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12.5 pm

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): I expect that you will be familiar, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with Sellar and Yeatman's "1066 and All That", in which they divide the participants in the English civil war into:

In writing in that way, the authors were not judging who was right and who was wrong in the English civil war—a subject that I shall not discuss now, because I would rightly be ruled out of order—but highlighting certain attitudes and temperaments.

So far as alcohol consumption, cigarette consumption, the legalisation of illegal drugs and gambling are concerned, people tend to divide pretty neatly into cavaliers and roundheads. The roundheads tend to argue that alcohol duties should be hiked, cigarette advertising banned completely, smoking banned in public, a war on drugs prosecuted vigorously, and all gambling curtailed. The cavaliers tend to argue that alcohol duties should be slashed, cigarette advertisement warnings removed altogether, all drugs legalised—whether hard or not—and a category A slot machine placed in every pub.

In the briefings for this debate, the roundheads tended to argue, as Gamblers Anonymous does, the severe view that gambling is a form of mental disorder, and that it is a particular danger to children—a point with which I have some sympathy. Naturally, the cavaliers tended to maintain that, in a free society, everyone should be free to do as they please, without excessive state interference. If I have to come down on a particular side on these matters, I would prefer to be "Wrong but Wromantic", rather than "Right but Repulsive". The conclusion that I draw from the Budd report and the Government's White Paper is that they, too, come down on that side.

The nonconformist culture out of which disapproval of gambling came—the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) mentioned it in the context of his childhood experiences—has more than begun to die out, and we now have a different kind of culture. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, the Government are broadly right to concentrate on loosening restrictions in premises that exist largely for the purposes of gambling, and to be wary of further liberalisation in premises that do not exist primarily for that purpose.

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The presumption behind the Government's approach—it is one that the Opposition share—seems to be that the state should tolerate, and even encourage, gambling up to a certain point, perhaps because it can help to educate people about finding the right balance between risk and safety. Some risk is good—that is why Ministers and Opposition spokesmen and women often refer to risk takers in an approving way. If exercised moderately, gambling can help to educate people about risk. If I go to Newmarket, see that there is a horse in the 3.15 that happens to be called Duty Whip's Fancy, and discover that it has good form—

Mr. Caborn: Total waste of money.

Mr. Goodman: I may have to pass on the Minister's remark to his duty Whip, who is absent.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): Duty Whip's Fancy has to be a fine filly.

Mr. Goodman: I knew that I was taking a risk in lending the horse such an appellation. However, if, after finding that the horse is on good form and running on ground that suits it, I put a bet on it and win, I have learned something about the balance between risk and safety.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) is not in her place, but she spoke effectively about a scam, to use the word that my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale rightly bestowed on it. If women get caught up in such schemes, the risk is clearly unacceptable. That is the reason for the number of powerful inhibitors in society against undue risk.

I shall risk one more general remark before making some specific points. Excessive gambling can undermine the work ethic and create a get rich quick mentality. If that mentality abounds, it can eventually undermine hard work, thrift, diligence, persistence, enterprise and everything that contributes to wealth creation.

I shall descend from the ballet of philosophical abstractions to specific points. Before a Labour Member rises to make the point, I appreciate that a Conservative Government introduced the national lottery. However, I am not a full-blooded enthusiast for three main reasons. First, without being a killjoy, I believe that in its early days the lottery contributed to encouraging a get rich quick mentality among some of those who indulged in it. As we all know, it is hard to get rich quick without inheriting money. That consequence of the lottery was not good.

Secondly, the lottery did much to nationalise large elements of charitable giving. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale made the point indirectly. It is worth taking note of the figures. The lottery accounts for 65 per cent. of all gambling; £7 billion was spent on gambling in the United Kingdom in 1998–99. Those are large sums. By changing the balance of charitable giving, the lottery has contributed to turning charities into lobbyists because they have to go to the Government and specific boards to ask for money. They shape their bids according to the prejudices and fancies of those who make the judgments. That is not a good effect, to put it mildly.

Thirdly, the lottery has contributed, albeit indirectly, towards damaging the relationship between the person who gives and the charity that receives the money. I am therefore rather sceptical about the national lottery.

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I appreciate that the lottery is here to stay, but I echo my hon. Friend's point, and some of the contributions of Labour Members, that we should have a level playing field. He argued persuasively that the lottery should be included under one gambling board. I urge the Minister to consider carefully my hon. Friend's point about society lotteries and the effect that the national lottery has had on them.

A recommendation in the Budd report suggested that premises licensing should remain a local function, exercised solely by local authorities. The White Paper says:

Mr. Greenway indicated assent.

Mr. Goodman: My hon. Friend nods, and, indeed, he backed up that point in his speech. I hope that I will not arouse his ire by saying that although I am sure that the Government are right to make that point, it has been a feature of British government over the past 30 years or so that the powers of local government have been reduced under successive Administrations. That happened under Conservative Governments in the 1980s and 1990s and is happening even more extensively now. I urge the Government to give local authorities as much leeway as they reasonably can. If local authorities are not considered fit to have some hand in licensing arrangements, it is hard to know what the Government would consider them fit for.

I want to refer again to the point raised by Labour Members and my hon. Friend about the dangers of illicit money getting into the gambling trade. One strong argument against the complete legalisation of all drugs is that, far from taking money out of the hands of the dealers, dealers would muscle in on legitimate business. Some historians argue that that happened after the end of prohibition in America. I am not arguing for prohibition but simply noting that point of view. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East that the Government should be properly wary of that happening, as I think they are.

In an article in The Guardian—I sleep with a copy of the paper under my pillow, naturally—Andrew Burnett, a leisure analyst at Merrill Lynch—

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: It saves reading it.

Mr. Goodman: I will not quarrel with my hon. Friend about that.

In this article, which I commend to the House, in the unlikely event that the editor of The Guardian reads Hansard, Andrew Burnett writes that although French industry revenue doubled within two years of liberalising measures there, more than 50 people have been murdered in the past three years in what he describes as a bitter gangland squabble that the Interior Ministry believes is linked to control of the nation's slot machines or—I am sorry for my pronunciation—"bandits manchots", as they are known. My hon. Friend nods again. Mr. Burnett writes that the violence that is centred around France's estimated

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6,000 illegal machines has included bombings in Aix-en-Provence and shootings on the Champs-Elysées. I am sure that the Government are properly wary of what could happen if the worst fears of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East were realised.

The British Horseracing Board has made a point to the Government about alcohol, casinos and betting in pubs and clubs. It asks why, if alcohol is to be allowed in casinos—we do not know what the Government will include in their Bill if legislation is forthcoming—betting is not permitted in pubs and clubs. There are obvious safety arguments against that, but I urge the Government to reconsider the matter.

We look forward to the proposals in the Queen's Speech in the autumn, and I wish the Minister luck in his discussions with the usual channels and in ensuring that there is a Bill in due course.

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