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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I have only a few minutes in which to sway the House with a couple of points. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) asked rhetorically whether there were not enough gambling opportunities in Britain already. I remind the House that Britain has more casinos than any other European country except France. There are more casinos here in London than in any other capital
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city. The Government now invite us to add more regional casinos, which is the big bone of contention that divides so many of us on the Labour side and the Opposition from the Government.

The solution is to split the Bill in two: 90 per cent. of it is non-contentious—let it sail through. If we are told in few moments' time that that cannot happen, I shall vote against my own Government with a very heavy heart. I shall not vote for Second Reading. [Interruption.] Some of my colleagues are chortling, as they would, but let me tell them why I will do that. They will have read the briefing from Citizens Advice on the link between gambling and over-indebtedness. It said that the Bill will be a real kick-start to compulsive gambling in this country, and that is not funny at all.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) said, we are talking about a completely new phenomenon—one-armed bandits with unlimited payouts. Someone on the Opposition Benches spoke of a gambling environment where people cannot distinguish between night and day: that means 24-hour gambling and the glittering promise of multi-million pound prizes that will draw people in. We—a Labour Government, for God's sake—should not be doing that. We have more important things to concentrate on.

People talk about problem gambling. The Henley Centre tells us we have about 370,000 problem gamblers, and it forecasts that that number will rise to 700,000 by 2007. Without the Bill, it says, the increase would be much shallower. If we pass the Bill—let us not kid ourselves—we will see an exponential increase in problem gambling. People ask why that should happen here where we have tightly regulated gambling. Just look at what happened in Australia, which does not have such constraints. About 0.8 per cent. of United Kingdom gamblers are problem gamblers, but in Australia it is 2.3 per cent.

I am not being disloyal to my own Government; I think I am being a candid friend in saying that they should let us have two Bills. If they will not do that, we must vote the Bill down.

9.38 pm

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and his Committee for their outstanding work. It has been said more than once that if the Government had listened more carefully to the Committee's recommendations, particularly those in its second report, they would not be in the mess they find themselves in.

Modernisation of the gambling laws is long overdue. The current law has been overtaken by technological changes such as the availability of internet gambling and betting exchanges. We accept the need for change to address such issues. We also support the Bill's stated objectives of protection from harm, fairness and prevention of crime and disorder resulting from gambling.

As our reasoned amendment sets out, we do not support the parts of the Bill that discriminate against our indigenous British industry, which has worked hard over the past 40 years to establish a reputation for responsibility, probity, integrity and safety. It is surely
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the role of Government, when introducing new legislation, to promote a level playing field and a licensing and regulatory regime that does not discriminate against British-based operators in favour of foreign-based investors.

Inward investment is welcome, but it should be balanced, fair and complementary. It is disingenuous to argue, as the Government do, that new investment in regional casinos is open to all, when one group of potential investors is working with one hand tied behind its back. Existing casinos will not be able to compete if the Bill remains unchanged, since it denies them any category A machines. It is generally accepted that the presence of such machines will bring the punters over the threshold. Indeed, so crucial are such machines to the development of the resort or regional casinos that the Americans have told us that they would not contemplate investing here unless they had access to them.

To continue that theme, concern has been expressed in the press about special treatment being afforded to foreign-based casino operators, largely American, who have perhaps been offered the carrot of favourable tax treatment on the one hand, and on the other a strong Government lobby to improve anti-money-laundering EU directives. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride). The Association of Chief Police Officers has also made representations to the Government about money laundering. It is vital that the Government assuage any fears in the industry that they are doing anything that could be interpreted in any way as favouritism.

There is also the question of the Government's true motivation in introducing the Bill now, which several hon. Members raised. Indeed, there seems to be confusion at the heart of the Government over why they are doing so. The Government told the Joint Committee that a key aim of the Bill was to raise revenue, which was a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) raised. However, a special adviser in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport contradicted that by saying that the expansion of regional casinos would be revenue-neutral.

The Government make much of the potential for regeneration. Indeed, at times they seem to be positively seduced by the prospect of substantial investment in deprived areas. Regeneration, however it comes, seems extremely attractive on the face of it, not only to run-down and deprived areas but to the many local authorities that are looking to promote economic development in their areas.

The hon. Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) posed the essential question: what is the definition of regeneration? Is it to be consistent and recognisable in each region of the country? Does the planning system allow for measurable benefits to accrue from permissions for regional casinos?

To move on from that point, but to remain with planning, there is an unanswered question about section 106 agreements. Are they morally right? My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney), the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and the right hon. Member
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for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) talked about planning permissions being predicated on handouts and enticements generated from the profits from gambling.

Perhaps the key question relating to regional casinos is that of proliferation—a matter raised by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and the hon. Members for Great Yarmouth and for Selby (Mr. Grogan). The Joint Committee sought in its second report to address that problem by setting for regional casinos threshold sizes of a minimum overall floor area of 7,500 sq m, of which 4,000 sq m would be used for non-gambling activities. The Government chose not to accept that recommendation, but in doing so failed to address the potential for proliferation. That is where their public relations started to go badly wrong.

Given the problems of gambling addiction, which my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire, my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) raised, it is surely necessary for the Government to have a view on the potential accessibility of gaming machine gambling. That means that they should not only have a clear view of what would be an appropriate number of regional casinos—and hence on accessibility of category A machines—but establish and promote clear unequivocal mechanisms in legislation that will achieve their objectives. Many hon. Members spoke out against leaving that to market forces, and the Government's failure to give a clear steer on that question is at the heart of their credibility.

Several hon. Members argued that the control of numbers could be achieved by putting in the Bill a cap on the number of casinos. That could be done in a number of ways, either as an absolute number overall or as a limit per region—say, two—with regional planning authorities and local authorities determining the location of casinos through existing or amended planning legislation.

Other hon. Members asked for pilot schemes or trials in one or two locations, but these proposals are light years away from the Government's expectation of having from 20 to 40 regional casinos. Who came up with these figures? Many hon. Members—the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders)—questioned the rationale behind the assertion made, and no conclusive arguments were forthcoming from the Government, so we are left concluding that there is no rationale, and the Government are left looking at best disingenuous and at worst incompetent and uncaring.We are being asked to take a quantum leap into the dark, and I get the strong impression from tonight's debate that a significant number of hon. Members are not prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt on this issue.

Labour Members have challenged the Opposition many times during the debate not to vote against Second Reading. If they really want reasons for voting against it, they should look no further than the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Bridgend or, for that matter, the voting intentions of some of their own Back Benchers. Given the track record of this arrogant Government, why should we trust them to allow the
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fundamental changes that we require in Committee to the clauses that we strongly oppose, which chiefly relate to regional casinos?

This Bill leaves too many unanswered questions. What is to be the tax regime? When will the Treasury publish its proposals? What could be the effect on indigenous British casino operators? How many regional casinos will there be? Why should we believe assurances of close working with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on planning issues? What is the scale of potential increase of gambling addiction? These and other questions trouble the House as a whole. They may cover only a proportion of the Bill, but they are disproportionately represented in the scale of their potential impact. Given the record of this Government, we believe that the only way to bring about change is to challenge their fundamental thinking head on. That is why we shall not support them on Second Reading this evening.

9.46 pm

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