Gambling Bill

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Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Does not this demonstrate the problem that we are creating for ourselves? I accept that we do not want a free-for-all in the marketplace so that the market determines where the casinos go, but we have just been given the example of Manchester v. Blackpool. I sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman says about limiting the numbers and having pilots, but surely he must have a mechanism for determining where the casino should go, whether that is Blackpool or Manchester. One cannot simply say ''pilots'' and then leave the question up in the air without having some idea of how one will determine it.

Mr. Moss: With all due respect, that debate relates to clause 7.

The Chairman: Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; that debate does come later. I appreciate that the early stages of discussion of a Bill such as this can sometimes be difficult because waters get a little muddy, but very clear amendments have been tabled to clause 7, which is probably when this debate should take place.

Mr. Moss: Thank you, Mr. Gale. I did not want to be seen to be doing your job, but I will happily debate those issues then. They are critical to the Bill. Most of the Bill and its nuances here and there can be adjusted, but the guts of it lie in where the casinos go, how many there should be and what criteria we use to choose where to put them. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) is spot on, but we will have that debate a little later.

I believe that I have covered all my amendments to clause 1.

Mr. Foster: Not amendment No. 37.

Mr. Moss: One of my hon. Friends will deal with that.

Mr. Banks: I have some sympathy with the points made by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, because it is very difficult for anyone to argue that we should be against social responsibility in the gambling industry. There is, however, something rather patronising and almost Victorian about this debate. People will not be forced to go into casinos. They will not be rounded up and driven into them; they will go into them willingly. Although one must be relatively cautious, particularly when moving into new territory, it is necessary to remind the Committee that in the end people are responsible for their own actions.

Mr. Page: The hon. Gentleman refers to Victorian values. If I remember rightly, there were gin shops in the Victorian era, which caused huge misery and problems for women and children. Is he saying that that sort of responsibility should be abrogated?

Mr. Banks: The hon. Gentleman knows that I did not say ''Victorian values''. That would be a very stupid thing to say. I leave it to the former Conservative Prime Minister to come up with such sayings. Little boys used to go up chimneys, too, as the

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hon. Gentleman knows. He also knows that I would not be in favour of that, although if I remember rightly—not personally, of course: I might be old, but I am not that old—there were all sorts of lurid tales and suggestions that if little boys were prevented from going up chimneys, it would mean hunger and starvation for their families and they would lose their jobs. There is a Victorian aspect to what I am hearing this morning. I said that there is something Victorian about it; I did not refer to Victorian values.

In situations such as this, it pays the Opposition—opposition to the Bill crosses the Floor; there is opposition among Members of all parties—to paint the most lurid possible picture of what might happen: huge casinos on every street corner causing poverty, distress, destitution, suicides, family break-ups and civilisation as we know it to grind to a halt. That is a rather lurid picture. We ought to keep what might happen in some context.

The Bill is a welcome development, offering large numbers of opportunities for regeneration and enhanced facilities. People will have the opportunity to go into casinos, which they do not have now because of the limited number of them around the country. Although it is good to talk about social responsibility, in the end people must be responsible for their own actions. We in this place are taking people's individual responsibilities away, because someone will always say, ''What are the Government going to do about this? Why don't the Government do something about this?'' I get sick and tired of hearing that. It is necessary to move with caution, but not to be overly patronising in our view of the population as a whole. If we can resist temptation—well, if most of us can resist temptation—why on earth cannot the rest or the great majority of the population? Oscar Wilde said:

    ''I can resist everything except temptation.''

Mr. Foster: Perhaps that quotation has led the Government very sensibly in clause 23 to specify what the code of practice established by the new commission should contain. I assume that the hon. Gentleman will support that clause. Does he not accept that that is absolutely about social responsibility?

The Chairman: Order. We shall enjoy that debate when we come to it.

Mr. Banks: I was going to say that. Everyone wants to do your job, Mr. Gale.

I did not argue against social responsibility, but I am trying to inject a greater measure of reality and trust into our approach to this issue. Somehow we feel that we are okay, but that we must protect everyone else. I do not feel that we need to do that. From my contact with the gambling industry, I am fairly certain that there is a great deal of social responsibility in it already. The industry does not want to destroy its own trade and right to work. It has to be socially responsible. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire said that this is about making profits. Of course it is, but if it were a question of gambling operators wringing people dry, no one would want to go into a casino. There has to be a fair distribution of money in casinos and machines in order to make gambling attractive. We need to say that in

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the end people must be responsible for themselves. Although we must include realistic safeguards, we should not be patronising about it.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Having heard what the hon. Gentleman has just said, and having for years listened to him making speeches about how we wants to ban hunting, I am amazed that he is such a liberaliser on this issue. Does he not accept that he could have made precisely the same speech in debates on the Licensing Bill, and that we know that that Bill has led to positive harm with binge drinking? We must be very careful to ensure that the public and the vulnerable are safeguarded.

10.45 am

Mr. Banks: I am not arguing that we should not put in place adequate safeguards; I am merely saying that we should give credence to people's ability to handle their own affairs. I have to address the point, and shall do so briefly, because the hon. Gentleman challenged me on it. There is a big difference between what people do to themselves and what they do to others, which includes other species. There is no conflict in my views. If the hon. Gentleman did not realise that I would have thought the issue through, he underestimates me. Of course there is a difference, and that is all I need to say.

