Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Jim Knight : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Brian Mawhinney: No.

None of us takes pride from that figure. It is as certain as day follows night that it will rocket as a consequence of the Bill.

say the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church.

That was the point made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), and I join him in affirming that Methodist Church and Salvation Army point.

The Methodist Church and the Salvation Army also said that they

The difficulty about a debate around technology as complex as that included in the Bill is that it is all too easy to lose sight of the real people in real families in real households and in real communities who will be damaged—many of them beyond repair—as a consequence of the Bill.

It used to be said of the Labour party that it was the Methodist Church at prayer. That is no longer the case if the Bill reflects current Labour party thinking. However, in one respect the Bill does go with the flow of new Labour, for its outcome will be gambling problems for the many, not just for the few.

6.8 pm

Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab): The Government's aim of protecting those who are vulnerable, as well as children, by introducing the Bill is welcome. The development of new forms of gambling, such as those on the internet and on mobile phones, shows that there is a clear need to update our gambling laws. The new gambling commission will have significant powers to investigate and prosecute where necessary. It will be able to monitor the areas of problem gambling.

There is much that is good in the Bill but I have concerns, which I hope will be addressed during the passage of the Bill. Many jobs in my constituency rely on the gambling industry in one way or another: Uttoxeter is one of the best local race courses in the country and is home to the Midlands grand national, while in Burton upon Trent, the brewing industry has led to the development of not only Marmite, but pub companies and gaming machine companies such as Leisure Link. I am concerned that long-established, home-grown UK businesses should not inadvertently lose out under the Bill.
 
1 Nov 2004 : Column 68
 

The likely effect of an unlimited number of regional casinos would be the demise of small casinos. The competitive inequality of machine entitlement and allowing only regional casinos to have category A machines will greatly favour incomers rather than the incumbent UK operators. The potential proliferation of regional casinos, with their unlimited-prize payouts, will bring them too close to centres of population, with the resultant risk of increasing problem gambling. Although I accept that it will be for local authorities to decide whether to allow regional casinos, it will be difficult for them to decline the prospect of financial benefit to their communities.

Representatives of the gaming machine companies have made suggestions to address the concerns expressed by many hon. Members about the potential proliferation of regional casinos. One suggestion is that the number of regional casinos should be restricted. The gaming machine companies have also suggested that the minimum size of the regional casinos should be increased, but that no category A slot machines should be introduced until after the second prevalence study, and then in small numbers only.

The UK gambling industry is used to maximum prizes, and the doors should not be thrown open to the unlimited cash prizes offered by category A machines without a consideration of the consequences. Category B slot machines could carry increased stakes and prizes, in which case we could maintain the principle of controlled stakes and prizes in this country. Such action would protect our home-grown gaming machine companies and the associated jobs in constituencies such as mine.

Another concern is the number of machines that will be allowed in pubs under the Bill. Although the Bill sets a maximum number of two machines by right, with more by application to the local authority, the principle of grandfather rights was established throughout the first drafts of the Bill and the submissions by the Joint Committee. Concerns have been raised because the Bill provides for grandfather rights in premises that are

Does that mean that a country pub that has adapted to serve food and that may rely on the income from machines to remain viable cannot benefit from grandfather rights? What will be the definition of

The gaming machine industry accepts that machines should be removed from non-licensed premises such as fish and chip shops and taxicab offices to ensure that children do not have access to them. However, I hope that that principle will not extend to premises such as pubs and bowling alleys, which might fall foul of the definition of

The UK has one of the best records on problem gambling and the gambling industry has been kept free from crime since the 1960s. Traditionally, we have had low-stake, low-prize machines in pubs, arcades, betting shops and a small number of casinos. It is therefore ironic that those traditionally well-regulated and socially responsible activities could be hit by the proposals in the Bill, while the Bill, as proposed, will allow an unlimited number of regional casinos with unlimited-stake and unlimited-prize machines.
 
1 Nov 2004 : Column 69
 

I hope that Ministers will have regard to the views of home-grown industries such as those based in my constituency and accept that their interest complements the desire to maintain a gambling industry that is free from crime and that maintains its comparatively good record on problem gambling.

6.14 pm

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) for the tributes that they paid to the Joint Committee's report and to my chairmanship. In turn, may I pay tribute to the Committee and to our excellent Clerks, without whom we would not have been so effective?

I remind the House of my entries in the Register of Members' Interests as a consultant to College Hill, a public relations company whose clients include the Tote. I am also a long-standing adviser to the Institute of Sales Promotion, which supports the objective of stronger enforcement against illegal lotteries, an aspect of the Bill that no one else has mentioned.

Most of the increase in gambling in Britain today is in unregulated, remote gambling on the internet, which, surveys suggest, includes children and young people under 18. That activity is supported by wholesale advertising, which would be illegal for more traditional forms of gambling. That cannot go on. Even fixed-odds betting terminals in betting shops exist because the current law and regulations do not reflect what new technology has made possible.

