The Minister offers them a nuclear option of allowing none at all, but perhaps there should be greater scope for them to decide whether a small but not a large was appropriate. The arbitrary cap will have an enormously damaging effect on the existing industry, and flies in the face of everything that the Government have said the Bill is trying to achieve.
I wish to examine a few specific concerns about the Government's suggestions as to how the process will work. First, I hope that the Minister can tell us a little more about the criteria that will be applied in determining which areas are chosen for development. As he said this morning, plans for the development of casinos are far advanced in several areas. Obviously, Blackpool is one, and the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who used to represent Blackpool, spoke about it. But there are many others. We know about Caesars in Wembley and the football clubs up and down the country. The Minister himself said that almost every premiership club was considering the development of a casino or had incorporated one into its plans. One suspects that almost all of them will now be severely disappointed. The Minister said that they should not have presumed that the Bill would be passed, as legislation is always subject to parliamentary approval, but the Government had given them a firm indication that that would be the case. It would have required foresight beyond that of anyone in this Committee to have predicted that the Government would suddenly adopt this provision at the very last minute and, as a result, torpedo the investment plans of football clubs and others in many areas of the country.
My other point, which is of real concern, is the time scale that is being imposed for the process to be undertaken. In his initial statement, the Minister said that the advisory panel would start its consideration during 2006. That is considerably more than a year away. The Government seem to be doing their best to get the Bill on the statute book by the end of March, presumably before a general election, but there will then be a delay of more than a year before the advisory panel starts to work. We have been told that it will then not complete its work before the end of 2006. No operator will be able to start making firm plans until they know which areas have been chosen. As a result, the earliest that a regional casino is likely to be up and running and producing a return on investment is around 2009. That seems an extraordinary time scale. One international operator has already told me that if that is the time scale, it will abandon its plans to come to this country and go to a country where it will feel rather more welcome than it has felt here to date.
The time scale is unjustifiable. How can it possibly take that amount of time simply to identify the areas? A simpler way might be to say that there should be one per region, which would cut out the necessity for the advisory panel. The existing time frame may have the effect of preventing investment and may deter many of those who were previously looking to invest in this country.
The local authority of the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood has brought its concern to our attention. It stated:
''The Minister has stated that an announcement is unlikely before the end of 2006; it is only at this stage that the specified licensing authorities will be able to engage with potential operators and enter into a competitive procurement process. This will be followed by the lengthy scheme development, land assembly and construction processes. This could well project casino openings into the next decade and this should be avoided.''
Will the Minister consider whether there is some way in which the process could be speeded up? There is a real danger that on the present time scale it will not take place at all.
My second concern is that in determining the locations for the eight regional casinos, the major consideration clearly will be the regeneration benefits that they offer. That has been the driver behind much of the Bill. There is no doubt that an investment of the scale £150 million or more will provide a local economy with an enormous boost in job creation, regeneration and development. It is easier to judge competing applications in terms of regeneration benefits when discussing investment on that scale. However, the regeneration benefits of small casinos will not be significant, so what different criteria will be taken into account to decide where small and large casinos will be? It seems that the advisory panel will pick winners out of a hat because the Minister has given no indication of the primary considerations in deciding whether a particular local authority should be allowed to develop a small or large casino.
I would like the Minister to confirm another point. He will recall that we have always argued that regional casinos are most appropriately located in destination resorts and that they should not be located in urban centres. Placing them away from centres of population in places where people must make a conscious decision to visit them will be one means of avoiding a significant increase in problem gambling.
Of enormous concern to the United Kingdom industry is the effect of the Government's proposals on the existing estate; the 136 casinos that are already up and running in the country. The Minister tried to explain in his opening remarks why the Government have decided that a wholly different regime will apply to existing casinos from that which will apply to new casinos. He talked about the need for a small number of new casinos in order to assess the impact on problem gambling. The threat from problem gambling will come from the new concept of category A machines and already plenty of evidence shows that the existing estate has not led to significant increases.
What the Government are proposing for the changes that will be allowed is small compared with the effect of the introduction of regional casinos. When it comes to deciding where the new casinos should be allowed, can the Minister say whether it will be presumed that they will not be located in close proximity to an existing casino? Clearly, if a new casino is allowed and operates under the new regime close to an existing casino, it will almost completely undermine the viability of that casino. To avoid such a situation, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say that the 24 casinos should not in general be allowed to be developed close to existing casinos.
The Minister's remarks about the economic potential of existing casinos seem slightly confused, a matter to which I shall return.
The existing casinos are all sited in what until now were permitted development areas. Such places were chosen because presumably they were regarded as the places that were most appropriate to site casinos. If we allow further development, it is more likely that the casinos will be located in the old, permitted development of holiday resort, the places where tourists visit; areas where there is a proven demand for casinos. It seems that either way the effect of the Bill will damage—perhaps fatally—the viability of existing casinos. Such businesses will be punished for having operated successfully and responsibly in this country by not being able to enjoy the benefits in their existing estate, which will be given to the new casinos.
Yesterday, an operator told me that he had just opened a new casino in Leicester—an investment of £6.5 million—yet that casino will be restricted to 10 gaming tables. For all he knows, a new casino may be given permission to operate close by with far more tables, with the additional opportunities of bingo and betting that will be allowed under the new regime. Such a situation cannot be equitable. It will do real damage. The Minister suggested before lunch that, because the Government were allowing only a limited number, the existing casinos would be in a much stronger position. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) said, what happened when the Government made their announcement? Half a billion pounds was wiped off the share price of the UK operators.
Clearly, the market does not believe that such action will strengthen the position of the UK industry; nor does the UK industry. The Government are bringing in a Bill that has been developed and worked upon for four years in close consultation with the industry. It is a Bill that everyone said was necessary, but the UK industry is on the point of saying that it would rather not have a Bill than have this one, because it is so badly flawed and will represent such bad law. That is a phenomenal achievement, and the Government's failure to provide any justification for their latest policy undermines them further.
I hope that the Government will continue to listen—they claim that they have been listening—to the industry and others who are saying that the arbitrary cap of eight on large and small casinos will totally undermine the UK casino industry, and will do nothing to achieve the Government's stated objectives.
Given the time scale left to us for the consideration of the Bill, it is beginning to be increasingly difficult to say whether the Bill will ever get on the statute book. We continue to be of the view that a vast amount in the Bill is important and necessary, especially in terms of providing additional powers for the gambling commission and regulating internet gambling. However, the Government are jeopardising the success of the whole Bill through this last-minute decision and through introducing this latest shift, which is uncalled for, unjustified and unfair. I hope that the Government will think again.
I said before Christmas that I came to the Bill supporting it; I thought that it was good in terms of its regulatory aspects and what was being put in place to protect children and others. Also, I genuinely thought that it was a good idea to use casinos and the gambling industry to regenerate areas such as the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood.
Before Christmas, the Bill was referred to by the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) as a dog's dinner. Frankly, I think that it is becoming worse than that, now that we are seeing the implications of what is being put in place.
I have still not heard a satisfactory reason why the arbitrary number of eight has been chosen for small and large casinos. I can understand why that has been decided in relation to regional casinos; that was a proper response to Second Reading. However, there is certainly no call to limit the numbers of small and large casinos. I am still waiting for a large number of parliamentary colleagues to argue that, but I think that most colleagues have not even worked out that the Government are introducing such a measure.
Some people take a moralistic view of gambling, and think that it is the worst thing ever invented, and others take a liberal view. I do not; I take the middle road. We have to give people responsibility for what they do with their lives, and we have to admit that in this country there is a well-regulated industry. It has not had the criminal and other elements that we have seen exist in other countries.
Putting in place such a limit is not a liberalising move. We are actually going the other way; we will restrict the casino and gambling industry. Existing casinos will certainly be at a disadvantage, compared with the 24 casinos that are to be allowed, which will have a hell of a lot of different powers and attractions. The provision will put some existing casinos at risk. I have never been in favour of creating monopolies, whether state or private, but we are creating lucrative business opportunities for those who get one of the 24 licences.