I was making the point that we must not assume that everyone is so feeble-minded that they cannot make their own choices based on their own judgment and what they want to achieve.

Bob Russell rose—

Mr. Banks: I am trying to get out of this speech but I keep getting interrupted.

Bob Russell: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can remember what drove the Labour Government of Harold Wilson to introduce the Gaming Act 1968.

Mr. Banks: As a matter of fact, no, I cannot. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would help me?

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) is not rising to his feet.

Mr. Banks: I suspect that in much of the legislation that we had in the past, and in the situation prior to 1961 as well, the issue was about regularising activities that people indulge in. If we do not properly regulate such activities, criminal fraternities will step in and do it for us in a way that we would find socially undesirable.

Bob Russell: Was the hon. Gentleman aware that prior to the 1968 Act there were more than 1,000 casinos in the country?

Mr. Banks: No, I was not. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for educating me about that. I know that the situation is limited now, and that, for instance, in West Ham the football club wants to operate a casino but is unable to do so. [Hon. Members: ''Ah! Now we know.''] Given the fact that that was in the newspapers, it can hardly be called a well-kept secret. West Ham has to find some way to get people to go to the ground if not for the football. I speak as someone who has the privilege and pleasure of representing much of the area covered by the

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ground, although I have never been a supporter of the club. That gets me into difficulties from time to time, but, under the circumstances, one has to stand up for one's belief. One can change many things in one's life, but one should never change one's allegiance to a football club.

There are opportunities, but I return to the original point, which is that we should by all means safeguard those whom we believe to be vulnerable, but we should not get things out of proportion. The great majority of people in this country will be able to go to a casino if they want to, although many people will not want to. Personally, I do not find casinos at all attractive, but I do not see why I should be part of a process to deny people that opportunity.

Mr. Hawkins: I want to begin, as I did my speech on Second Reading, by referring the Committee to my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests. To go a little further than that, a recent article suggested that the Government had packed their side of the Committee. However, the article, although absolutely accurate as far as it went, also included a reference to what I said on Second Reading, but by omission gave completely the opposite impression of the facts. I made it quite clear on Second Reading that I wanted to talk principally about the casinos issue, as I in fact did, although I also mentioned that since I had ceased to be the shadow Minister responsible for gaming I had undertaken a small consultancy for a British company. I made it clear that that company was not involved in the casino business, nor would it be.

By not including the second part of my declaration, the newspaper that referred to the composition of the Committee gave exactly the opposite impression of the facts. It is clearly of some concern that when the national press report the proceedings on this Bill, they should seek to give the opposite impression to the facts by leaving out salient information when Members make speeches.

I will concentrate on the two amendments against which my name appears first, although I will touch briefly on the other amendments against which my name appears, simply to say that I support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire and the hon. Member for Bath.

I understand that the genesis of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bath was the views of the British Amusement and Catering Trades Association, with which I have worked happily for many years since I was the hon. Member for Blackpool, South. BACTA does a great deal through its charitable work, such as its work with Gamcare to help solve the problems of those who are addicted to gambling. I have worked with BACTA on an amicable—and, of course, unremunerated—basis on several pieces of legislation. Over the years, it has shown through its advice to Members on both sides of the House that it has the interests of the whole community at heart, so I was happy to add my name to amendments suggested by BACTA.

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I particularly support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. As he knows, I share the concerns that he mentioned, to which we will return in our debates on clause 7. I abide by your ruling, Mr. Gale, that we should not anticipate that debate. However, you asked us to indicate when speaking to amendments if we wish to press them to a Division, so I will say that I am anxious to do so with amendments Nos. 36 and 37.

I tabled the amendments because of issues that affect the town closest to my constituency, part of which includes wards in Guildford borough, where there is a problem about which the previous chief constable of Surrey, Denis O'Connor, who has just retired and is now a member of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, has briefed all Surrey Members of Parliament. At a meeting, a year or so ago, he showed all Surrey MPs a CCTV video of the kind of thing that goes on in Guildford town centre late on Friday and Saturday nights. He showed us the activities of what he called the Guildford warriors: young people—principally, but not exclusively, men—who drink far too much and then get involved in serious violence. That is a problem for law-abiding citizens in Guildford town centre, and for the police. Sadly, many of the police officers who try to sort those problems out and protect law-abiding people have been the victims of assaults, sometimes serious, and have suffered quite serious injuries.

Excessive drinking is clearly an issue in any town centre. However, there may be light at the end of the tunnel: I have seen a lot of press coverage about parts of the country in which local authorities have taken steps to abolish or prevent so-called happy hours, after which there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of offences committed. When one is dealing with a Bill such as this, which may allow people who have drunk too much in town and city centres to then go into new casinos, one is bound to be concerned. Amendment No. 36 would ensure that

    ''there is no link between excessive drinking after licensing hours and casino gambling in city or town centres'',

and amendment No. 37 would ensure that

    ''the views of the Chief Constable for any police area determine the appropriateness of any increase in gambling provision in that area'',

adding safeguards to the Bill. In the Second Reading debate at the beginning of last week, the Secretary of State spoke a great deal about her much-vaunted so-called triple lock. Adding those extra safeguards would put some extra locks in place.

 
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Prepared 9 November 2004