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Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): A figure of 300,000 is used for the number of problem gamblers. Does my hon. Friend agree that not only they but their families are affected and that the problem is perhaps greater than it is presented?

Mr. Griffiths: Yes. To those 300,000-plus people, one has to add at least three or four family members who are damaged by the process. Beyond that, others are affected. I am therefore sceptical about our ability to say, "Look, we're only acting like mature adults in giving people an opportunity to gamble in regulated circumstances. We'll make sure that they won't get into any severe gambling problems." The evidence is to the contrary.
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I am surprised—having been on the fringe of developments and given the amount of pre-legislative scrutiny that the draft Bill received—that so many people are dissatisfied with the final product. Perhaps the Government have been searching for compromises and, in trying to satisfy everybody, have satisfied nobody except those who want the mega-casinos.

Kate Hoey: I share my hon. Friend's concern about the vote. Does he agree that, given the all-round support for many aspects of the Bill, the Government could solve the difficulty by withdrawing the provision on the mega-casinos, thus allowing the regulation provisions to have all-party support and progress through the House quickly?

Mr. Griffiths: That is a brilliant idea, which I would happily support. If the Government said that they had decided to do that in fairness to the views expressed, I would be happy. Pigs may fly and I am waiting. However, at the moment I am veering towards voting against Second Reading. Earlier, I thought that I would vote to allow it to proceed to Committee, but the possibility of genuinely significant change appears to diminish as the night goes on.

7.29 pm

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). I agree with his views and he amply articulated the reasons why Her Majesty's Opposition will vote against Second Reading. They will do that for many of the reasons that he outlined.

I am delighted to be called to speak because the Bill heralds one of the most profound social changes in our society that I have witnessed in my seven years as a Member of Parliament. I am therefore pleased to put my arguments on the record and I shall be equally pleased, if I am chosen, to serve in Committee.

Many Members, including the Secretary of State, have given personal freedom to gamble as a good reason for the Bill. In fact, the United Kingdom already has liberal, adult, fair and reasonable gaming laws that have stood the test of time, as is shown by the fact that, in relative terms, we have fewer gambling addicts than other jurisdictions. It is possible to win many millions of pounds on the lottery. It is possible to put any amount on a horse at a bookmaker's and—in the case of those lucky enough to pick all the right horses—to win many hundreds of thousands of pounds. There are plenty of opportunities to gamble, and that includes casinos, of which there are already 130. I see no overwhelming reason to change the gambling laws more profoundly than they have been changed already, and my view is strongly supported by the results of public opinion polls.

Many Members, including the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), have suggested that we can all agree with 90 per cent. of the Bill. I hope the Minister listens, because much of what he wishes to do is very relevant. The Bill could have a fair passage through both Houses if he chose to proceed with that 90 per cent. rather than
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the 10 per cent. that relates to the casino industry. I fear that he will not listen tonight, but given the House's expectation of a general election next year and a possible clearing of the decks by March, when the shutters come down the 90 per cent. may well go through on the nod and the 10 per cent. may well be dropped. It is a shame that so much engagement must take place on measures that I think are unlikely to be passed.

Mr. Hoyle rose—

Miss Kirkbride: Does my hon. Friend wish to intervene?

Mr. Hoyle: The hon. Lady's hon. Friend is very pleased that she has given way. She is opposed to 10 per cent. of the Bill, but—although this relates to that 10 per cent.—may I ask whether she would accept one or two super-casinos on a trial basis?

Miss Kirkbride: I am happy to pre-empt my speech. I would prefer one super-casino on a trial basis, although I would probably accept two. I would like to take the argument further, but I am happy to give a direct answer to a direct question.

Let me now focus on my disagreements with the Government. The main one relates to their argument that their principal aim is to protect children. I do not think that it stacks up. At Question Time, the Secretary of State failed to answer my question about how the Bill would benefit children. In fact, the Department has done no research that shows what harm is done to them by the existing gaming laws. I see no reason to prevent fish and chip shops and cab firms from retaining their modest slot machines offering a £5 payout for a 10p stake. Local authorities already have the right to ban machines from such premises, but they do not choose to do so. Why are the Government choosing to do it now? This seems a vindictive measure, given that it will affect small businesses that work hard to make a profit.

The Government claim that they want to regulate the internet in order to protect children, but as they cannot regulate internet sites outside the UK's jurisdiction, there is no real argument for that either.