I accept, as I said earlier, that the regional casino issue is separate, but the other new casinos will put the existing 136 casinos at a disadvantage, and that is unfair to existing operators. Overall, we have run a tight and good ship in this country. The investment that will come forward should not just go into new casinos; however, the investment needed in existing casinos will not be made. No one will put their money into the existing casinos if one of the new casinos opens nearby or they cannot get the offer made to the new casinos.
I have heard the explanation of the advisory panel and how it will lead competition in terms of planning, but that will not work. I will deal with the reasons for that in a minute. There is a naive approach to how it will work in practice. I am opposed to quangos and advisory panels.
This will be a lucrative job for someone. However, we have not yet seen the criteria for granting the areas, which will be different for regional casinos and small casinos, and we do not know whether those will be the same. Likewise, as we have seen already, there will be a lot of competition for people wanting a regional casino in their region. If there are only eight large casinos and eight of the others, there will be a lot of disappointed councils and developers. Will there be an appeals process for councils that want such a casino but do not get one? Will there be a regional spread and balance throughout the country? That will also be important. The great gifts that the individuals appointed to the advisory panel will be given to judge those matters beggars belief. Those people will be popular for a time, as they are wined and dined and courted throughout the country and given reasons why a region should have a casino. It will be a popular job for some and lucrative for the consultants who try to persuade them that a region, town or city should get one of the sites.
We are listening avidly to the hon. Gentleman's destruction of the Government's case. Has he given any thought to how much the advisory panel alone will cost the taxpayer?
If it is like anything else we have set up, it will not be cheap. What expertise will the people on the panel bring to the job? Political decisions will determine where regional casinos are sited. As I said in December, if we are going to make political decisions, let them be made by people who are elected, rather than handed to people who are not.
We still have great problems with planning. I accept what the Minister is doing to try to get competition going, but there are fundamental problems. One such problem is that a person does not need a casino operator's licence to apply for planning permission. Under the process we are talking about it seems as though people will need one, but they will not. A lot of developers will speculatively submit planning applications in different areas, even before the areas are designated. It is not clear yet whether the councils will be able to hear those applications, because we have been told all along that the planning process will be separate from the premises and operator's licence. If a developer submits an application in Birmingham, the council has to hear it.
Like everyone else, I am following the hon. Gentleman with great care, but it is not it even more confusing than he suggests? Presumably, to get a premises licence there has to be a large amount of information about the nature of the premises involved and we would only know that if there had been a great deal of advanced work done on the planning application.
I appreciate that, but I have a different point of view. Anyone can apply for planning permission and if they apply speculatively, a council will have to hear that application. However, on what grounds could it refuse such an application? It could not do so on the basis that there was no premises licence, because there would not be grounds or reasons in planning law for refusing it. Once the areas are decided, there will be a deluge of planning applications for different sites throughout a city. Will councils say, ''I'm sorry, we cannot hear any of those because we have to wait and see which operators have premises licenses''? That will not happen. The councils will have to hear them. If they then turn them down because a casino operator has not got a premises licence they would be in a difficult position; I do not think that that would be grounds for turning down that planning application.
Many developers will be speculatively putting in planning applications, and the one that achieves the first of them in a certain area will have a valuable prize; they will then be able to hold their own competition among the various operators that have licences. If there is such a feeding frenzy of planning applications, things will get bogged down; there will be months and possibly years of planning appeals.
In view of the hon. Gentleman's many years' experience of local government and planning issues, I would like to ask him a question. Let us say that a local authority happened to own land on which an application it favoured was made, and Joe Bloggs down the road came in as well; if the authority showed favouritism to that application, would that open it up to a legal challenge?
In my experience, I am not sure that it would. If a council has a stake in the ownership of any such land, I understand that the matter would have to be referred to the Secretary of State. However, the point of the matter is that anyone can put in a planning application on any land; they do not have to own that land. I could put in a planning application for a casino on your house, Mr. Gale; I would not have to own your house, or have any interest in it.
I do not understand how the apparently well ordered competition laid out in the legislation will work in practice. There will be confusion about the relationship between the planning process and this new process that is being set up. That takes us back to a fundamental point. The way to control numbers is not to invent this complex new system; the number of casinos can be limited by using the current planning law. In any case, I do not think that lots of large and small casinos would have been developed, because the market would have reached a point where people no longer invested because they knew they would not get a return.
I hope that the legislation is not enacted in its present form, because it will not work. It will hold up development in a lot of areas where it is desperately needed, and it will cause a huge amount of confusion from which only the lawyers will gain.
I, too, wish you a happy new year, Mr. Gale.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Durham. He has a lot of experience in the matters under discussion. His contribution illustrates the concern that many people have about these proposals; on this issue, there appears to have been a lack of any consultation, not only with the industry itself but with those with expertise in planning matters and in local councils.
It is worth reflecting on how often the Minister has told us in recent times that his entire raison d'etre for the changes is the Secretary of State's commitment to consult—a commitment given very clearly on Second Reading. Just before Christmas, the Minister told the Committee:
''The Secretary of State clearly said that she would consult with a host of people. That has happened. We got the feeling that they wanted to ensure that we brought in further constraints and that is what we have done. Let us be absolutely clear: we are managing change in difficult circumstances. We must reassure people.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 December 2004; c. 666]
In the light of the huge outcry that there was, I think that we would all respect the Government if they were prepared to consult and to make changes. Many Opposition Committee members have urged changes on the Government, some of which they have now accepted, particularly in relation to the number of regional casinos. However, one would assume that that consultation would involve all the interested parties. In this case, since concerns have been expressed by hon. Members from all parties in the Committee about the effect of the Bill on the existing industry, that body of people would clearly certainly have been included in the consultations before the new proposals were brought forward. As the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) rightly pointed out, that consultation did not take place. Those people, like many others, were extremely shocked and surprised by what has happened.
We know what happened to the share prices. We also note in the briefings that all members of the Committee have doubtless received that, for instance, the British Casino Association states that this new policy
''cuts from under us the ability to maintain our existing estate and make future investments . . . Regardless of the Minister's protestations, this policy has evolved with undue haste, in a vacuum, and in no way reflects the deliberations of four years of consultation and two Joint Scrutiny Committee reports''.
In those circumstances, and given that the consultation did not take place, I am sure you will understand, Mr. Gale, why it was necessary earlier this morning for a large number of questions to be asked of the Minister about this policy U-turn. You will also understand why those questions will continue and why for many of us it is difficult to accept readily the proposed changes.
The Minister has answered a number of questions that we have raised, such as whether he is confident in respect of legal challenge in relation to competition law. He has told us, although many of us are not convinced, that his answer provides a solution that will work—for example, in relation to how the competition process will operate.
However, there are many areas of continuing concern. For example, this morning I asked the Minister whether, in the light of the fact that the existing casinos were not now to be categorised as either large or small, there were going to be changes to clause 7, which specifies the definitions of categories of casino. He told me that there was to be no change. Yet, I have studied his words in one of our earlier deliberations, and he said:
''To achieve that, there will be a separate category of premises licence for casinos that already had a licence under the Gaming Act 1968.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 December 2004; c. 621.]
Well, if that is the case, and the Minister is now confirming that I am right, presumably a new category needs to be added to clause 7(5) in that regard; if not, perhaps the Minister can advise me later on how that will be achieved without such a change.
Much of our concern centres on how the advisory committee, which is potentially expensive, will operate, and more importantly under what operating rules it will carry out its deliberations. We have been advised by the Minister that the Secretary of State will give guidance to that body. I at least would find that our deliberations would have been eased had we had some indication of the nature of that guidance. For example, the Secretary of State has assured us on a number of occasions that regeneration will be a key issue in any consideration of the determination of location. Yet, I remind the Minister that he told us on 16 December that regeneration might be—not would be—one of the criteria that will be taken into account.
Many of us have raised several times in Committee our concern about the issue of location, and particularly whether or not regional casinos will have the sort of destination interpretation of location that was envisaged by the scrutiny Committee and supported by many others. We have not heard about that from the Minister; he merely says that there will be a good range of locations. That gives us no indication as to what the thinking will be in that regard.
