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Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): Is it not the case that the Bill originally was about one resort casino, possibly in Blackpool, and that it had broad support? Now that the Bill has grown like Topsy there is less support. Surely if the Government want the Bill to go through, they ought to return to the original concept.
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Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend is brilliant at moving me on to the next part of my speech, which is about destination casinos. The Joint Committee argued for the very point that my hon. Friend made. We should not be talking about regional casinos, but about leisure destination casinos. The Committee recognised the danger of super-casinos on the high street because of the clear link between casual, "walk in and play" gambling and problem gambling. The Government initially appeared to agree, which is why so many of us are so shocked at what has happened in the final stages of drafting the Bill.

In giving evidence to the Joint Committee at the end of last year, Lord McIntosh appeared to agree with the merits of making "a positive decision" to go gambling, rather than

Well, he seems to have changed his mind, although in the press release that he issued two days ago, he suddenly talked about destination casinos again, so whether that was a U-turn or merely a blunder, we do not know.

Fundamentally, the Government have missed the point about the type of super-casinos in limited numbers in which people might be interested. We simply do not know whether the benefits to which the Government refer—not only jobs, but economic regeneration—will come. In an earlier intervention, I quoted circular 1/97, which states:

In other words, councils cannot expect exceptional planning gain to occur. The Minister will say that circular 1/97 is out of date and has been superseded by the new Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, but when he looks at that measure, he will see that the principle has not been changed. Can he confirm whether I am correct that councils will not be able to get exceptional planning gain when such applications are made?

David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): On several occasions, it has been suggested that local authorities are the safeguard on the Bill. Are not the turnovers of some of the companies involved triple or quadruple the amount that most local authorities have? Local authorities will not be in a position to challenge what is proposed. How can one local authority reject a proposal when another will be waiting at the sidelines to accept it?

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman is right to be concerned about that issue—the potential for bribing, as it has sometimes been unfairly described. It is vital that the Government consider the point that I have made in relation to the so-called section 106 agreements and what will and will not be permissible under that legislation. He raised the issue of the power of local authorities. Of course, the Government have suggested that authorities will be all-powerful in this matter. They have certainly been helped by today's announcement of the U-turn on the creation of a separate use class for all casinos. I welcome that very much, but I point out that the Bill as drafted still creates problems for individual local authorities in respect of whether they can reject specific casino proposals.
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I accept entirely that it is possible under clause 157 for local authorities to reject all casinos over a period of three years. In passing, I say to the Minister that I think that he will find that there is a difficulty with the clause, which specifically states:

It goes on to state:

The Secretary of State has written on the front of the Bill that she believes that the provisions are compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998, but I suspect that, with the inclusion of that provision, which allows a local council to consider any matter, she will find herself in difficulty. When one lawyer looked at the provision, he said to me, "I see prosperity staring me in the face." I suspect that he is likely to be right.

I accept that a council can reject a proposal for a three-year period, but the problem is that if they want to consider the merits of having a small casino in their area that they think might bring benefits, they will be in much greater difficulty. They will not have the ability easily to say yes or no. As hon. Members have said, the demand test has been rejected. Local authorities will not have powers to talk about public nuisance, as they do in respect of licensing, or to address saturation. Many local authority powers will be undermined, and councils do not have the specific powers to say yes or no to a specific casino proposal, notwithstanding clause 157. As I said, however, I am delighted at the change in use categories that the Secretary of State announced today.

I began my speech by welcoming the goods parts of the Bill: regulating remote gambling, enshrining social responsibility, protecting children and establishing a new and more powerful regulator. Despite those provisions, we still need measures that will control the proliferation of super-casinos, perhaps by allowing one or two per region to start with, and we need to consider delaying the introduction of category A machines until further research has been undertaking; to reintroduce the concept of super-casinos as destination casinos to increase control of them, perhaps by introducing a membership requirement again; and to provide strong and absolute powers to local councils to specifically reject individual casino applications. Only if the Bill contained such measures could we continue supporting it. They are not in the Bill at present, which is why we will vote against it.

5.50 pm

Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) (Lab): The Bill contains three licensing objectives that underpin the functions that the gambling commission and licensing authorities will perform: to protect children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling; to prevent gambling being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime; and to ensure that gambling is conducted fairly and openly. I am astonished by the attitude of the Opposition parties. Whatever they say about parts of the Bill that they support, they cannot have it both ways. If they vote against Second Reading tonight, we can conclude only that they do not support those aims of the Bill.
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The third objective—that gambling should be conducted fairly and openly—is surely important. It is a recent development that, to some extent, gambling is hidden away—remote gambling—but it is a growth industry and is an increasingly popular pursuit for women. The Bill recognises and accommodates the significant technological changes that have occurred in the past 40 years. It requires regulation where the player is not present on the operator's premises. For example, operators based in Great Britain must obtain an operating licence to authorise the provision of gambling via remote communication—for example, via television or the internet. Moreover, the new licensing system has quite sensibly been designed to keep pace with technological developments so that, subject to appropriate parliamentary approval, gambling delivered by new, unforeseen methods can be regulated in the future.

That area of gambling is currently unregulated, so for that reason alone doing nothing is not an option. We must ensure that children and young people are properly protected, and the Bill will, for the first time, impose restrictions on such gambling.

My principal interest in the Bill is as a former Minister for Tourism and the current secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on tourism. Our tourism industry is worth a staggering £80 billion to the UK economy, yet our tourism deficit stands at around £14 billion. For every pound spent in the UK by a tourist from overseas, Britons spend £2 abroad. The number of visits abroad by UK residents is approaching three times the number of overseas visits to the UK. There is a desperate need to reverse the trend by offering better value for money and a more innovative product.

That is particularly true of our seaside resorts. As the British Resorts Association pointed out in its excellent report, "Behind the Fac"ade", serious pockets of deprivation are hidden behind the fac"ade of the sea front, because of the seasonal nature of employment and the declining quality of the tourism product on offer. Let us take Blackpool as an example. I make no apology for citing Blackpool. It is situated in my region, the north-west, and many of my constituents know it well. Over the past 15 years it has seen little private investment and no major interventions to ignite regeneration and transform the resort product.

Annual visits have decreased from 13.2 million to 10.6 million, visitor nights from 16 million to 10.5 million, and spending by overnight visitors from £800 million to £500 million. The resort's income profile has become more seasonal, with the summer season becoming shorter and the peak less pronounced. The average annual hotel occupancy rate has fallen to 22 per cent., and more than 20,000 bedrooms have transferred lawfully or unlawfully to the private rented residential sector. I will not dwell too long on the facts about the town as my hon. Friends who represent Blackpool are much more knowledgeable about local circumstances than I am.

I single out Blackpool because the town has risen to the challenge of reinventing its tourism product. The Blackpool master plan proposes a multiple gambling, leisure and entertainment product packaged in a unique "Blackpool experience". This destination gambling
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environment would import revenue into the local economy, rather than recirculate existing revenue. It would transform a seasonal economy into a year-round economy. It would become the catalyst for economic regeneration that would transform decline into growth and prosperity—

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