Had this debate taken place six months ago, our proceedings would have been dominated by concern about betting exchanges, which were associated with allegations of race fixing. Initiatives to improve integrity, which are presently being done voluntarily, must be secured in the longer term with the passage of this Bill. The betting exchanges want such an improvement because they recognise the danger of offshore sites, which give no protection to punters, no prospect of a fair contribution to racing or other sports and unequal treatment between different sorts of betting.

The major gambling charity, Gamcare, welcomes the Bill and supports the Committee's view that

It knows that protection and prohibition are two different things and that prohibition leads to illegality with no protection at all. Many of our leading charities, including the hospice movement, want the Bill to help to protect the income stream that they enjoy from lotteries. In Committee, hon. Members must pay attention to the reworded provisions on illegal lotteries masquerading as prize competitions.

During our visit to Blackpool, Churches and faith groups told us that they welcome the proposals for resort casinos as a means to create jobs and restore Blackpool's economic fortunes through better hotels, theatres, restaurants and other entertainment. Our visit left us in no doubt about the importance of a proper partnership between the casino operators and the local community in securing genuine and lasting
 
1 Nov 2004 : Column 70
 
regeneration, which would be undermined by the proliferation of major casino developments in the communities from which Blackpool traditionally draws its visitors.

That danger of proliferation has attracted most of the current criticism. The outcome of our first report was to remove many of the potential dangers in the initial White Paper. The concept of the third category of casino—the regional casino—with a maximum of 1,250 gaming machines also results from the first report. I am disappointed that the Government have not accepted the framework for regional casinos that we offered in our second report, which I still believe provides a sound basis from which to proceed.

A mistaken perception exists that every new casino development will be a Las Vegas-style regional casino, which is not what much of the industry wants or wanted. However, the decision announced in June not to allow existing casinos any entitlement to unlimited-prize category A machines has had the perverse consequence of encouraging UK operators to ratchet up their plans to develop large regional casinos. The Committee saw that coming, which is why we recommended that the Government should not concentrate on limiting the number of casinos with category A machines, but instead should focus on how many of those machines will be available in aggregate, where they will be located and who will operate them.

Are category A machines more harmful? No one knows. They are certainly untested in the UK market, and we need proper research based on their operation. It is not strictly necessary for a regional casino to have 1,250 machines all in category A. As Mr. Tobin Prior of Kerzner Casinos admitted to us,

The Committee saw those volumes, albeit in euros, during our visit to France. Of course, even a £10,000 payout is five times the £2,000 maximum that is currently available on category B machines in casinos and which the Government intend to retain.

The Government have the opportunity to achieve several objectives by making relatively modest amendments to the Bill. First, as the Committee recommended, they could increase the category B maximum payout to at least £5,000, or perhaps £10,000. That could be done through the regulations. Secondly, they could restrict the number of category A machines in regional casinos to no more than, say, 250—a fifth—with the rest being category B and C. That could be achieved by amending clause 163(3). The Government's decision to limit the number of premises with unlimited-prize category A machines would be preserved, but there would be greater fairness to the existing industry, as well as a removal of much of the incentive in favour of big regional casino developments that might lead to more modest proposals.

However, changes to machine entitlements alone will not be enough to convince a sceptical public that Britain is not about to become the Las Vegas of Europe. I doubt whether there is a market for more than 20 regional casinos over the next 10 years. My preference would be
 
1 Nov 2004 : Column 71
 
for national strategy to achieve no more than that number, not through a cap in the Bill, but through a planning strategy. The likely locations are already well known, and guidance to regional planning bodies could limit numbers to two casinos per region, with perhaps three or four in London, making 20 in all. That could be achieved through planning policy statement 6. It is essential to prevent anyone from circumventing planning policy by introducing a separate planning category for regional casinos. I warmly welcome the Secretary of State's remarks about that.

Planning guidance needs to err on the side of caution and to reflect the fact that regional super-casinos should not—must not—be located in largely residential areas or be included in mixed-use developments, including new housing. I therefore warmly welcome the Government's decision to allow local councils not to issue any new casino licences in their district. Conservative councillors are now predominant in local government, and I am confident that they will have the wisdom to implement that where appropriate. The Minister may laugh, but I say that because one would think from reading some of the newspapers that they are incapable of making decisions. That is not so. There is a snag, however. If they say no to all casinos, that is fine, but if they say yes to one or two they could end up with significantly more. The Government still have not addressed the danger of the floodgates opening to a larger number and the problems of saturation that that would bring. Such saturation would undermine the statutory objectives of the gambling commission, which should be the focus of everything that we decide to do through the Bill.

The Government, across all Departments, must give priority to the Bill's statutory objectives; otherwise, they will not succeed in what they wish to do. If there is cross-departmental co-operation on the issue of planning and control, there is no reason why the Bill should not succeed in its joint aims of strengthening the protection of children and the vulnerable while allowing new opportunities that are sensibly controlled and robustly regulated.

6.24 pm


Next Section IndexHome Page