We would have had a more fruitful debate—albeit at this late stage in our deliberations—had we had more information from the Minister about the nature of the guidance that the advisory committee will receive. In relation to the actual proposals, I think it has been made clear by both myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester that, as far as regional casinos are concerned, we are not averse to the cap of eight for a pilot period. We understand that that will potentially last for two studies being carried out by the Gambling Commission.
In relation to small and large casinos, like the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford we have a number of concerns as to whether this is the right way forward. Certainly, the industry is adamant that it is not, and will create significant difficulties for the existing industry. We have proposed, on a number of occasions, other ways in which proliferation of small and large casinos might be tackled, while giving greater powers to local councils to make decisions in the best interests of the local people that they serve. Therefore, we shall be looking at ways of altering the mechanism for reducing significant proliferation, not looking at the eight, eight, eight proposals, but at other measures along the lines that we have already proposed: the reintroduction of the demand test; looking at public nuisance issues; strengthening the powers of local authorities to say no to a specific casino proposal.
There are alternative routes that could and should have been explored. Although I entirely accept that the Minister was right to acknowledge that if there is now to be a cap on the regional casinos, we need to have regard to what effect that will have on large and small casinos, I am not convinced that the solution brought forward in new clause 20 and the new schedule 3 is necessarily the right one. We would wish to reserve our position between now and Report, when we will hopefully table amendments that will look at alternative ways of addressing the issue that the Minister rightly drew to our attention. I expect that we shall do so in continued consultation with a wide range of bodies, and very much regret that when the Minister brought forward his proposals he was not able to tell us that they had been as the result of any detailed consultation. As the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford says, I do not know of a single person outside this Committee who can give me any justification whatsoever for the particular figures proposed in this amendment.
I rise to support this new clause and the statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister, because unlike my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham I never supported the idea of a free market response to this. In all the discussions that we have had over the past several years, the focus for the development of large casinos—initially called ''resort casinos''—was always on creating a small number, to aid regeneration. What we have here is a much better scheme, and a much better part of the Gambling Bill that had previously caused so many concerns. There were very genuine concerns about proliferation from, on the one hand, people who believed that it would lead to a large increase in problem gambling, to people who like me on the other hand, who wanted to see more of a focus in any casino development on regenerating our resorts and other run-down areas. With these proposals, we can move along those lines.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I am interested to learn of her support for the clause.
Blackpool council, in its approach to us, has argued very strongly that it wants to create a ''critical mass'', and it would like to see a ''casino cluster'' in Blackpool to achieve this; in other words, of the new licences, more than one should go to Blackpool. If there are only going to be 24 across the country in total, does she really think that this is likely to lead to Blackpool getting more than one of those licences?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. In earlier discussions, the hon. Member for Surrey Heath and I have raised the issue of critical mass. We know that Blackpool has been arguing for some time that to regenerate a resort—building a conference centre and so on—critical mass is needed. I have raised that issue with the Minister.
No; I have to move on and make some serious points. When my right hon. Friend the Minister made his announcement before Christmas, I raised some points as an initial response. Having had time to look at the amendments during the Christmas period, I want to reinforce those points. My view remains the same: there are issues that need to be addressed.
When he made his original statement, I raised the issue of time scale with the Minister. Many local authorities and organisations that want to invest in casinos have already waited a very long time. I was concerned before Christmas when he said that the time scale would be the end of 2006, and I remain concerned. When he considers the implementation of the proposals, I urge him to bring forward that time scale; I cannot accept that that would be impracticable. Surely the independent panel could be appointed within a couple of months of the enactment of this Bill and the appointment of the commission. It could set in train an investigation that would consider where the casinos should be located.
This morning there was some debate about the role of regional planning organisations and the time scale for the development of the regional spatial strategies. There is already a lot of information available at regional level in the regional development agencies and the regional planning organisations. I am sure that that information could be given quickly to the independent advisory panel when it is set up. I am not convinced, and I was not in December, that we need to wait for detailed regional spatial strategies to be produced.
Will my hon. Friend enlighten the Committee as to what expertise or tactics Blackpool will employ to get two of the 24 casinos? If the distribution is fair, there will be no chance whatsoever of Blackpool getting two casinos, although it wants them for its development. Furthermore, what would happen if the advisory panel decided that Blackpool should not have a casino?
My hon. Friend is challenging me, and I hope to rise to the challenge. I do not want to labour the time scale issue; we explored it this morning and I mentioned it during earlier discussions.
My second point, which has been made before by other Committee members and me, is about destination gambling. This morning I asked the Minister whether the criteria within which the panel will operate would be published. We need to consider those criteria. The Minister mentioned that regeneration potential would be key. When the panel considers a variety of different locations, it should seriously consider destinations, as outlined by Blackpool and other resorts. Such resorts have argued coherently on how to avoid a proliferation of problem gambling. If people have a destination to go to, rather than just walking down the street, they are planning on how they will gamble as part of their visit to a particular resort destination.
My local authority of Blackpool—I am responding here to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham—has been arguing for some time that in order properly to bring about the sort of large-scale regeneration needed, the critical mass of one casino may not be enough. I urge the Minister, when he gives guidance to the independent panel, to examine the possibility of a particular destination having not one, but two such licences. I am ever the optimist.
We have had that debate during the proceedings of the Committee as well. I fear that many of our colleagues would want transparency in any decision-making process, and would want to know why decisions were being made and why certain areas were allocated licences.
I fully support the hon. Lady's efforts for her constituency, which have been considerable. However, I put it to her that she would serve her constituents much better by voting against the Government's proposals today because, as the hon. Member for North Durham has just said, Blackpool could be specifically mentioned in the Bill and not just a prospect within its context. Surely she would be much better off using her position on the Labour Back Benches to vote against the Government to put pressure on them to give way on these important matters, rather than going along with what is being proposed, which may not suit them her constituents.
I am listening with fascination. Given that Blackpool council have made it clear that one regional casino would not be sufficient for redevelopment and regeneration of the town to be sustainable, and given that the Bill offers the prospect of only one regional casino in Blackpool, will she explain why she is supporting the Government?
Blackpool developed a masterplan that included more than one casino before the detail of the Bill was published and before my right hon. Friend the Minister's proposals. Its ideas were developed then and clearly it would wish to progress with them, but if one regional casino licence is on offer, I am sure that the local authority will grasp at that and get all the regeneration potential out of it that it can. It has the backing of a large number of people in the town, local businesses, the regional development agency and the like.
It is misleading to the Committee to say that Blackpool will have only one casino. It does not say that in the Bill; if the panel agreed to it, Blackpool could have all eight regional casinos. The Bill does not limit Blackpool to one—[Laughter.] That is as hypothetical as the question posed by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk).
I will sum up with the third point I wanted to make, which concerns the scenario testing time scales. I urge the Minister to consider when that time scale for testing will start, and how much would have already been developed on which he could make a reasonable decision. There is a concern that if the testing time scale starts as soon as the panel is set up and any decision is made, there may not be eight regional casinos developed within that time. There is always the danger that if after three years not all have been developed and the Government decide to allocate more regional casinos licences, some of the first wave could be disadvantaged and developers will go looking for what they might consider to be better localities to develop any second wave of regional casinos.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to look again to ensure that sufficiently robust information is available before any decisions are made. That links to my first point about the time scale for determining the areas and the location of the licences. The sooner that is done, the sooner local authorities and developers can start putting together their ideas and developing their proposals. It will allow the Government more time to carry out the essential testing that they will need to do when they examine the impact of the legislation.
The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and I have campaigned over a long period to enable the regeneration benefits to come to Blackpool and, indeed, other run-down resorts. I share the scepticism of her hon. Friend the Member for North Durham, who spoke so ably earlier on in this debate. I fear that if the regional panel decides, for example, that the Manchester City football ground proposal is better for the north-west, the words in the speech that she has just made may come back to haunt her. I hope that that does not happen.
