Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): First, I very much welcome the Bill, which will offer protections for children and the vulnerable, set up the gambling commission, and introduce all the modern regulation that is needed in today's gambling industry. People have been debating this Bill as if it existed in a vacuum—as if the world has not changed. Well, the world has changed since the last piece of legislation on the matter in 1968. We must have this Bill, with all its regulations and protections.

Later in my speech, I will raise some of my specific concerns about regional casinos, but the debate should not be hijacked by such concerns, and unless we give this
1 Nov 2004 : Column 76
Bill a Second Reading, all its good aspects will be lost. Many Members who have said that they will vote against Second Reading have also anticipated later discussions and put in bids for aspects that they want changed. To me that is illogical. It is not the stance that we should take.

The nature of Second Reading debates means that we tend to gloss over the aspects of a Bill that we like, and concentrate on those areas about which we have concerns. The Minister will not therefore be entirely surprised if I mention one or two matters that will need further consideration as the Bill proceeds.

First, I have been contacted by some bingo operators in Blackpool who are concerned about section 21 games and whether they will continue to be allowed to offer them, as they are not games of equal chance, as set out in the legislation. Equally, they have drawn my attention to mechanical cash bingo, which they think will be caught by the new machine classification. Finally, they are concerned about the issue of retaining roll-overs so that they can generate high prizes, which was proposed by Budd, and confirmed in the White Paper, but is not mentioned in the Bill. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will consider that kind of detail.

We have heard some interesting contributions about regional casinos this evening and I want to concentrate on how they could be harnessed for regeneration purposes. I was reassured when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that she expected only 20 to 40 regional casinos to be built. But why does she expect only 20 to 40, how does she expect that, and where does she expect them to be? There are some genuine concerns about proliferation.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Is not the crux of the matter that regional super-casinos could be regulated through planning or other measures, and that such measures could be introduced in Committee? Tonight, therefore, we should give the Bill its Second Reading, and concentrate all our efforts on making sure that we prevent such super-casinos from being created. As the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) suggested, powers are available to do that.

Mrs. Humble: I can throw away the rest of my speech, as that is exactly what I will suggest to the Minister.

I have talked to my constituents in Blackpool about the development of what were originally resort casinos, what they would prefer to be destination casinos, and what are currently called regional casinos. Interestingly, they would only want them in the town if they were part of a genuine regeneration effort. Blackpool council is to be applauded, as it conducted an extensive consultation exercise back in 2002, as did our local newspaper, The Gazette, and people were fairly evenly split on whether they were in favour of resort casinos coming to Blackpool. When they were asked about the regeneration potential, however, the number of those in favour went up markedly.

The other question is: what do we mean by regeneration? No definition of regeneration has been offered and I would urge both Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and their colleagues in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to provide one. To me, regeneration means attracting new
1 Nov 2004 : Column 77
jobs, new schools and new opportunities, and it must be part of a much wider package. We cannot just build developments—development and regeneration are different. New regional casinos are different from swimming pools, ice rinks or velodromes, which can just be deposited in areas of a town or city—casinos are large complexes offering entertainment 24 hours a day, with large high-value jackpot machines. They are major enterprises and must be part of a much larger plan to achieve the regeneration for which my constituents would look.

The Government are relying on regional planning organisations through their regional spatial strategies, but I must ask the Minister whether that is enough. In the north-west, I am pleased that the regional development agency, the regional assembly and the Government office for the north-west have come together and commissioned a research paper, from which they will develop an interim policy framework, which will help inform their regional spatial strategy. Are other regions doing the same? What happens if individual policy framework documents conflict with each other? How will the RSS interact in different regions? The Government should consider developing a national policy framework within which regional planning bodies can operate. If we are given a definition of regeneration, we can all work from it, and the process will offer transparency.

I was going to mention concerns about use class orders, but I am pleased about the Secretary of State's announcement earlier, and her statement about pulling together a policy document before new casinos are allowed. There was a real fear that some casino developers would take advantage of the lack of existing planning rules, and sneak in their proposals via local authorities that would welcome whatever money they could get. I spent 12 years in local government, yet I find myself saying—for perhaps the first time in this place—that local authorities should not necessarily have that key role, because it could lead to a proliferation of large casinos. There must be a national strategy and a regional perspective, but of course, it is local authorities that could and should consult their local communities, and which understand them best.

But even if the RSS worked properly, if agreement were then reached at regional level to have as many as seven large regional casinos in each area, 90 per cent. of people in this country would be half an hour away from such a casino. How can regeneration be achieved on the back of that? We must also consider concerns about the resulting proliferation of gambling. If those who might be addicted to gambling are half an hour away from a large regional casino, the dangers associated with such addiction will be greatly increased. Some in Blackpool have argued to the Joint Committee that destination casinos can address that problem. When people have to travel further, they plan how they are going to spend their time and money. That would be a much better system, and hopefully it would address some of the concerns that many Members have expressed.

