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Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman may want to withdraw that comment and I undertake to write to him separately about it. The allegation is untrue.

Mr. Whittingdale: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her assurance that those reports were untrue. I, of course, accept her word on that, but it does not change the fact that the Government are proposing to exempt large casinos from the requirement to identify those who are involved in transactions of more than £700. I would be interested to know whether the Secretary of State also denies the report that the Association of Chief Police Officers has protested about that. Is that also wrong?

Tessa Jowell: I am very happy to say that, given that one of the objectives of the Bill is to keep gambling crime-free, we have of course consulted the police throughout. Discussions on the money laundering directive are a matter for the Treasury and still continue. In its final shape, the Bill will ensure that we keep crime out—money laundering or any other crime that could infiltrate gambling in this country.

Mr. Whittingdale: The most effective way of preventing money laundering is to retain the requirement that those undertaking large transactions must provide identification. Under the Bill, that safeguard will be lost. The safeguard against money laundering and the membership requirement, which would provide an additional layer of protection for those who are suffering from gambling addiction, are to be removed simply because they do not happen to satisfy the American business model.
1 Nov 2004 : Column 52

Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is talking about measures to protect vulnerable people from being seduced by gambling. There has been a furore in the popular press about the Bill having the effect of increasing and enhancing gambling among vulnerable people, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that if that same popular press were really concerned about protecting people from being seduced by gambling, they could play their part by removing the racing sections from their papers, which not only encourage people to gamble, but advise them on how to do so?

Mr. Whittingdale: We are concerned about the Bill partly because it represents a completely new and different form of gambling from anything that we have seen before. It is for that reason that we are urging caution. I am interested that the Secretary of State said that my comments on the membership requirement were incorrect. In that case, perhaps she will reconsider whether it would be wise to retain a membership requirement both to tackle problem gambling and to deal with the danger of money laundering.

Mr. Banks: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Whittingdale: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must wind up my remarks.

The Bill initially enjoyed widespread support, but by refusing to listen to those who have advocated a cautious approach combined with sensible safeguards, the Government have managed to unite almost everyone against it. People are against the Bill, not because of snobbery but because it will disadvantage responsible and long-standing UK companies, lead to a proliferation of casinos in our towns and cities and risk creating a massive increase in problem gambling. The Secretary of State has said that she is listening and is prepared to amend the Bill. It is a pity that she was not willing to do so earlier.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that Mr. Speaker has placed a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, which will apply from now on.

5.13 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had a difficult task introducing the Bill today. As we have been good friends for more than 33 years, I hope that we will remain so at the end of this debate and of future ones. I feel fairly confident that she was not referring to me in her reference to a whiff of snobbery, and I hope that she will excuse me from any charge of opportunism.

I support most of the Bill because we clearly need to modernise the laws on gambling, but I oppose the proposal to make it easier for multinational casinos to rip off hard-working British families. There is no public demand for the provisions in the Bill. Before there was any unstimulated demand, shall we say, opinion polls showed that more than 90 per cent. of the population believed that there were enough opportunities for gambling already. People have come to my advice surgeries about housing, schools, pensions, passports
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and policing, but in 25 years I cannot recall one person coming to see me because they wanted us to increase the opportunities for gambling. I have, however, had quite a lot of people coming to see me because their lives have been ruined by their spouse's gambling away all the family income. We should not do anything that is likely to increase the opportunities for that. There is no public demand for the changes, so we appear to be changing the law to make it easier for casino companies to tempt hard-working British families to lose their money so that they can make profits. It is worth remembering that the casinos cannot make profits unless most punters lose their money.

In future, we shall permit extra temptations that are not currently on offer. It will be possible to walk into a casino with no cooling-off period of 24 hours. There will be an enormous number of machines and prizes of possibly £1 million in those places. We are lifting the restriction on advertising so that casinos can deliberately stimulate demand that does not exist without such stimulation. That will increase gambling, especially through slot machines, and the evidence shows that slot machines are a major source of problem gambling and of people getting hooked.

I am not only worried about those who may get hooked on gambling. I believe that, at a time when we are discussing the need for more people to save, be careful with money and put money aside for their pensions and for the future, it is foolish of the Government to say, "We're going to make it easier for you to blow it at a casino."

The Government claim that there will not be a large increase in the number of casinos but just 20 or 40 new ones. Ministers have referred to those figures as "a modest increase" on the existing 134. An increase of 40 on 134 is 30 per cent. If the trade unions presented a proposal for a 30 per cent. increase in the national minimum wage, I do not believe that the Cabinet would regard it as a modest increase that should be approved.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Dobson: I would rather get on because others want to speak.

The problem is not only 40 more casinos but that they will be much larger. If they are allowed 1,250 slot machines each, it means, as I understand it, that each new one will have more slot machines than those in all the existing casinos put together. That increases the opportunity for gambling. The bigger prizes on offer make it more likely that people will gamble and that there will be more gambling.

We are told that the Bill will permit the regeneration of inner cities. Have we reached the stage when the only way in which we can regenerate our inner cities depends on inviting American casino companies to bail us out? That is not the best way to achieve regeneration. If we stick it on top of 24-hour drinking, the combination will not greatly assist the prevailing situation in many of our inner cities.

We are told that there will be not only a casino built at each location but hotels, restaurants and entertainment facilities, as if they would tempt people away from the tables and machines. They will not. The hotels,
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restaurants and entertainment will be there to attract people to the casinos so that they go to the restaurant and afterwards to the tables; stay at the hotel and go to the tables, and go to a show and subsequently to the tables. Things that are presented as a means of amelioration are there to make the casinos more attractive.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Dobson: I should prefer not to because others want to speak.

I have every sympathy with the people of Blackpool and of other holiday resorts. It would be a good idea if the Government acknowledged that Blackpool and one or two other places might benefit from one of the new casinos. They could choose the places—I have never objected to central Government's making a few decisions now and again. If that happened, we could ascertain how the casinos worked. A private Bill that covered several places could subsequently be promoted or a measure could be introduced from the centre. That might show us what could be done and bring benefits to those areas.

However, if there are to be big casinos in every major centre of population, the holiday resort casinos can forget the massive improvement in takings that they expect because people will not go to Blackpool if they can go to a casino nearer home in Manchester. All the points that I have made so far concern the public. Let me say something about the harm that I believe the proposals are doing to the reputation of the Labour party and the Labour Government. They are putting off a lot of people whom we would do well not to put off—a lot of concerned people who are already unhappy about one or two aspects of the Government's policies.

People come up to me and ask "Why is he doing it?" I think they are referring to the Prime Minister. They consider the Bill to be contrary to the Labour party's normal slightly paternalistic, slightly puritan image. It is also rather at variance with the greater emphasis on religious belief that has been common in Government in recent times. And it is contrary to things that the Chancellor and others are saying about the need to save and put money aside for pensions.

There is no public demand for the Bill. The demand is coming from American gambling companies. They may have changed; but in the eyes of the British public—who may remember films made years ago—they are connected with organised crime, money laundering, drugs and prostitution. That is the sort of word association that occurs to people, and I think it is very damaging to our party. It does make people wonder "Why are they doing it?" I think that that question itself is very damaging to us as a party.

I believe that the Bill would be bad for the country, bad for hard-working families and bad for the party. It is the worst possible political combination: it is both wrong and unpopular.

5.21 pm

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