I put the alternative to the hon. Gentleman, which he and his hon. Friends, as well as I put on Second Reading. If the process were left to the free market, Blackpool would not stand a chance against the large conurbations in which much of the American money wishes to invest, in particular. The current proposals are a real chance for Blackpool, and without them there would not be that chance.
I hope for Blackpool's sake that it ends up with at least one of the new regional casinos and some of the regeneration benefits, but I have considerable doubts about that, and about the hon. Lady's wisdom in supporting so strongly her Minister, when others who were originally so supportive of the proposals, such as the hon. Member for North Durham, have turned against them.
The Government have more or less achieved the unique position of uniting almost everybody in the industry against them. They started off with the good will of at least a part of the industry. Throughout the long history leading up to the Bill and the work of the scrutiny Committee, there was a broad consensus among most of the industry and the observers following the process, and there was then a barrage of negative publicity just before Second Reading; the huge, overhyped and hysterical campaign led by the Daily Mail. That provoked many people to write to Members of Parliament, and many Labour Back Benchers and the Government panicked.
The first panic was the massive U-turn over the regional casinos, which put under threat the opportunity many of us felt the new big casinos would have to regenerate not just Blackpool, but run-down resorts all round the country. Not content with that first U-turn, which was perhaps only too predictable a response from this Government in the face of the media campaign and the pressure put on Ministers by Back Benchers on Second Reading, the Government then decided to make a further U-turn by inserting a completely arbitrary limit on the small and large casinos. The U-turn upset the remaining parts of the industry that still supported them, and it seemed to me that nobody called for it. Labour Back Benchers did not, nor did the media. The media hysteria was about regional casinos, so it seemed extraordinary that the Government should make a first U-turn, followed by a further U-turn, which alienated the remaining parts of the industry that had been kept on side up to that point.
If we panicked and suggested eight regional casinos, why did the hon. Gentleman support four regional casinos? Was that not panic?
As the Minister knows, I have always been one of the most free-market people, although not as free market as the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who is safely ensconced in the States for this debate. After what he said about the Government's original U-turn, one can only imagine what he would say today, but I suspect that the savage criticisms made by the hon. Member for North Durham about his own Government would pale into insignificance if we had the hon. Member for West Ham with us. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire pointed out earlier, the hon. Member for West Ham had already accelerated past my hon. Friend and myself and was speaking to the Committee from the far right of politics, anticipating his enjoyment of his new position in retirement as a trenchant free marketeer.
The hon. Gentleman is right. I remember that. On the basis that those pertinent questions were asked and not answered, it is rather a shame that the hon. Member for West Ham is not with us to follow them up. A full-blown speech from him on the proposals would have been a sight to behold.
In addition to following up and agreeing with everything that the hon. Member for North Durham said, from all his experience in local government, I want to refer to the concerns of the British Casino Association. Other hon. Members may have received the same letter as me from Viscountess Cobham, the chairman of the British Casino Association. I thought that it was important to put those concerns on the record because my own experience of being shadow Minister with responsibility for gaming—on two occasions; once when it was the responsibility of the Home Office and now under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—means that I have had quite a lot of opportunities to study the industry and I agree with what Viscountess Cobham says.
Viscountess Cobham states:
''the concerns we raised in anticipation of the Government's announcement'' on 16 December
''are entirely overshadowed by the impact which the actual Statement of National Policy . . . is having, and will have, on our business. This is perhaps best underlined by the fact that within hours of the Minister making his Statement, over half a billion pounds was wiped off the value of Britain's leading four casino operators: and this for an industry widely regarded as the most socially responsible in the world.''
I am sure that the Minister is proud of his ability to cost British industry more than £500 million within hours. It must be one of the most staggering achievements of the Government's seven and half years in office. However, the chairman of the British Casino Association points out that, in her view—and indeed in mine—
''the provisions of New Clause 20, and associated New Clauses, are . . . unnecessary and . . . ill-considered.''
Viscountess Cobham says:
''We are deeply alarmed that this policy, announced during the penultimate sitting of a Standing Committee and without any consultation with the British industry, cuts from under us the ability to maintain our existing estate and make future investments.''
She says that the regulatory regime that the Government propose to create
''is more restrictive for current casinos than the Act'' that the Government originally said that they were going to liberalise and modernise. She continues:
''In essence, the 134 casinos currently operating in the UK will be frozen in time, and denied both the ability to evolve and the opportunity to provide customers with the leisure facilities which new entrants will be encouraged to provide at other venues around the UK.
Not only will the New Clauses have a devastating effect on British industry, but they contain within them contradictions and imperfections which . . . will result in bad law and do not achieve the Government's stated aim of creating a gradual and controlled expansion of the industry with consequential regenerative benefits.
Regardless of the Minister's protestations, this policy has evolved with undue haste, in a vacuum, and in no way reflects the deliberations of four years of consultation and two Joint Scrutiny Committee reports. It introduces more uncertainty into a market already reeling from numerous policy changes and, in our view, fails to take into account the very real concerns the industry has sought to convey to Government.''
I could not agree more. The Government have cut the ground from under the feet of the existing industry. It is extraordinary that they have done that at the last minute without consulting the industry in any way. Under normal circumstances, I would be tempted to call a division on new clause 20 and vote against it. However, because my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford and the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) have said that both Opposition parties wish to introduce specific amendments on Report, because I do not wish to constrain the House's opportunity to consider the matter fully and vote on it and because, if I called a division, that opportunity might be constrained on Report, I will not call a division. For the reasons set out and articulated by Viscountess Cobham and by the hon. Member for North Durham I was tempted to do so.
The fact that the Minister has managed to create a situation in which one of his—until now—most loyal Back Benchers, who started his contribution today by saying that he came to the Committee as a supporter of the Bill and who is knowledgeable about local government, has been turned into a bitter opponent of what the Government are doing, is yet another reinforcement of what a bad job the Government have done and how badly they have mismanaged the issue.
You will recall, Mr. Gale, as will the Committee, that on 16 December we had the most extraordinary situation, the like of which I have not experienced in 28 years in the House. We adjourned so that the Minister could slide in a statement to try to put some flesh on the panic-ridden statements of the Secretary of State when she moved the Bill on Second Reading.
At the time, my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford rightly commented:
''Today, the Minister has announced major changes to the Bill—changes that alter completely the whole thrust of the Bill.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 December 2004; c.622.]
I say amen to that. What my hon. Friend did not say, because he did not know at the time, was that that statement has plunged the industry into chaos, confusion and anger. What I knew at the time was that the statement completely wiped out great chunks of the work of the scrutiny Committee. We have wasted our time due to the carelessness of the Government, who did not come forward with policies and a Bill that could be properly examined.
We have eight, eight, eight. I want to deal briefly with the second and the third eights. If we had known that that was the Government's wish, we would have taken evidence on the matter. We would have examined it and come up with a recommendation. But, no. Out of the blue, the Government have panicked and come forward with what I consider to be an unworkable arrangement. I had hoped that during the Christmas period a bit of sanity would have emerged. I would have understood the reasoning behind the Minister's statement, but I regret that the only advantage of eight, eight, eight that I can see is that it includes a degree of alliteration that might make it easier to remember.
Prior to that 16 December statement, it already seemed to me that the regulations and changes in the Bill would control the numbers of those smaller casinos. The Government were not going to allow an unbridled expansion. It seemed to me that the Bill was already doing the job that the Minister wants to achieve. However, as I said, that was swept to one side on 16 December.
I am not going to repeat the comments made about the amount swept off the stock exchange. I made those comments before the House sat for the day. The Minister would not give way for me to make those comments, but I hope that they were recorded in Hansard. The Minister feels that wiping £500 million off share prices does not matter too much. His attitude is, ''It's only share value.'' However, anybody who runs a business knows that the value and assets of the shares are an important component in raising finance for expansion, growth and development.
If millions of pounds are wiped off the shares, that damages businesses, just as the Chancellor has damaged so many pension companies by taking money out of advance payments on dividends. However, no doubt the Government will eventually learn about the requirements of industry and commerce.
