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Session 2003 - 04
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Standing Committee Debates
Gambling Bill

Gambling Bill

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Standing Committee B

Tuesday 9 November 2004


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Gambling Bill

The Chairman: Morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to what I am sure will be a contented series of sittings. Before we go any further, I shall deal with some housekeeping arrangements. When I am in the Chair, hon. Members may remove their jackets at any time. I cannot speak for my co-Chairman and I take no offence from those who pre-empted my consideration for their comfort.

9.30 am

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): I beg to move,


    (1) during proceedings on the Gambling Bill, in addition to its first Meeting on Tuesday 9th November at 9.30 am, the Standing Committee shall meet when the House is sitting on Tuesdays and Thursdays (except for Thursday 18th November, Tuesday 23rd November, Thursday 25th November and Tuesday 21st December) at 9.30 am and 2.30 pm;

    (2) 20 sittings shall be allocated to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

    (3) the proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the table below and v shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of the table.

    ProceedingsTime for conclusion of proceedings
    Clauses 1 to 11; Schedule 1; Clauses 12 to 14; Schedule 2; Clauses 15 to 19; Schedule 3; Clause 20; Schedule 4; Clauses 21 to 28; Schedule 5; Clauses 29 to 119; Schedule 6; Clauses 120 to 1325.30 pm on Tuesday 16th November
    Clause 133; Schedule 7
    Clauses 134 to 218
    5.30 pm on Thursday 2nd December
    Clauses 219 to 231; Schedule 8; Clauses 232 to 242; Schedule 9; Clauses 243 to 259; Schedule 10; Clauses 260 to 272; Schedule 11; Clauses 273 to 278; Schedule 12; Clauses 279 to 2845.30 pm on Tuesday 14th December
    Clauses 285 to 312; 5.30 pm on Thursday 16th December
    Clauses 313 to 333; Schedules 13 and 14; Clauses 334 and 335; Schedule 15; Clauses 336 and 337; remaining proceedings on the Bill5.30 pm on Tuesday 11th January 2005

I knew that, given your leniency and the way in which you conduct yourself, Mr. Gale, taking my coat off would be endorsed by you and that you would allow other hon. Members to do the same. I welcome you to the Chair and hope that, as you say, our proceedings will be fruitful.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): May I begin by also welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Gale. This is the second occasion on which I have had the privilege to serve under your chairmanship. We spent a happy couple of months discussing the Communications Bill and I have no doubt that we shall have an equally enjoyable experience while examining the Gambling Bill under your guidance.

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The Bill has been subject to considerable debate and discussion for several years. It stems from the Budd report, which is coming up to three years old, since when there has been extensive consultation with those who are affected. There has been much debate, and the draft Bill was examined by the Joint Committee. Perhaps I could again put on record our thanks to the scrutiny Committee for its work. There is no doubt that it carried out an extremely comprehensive examination of many of the issues raised and its recommendations have improved the Bill in those areas where they have been accepted. We believe that in those areas where its recommendations were not accepted, the Bill would be greatly improved if they were taken up.

Our deliberations in Committee will be aided by the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) who served on the scrutiny Committee, and by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who is not present at the moment but who was also a member of that Committee. The fact that the Bill has already been examined in detail does not mean in any way that it should not be subject to close parliamentary scrutiny. It has 337 clauses and 15 schedules; it is a comprehensive piece of legislation and, although the scrutiny Committee did good work, it did not go through the Bill clause by clause, which we believe would be beneficial.

It has occasionally been said that a scrutiny Committee's examination of a Bill reduces in some way the need for a Standing Committee to spend much time on it. That is not the view I took on the Communications Bill. You will probably bear out, Mr. Gale, that that Bill was subject to much controversy and some amendment in Standing Committee, despite the work of the scrutiny Committee which had examined it previously. I have no doubt that the same will apply in this case.