If we can deal with planning and look again at destination casinos, we can allay many fears and build on what local communities want. My hon. Friends have been waiting for me to mention Blackpool—[Interruption.] And Fleetwood. Blackpool is unique among local authorities and it is still the premier resort
1 Nov 2004 : Column 78
in the country. It has spent five years developing a strategic master plan that incorporates not only casinos, but other businesses and the public and private sectors. It is also looking to expand airports and other transport mechanisms. It is into precisely such settings that regional casinos should be placed to enhance what resorts have to offer and provide jobs for local communities and a better tourism product.

Surely we should be using the Bill to link RDAs' regeneration plans, regional tourism strategies and local government frameworks. The report shows that Blackpool—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order.

6.53 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): The hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) expressed fairly and clearly the dangers that many of us feel could arise from regional casinos. The most worrying aspect of this debate is that neither the Government nor anyone else have made a convincing case as to why we require such casinos at all; nor have they explained convincingly that we can be certain that casinos will not impact adversely on communities.

We need to look at the evidence in considering the unwelcome and unreasonably optimistic view that this proposition will somehow bring great benefits. Some 25 years ago, the inhabitants of Atlantic City, in New Jersey, were told that wonderful things would happen if they went in for the big casinos. They were told that things would be terrific—that what was a pleasant and prosperous little place would become very exciting. In fact, in the first nine years following their introduction, crime rose not by 10 or 20 per cent., but by 107 per cent. Businesses closed down all over the place, and the number of hotels reduced dramatically. Where before there were 2,100 hotels and businesses in Atlantic City, now, only 60 independent hotels remain. Unemployment, far from disappearing, got into a bad way. In 2002, unemployment in New Jersey as a whole was running at only 3.8 per cent., but in Atlantic City it was 9.9 per cent. What was promised to be great proved not to be great at all.

Why on earth are we doing this, and if we are going to do it, why not try out such casinos in one place—Blackpool, for example—to see what the impact is? My fear is that we will do enormous damage to existing casinos. I represent Southend-on-Sea, which has three casinos. I was not terribly happy when the first one came, but in fairness, thanks to the activities of the current and previous Governments, gambling in Britain is run in a remarkable way, and more sensibly and properly than in almost any other country. As someone who lives locally and who travels quite a bit, I have not received a single complaint about any of the three casinos, except for complaints from two people who claimed that they had been excluded from them because of bad behaviour. Those casinos operate on the basis that people cannot simply walk in. They have to be members and to apply for membership 24 hours beforehand, and if they do not follow the rules they can be excluded.
1 Nov 2004 : Column 79

I hope that the Government realise that thanks to their efforts and those of the previous Government, we have an extremely good system that works very well indeed and produces a great deal of employment and growth. The gaming and betting industry employs 82,000 people, and last year it generated an income of £1.76 billion. It is a big industry that works extremely well. I hope that the Government will say whether they have given any thought to the impact on existing casinos—of which there are many—of these dramatic new regional casinos. Such casinos are huge and will cost a fortune. If they offer massive prizes from their wonderful machines—one Member congratulated the Government on ensuring that they will contain only 1,250 such machines—the effect on existing casinos could be devastating. That does not seem sensible. Why on earth are we going for such a major change without trying it out first?

Some people will say that there are those who always object to change and who are unduly pessimistic. But we should try out such casinos in one place to see what their impact is. Will they help to revive communities and bring new and exciting prospects, or will they damage existing businesses? My fear, as a pessimist, is that it is not a good idea. If we go ahead with what are a substantial number of regional casinos, the effect could be devastating. Of course, they could also increase the amount of gambling; indeed, in order to pay for the new premises, there would have to be a huge increase in gambling.

I am sorry that this is not a free-vote issue. Most Members to whom I speak—from all parts of the House—think this a very unusual move. I hope that the Government will endeavour to give us a reason why we should go ahead with this plan, and to explain why it would not be better to try out such casinos in one area, to see what the implications are. My fear is that, as often happens, the long-term effect could be very serious, and one that we will live to regret.

There is one more point that I wish briefly to make, concerning the Bill's impact on existing operations in Southend. Like many seaside towns, Southend has lots of arcades. The impression that I gained was that under the proposed minor changes, young people would not be able to use certain machines. Such a proposal seemed very unusual indeed. Apparently, young people were to be prevented from using category D machines, such as cranes that grab toys, coin pusher games involving 10p and 2p coins, and redemption machines that issue tickets as prizes.

The Government then explained that those activities would not be prevented, but that they wanted reserve powers, which could be brought in, if necessary. I wonder whether the Government think that that is sensible. How would they like to run a business employing many people and spending much money, if all the time they were subject to the danger of a Government bringing in new regulations that could put them out of business? It seems to me that that is a daft proposal and that it should be scrapped in Committee.

I apologise to Members for going on far too long [Hon. Members: "No."], but I hope that both sides of the House can agree that the proposal for regional casinos could be madness and could be daft. It could do
1 Nov 2004 : Column 80
great damage if we go ahead with those casinos without careful and precise planning. Why not have a trial operation before we make the great change? I believe that that provides the best way forward.

7 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page