I can only repeat that this statement seems to have been made without consultation with the industry after four years and two scrutiny committees. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, it comes in at clause 310 out of a total of 337, not quite one minute to midnight, but very nearly. If anybody is proud to think that this is how a Bill should be operated and run, they have another think coming. If anybody has any doubts about the value of the House of Lords as a revising Chamber, this statement at this late stage must have swept them away. A second Chamber is absolutely necessary to put right these diabolical mistakes.
However, I want to give praise where praise is due. I value the announcement of a figure of eight for the super-casinos for appraisal. I did not agree with the laissez-faire, open-market approach adopted by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport until she was frightened into submission by her Back Benchers, the media and the press. I am glad that the hon. Member for West Ham is not here, because he would be leaping to his feet and shooting me down, believing that the original position should have been maintained. The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) is not here, but I can guarantee that he will be given many a trip over a long distance whenever a Committee comes up again in future.
Why do we need a number of super-casinos for appraisal? It is because we want to see that they are properly run. Because they are new to this country—a new phenomenon—we want to ensure that they will give fair play, protect the vulnerable, be crime-free and, obviously, protect children. Therefore, I value that and want to see it, but I cannot see why we go down this route.
As a member of the scrutiny Committee, I turn back to what it said to the Government. It said:
'''While we acknowledge the Government's reluctance to publish national guidance relating specifically to regional/leisure destination casinos, we believe that it could help to ensure a consistent approach between regional authorities and avoid the need for applications to be called in for determination by the First Secretary of State.''
The First Secretary of State, or his representative, made it clear, in giving evidence to the Committee, that he did not want to be involved; he wanted his position and office to be apart from the process. He wanted the proceedings to take place without constant reference up to his Department. With things as they were, we could not see how that could be achieved. Therefore, as I see it, this advisory panel will lend cohesion to that planning process. However, at some stage those recommendations will require the ministerial nod, which is completely at odds with what the scrutiny Committee was told.
I shall not go through new clause 20 in detail, but one part states:
If the Secretary of State is to consult Scotland and Wales, why not consult, for example, the northern or north-west regions? Are not those regions, as well as Scotland and Wales, worthy of consultation? I delicately point out that there are considerably more people in some of the regions than in some other parts of the country. Once again, we are not treating everybody on an equal basis.
Of course, that is separate from the planning confusion that has been ably outlined and illustrated by the hon. Member for North Durham. All I can say to him, as a slight aside, is that he is adopting a high-risk strategy. When I worked on the shop floor, there were two routes for troublemakers; they were sacked or made foremen. I am not sure what will happen to him, but I hope that the Government Whip writes a suitable note to the powers that be to get him promoted rather than sacked. He is a person who can go far, particularly considering that we are in a room where one can still see the blood on the carpet from last night.
I wish to return to large and small casinos. I do not understand why they are being treated in this fashion. Have they failed in any way? Have they been dishonest? Have they corrupted children? Have they taken advantage of the vulnerable? Have they become a source of crime? If they have, I would like to know, and then I would see some justification for the second and third eight. However, we have no evidence that they have done any of those things. The figures seems to be arbitrary—plucked out of the air—and I do not believe that anyone has worked it through. I am absolutely certain that if the scrutiny Committee had considered it, it would have come up with a completely different recommendation.
If the new clause reaches the statute book unamended, the plain fact is that it will damage the 130-plus casinos that are already in this country. As I said, to the best of my knowledge, those casinos have operated fairly, in a crime-free way, and do not deserve to be discriminated against in this fashion. I shall not labour the point any more, as my hon. Friends have already made it. I endorse what has been said. I sincerely hope that we will not vote against the new clause at this stage but that the Government will see sense, actually carry out some consultation—that may be to their advantage—and table amendments on Report that will rectify at least some of the damage that has been done.
When the Government set out on their Gambling Bill, the talk was about 20 to 40 mega-casinos. We are told that the Government listened to opposition and concerns and reduced the number to eight. Would the Minister give an assurance in his summing up that no representations were made by American backers to introduce a Trojan horse amendment whereby we would suddenly have two more categories of eight casinos? Can he also give an assurance that those two other categories of eight casinos will not, at some stage, magically evolve into mega-casinos because of the fact that they have already been established? It is quite simple. He can either give a straight answer and say, ''No, that is not the case'', or he has to explain to this gathering and the wider public where these two other categories of eight came from. Why are they there?
Finally, can we please have a list of all the existing casinos before we get to Report? I find it quite extraordinary that the Minister is unable to say how many casinos there are in this country. I would have thought it quite a simple thing to have a list but, throughout the 20 sittings we have had, we have had various numbers given.
I begin by apologising for being absent during the Minister's proposal of the new clauses. Under the Government's original timetable, of course, we were expecting to be on Report today. On that basis, I agreed to speak at a conference on gambling, so I had to go and explain to the great outdoors just what a mess was being made of the Bill in Committee. I said, ''I had better rush back to make sure it does not go further off the rails''. I apologise for not being here to listen to what the Minister had to say, but I suspect that what he said this morning was not a great deal different from what he gave us on 16 December, when he produced the casino ''Statement of National Policy''.
I do not want to rehearse the speech that I made then, tempting though that it is. A number of points have already been made today, and I want to focus on what I consider to be some critical issues. The first is the choice of the triple eight lock. That is the new buzzword.
I do not have any bugging devices in their organisations and I am not a fly on the wall, but if I was one of those investors I would be saying ''Look, we have been in discussions with you''—i.e. the Government or the special advisors to the Government—''for one, two or three years''. Perhaps it was after the Budd report that people suddenly thought, ''Now there is an opportunity for major investment in the United Kingdom''. And they would be saying, perhaps, ''We have been entertaining your special advisors, flying them to and from Las Vegas, for years now. We have invested heavily in market research in this country. It shows us that the potential is x, y and z. The figures of 20 to 30 fit in with our overall projections of where we might be. And you, the Government''—perhaps not the Minister himself, but filtered through the usual channels—''have now said to us that we are competing with existing industry in the UK for just eight. You have got to be joking,'' is what they would be saying.
That is totally irrelevant. We tabled an amendment for four for different reasons. I am talking about the negotiations between the Government and their advisers, and those in the industry who are going to invest in these 20 or 30 casinos. [Interruption.] If the Minister would just listen to me, he would see that I am developing this in a particular way.
They have now said, ''You have got to be joking. You are restricting us to eight. We have put all this money in. We have been given all these promises and assurances. Do you realise that if you restrict regionals to eight, then we are going to face severe competition from money going to large and small, particularly large casinos? If there is no cap on those, you are going to undermine our investment. So we would like you to put a cap on them, so that our investment, in the initial phases, is protected on the flanks.'' What better figure to come up with—
The Minister has got it in one. That is why it is eight. There are eight of both because if there are eight small ones, there might as well be eight large ones.
That question has not been answered as yet. The Minister has not jumped up to say that I was not here when he answered it. The Government must justify why they have plucked these figures from the air. Frankly, if I were an investor looking at the new scenario, I do not think that I would bother to invest in a small casino.
Fine, says the Minister. He does not want eight small casinos anyway, so why not say zero for small casinos if that is the Government's attitude? People will not invest in small casinos under the current regulations in the Bill.
The Minister's notes state that the gambling commission can carry out an assessment of the so-called test. Let us look at that test for a moment. The Government are saying that its purpose is to test the new casinos in different locations and environments and to assess the social implications and effects. However, there is nothing new in the new large and small casinos. They will have only category B machines, which are currently in existing casinos. There will be no category A machines to test in large and small casinos, so where is the test model? The test could be done in the 10 existing casinos. Why are they banned from the test? What is the point of a test to look at the impact when 136 potential test sites are being removed at a stroke? There is no logic in any of that.
