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Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham) (Lab): I assure the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) that a large category A win on a machine would certainly change my way of life, and I do not share the nightmare scenario that she has just described. I certainly do not know where she heard some of these wilder accusations about deals being done with the US casino industry by the Government. As an ex-journalist, her imagination is fertile, as are those of so many of her erstwhile colleagues.

I declare my interests in this issue. I sat on the pre-legislative scrutiny Joint Committee and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) who chaired it with skill and great fairness. I have also recently completed an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship at Ladbrokes. I hasten to add that my only financial involvement with Ladbrokes is that of a small albeit consistent contributor to its profit margins through my eternally optimistic betting on Chelsea winning 10-nil each week. One day it will come up and I will clear up as well. I might not have learnt how to beat the odds while I was at Ladbrokes, but I did come to appreciate how efficient, profitable and socially responsible a business Ladbrokes is, and I am certain that those attributes are also shared by other bookmakers such as William Hill and Paddy Power.

While at Ladbrokes, I was afforded access at all levels, from boardroom through to betting shop, and I was left with the clear impression that the British gambling
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industry is one of the best regulated, and most orderly and efficient in the world. For those who have a moral objection to gambling, such virtues will be of no consolation, but gambling remains a leisure activity for the vast majority of those who participate, and it is essential that they should have confidence in the industry's probity. One of the main attractions of the British gambling industry for those at home and overseas is that it is overwhelmingly free of corruption and is not controlled by criminal interests. I wholeheartedly support the Bill because I believe that it will reinforce such a well-merited reputation.

The reaction to the Bill, especially in the media, has bordered on the grotesque. I will always respect those with a moral track record against gambling, but spare me the anti-Government moralising of the Daily Mail. If the Prime Minister was declared to be the son of God, and there are some Labour Members who believe that he is, the Daily Mail would undoubtedly be whipping up support for the devil. On gambling, as on many other social issues, I am a libertarian. Providing an individual's activities do not imperil, attack or destroy the lives and interests of other individuals or species—or species—Government involvement should be minimal.

Life is not of course simple and straightforward, and there will always be those who take any activity to excess, whether it is gambling, drinking, smoking, eating, shopping, or, indeed, sex. Such people need help, but I assume that we would not seriously consider banning the activities in order to protect the obsessive minority to the detriment of the responsible majority. In such situations, the Government's job is to offer advice and information to enable people to make informed choices, and where necessary the Government should regulate. That is precisely what the Bill sets out to do.

I particularly welcome those parts of the Bill that seek to update casino rules that are both silly and patronising. The 24-hour membership rule is the most obvious example, but membership of a casino should be retained and that can be considered in Committee. I know that the British Casino Association would support that. However, if the Bill is defeated on Second Reading and there is no Committee stage, many of the good points made tonight cannot possibly be addressed.

I find it strange that in London, for example, only certain boroughs, such as Westminster, Camden and Kensington, are allowed to have casinos. I personally would like to see a casino in the east end as part of leisure and recreational facilities. Indeed, in 1990 when I proposed in the House the idea of a directly elected mayor for London, which I believe was not universally welcomed at the time, I also proposed that part of the resources available to the mayor should derive from gambling profits in London. I recommended then, 14 years ago, the liberalisation of gaming laws to allow the setting up of municipally owned casinos in London and elsewhere, operated by others maybe and under licence, particularly riverboat casinos on the Thames, which would add to the attraction of the city. It is right that the city should be able to benefit from such things.

I might add that one of the things that we should be doing instead of just granting licences is auctioning them, because one way of testing the market is by seeing how much people are prepared to pay. I saw, indeed see,
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no reason why local authorities should not derive substantial income and benefits from casino and other forms of gambling, and that is why I support the Bill.

Much of the opposition to casinos, which we have spent much time discussing, has centred on their possible proliferation and the likelihood that this part of the industry will be dominated by American big business. The first objection is addressed by the Government's assurances with regard to regional local authority determination, although there is good support on both sides of the House for a planning strategy for casinos, and that too should be considered closely in Committee.

The idea that the American industry will take over the whole of the British casino and gambling industry is alarmist. I have been reading newspaper stories about £100 million being lavished by US gambling interests on lobbying in this country, but I think that that is sheer fantasy and I can find no evidence of that whatever, and no one has put forward any evidence that that sort of sum has been spent, but it somehow fits in well with the semi-demented accusation by the Daily Mail that the Government are

Such purple prose is rarely written before lunchtime.

It might well be that the highly developed US casino industry will wish to invest heavily in the UK, but before it does, the Government should insist on a quid pro quo. At the moment, bookmakers in this country cannot accept sports wagers from US residents, either online or by telephone, nor do they accept casino, poker or other kinds of gaming. The federal legislation, the Wire Act, explicitly prohibits sports betting and, it is claimed, internet casino wagering as well.

As we know, internet gambling is the fastest growing unregulated part of the British gaming industry, and it seems right that we should regulate it, but we should also try to persuade the United States to bring its gambling laws up to date. It is wrong that the Americans should have the right to refuse a business operation based in London, Gibraltar or elsewhere, and we should push them hard on that. If they are to have access to our gambling industry, we should insist that they bring their laws in line with ours. Officially, one cannot bet online or on sports fixtures in the US, but anyone in any bar in New York knows that in fact one can. The American gambling regime is much like ours before 1961.

