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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab) rose—

Tessa Jowell: Perhaps my hon. Friend did not hear that I was referring to the later stages of considering ways to strengthen the Bill.

Mr. Prentice: The Government have told the Joint Committee:

Surely that is a classic case for having some pilot casinos, so that we can test the impact of such fantastically large pay-outs.

Tessa Jowell: That is precisely why we rejected the recommendations of the Budd review, which would have introduced high-value, high-prize machines everywhere. That is also why we rejected the recommendation of the Joint Committee, which would have meant introducing such machines in all casinos, and why we are limiting them to regional casinos. I should also make clear, for my hon. Friend's information, that the way in which such machines operate and are manufactured—their design—will be subject to the oversight and scrutiny of the gambling commission. They may come from any part of the world, but they will have to conform to the British regulatory system. We will also monitor very closely any evidence that the availability of these machines is leading to an increase in problem gambling, in which case we will take action through the gambling commission to address the matter.

Several hon. Members rose—

Tessa Jowell: I shall not take any more interventions.

I should like to move on quickly to protections for children; I know that the House attaches great importance to keeping children away from harmful gambling. Children should never get involved with gambling that will harm them.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State has stated that she will not be giving way.

Tessa Jowell: That is in respect of the many hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate.
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There is no more important area to keep children away from harm than the internet. The evidence published over the summer that some British companies were failing in this area is profoundly disturbing. Any internet operator seeking a licence from the gambling commission will need to demonstrate precisely how it intends to exclude children from play.

I want to say a few words about our approach to the lowest-prize gaming machines, which children can use. These machines are found in leisure sites such as seaside fairs and funfairs, but they are also available in a wide range of premises such as fish and chip shops and taxicab offices. I have received many representations from those who disagree with children being allowed to use gaming machines at all, and I have sympathy with those who observe that Britain is unusual in allowing children to play on any category of slot machine, but I think that it would be wrong of the Government to ignore the fact that children have been permitted to use amusement machines for many decades without clear evidence of an impact on the level of problem gambling among children.

Such amusement machines have also been a traditional and well-loved part of the family leisure and seaside experience. We have not yet seen sufficiently compelling evidence to ban children from using these machines altogether. I know that the Joint Committee considered this matter very carefully and also reached that view. We must remain vigilant and cautious in relation to future risks, so I assure the House that on this issue and every other aspect of the Bill I will listen very carefully to the views of hon. Members.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. In the context of the many seaside communities around the country, is it not her experience, as it is mine and that of many hon. Members who represent those communities, that the family businesses that run such arcades have a high level of enforcement and make an important contribution to measures to stop antisocial behaviour at the seaside? Is that not the higher standard that we are trying to achieve in this Bill?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is because those high standards of supervision are exercised in so many of these arcades that the evidence of problem gambling among children has not been produced. We want that vigilance to increase. That is why there is a reserve power in the Bill to be used should evidence of problems arise some time in the future, but as my hon. Friend made clear—I know that many hon. Members with constituency interests have found this—by and large, the regime in seaside arcades and family entertainment centres is very responsible. By withdrawing category D machines, as they are called, from fish and chip shops and minicab offices, we deal with the risks of ambient gambling and of exposing children to gambling.

Let me move to a conclusion. Gambling is a legitimate industry that requires fair and proportionate regulation. It is an industry where the freedom to operate is important, but only when the public are properly protected. The Bill will protect the public at a time when
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technology threatens to overwhelm us with new, poorly regulated gambling opportunities. It provides vital new powers to protect children and put an end to socially irresponsible practices. It puts Parliament and the regulators back in control, with the power to toughen controls and the evidence on which to act. Crucially, it puts power firmly in the hands of local communities. New casinos will come to their area only if they want them—full stop.

The Government know that adults should be allowed to exercise their personal freedom, that vulnerable people must be protected and that everyone should be protected from the unregulated consequences of the free market in an area such as gambling. We have always recognised that opinion on gambling cuts across normal party political divides. That is why we have sought to continue the long practice of the House of developing policy in an open and, where possible, a non-partisan way.

That is why we welcomed many of the recommendations of the Joint Committee chaired so ably by the hon. Member for Ryedale. It is why we agree with the Leader of the Opposition when as Home Secretary, rather than as Leader of the Opposition jumping on the opportunistic bandwagon, he announced plans to free casinos and bingo halls from outdated and restrictive rules. It is why we agreed with the words of the then junior Home Office Minister responsible for gambling when he asked, "Why should we stop people choosing to spend their evenings playing roulette?" It is why we understood the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), the Opposition spokesman on culture, when in his day job as editor of The Spectator he wrote—I paraphrase: "Opposition to the Gambling Bill is nothing but low protectionism and in the case of the Daily Mail, a knee-jerk reaction to absolutely anything the Government does, dressed up as moral principle".

The Government have approached the Bill with a determination to do what is best for the British public. The Bill will protect the weak and the vulnerable. It will give the United Kingdom the most modern and the toughest regulatory regime for gambling anywhere in the world. For those reasons I commend the Bill to the House.

4.32 pm

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford): I beg to move, To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

May I begin by expressing our appreciation to the Secretary of State for her coming to the House to move the Second Reading? We are aware that she suffered a family bereavement recently and it is very good of her to be here this afternoon.
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As the Secretary of State suggested, the Bill has been a very long time in its gestation. It originates from the Budd report, which was published some three years ago, and since then there has been a huge amount of debate, scrutiny and consultation. I join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). He and his Committee did a fantastic job in taking evidence from every possible interest group affected by the Bill, and there is no doubt that the Bill was much improved by his work. Indeed, it would be an even better Bill if the Government had chosen to accept all the Committee's recommendations.

Given all the attention that the Bill has had over the past three years, it is extraordinary that at this eleventh hour the Secretary of State had to come to the House this afternoon to announce last-minute concessions so that she might be able to persuade some on her own side to give it their support in the vote this evening.

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