After three years, the gambling commission will come along and say that three or four casinos have been built and ask whether it can make assessments on those. Will the Government say that until all 24 are built and assessed there can be no movement for the future? That is not clear. Under the Government's timetable, which my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford spoke about in depth, they are not setting up the panel until 2006—
That is what the Minister's report says. It says not before 2006. That is when the panel will start its work and that must feed through all the paraphernalia of procedures and steps which the hon. Member for North Durham rightly highlighted. It will be years before the first casino is built. We are looking at 2008 or 2009 for the first one. There will not be a huge rush to build them. From 2009-10 it will be 2013-15 before the gambling commission comes along to make an assessment. We want a cautious approach, but that is ridiculous. No one with money to invest will consider such a time scale. They will use their money for other things. If the Government want regeneration, and they say that they do—that is a key factor in making these decisions—they have to talk to and listen to the people who want to make the investment.
Another scenario is that, in the 12 months before the Bill becomes law, there might be an explosion of people trying to get into the casino game. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, one organisation is turning an amusement arcade into a small casino. It got planning permission to do so late last week. Could there be an explosion in similar applications prior to the Bill becoming law? That would defeat the object of the Bill, which is to try to limit the numbers.
That is possible under current planning arrangements. The Government have promised that they will block that from happening—although not under this legislation—by means of the land-use category. At the moment, as I understand it, there could be sideways movement from leisure complexes into casinos. If the Government do not want such proliferation, they had better move quickly.
If the Government want the Bill as it is currently written, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, they will not get support from us. I doubt that the Bill as drafted will get through the Lords. The Government have to start listening to people, particularly on casinos, and they have to come to a practical and pragmatic outcome to which the industry can sign up.
The industry signed up to the scrutiny Committee. It is four years since Budd, the industry has given evidence to the scrutiny Committee and there has been a second report, which balanced out the aspirations of the various entities involved. Let us not forget that, in order to ensure a reasonably level playing field, the last scrutiny Committee report recommended considering allowing category A machines in large and small casinos, and recommended ''a proportion'' be allowed to do so. That is in paragraph 47; I looked it up over lunch. That is what the industry thought would happen. Suddenly, there was the first U-turn. The Government said, ''No, we are not having that. All category As will go into the mega-casinos—up to 1,250 of them.'' At a stroke, existing industry was discriminated against, and that discrimination has continued.
The hon. Gentleman is obviously well briefed and well informed on the subject. Would he like to suggest why the Government have ignored all that advice and gone down the route that they have taken?
I will give the Minister time in a minute. He need not panic; I am nearly there.The Government set great store by the fact that they listened carefully to the opposition that came from their Back Benchers on Second Reading and subsequently. Before Christmas, the hon. Member for North Durham told us that he held a quick consultation in the Tea Room with those Labour Members whom he thought were against the proliferation of regional casinos on Second Reading. According to his straw poll, none showed any opposition to large and small casinos developing as everyone expected them to. He said today that he did not think Labour Back Benchers had any idea of the fact that eight, eight and eight had been proposed, let alone had a view on it.
I throw this gauntlet down to the Government; if the reason for the proposal is genuinely opposition from Labour Back Benchers, why do the Government not write to them tomorrow? They should put the proposals to them and ask them to say whether they are in favour of the cap on large and small casinos, or whether they are not fussed about it. The Government will not do that, of course, because they know that the answer would be, ''What's the problem?''. There is no great tidal wave of opposition to large and small casinos developing as the scrutiny Committee and the industry expected.
If the Government really want to test all the proposals under the new legislation, why not have a proper test? Why not include the existing industry, rather than ignore it? Why not have category A machines distributed around the system? If that is a problem for the Government, they should come up with a sensible cap. If few small casinos will be built under the present arrangements, it is pointless to nominate eight, because the investment will not be made in the initial phase.
The Minister admitted today that under the proposals that we are discussing all eight of the regional, all eight of the small and all eight of the large casinos could be located in the same region. I cannot believe that they will be, but there is no built-in geographical distribution. The statement on national policy says, loosely, that the panel will be set up to consider the geographical spread of locations throughout Britain and that it is supposed to consider a good range of types of location. However, in the same breath as it mentions locations, it also mentions areas: which is it to be? There is a difference between an area and a location. If those are the same, the statement should use the same word. The job given to the panel is difficult and, without proper guidelines, almost impossible. Why set up an intermediary? The Government could easily do the job. There are only 24 locations for three types of casino—it is not rocket science, for goodness sake. Why set up an expensive panel that will take time to deliberate, and even when it has done so who is to believe that it has found the right results?
We will not oppose the clause. There is little point in doing so, because we will lose the vote. The debate has been good and has strongly questioned the Government's proposed solution to their difficulties. We will table amendments on Report and continue to argue for a level playing field and a sensible, pragmatic, easy way forward, rather than the over-complicated mish-mash before us.
How many Committee members have asked in this debate, ''Where is the consultation with the industry?'' Consultation ceased at the end of the scrutiny Committee's second report, since when there has been no consultation or discussion with the industry in this country. It is no surprise to me that the Government have got themselves into a mess; they have not consulted. If they cannot carry the industry with them, they should not expect to carry Members of the other place, because they will not sign off bad legislation.
Miss Kirkbride rose—
I am grateful to you for your calling me to speak, Mr. Gale. I did not realise that the Committee would sit for as long as it has done and I had to pop out for an engagement, for which I apologise.
I wish to put on the record my opposition to the Government's proposals. It was obvious when we started that the Government had got it wrong in wanting a free market. They listened to the House, for which they should be congratulated, but in doing that and seeking to fix the problem as they have, it was inevitable that they would end up facing the chorus of opposition that they have heard today. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) that it would be difficult for the Government to get the Bill through the House given the level of opposition that they are encountering, even from their own Back Benchers. It is certainly unfair to the domestic industry at present, and it is hard to understand why the Government wish to disadvantage the domestic industry by creating 24 new casinos with so much more marketing power available to them when there seems to be no good reason for so doing.
The issue before the House is regional casinos and the different type of gaming that they will introduce. Why the Government have sought to make life even more complicated with a further 16 casinos, large and small, is beyond me. I very much fear the Government will do what they planned to do all along, which is to delay proceedings at this point by saying that they will look at what has happened in the light of experience three years down the road. We are not sure when the three years start. Do they start at the point at which planning permission is given, or when the casinos are built? We do not know how many casinos have to be built before the Government will ask the relevant committee to investigate whether they have been a success and whether they should be allowed to extend. As I said earlier, I smell a rat. Action will be taken as quickly as possible on the basis of as little evidence as possible and the conclusion will be that we should have as many as possible and, in that way, the Government will get to where they started from in the first place. Whatever reassurances the Minister gives now, we do not know when that moment will come. As we all know from our experience of previous Ministers, promises are not worth the paper they are written on, as they will be written in Hansard. I fear that we will end up where we always thought we would end up.
In trying to fix matters by creating amorphous committees that will decide matters on our behalf, as opposed to doing what the hon. Member for North Durham suggested and making a ministerial decision about where the regional casinos will be sited, the Government have got into even more trouble than even they could have envisaged. It is hard to see what criteria will be used when deciding the location of the regional casinos. Many parts of our wonderful nation are crying out for regeneration, so who will decide which area will receive the precious eight? On what criteria will that decision be based? Destination? Will it be decided on the basis of the more people who can get there within 20 minutes, the merrier? Bearing in mind the different views that are held in this Committee, it seems utterly impossible that another committee whose members are not even elected can decide competing and irreconcilable interests. That is the politics of a mad house—but, there we are; we have a Labour Government.
I cannot begin to imagine what sort of the mess the Government will get into. Let us consider the eight regional casinos that will be allowed to proceed. We can assume that, because politics enters the frame—politics enters into everything, whether we like it or not—Scotland and Wales will get one each. That is two down, six to go. We assume, but do not know for sure, that Blackpool will have one because it has been so noisy about it. However, if that happens, it will really infuriate other centres in the north-west that consider that they should have a casino. In the north-west, football clubs, Liverpool and parts of Manchester will be beside themselves if they think that they will not get a look in, so there is a question mark over whether Blackpool will receive a casino. The word is that London will have one—it is the capital, there is tourism to consider, and anyway the business plans have already been predicated on the basis that it will get a casino because that is how the taxpayers will be repaid for the vast sums that have been lavished on Wembley and the dome for no good purpose.
