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Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The problem of dealing with internet gambling and those who have become addicted through it is an example of risk that falls outside much of the scope of the Bill. What discussions has my right hon. Friend held with credit card and escrow companies to try to tackle that difficult subject?

Tessa Jowell: As we make online gambling legal for the first time in this country, my hon. Friend will welcome provisions that allow offshore sites to return to this country to operate in a proper regulatory framework that protects both the interests of individual players and ensures that children cannot play on the internet. It also takes precautions in relation to the credit risk about which my hon. Friend expressed concern.

Several hon. Members rose—

Tessa Jowell: I want to make progress.

There is a parallel between alcohol and gambling. Both are legal pursuits, both carry an associated risk of addiction and the state has chosen not to proscribe but to shape supply. The Bill gives Ministers and the commission the power to respond to new risks, increase controls and avoid harm. We will get evidence, through a substantially increased programme of genuinely new research, which has already started. A national gambling audit will take place every three years. The first will happen before the Bill takes effect.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): I have been reflecting on the right hon. Lady's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). Is she telling hon. Members that she wants the Bill on the statute book before any information is released about inducements that the Government may have offered to mega-casino owners?

Tessa Jowell: No inducements have been offered to mega-casinos. We will get the measure on the statute book because millions of people are at risk unless that happens.

Several hon. Members rose—

Tessa Jowell: I shall not give way. [Interruption].

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State is not giving way.

Tessa Jowell: Just as there will be a baseline against which we can judge the impact of all our reforms, there will be not one but two further gambling studies before we even consider any calls for further relaxation of the new regime. We shall thus have a proper baseline, which
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tells us how many people gamble, and against which we can monitor closely, through the gambling commission, the impact of any of the changes. If evidence of harm emerges through the research and monitoring that is undertaken, we will act swiftly to toughen the controls.

We have powers throughout the Bill to withdraw or move back from the liberalisation if there is evidence of harm.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Tessa Jowell: No, I must make progress.

Much of the comment on the Bill claimed that the country wanted no more gambling and no more casino games. Although I respect the views of those who wish that demand did not exist, I ask hon. Members to examine the evidence. Many hon. Members know about the growing popularity of roulette machines in betting offices. From none two or three years ago, there are now more than 20,000, and the number continues to rise. As I have said before, the machines are on probation. Under the Bill, they will be under effective legislative control for the first time.

I suspect that all Members will have seen the countless advertisements for internet casinos and for poker rooms. Companies that conduct research into the internet estimate that some 16 per cent. of Britons visit an internet gambling site every month. Three years ago, 250,000 British people travelled to Las Vegas; next year, that is likely to double to 500,000.

What is more, many of the problems that we have faced over the past few years have arisen because gambling companies have been trying to install casino games on non-casino premises such as betting offices, bingo halls and amusement arcades. Anyone passing a betting office in the high street today is likely to see a huge poster inviting them to bet roulette. They are just as likely to see that as to see a picture of a horse. The industry is doing all that it can to get roulette into the high street, because wherever it succeeds in doing so roulette proves very popular.

Some, I accept, would react to that evidence by suggesting that we prohibit such choices; but if we have learnt anything at all about the history of regulating gambling, it is that if the law does not allow people to gamble safely, they will find ways of gambling at higher risk. We do not want to drive gambling underground or offshore. Expenditure on gambling is rising by about 3.5 per cent. each year, and it is predicted that that rate of increase will continue, with or without the Bill. People will go on choosing casino games whether we like it or not; the question for us is, how do we direct that demand?

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): There is a saying in Wales: three attempts and she might hear.

There is currently a requirement for an unstimulated demand test to be met before new casinos can be approved. I understand that the Bill would scrap that. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such action would make it more difficult for local planning authorities to reject huge casino applications?

Tessa Jowell: That was a timely intervention, as I am about to deal with the role of casinos in the Bill—in the
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context of a clear undertaking that there will be no new casinos if local people do not want them. I want to explain what is in the Bill, how we intend to achieve our aims, and how rigorous the safeguards are.

The Bill will certainly remove some of the more outdated restrictions on casinos. It will abolish the permitted areas that limit casinos to 53 former county boroughs, including those that had populations of 125,000 or more between December 1970 and October 1973. That explains why, believe it or not, it is possible to have a casino in Mayfair but not in Greenwich. The Bill will also abolish the membership rules requiring a 24-hour wait between joining a casino and playing games.