Under controlled and well-regulated conditions, gambling on football, racing and the lottery, and over the internet and in casinos, can be both harmless and fun. The Government should press ahead with the Bill, and I hope that my hon. Friends will not join the Opposition parties in voting against Second Reading, because if the Bill does not go into Committee, we cannot improve it. It will no doubt emerge improved, and in a few years' time people will wonder what all the fuss was about. I would certainly put money on that.

7.51 pm

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): The debate so far has been fascinating. The best speeches have come from the Back Benches. In particular, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) was fluent and moving on the problem of gambling, and the hon. Member for
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Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) made a remarkably honest speech and seemed to be moving in the right direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), who knows a lot about this, was also extremely good, and even the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who usually tries to whip us up, tried to calm us down and said some very interesting things.

For myself, I am wholly opposed to the Bill. It is a bad Bill that promotes gambling, and it should be scrapped. The mood of the House has been clear, and even those who have supported the Bill in broad terms have said that there is quite a lot wrong with it. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) offered the most sensible compromise solution when she said that all the stuff relating to casinos should be scrapped and the rest kept. I might be prepared to go along with that, but the fact remains that this is a very bad Bill.

The Government's strongest argument is that the status quo is indefensible, and they have attempted to portray all those who seek to defend it as fantasists. Frankly, there is not much wrong with the status quo. For the past 40 years or so, gambling has been well regulated and we have had fewer gambling addicts than in other countries. The situation is reasonably under control and people can enjoy themselves without going to the extremes seen in countries such as America and Australia. Of course, the status quo gets out of date from time to time, and I understand that internet gambling must be controlled, but why not have a Bill devoted to that subject alone? Let us deal with it head on. There is no need to change radically the whole basis of gambling regulation.

The situation in this country is fundamentally satisfactory, and with occasional tinkering—perhaps quite major tinkering from time to time—we can avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater and keep what is good about the current set-up. Other countries are envious of what we have achieved: a balance between the liberal approach of allowing people to gamble if they want to and avoiding the damaging consequences that have become obvious in many other countries.

The Bill will inevitably lead to a proliferation of super-casinos. Let us not forget where all this started: the mob wanted somewhere to launder their money, so Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky founded the casinos that are the forefathers of today's. Then America took it a step further and casinos were built in depressed places such as Atlantic City in the recession of the 1980s. I have full sympathy with the seaside resorts argument, and there is undoubtedly a problem in places such as Blackpool, but let us deal with that specifically—there is no need to change the whole scenario. Again, the Americans set up casinos on Indian reservations to help their depressed economies, and we have seen the consequences of such ideas in Australia as well.

When the Government are told of the appalling growth of gambling addiction in Australia, they say, "Oh well, it would be different here." Frankly, I doubt it. Whatever regulation we have, I bet the inevitable market forces will break through and make maximum use of any gaps left in the legislation. I am the realist on this, not the Government. If they think that they can staunch the problem by regulation, they are living in cloud cuckoo land. The weight of demand will burst through.
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The Bill will inevitably lead to more crime. It was said in one newspaper—I do not think it was the Daily Mail—that in Atlantic City casinos equal crime, and crime equals casinos. It is a natural relationship because of money laundering, and drugs and prostitution follow. Atlantic City is a perfect example of what could happen in this country in areas around the casinos.

As the hon. Member for Ceredigion said, it is not a light matter that there are 300,000 gambling addicts in the country, and that number will inevitably be added to, despite what the Secretary of State says, by a growth in gambling. It is a great tragedy.

I agree with those who have spoken about poverty. The fact is that the poor will suffer most from these measures, and it is a great pity. It is not patronising to say so—it is facing facts.

There is clearly some truth in the regeneration argument, but at what cost? I suspect that casinos will be like the banyan tree: they will flourish at the expense of all around them. That is certainly true in Atlantic City, where there are 43-storey casinos surrounded by a wasteland of sleazy bars and so forth. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) pointed out how many hotels and restaurants had closed as a consequence of such development. It may look like regeneration, but it is not really. The idea that we have to rely on gambling to regenerate our inner cities is bankrupt. Surely we can do better.

I am surprised that it is the Labour party that has introduced this idea—a party that owes more to Methodism than to Marx and once prided itself on its moral standpoint; a party once led by John Smith. Would John Smith have introduced such a Bill? I very much doubt it. This is the Government who introduced 24-hour drinking. What sort of society are they creating? This is the party that sneered at the encouragement of private enterprise when the Tories were in power, and they have now gone to the trashiest and commercial end of the unacceptable face of capitalism. That shows the real moral vacuum of new Labour, which just does not know where it stands.

The Government and the Secretary of State have mishandled the Bill. All the evidence of the shenanigans of the past few days shows that she went too far in the direction of what the American and British companies wanted and had to pull back under pressure from the House and from public opinion. I applaud her willingness to pull back and to be flexible, but she was forced into it. I do not blame her alone: the Cabinet had some responsibility. They should have put their foot down and said that this would not wash.

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