That leaves three centres. I presume that my own area—the midlands—will have a casino, because it would be impolitic not to give it one. Therefore, there will be a big bust-up between Birmingham and Coventry, both of which already have plans afoot. The Minister's area will be exciting, because Sheffield has an all-singing, all-dancing plan on the table, ready to go ahead.
It has plans for three casinos, and they all have wonderful criteria attached to them. However, if Sheffield gets one, Leeds, York racecourse and the entire north-east will be upset. Where does the other one go?
The hon. Gentleman is right; if we want regional balance, the south-west must have some of the spoils, but if Bristol got a casino the whole of the west country would be terribly upset. I do not see how any committee will be able to make such decisions in a reasonably civilised fashion.
There is another interesting prospect. The committee might say not just that a particular local authority wants a casino, but that it wants it to be on site X, or that it wants to give it to a certain football club or a certain person. In other words, it might say that it is interested not in any old high street location, but in other sites, some of which are already being earmarked for this kind of development. It is therefore possible that neither Blackpool nor Manchester will get the casino in the north-west, because the favoured site somewhere in the Wirral. We may end up with the peculiarity of the council for Trafford or somewhere else like that getting the licence based on criteria of regeneration and social need—even though it does not immediately appear to fit into that category—because for the committee and Ministers to get the site that they really want, it has to be given to the Trafford local authority, which will then choose a particular football ground so that the plan as desired can proceed.
We will end up with no real criteria being attached, other than what should have been attached to it in the first place; it will be ministerial decision making, to put it at its most acute. That is extraordinary. The Minister says, ''Well, the local authorities will be in control,'' but that is for the birds. If one of the big football clubs thinks that it is going to get a casino and its local authority has been given the permission to go ahead with one of them, do we really think that that authority will be able to face down local opinion and not give it to the popular national football club and give permission instead to some poxy little whatever—I do not want to mention any names because it might be held against me. It is simply not credible that it will give it to some other location that is not seen to be as desirable when a big national football club in its patch wants it. That is nonsense.
It seems a long time since I made a statement at the beginning of this debate. However, the discussion has demonstrated the best of our oppositional political system. It has ranged right across the political spectrum from the views of those in favour of the free market to those of Members who want the greatest control, and from expressions of support for the industry to expressions of real concern about problem gambling. That is what political opposition is about. I will now try to state the Government's position, because we have the responsibility for putting these measures on the statute book.
There are more than 300 clauses in the Bill, 90 per cent. of which is now broadly accepted and thought to be good. I am thinking about the gambling commission and the response to remote and electronic gambling, for example. All Committee members know that it is important for the gambling uses of new technologies to be governed properly so that we can ensure that our young people are not put at risk via the television set. Today, we have been debating the remaining 10 per cent.
Both main Opposition parties have said that they broadly agree that eight regional casinos is about right. We are now down to the question of the numbers and where we locate large and small casinos. The question now centres on the 136 existing casinos in the industry—I shall try to ensure that we get a definitive figure for the hon. Member for Colchester—and the role that they play. We are now down to the contentious part of the Bill, which relates to where the large and small casinos are going to go and how many there will be.
Mr. Whittingdale rose—
I shall give way on this occasion, but I would like to finish by 5.30 pm and we have about three more clauses to go.
I correct the Minister on one point. He says there is only one point of difference between us, but there is one other very big disagreement. A large lobby, which we strongly support, is coming to Parliament tomorrow to discuss seaside arcades. There is not only one area of difference between us.
I agree: we also differ on the issue of the seaside arcades, so there are two areas of disagreement.
We try to ensure that all the information is sent to all Committee members and the House. On 20 December, we circulated the amendments and the Chairman agreed that amendments could be tabled to those amendments or new clauses, if necessary. Three weeks have passed, and there have been no amendments or new clauses even though there has been criticism. We also printed the amendments that we intended to introduce on Report, which the Committee has not been able to debate because debate on the relevant clauses had already ended. We printed them to ensure that Committee members and those in the industry could examine them. Therefore, if someone wanted to lobby for further amendments on the new clauses, or introduce their own new clauses, they could have done so. None did.
I think that the Chairman said that there would be the opportunity to table amendments and new clauses relating to those amendments, as long as they were produced before recess. Whether people took the opportunity to do that was entirely up to them. Because of the ferocity of opposition I want to put it on the record that the amendments were tabled before the recess. If Committee members wanted to add amendments or new clauses, that option was available to them. I do not have the power to make that ruling; it was the ruling of the Chairman.
I shall try to answer some of the questions asked during the debate. We have come down to a difference on the matter of large and small casinos.
I do not think that the Minister will want to leave the Committee with an incorrect impression. The amendments that we received were printed on 20 December, which, I recall, was the day the House rose. As I understand it, that meant Members had 24 hours while the House was sitting to table any reply. Is that correct?
It is correct that there were 24 hours. That did not deny Members the right to submit amendments. I do not know whether you want to offer guidance on the matter, Mr. Gale, but we said that we would get the amendments out before the recess, and it was announced from the Chair that if Committee members wanted to add amendments or new clauses, they would be accepted. Do you want to comment on that, Mr. Gale?
On a point of order, Mr. Gale. Your clarification is helpful, but I am concerned by the Minister's seeming to imply that there was sufficient time for Members. I would appreciate your guidance, as I am sure that you will understand that 24 hours is not the normal or conventional period in which members of a Committee are allowed to table amendments or comment on legislation newly presented to them.
I thank you for that explanation, Mr. Gale, because we were genuinely trying to be as helpful as we could to members of the Committee. Obviously the opportunity was not taken and hon. Members know the reasons why.
The idea that the 136 casinos in this country are the same as the new small and large casinos is way off the mark. The explanation for eight, eight, eight is that we want to test the new arrangements with the three types of new casino. With the figure set at eight for regional casinos, as I stated in my earlier announcement to the Committee, we needed to place controls and consider how to stop proliferation. The hon. Member for Bath acknowledges that there had to be controls. There may be arguments about whether they are the right controls, but there is an understanding that once the number of regional casinos was capped at eight, there was, by definition, an unmet demand, which if left to market forces would result in proliferation—the very thing that the House clearly told us on Second Reading it did not want. All the evidence and professional advice we received was that we would have to intervene on both the large and the small casinos. That is what we have done. It is proportionate to test the new arrangements on regional, large and small casinos and then return via the gambling commission to inform Parliament and the public whether further casinos should be developed.
On Second Reading, concern was voiced about the proliferation of small and large casinos, although the debate coalesced around regional casinos. I spelled out the criteria for the selection of areas: the geographical spread, the spread of the types of location to test the effects of regional casinos, and the suitability for regeneration. It is clear that if we do not intervene and leave the matter to market forces, we will not get the spread of locations across the UK that we want.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford raised the question of the time scale. If the Bill is enacted and the gambling commission is set up in the autumn, there is no reason why the panel determining the location of the 24 new casinos cannot be set up in parallel. There ought, however, to be consultation with the regional development agency about economic and spatial planning matters. We have been advised by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that the spatial planning will come to fruition in 2006. I have worded the measure so that the panel can take advice on spatial planning, but if the panel believed that there was enough evidence to submit its considered view to the Secretary of State, there would be no reason why its view could not be submitted in early 2006. The only restriction on submitting a view to the Secretary of State is the importance of considering spatial planning as well as the role of the regional development agency when determining the location. It will be an informed decision in order to achieve the objectives laid down.
On the timetable, as long as the gambling commission is set up there is no reason why the panel could not be set up. It could start its work and advise the Secretary of State at the earliest opportunity, which, as I say, could be early in 2006.
The Minister is setting out some thoughts. As was alluded to at the beginning of this debate, in the east of England the plan may go to a planning inquiry this autumn. Will the Minister confirm that if, for example, the panel suggested that a casino was very important to Cambridge or Great Yarmouth, the spatial study would need to be adjusted accordingly?