We consider it reasonable for British consumers to be allowed access to casino games on properly regulated casino premises. We would rather people gambled on machines in the carefully controlled environment of a casino than on dodgy internet sites at home. Our strategy, however, is intended to avoid the mistakes made by other countries such as Australia, which allowed a widespread proliferation of high-price machine gambling in the high streets. What we propose for the casino industry in Great Britain is a restrained modernisation that protects the public from problem gambling.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My right hon. Friend mentioned my borough, Greenwich. Several planning authorities in the Thames gateway area may be attracted to the idea of having a casino; what is the best way of deciding which should have planning permission? [Laughter.] I think we should treat the issue a bit more seriously.

How do we decide whether regional planning priorities should determine where a casino goes, or whether it should be a matter for the local planning authority? Should there not be a national criterion enabling us to designate an area suitable? The local authority would have to demonstrate that it had consulted local people and referred to both its own unitary development plan and the regional development plan, and had received support, before it could proceed to the next phase and develop a casino?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend makes a full and important intervention, but if he will bear with me I will answer his very good points in due course.

Sir Alan Budd, in his review, recommended a minimum customer area for new casinos of approximately 200 sq m to discourage too many small casinos. However, the Government have decided that the minimum size should be considerably larger—over three times larger—at 750 sq m. The net effect will be fewer new casinos than Sir Alan proposed, and only the largest casinos, with a minimum area of 5,000 sq m, will be entitled to house the new style machines. We will cap machine numbers in all casinos, and we will keep the present £2,000 prize limit for the two smaller categories of casino.

A number of casino operators have announced proposals for new leisure developments in different parts of the country, although the figures given in some newspapers for new regional casinos are wildly off the mark. Of course, these are all just proposals; almost
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none of them has gambling licences or planning permission. If the developments go ahead on the scale envisaged, they will no doubt bring significant economic and employment benefits to the areas in which they are located. For instance, the company that proposes a £125 million development on disused land in a regeneration area will, if it is approved, provide a host of new leisure facilities, of which a casino would be a relatively small component. Overall, the development would provide hundreds of construction jobs, employ over 1,000 staff and provide significant support to Leeds United football club.

Let me set out clearly for the House the very tight framework within which such new casinos will be allowed. I have spoken before about the triple lock that applies, and I want to explain each step in turn. I am very aware that there are calls from some quarters for a national cap on the number of the new regional casinos. The Joint Committee looked carefully at the issue and did not recommend a cap. I share the objective that regional casinos should be relatively few in number, but I do think that a cap may be a blunt instrument. My preferred alternative is for tough planning and licensing tests that may well be difficult for a number of proposals to pass, but do allow some flexibility for local communities. I am dirigiste only about the ends, not the means, and all sides agree that this cannot be left purely to the market, so let me set out how the regime would work.

The first lock is the operating licensing system. Anybody who wishes to operate a casino in the UK must apply to the gambling commission for an operating licence. Applicants will be rigorously tested to ensure that they measure up to the three statutory objectives in the Bill: to protect children and vulnerable adults, to keep gambling crime free and to ensure fair play for consumers. The gambling commissions's job of assessing licence applications will not be a question of ticking a box. Each and every application will have to go through careful and rigorous consideration.

The second lock is the premises licensing system, for which local authorities will be responsible. The Bill requires every local authority to have a gambling licensing policy that covers all gambling and betting premises, including casinos, and it empowers local authorities to consult the public on their licensing policy, including the casino element of it.

I understand the concerns that right hon. and hon. Members have expressed about local authorities finding the development benefits too tempting, so I will listen closely to the argument that the power to consult on the licensing policy should be replaced with a duty. That duty is already implicit in the planning procedures, but I am happy to consider making it more explicit. At this point, or at any time it chooses, a local authority may resolve, under clause 157, not to allow any new casinos in its area. It has a wide discretion to exercise that power, and in deciding whether to exercise it, it may have regard to "any principle or matter", and the power lasts for three years and is renewable. The Joint Committee did not recommend the power of resolution. I decided to add it to the Bill because I wanted local authorities that do not want new casinos to be able to say so clearly and categorically, and to be protected from any of the risks that might follow.
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The Bill allows any local authority to impose a blanket ban on new casino development, and I am sure that the House will support that, but even if an authority does not decide to apply such a ban it still has strong powers to reject a specific application for a casino development, whether large, small, or regional. Local authorities can and must test any application for a premises licence against the three licensing criteria in the Bill and can refuse any application that does not meet them.

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