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Mr. Whittingdale: If the hon. Gentleman reads the reasoned amendment that we have tabled, he will see that it sets out clearly why we cannot support the Bill tonight. As I conceded earlier, the Bill contains some proposals that we support, but at the moment, it is fatally flawed in several respects, and there is a real danger that it will lead to an increase in gambling addiction and will fail to provide the protection that the Government claim that it will provide for children and the vulnerable.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Does not my hon. Friend think it strange that the Government pray in aid the need for super-casinos to bring economic regeneration to many parts of the country when they might look instead to sports, film and arts venues, particularly for young people who are poorly served, if they really want to see such regeneration?

Mr. Whittingdale: I agree with my hon. Friend.

Why have the Government decided to throw caution to the wind, give up on the slow and gradual approach to liberalisation, and instead fling open the doors? The first indication that we had was that the new approach represents a pot of gold for the Treasury. The Secretary of State said this afternoon that her adviser's comment that the tax regime would be revenue-neutral had been somehow misunderstood. In fact, the Minister for Media and Heritage told a conference last year that a key aim of the Bill was to raise tax revenue for the Treasury. We also know that the parliamentary Labour party brief on the Bill states:

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Those are the real reasons why the Government have abandoned their previous approach and are now desperate to get this Bill on the statute book before the next election.

The Secretary of State has said that she is prepared to listen to Members' concerns during the passage of the Bill. Many of our concerns, however, were identified by the all-party scrutiny Committee in its report in July. It proposed specific safeguards against proliferation, yet those were rejected by the Government. If the Secretary of State had listened at the time, many of the problems could have been averted. In particular, the scrutiny Committee proposed limiting the number of casinos by increasing the minimum non-gambling area from 1,500 to 4,000 sq m. Doing so would have helped to ensure that casinos were closer to leisure complexes offering a different range of attractions, rather than simply giant gambling dens. More importantly, it would have increased the size of total investment required, which in the Committee's view would have limited the likely number built to about 20 to 25.

The Secretary of State has said this afternoon that her proposals will result in 20 to 40 regional casinos being built. The truth is that the Bill does not provide for any upper limit, and as the Government's response to the scrutiny Committee states,

That is why Members on both sides of the House are saying that if the Secretary of State is proved wrong—by her admission in her report, she might be—there is a case for having some kind of cap on the figure so that we do not see a proliferation of such regional casinos, which are of a kind that we have never seen previously.

Rob Marris: In spite of the hon. Gentleman's reservations about other less controversial parts of the Bill, would he and his colleagues support the Bill if it included such a cap?

Mr. Whittingdale: That would be a considerable step forward, but the Secretary of State has already rejected it this afternoon, so it does not seem likely. I hope that the Secretary of State and Ministers will address several concerns in Committee. We will examine it when it comes back from Committee to see whether it is improved.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not the number of casinos that matters? We all know that the vast majority of people can gamble without becoming addicted, but a small number become addicted and need help and support. Would it not be better for him to concentrate on, for example, controlling credit betting and ensuring that services are available to help the small number of people who would become addicted, regardless of the number of casinos, or of any other gambling establishments?

Mr. Whittingdale: There are steps that need to be taken, particularly to try to increase the protection available to those people, a point to which I shall return.
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Mr. Bercow: This is, after all, a Second Reading debate on the Bill's general principles. Given that it seeks a balance between freedom and protection, that the Joint Committee said that there is no justification whatsoever for delaying its introduction, and that my hon. Friend has himself said that arcane and anomalous gambling laws are holding back our businesses, how does he answer the charge that a decision to oppose the Bill outright on Second Reading would represent not principled opposition, but political expediency?

Mr. Whittingdale: I answer that charge by saying that the Bill as drafted has got it wrong. The Government have had ample opportunity to build in the safeguards for which hon. Members from all parts of the House have been calling—in particular, those set out clearly in the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and his Committee. If the Government had been willing to listen then, the Bill would have been considerably better and more deserving of support. However, they were not willing to listen, which is why we are unable to support it this evening.

Chris Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Whittingdale: I will give way on the subject of caps.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous. Several hon. Members have argued that the Bill should include a cap on the number of super-casinos, but is that not illogical? Only if the Government or a central body decide the location of each super-casino can one impose a national cap. If we allow local and regional authorities to make those decisions, it is difficult to set a national cap.