That would be the case, and that would have to be done by the ODPM. I am informed by the ODPM that the vast majority of spatial planning will come in 2006, and that is the limiting factor on timing that we are cautious about.
I turn to the feared explosion of casinos before the Act comes into force. The 53 permitted areas under the 1968 Act are still in force and will remain so until the Bill is enacted. That explosion could not happen because the constraints of the permitted areas will go only when the Bill goes on the statute book.
I accept that the permitted areas are in place, but that fact does not put a cap on the number of casinos in those permitted areas. There could be growth or a transfer. For example, last week in Newcastle what had been a slot machine arcade was turned into a small casino.
There is the demand test. I do not know about that specific case, but under the 1968 Act there are not only permitted areas, but a demand test. Those are clearly laid down. Controlling the potential explosion to which my hon. Friend referred was clearly uppermost in the minds of those who put the 1968 Act on the statute book. That is why the Act includes those permitted areas and that demand test.
The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford mentioned problem gambling. All types of casinos present a risk of problem gambling; that has been clearly acknowledged. Through the eight, eight, eight and through not allowing the 136 to have the same facilities, we are trying to create a situation in which we can test the question of problem gambling and other things. It is not true that restrictions on existing casinos will be lifted. They will be restricted by the 24-hour rule and their advertising will be restricted.
Problem gambling has been uppermost in the House's mind and in our approach to the issues. The House has said clearly to the Government that it wants to ensure that the Government and Parliament control the development of casinos, which should not be left to market forces nor to the vagaries of the planning regime, whose interpretations can be very vague. The House was asking us to bring things forward and that is what we have done with the eight, eight, eight. We have responded positively to what the House said to us on Second Reading.
I answered my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood on the question of the timetable. I hope that that has reassured her that it could be sooner rather than later and that there is no need to go right to the end of 2006.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham asked about speculative planning applications. Anyone can apply for planning permission at any time for anything, but it is up to the local planning authority to grant it. Such applications would make no difference to the casino premises licence competition. As I said, the integrity of planning has been kept. We brought in the premises licence to keep the integrity of the planning regime as it is, and because the licence is a mechanism that we believe will deliver economic gain in regeneration and other areas. There will be three licences. There will be the fit and proper person provision and integrity through the gambling commission licence, planning provisions under section 106 and the premises licence, which we believe will give local authorities all the levers that they need to exploit that to the maximum.
Perhaps the Minister might like to outline once again the sequence of events that will take place in the competition. My concern continues to be the interrelationship between the premises licence and the planning application.
As I understand it, there has to be an operating licence first. One then goes to an area that the advisory panel, with the agreement of the Secretary of State, has designated as a local authority area—for example, that could be Bath and North East Somerset. The Minister has said:
''One area could probably have three or four operators applying.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 December 2004; c 670.]
That is what he expects to happen.
The Minister told us that immediately after that has happened there would be the competition for the premises licence. That licence would not be given until the end of the process—after a planning application has been agreed. Nevertheless, does that not mean that all three or four applicants would have to go through the planning application process before they could even be considered in the competition for the premises licence? As the Minister will be aware, the licence requirements for a premises licence in clause 143(1)(g) include
''a plan of the premises''.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the sequence of events. In terms of the—[Interruption.] The way I receive my pieces of paper depends on who is in the Chair, Mr. Gale.
The licence is obtained from the gambling commission, which is fit and proper. It could well be that in a planning area—as occurs in some areas already—outline planning permission is given on three different sites, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham said, an application has been made.
It might well rest on a judgment as to how the premises licence can be made to extract more regeneration gain or development in that area. That will be a judgment for the local authority. We are giving it the power to do that in terms of both planning and the premises licence. There will be a provisional statement on the premises licence, which is what I said before, and that becomes operable when everything has been completed; the whole project is given the full premises licence. That is the lever that a local authority has to ensure that the applicant delivers.
We all know that in some cases planning permission is given for seven years and somebody never builds. I have clearly said that the statement will indicate that an applicant will have to deliver within a time span. If they do not, they will be in breach of that settlement in terms of the premises licence. There is a lock on that so that someone cannot sterilise a situation by getting planning permission—that happens now. On many occasions a situation goes on for years and there is nothing to compel an applicant. That would be done on the interim statement on the premises licence and that becomes operational when everything has been completed.
I appreciate what the Minister is trying to achieve. If we were in the ideal world that he portrays, we would perhaps get to where we want to be. However, I must disappoint him, because in the real world it will not happen that way. Developers who do not need to be operators will apply for planning permission.
What has been assumed in what has been put forward is that the operators will necessarily be applying for planning permission—they will not. If an application comes forward for planning permission for a site and a local authority turns it down on the basis that the developer has not got an operating licence, that will not stack up in planning law. The applicant will appeal and they will get permission. Once that permission is granted, what is to stop that developer having a development of a casino on that site—as long as it attracts someone who has an operating licence? Therefore, the idea that somehow the two are linked together is taken away. What is being put forward will not work.
It will work just as I have put it forward, because such an applicant will not get the provisional statement on the premises licence.
It does not matter about the actual premises licence. If I am a property developer who has no connection with the casino industry but who wants to apply for planning permission on his site, I can do that. If it is in the area designated for the casino development, I will do that. I will get the planning permission. I cannot be refused planning permission on the grounds that I do not have an operating licence, so I am locked into it. Therefore, I am sure that the ideal world that the Minister is describing will not exist.
But the developer then cannot open the casino. They will have a casino that they cannot open, if they do not have an operating licence from the commission. They may have planning permission and then invite an operator to come in. They must have an operator who has a licence, or they cannot open the casino.
If a local authority grants three planning permissions in an area, it must first make sure that those sites get a value that will not lead to competition between them for the developers who want to make a lot of money. Secondly, the developers can go to operators who have licences and say, ''Come here and we'll sell you this''.
Yes, that operator has a licence from the gambling commission. They must then go to the local authority, and perhaps to a site that already has planning permission for a casino, but they can operate that casino only if they get the premises licensed. They only way in which they can get licensed premises off that local authority is, in the first instance, by a provisional statement, which will give the local authority the power to negotiate with the person who has the operating licence from the gambling commission. Yes, it might be a site that already has planning permission: it might be a joint venture with a property developer. That will already have been dealt with by the local authority under section 106 and all that goes with it, but the casino cannot open until the operator complies with the statement on the premises licence and the premises licence is given. Only then can the casino become operational; until then it is sterile.
Therefore, the local authority is in the driving seat, because it gives the developer planning permission for a casino. The operator, who has an operating licence from the gambling commission as a fit and proper person, may come along and say, ''Thank you, developer. I will get into bed with you. I want to build my casino there.'' The local authority says, ''Thank you very much. We now have a settlement in terms of a premises licence.'' That will then trigger the opening of the casino and will deliver the regeneration sought by the local authority.
That is the simple process that will take place. It puts the local authority clearly in the driving seat, whether the planning permission goes to the developer or the operator, or the operator comes in and gets a premises licence.
Does the Minister not think, in the model that he has just outlined, that a local authority could be tempted to grant planning on various sites, because the more planning permissions it gives, the more people are in the competition, so presumably they can use that to ratchet up the section 106 payments?
That will be a decision for the local authority to make. We have made that clear. People ask how the local authorities will get regeneration. Some have argued that they will not get the type of regeneration that they want. Local authorities will be very much in the driving seat to drive up regeneration.
I repeat that the eight, eight, eight arrangement is to test social responsibility and its effect on our social fabric. The rest of it is secondary in terms of regeneration and the like. We have made that perfectly clear.
I think that I have answered most of the questions, because I answered many of them in my statement earlier this morning. I have tried to answer all the questions that were raised.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
Before I ask the Clerk to call the next new clause, I should say that it is abundantly plain, as I am sure the Committee will accept, that many of the issues arising from new clause 21 were discussed in the previous debate. It seemed intelligent to allow that debate to run, but I do not wish those arguments to be repeated in the debate on new clause 21.