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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Secretary of State has argued that the opposition to the Bill is born of snobbishness. It certainly is not; it is born of a concern for aesthetics, and for what we want our towns and cities to look like. I certainly do not want them to be dominated by pubs and clubs where people can drink all day, and by casinos where they can gamble all day and night. This debate is about what we want for our country, in terms of amenity and quality of life.

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and many in the country would agree with his sentiments.
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There are difficulties in relation to what may be a massive increase in the number of machines and the increase in the number of casinos. We may be moving a little too fast, and I would want such development to slow down. As we have heard, if, as it appears under the current proposals, super-casinos can go to centres of population, they may go to more prosperous areas, which may mean that places such as Blackpool, which have been looking forward over the years to such leisure visitors, may lose out if centres such as Manchester are allowed to develop super-casinos. There is a dilemma over to how we allow larger casinos to develop.

I am not a fundamentalist on this matter. In some of our seaside resorts, if casinos provided people with an added reason to visit, hotel rooms would be upgraded and the salaries of many local employees would increase, which might be a boon. If that development were replicated all over the country, however, it would not have the advantages of a place such as Blackpool because it would rely purely on local trade.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) was important—a local authority can reject any casino in its area. Once it gives permission for one, however, it is pretty much impossible to stop permission being given for further casinos. He also raised the problem of saturation. Of course, there is a market reason why there may not be saturation, but equally it may be that all the casinos pile into one area. On the south coast, for example, Poole might decide that it did not want casinos, whereas two miles down the road, Bournemouth might be saturated. That may be a decision of Bournemouth borough council, but it might have an implication for good or ill on my constituents in Poole. I see the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), who represents an area a little further along the coast, is nodding. Those issues must be examined in detail in Committee.

Other aspects of the Bill are welcome, such as tidying-up some of the lottery legislation, particularly, as was mentioned, in relation to hospices. I welcome parts of the Bill, but I have concerns about the general thrust and the spin that the Government have put on it, and which has caused such concern in some of our national newspapers. I suspect that we will debate the finer details of the Bill for some time. If I am lucky enough to be chosen to sit on the Standing Committee for the Bill, I hope to do my best to protect some of the small businesses in my constituency.

8.58 pm

Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), whose contributions in the House are always thoughtful. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests as chair of the all-party leisure group. In that capacity, I enjoy the services of the group's secretariat as provided by Business in Sport and Leisure, whose members include those who will be affected by this Bill.

In addition to representations from the industry, like many other Members, I have received briefings from the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church, among others, as well as representations from constituents concerned about the negative effects of gambling and, conversely, from those wanting to protect their amusement arcade businesses. I very much welcome the Secretary of State's assurances on that earlier.
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While I do not envisage a super-casino adorning the shores of South Dorset, my constituents will of course be affected by the Bill. For example, if the Bill is passed, children in Weymouth will no longer have access to fruit machines suitable only for adults, kids in Portland will no longer be able to gamble on the internet as easily, and if a child in Swanage should manage to side-step those regulations, for the first time, those responsible for allowing that child to gamble will be liable to prosecution.

Just as I welcome those new protections for children, I welcome the regulation for the first time of betting exchanges and fixed odds betting terminals. I also welcome the new industry-funded trust of £3 million each year to counter problem gambling, and the creation of a gambling commission that will monitor problem gambling and have the power to investigate, prosecute and enter premises, seize goods, void bets, levy unlimited fines and remove gambling licences. These new protections are essential in an industry that has been transformed by technological advance since legislation last came before this House in any substantive manner, more than 30 years ago. The legislation has to be modernised now, as many people have said, and we would be sleeping on the job if we did not act.

I have been concerned for some time with problem gambling, hence parliamentary questions that I tabled in January about plans to ensure that the gambling industry funds a trust to help those with such an addiction. I have therefore observed from afar the problems in Australia, which some Members have mentioned. The recent modernisation of gambling in Australia is often cited as a reason not to enter into such a process in this country.

In fact, the Australian model has served to demonstrate the dangers of unrestricted liberalisation under the banner of modernisation, and has proved a timely example of what not to do here in the UK. Problem gambling has soared in Australia because of the decision to allow high-end gambling machines in everyday high street locations, such as pubs, bars and restaurants. For example, in Victoria and New South Wales, there are no restrictions on these "pokie" machines, so exposure has risen dramatically. In contrast, the Gambling Bill proposes that machines be removed from 6,000 unlicensed high street locations. This is a completely different form of modernisation from the Australian pig in a pokie.

Many Members would prefer that this issue simply go away, but contrary to what the media would have us believe, we are not introducing gambling to the unsuspecting UK consumer. Gambling is here now; it is popular and it is not going away. Many Members may not be aware of the extent of prizes currently available in bingo halls. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) spoke eloquently about bingo halls and I am sure that he has played the national bingo game. Some 500-plus licensed bingo clubs link up every night except on Christmas day, and prizes of £100,000 on weekdays and £200,000 on Sunday nights—the Sabbath—are offered. On selected occasions, prizes can range from between £500,000 and £1 million, and the highest pay-out so far in a bingo hall was £985,000. Indeed, it is ironic that although companies such as Gala
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and Rank offer those prizes as part of a national game of bingo, under this Bill such prizes in their casinos will be limited to only £2,000.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): What does the hon. Gentleman expect the average spend to be in an evening in a bingo hall? I suspect that it will be no more than £15, whereas the average spend in a large casino in the United States is some $150 per person.

Jim Knight: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman asks that question, and I can tell him that the average spend in a bingo hall is £30 a week, and £60 a month in a UK casino. Individual punters in this country spend more on bingo than they do in a casino.

Ultimately, most people realise that the best way to leave a casino with a small fortune is to go there with a large one. Despite all the opportunities that we currently have to gamble, the two angels have not yet descended on the gates of Sodom, and society is still intact. The UK has a successful and highly responsible industry, as many Members have said. The national debate thus far has seemed oblivious to this fact, and we can improve the Bill by building on the success of our domestic industry.

Put simply, it is not the role of Government to restrict unreasonably or to suppress artificially an industry that has shown itself to be responsible. Rather, it is their role to create an environment in which business can thrive and individuals can act free from constraint, and in which regulations and safeguards ensure that the vulnerable are protected, and that the integrity of our social fabric is maintained over the long term. The Bill aims to strike that balance and I will vote in favour of it this evening. Given that 90 per cent. of it increases public protection from the negative effects of gambling, it is surely logical for Members from all parts of the House to give it a Second Reading tonight, and then to thrash out our differences over the other 10 per cent. during the remaining stages.

In the second half of my speech, I will focus on that 10 per cent. I share the concerns expressed about letting the market determine the number of regional casinos. I am worried that we seem to be standing ready to throw the doors open to a plethora of relatively unknown, untested and outsized casino operators, with unproven social responsibility credentials here in the UK. I am concerned that the market free-for-all that the Bill would create in respect of regional casinos will compromise its aims.

We currently have one of the lowest rates of problem gambling in the developed world. If we are to preserve that, we surely need to be able to monitor the situation as it unfolds. The currently favoured big-bang approach would not allow that, and it could therefore negate some of the protections introduced by the Bill, consigning them to the status of mere retrospective measures. We have the opportunity now to adopt a more gradual roll-out, allowing the progressive relaxation of regulations, while monitoring the effects and ensuring that the protections are effective. Why not take that opportunity?
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