Mr. Whittingdale: The Government have already said that regional planning bodies will play a key role in the process. It would be perfectly sensible to suggest an initial cap of, say, one or two casinos per region. It would then be for the regional planning bodies to decide where they should be located. That would represent co-operation between national Government and regional planning bodies, and it would be up to local authorities to determine particular sites. That seems a perfectly sensible way forward.

The Secretary of State laid great stress on the role of local authorities and their powers to reject casino developments. However, it is difficult to see a local authority resisting the temptation of the tax revenue and potential planning gain that an investment of this size could bring, especially if it takes the view that if it turned it down, the neighbouring authority would simply take the benefit instead.

Mr. Don Foster: Will the hon. Gentleman share with the House his views about whether planning circular 1/97 of the national planning policy should apply? It clearly states:

If it should apply, does that not mean that regeneration benefits will be much smaller than the Government say?

Mr. Whittingdale: I do think that it should apply, and I have been disturbed by one or two reports suggesting that it may have been contravened.
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The one concession that the Secretary of State made this afternoon, which is welcome, was her agreement to introduce a separate use class for all casinos. A number of us were concerned that one of the drivers towards proliferation would be the ability of leisure facilities within the same use class to convert to casinos. So she appears at least to have closed off one option this afternoon, and we welcome that.

Another concern about which the scrutiny Committee heard evidence was that one of the major contributors to increased problem gambling is convenience. Professor Peter Collins said:

It is for that reason that we in the scrutiny Committee regard it as essential that regional casinos should not be on high streets, but located away from where people live. We had understood that that was originally the Secretary of State's own view, but in deciding the most suitable areas for regional casinos, regional planning bodies have been told explicitly that they must take account of planning guidance that requires major new facilities to promote the vitality and viability of existing town centres.

The letter that the Minister sent to the scrutiny Committee confirmed that PPS6 and PPG13 together

He even went as far as to suggest that any applications that did not follow that guidance were likely to be called in. The scrutiny Committee concluded that there was an inconsistency between the policy objectives of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and those of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I have to say that "inconsistency" seems to me to be a considerable understatement. If the Secretary of State is to deliver the Bill's objective of protecting children and the vulnerable, it is essential that the planning guidance for the location of new casinos should be changed.

Another difference between the draft Bill and the one before us today relates to new category A, so-called "million pound" jackpot machines. Originally, the Government proposed that they should be allowed in all casinos and be subject only to the machine-to-table ratio. They also proposed that in regional casinos there should be no limit on numbers at all. Although it was not a recommendation of the scrutiny Committee, the Government then decided to restrict category A machines to regional casinos alone and impose a cap on the number of machines at 1,250. By doing that, they will increase the attraction of regional casinos and severely disadvantage existing UK operators. Those companies rightly point out that they will be unable to compete if they are prevented from offering any category A machines in their existing casinos while the new regional ones can contain up to 1,250 such machines. The pressure on them to convert into regional casinos will be enormous and will lead to still more proliferation.

The answer, as the scrutiny Committee again pointed out, is to allow a limited number of category A machines into small and large casinos, or alternatively to increase the maximum stake and prize that category B machines
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can offer. That would help to address the problem of the cliff edge that the Government have created between large and regional casinos.

As I said earlier, however, we also believe that there is a case for further limiting the number of category A machines. Most operators predict that the maximum number of 1,250 machines in regional casinos will, as the Secretary of State confirmed, contain a mix of different categories. We believe that, within the overall limit, it makes sense to impose a further restriction on category A machines so that we can monitor the effect of their introduction in this country.

There is one more measure of protection that we believe is necessary. At present, the membership requirement for UK casinos allows operators to bar from their premises those who are known to be problem gamblers. It is another important safeguard to try to stop gambling addiction. Yet by scrapping the membership requirements, that protection will be lost. The lack of any form of identification requirement also removes a vital safeguard against money laundering. Indeed, it may well be in breach of the EU's third directive on money laundering. According to the press yesterday, a senior civil servant wrote to American casino companies asking what dispensations they wanted under the legislation. The companies then made it clear—

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