Since the scrutiny Committee carried out its work, there have already been some changes in the Government's position. We particularly welcome the concession that the Secretary of State gave on Second Reading when she met one of the concerns that had been expressed: the loophole in planning law that would have allowed any leisure facility to be converted into a casino without additional planning permission. That was a clear loophole and on Second Reading the Secretary of State belatedly agreed to close it. However, there are still many other areas of concern on which the Government have not yet said that they are willing to amend the Bill accordingly, and we shall press those matters in the Committee.

We are still of the view that the Bill is badly flawed. The Government are fond of saying that the Bill is 90 per cent. regulatory and just 10 per cent. liberalising. That may be so, but the 90 per cent. that represents mainly regulatory measures is essentially a fundamental overhaul of legislation that is more than 30 years old. The Bill goes on to take account of new developments that have never been legislated for, such as online gambling. It will have an enormous effect, not just on the gambling industry, but right across the leisure industry. That is why it is important that all the provisions are examined closely to ensure that we get

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them right. Having said that, the Government are correct that the greatest controversy surrounds the 10 per cent. of the Bill that is liberalising.

It is an astonishing achievement of the Government that they have taken a Bill that was widely welcomed and for which almost everyone agreed there was a need, and managed to produce legislation that almost everyone is opposed to—other than some Labour Members and the American casino companies. The creation of such a coalition is quite an achievement. It comprises not just the UK gambling industry, but the Churches, the Christian Institute, the Salvation Army, the Methodist Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury—who has said he has serious concerns about the Bill—and the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, who has said that it could undermine the social fabric. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that the Bill

    ''in its present form is very likely to result in a considerable increase in individual and social disorder as a result of excessive gambling''.

The Guardian has said that the Bill

    ''could be one of the most destructive aspects of Labour's legacy and a dreadful metaphor for the Government's uncertain purpose''.

It has been joined by the Daily Mail, which has said that the

    ''Bill is a cast-iron guarantee of human misery''.

Perhaps most extraordinary of all is a statement that I thought I would never hear: Polly Toynbee has said that she thinks that the Daily Mail is right on this issue.

The Bill has also united opposition throughout the House. On Second Reading, just a week ago, 29 Labour Members voted against the Bill and many more abstained. Curiously, none of the Government Members who voted against the Bill have been fortunate enough to be selected to serve on the Committee, which is a sadness. It is odd that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has not been selected. He said:

    ''This is a truly nasty Bill.''

Indeed, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), said:

    ''I believe that the Bill would be bad for the country, bad for hard-working families and bad for the party.''—[Official Report, 1 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 54.]

The Chairman: Order. I am afraid I am a truly nasty Chairman. The hon. Gentleman is trying very hard and almost succeeding, but not quite. We had better return to the programme order.

Mr. Whittingdale: I am merely indicating why it is important that the Bill be scrutinised, given the depth of concern about it throughout the House. However, I shall abide by your ruling, Mr. Gale, and not continue to quote the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who said that the Bill was ''gaga''. It is a matter of some concern that the Committee does not fully reflect the views of the House, as expressed a week ago on Second Reading, which makes it more important that we should speak for those Government Members who have expressed concern but will not have the opportunity to set that out in Committee.

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Mr. Caborn: Just to put the record straight, of the 29 Government Members who voted against the Bill, not one applied to serve on the Committee.

Mr. Whittingdale: I suspect that that was because they realised the response that they would have received had they done so.

It is important that we examine the Bill closely. Lord McIntosh, the Secretary of State and the Minister have said that the Government are in listening mode. They have dropped heavy hints that they are willing to make concessions and that they will listen to argument. Indeed, we are beginning to see a flow of Government amendments, and we anticipate and hope that there will be more in due course. That makes it even more important that we examine the Bill carefully, because if the amendments are to go as far as we would want in order to make the Bill acceptable, they will have to be substantial. That will mean that we will be looking at a very different Bill to the one put before the Joint Committee and, indeed, the one before us today.


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