I am particularly worried about the possible effect on seaside slot machine arcades. Many seaside communities already face serious economic challenges, and such arcades do no obvious harm to children. I remember gambling in them as a child—and I assure the Minister that I am not a gambler now by any stretch of the imagination. We are talking about a harmless pursuit that promotes economic activity in seaside resorts. The Minister denies that there would be a problem, but there is a problem: his intention to put a black spot on seaside arcades by creating a power that could shut them down overnight. Any seaside arcade owner thinking of investing in gaming machines will be deeply worried, not just by that part of the Bill, but by measures to cut the stake to be levied and the value of the potential prize. I hope very much that the Minister will think again.

Kate Hoey rose—

Miss Kirkbride: I will happily give way to my hon. Friend—as she is, on this issue.

Kate Hoey: Given her former responsibility, does the hon. Lady share my concern about the many sports
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clubs throughout the country that use gaming machines as a direct means of raising income? They are licensed to have the machines, but do not allow children under 18 to use them. Will not the Government have to find a way to replace the money that many small amateur sports clubs will lose?

Miss Kirkbride: That is a good point. Last year, the Government rightly gave sports clubs of that kind rate relief, but depriving them of the machines could do more damage than depriving them of the relief.

Members have mentioned the changes relating to category A gaming machines. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page), who has left the Chamber, said he did not see how the new regime would make a difference, but it would produce an environment very different from the one to which we are accustomed. Category A machines are programmed by very clever people to be enticing, hypnotic and addictive. The player feels that he is one point, or one fruit, away from the £1 million prize: he need only chase his losses, and everything will be all right on the night. That is very different from gambling on the horses, because the bookmakers close. It is very different from gambling on the lottery, which can be done only twice a week. These premises will be open 24 hours a day and can be visited by people on their way to work and on their way back. Even on the Government's estimate, they will be available in up to 40 towns and cities.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) said that he thought casinos should be available in every region, and what was the problem? The problem is this: people who are addicted to gambling will be able to play addictive slot machines every hour of the day, every day of the week, every week of the year. Again, that is very different from what we have been used to.

The hon. Gentleman gave an interesting response to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) about the number of casinos already in Glasgow. I was surprised to learn that Glasgow already supports six casinos and that planning is under way for five super-casinos. The Government's proposals will do great damage to existing casinos because as they are not allowed to operate category A machines, they will be wiped out by the new regime—not that I am suggesting that they should be allowed category A machines.

There is clearly an incipient demand for casinos of this kind, especially in poorer communities, and the idea that no great social change will ensue from the Government's proposals is strictly for the birds. With 40 super-casinos across the country, the bulk of the population will have regular access to such gaming. I think that that will herald serious social changes. It will also displace many existing businesses. It will damage pubs, clubs and restaurants in town centres. In order to recoup investment in casinos they will have to drag the punters in by offering cheap booze and meals and free entertainment. Those who do not gamble will have a very nice time, but those who do will be in deep trouble. Their names and addresses will be taken down, and when they have not been there for a week they will be reminded that if they go in they can have £10-worth on the slot machine free—and hey presto, they will end up spending much more than they expected to. I do not think that people appreciate just how such organisations work and it will come as quite a shock as and when the proposals are unleashed.
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Money laundering has not been referred to in the debate to my knowledge since it was mentioned by the Secretary of State. It is shocking that the Government are even considering changing the money laundering regulations in order to allow people to take away their chips. If any hon. Member goes to the bank, we have to take our birth certificate and everything else to prove that we exist just to put £5 into an account, yet we will be able to take away thousands of pounds worth of chips with no questions asked. It is quite wrong, but clearly it is the only way that the big American casino operators will be persuaded to come to Britain. It is disgraceful that that should even be considered.

The quintessence of new Labour's confusion is that it can on the one hand say that these are great proposals, using all the buzz words such as regeneration, modernisation, that it will all be fantastic and that the casino operators will come and spend hundreds of millions of pounds tarting up our seaside resorts and town centres, but make no mention of those who will provide the return on that investment. Who will provide the returns on the investments made by the casino operators in our town centres? It will be those who can least afford it, the people who think that their lives can be changed by a big win on the category A machines, and it has to be a lot of people if tens or hundreds of millions of pounds of investment is to be recouped.

To answer again the point made by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), I very much favour the early-day motion tabled by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) suggesting that we should trial one of these resort destination category A casinos in one place—I would be more than happy for it to be Blackpool, which has made a good case for itself—and I hope that my words and those of other hon. Members will be listened to tonight.

7.41 pm

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