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Mr. Speaker: I would not know anything about Labour party officials: I do not belong to the Labour party. I reiterate that the debate is about to start, and the hon. Gentleman may well have an opportunity to catch my eye.
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Orders of the Day

Gambling Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.34 pm

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I know that passions are running high about this Bill, both in the House and outside. But I hope that our debate can be based on the facts, on concern for the public interest, and nothing else. The Bill addresses a subject that has not been properly scrutinised for more than 40 years, because of the policy of previous Administrations, which, where gambling was concerned, was to sidestep the big issues and be content to tinker. That is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We need to address the challenges that are caused by new technology, by the internet and by the steady growth in consumer demand. We need to keep gambling crime-free by giving regulators new powers and new duties. We need to make sure that our desire to give adults freedom to gamble if they wish is not at the cost of children or the vulnerable.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): It might be helpful if the Secretary of State were to tell us clearly whether this Bill, as it is now, was in this Government's manifesto.

Tessa Jowell: Certainly, we undertook in the Queen's Speech to publish a draft gambling Bill.

The proposals contained in the Bill have been developed over a five-year period—I cannot recall whether the proposals were in the manifesto, because work on developing the proposals started in the previous Parliament, when this was the responsibility of the Home Secretary—beginning with Sir Alan Budd's review, and followed by a White Paper, a draft Bill considered by a Committee of both Houses, and the Bill today.

Until recently, there was cross-party consensus for reform led by the work of the Scrutiny Committee on the draft Bill, which was ably chaired by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), to whom I would like to pay tribute. As is often the case, consensus in dealing with what is a difficult contemporary social issue was replaced by the opportunism of a passing bandwagon. If the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, every proposal will be considered on its merits in Committee. I give the House my assurance that I will give every consideration to suggestions from right hon. and hon. Members that are genuinely intended to improve the Bill.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): The right hon. Lady mentioned the vulnerable earlier. Will she explain why she characterised Labour Back Benchers, Opposition Members such as me, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the Salvation Army as snobbish,
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because we stood up for the vulnerable? How does she say that when that would mean that most of the historic Labour figures were snobbish because they too stood up for the vulnerable?

Tessa Jowell: Had that been what I said, it would have been deeply offensive, and I would have apologised for it. I respect entirely the fact that people, on ethical, religious and other grounds, are opposed to gambling. I did not describe people as snobs—I referred to a whiff of snobbery pervading this debate, which is quite different from the allegation that the right hon. Gentleman is making.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has found out over this weekend that there is never a shortage of do-gooders telling people how to spend their leisure time. No doubt she will hear more of that in the House today. Does she agree with me that the British people are intelligent and sophisticated enough to make their own choices about what they do with their cash and leisure time? I hope that the Bill gets its Second Reading today.

Tessa Jowell: I agree with my hon. Friend. Neither this debate nor the British people are served by the kind of patronising attitude that doubts people's ability to make choices about how to spend their marginal income or leisure time.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Tessa Jowell: No, I want to make some progress; I will then take further interventions.

Scrutiny has improved the Bill to date, and I want to make it absolutely clear that the Government will listen to the views of right hon. and hon. Members, particularly when they offer constructive proposals that contribute to, or strengthen, the Bill's three underlying objectives: to protect children and the vulnerable, to ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and to keep gambling in this country crime-free.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con) rose—

Tessa Jowell: The key principle will be that of social responsibility—a condition that is the test of each element of the Bill.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Is the Secretary of State aware that these days, children have access to the internet and, through computer games, to gratuitous violence in the most graphic sense, in the privacy of their own rooms? Does she really think that they will be protected by banning the penny arcade?

Tessa Jowell: We are not banning the penny arcade in this Bill and yes, we do have to address the risks that children face, but not by taking disproportionate action in respect of matters for which there is no evidence of harm.

Mr. Gibb: Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Tessa Jowell: I will give way on that point.

Mr. Gibb: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. Why does the Bill impose a maximum stake on family
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amusements such those that enable children to win a teddy bear by picking it up with a crane? In Bognor Regis, the stake for such machines is 30p a go; if a 10p maximum is imposed, such amusements will be rendered unviable. Will she look again at this provision, so that the Bill does not have the unintended consequence of bankrupting family amusement arcades in seaside towns, only for them to be replaced by hard gambling outlets?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make a speech.

Tessa Jowell: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I ask the hon. Gentleman to contain the impatience that he expressed solely on behalf of Bognor Regis; he will hear reassuring words from me later.

I recognise that gambling is a controversial, difficult and complex matter. That was true when betting shops were legalised, it was true when the Conservatives introduced the national lottery and the associated multi-million pound jackpots 10 years ago, and it is certainly true now. There are some people in this country—including, indeed, Members in all parts of the House, as I have said—who have a sincere and profoundly held objection to gambling. They would rather that gambling did not take place at all, and they certainly do not think that the state should sanction it. They may take this view for ethical, philosophical or religious reasons, or even because of family or personal experience, and I completely understand and respect it.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con) rose—

Tessa Jowell: There are other people who do not have a fundamental objection to gambling, but who choose not to gamble themselves and are happy for others to have the freedom to do so, provided that certain safeguards are in place to ensure that children and vulnerable adults are properly protected. That happens to be the view that I share.

There is a further group of people who do gamble. For them, it is just part of life—a source of enjoyment and a freedom that they value. Yes, they want safeguards to be in place, but they regard gambling as an activity in respect of which the restrictions should be kept to a minimum.

Bob Russell rose—

Tessa Jowell: Judged by their behaviour, this group is perhaps the largest of the three. Each year, some 4 million people visit the country's 700 bingo clubs. Each month, an estimated 4 million Britons log on to a gambling website. Each week, more than 1 million people bet on horse races. Last year, visitors to casinos staked £4 billion. If the national lottery is included, 70 per cent. of the population gamble regularly.

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