Gambling Bill

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Mr. Foster: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that excessive drinking causes problems for the police, but I am sure that he would accept that it also causes problems for many other people in our towns and cities. Therefore, I wonder whether he would explain to the Committee why the wording of his amendment No. 37 refers to

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

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his wording precisely means that the chief constable would be all-powerful in such matters? I would have far preferred

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an amendment that sought to ensure that the views of the chief constable would be taken into account alongside the views of various other organisations, not least those of the local authority.

Mr. Hawkins: In answer to the hon. Gentleman, the chief constable's views should be paramount in the decision making because we are seeking to protect our fellow citizens by keeping out organised crime and avoiding social problems. Who better than the chief constable to do that, particularly in the light of the example that I have given from Guildford? The chief constable is more aware than anyone else of the problems and has specific responsibilities for the safe policing of an area. He is the man more responsible than any other for ensuring that the twin objectives of safety for the law-abiding and keeping out organised crime are met. I would have a great deal more faith in the decisions of chief constables than in those of the sort of regional authority to which the Government seem to be wedded and which I was delighted to see the voters of the north-east so decisively reject, to the enormous anger and frustration of the Minister's former boss, the Deputy Prime Minister.

I hope that we will give the police a greater role. Putting matters to consultation is not enough. We all know that people can be consulted to death. I often feel when I read Liberal Democrat policy proposals that they believe so much in consultation that no decision would ever be reached at all. There is death by consultation in any area of the country where Lib Dems are within an iota of power. I do not believe in consulting but in decision making. I happen to have a great deal of faith that chief constables would make the right decisions on the matter because I know how much they worry about what happens in their area.

There is a second reason why I use the example of Guildford. It just so happens that the man who owns nearly all the late-night drinking bars in the part of Guildford where all the clubs are next to one another and problems arise—all Surrey MPs have seen the closed-circuit television—has already publicly made it clear that he wishes to have a casino under the provisions of the Bill. He wants to turn some of the late-night drinking clubs into a casino operation because he envisages great opportunities for making money. I have never met the gentleman, nor do I know much about him, other than what he has himself said publicly, but I would be very concerned about that. I know the effects that his clubs have on law-abiding citizens, including many of my constituents for whom Guildford is a centre that they wish to visit. I know of the problems.

I may have identified at least a possible solution. I do not completely rule out some alternative wording, as long as it is not just about consultation to death. I do not ever suggest that my drafting is much better than that of anybody else in the Committee.

Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): Has the hon. Gentleman consulted the chief constables on his proposals?

Mr. Hawkins: No, I have not, for precisely the reason that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire and I complained about the

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programming. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has just arrived. The Government know that there used to be a convention that the Committee stage of a Bill was not started until a clear week after Second Reading. That week would have given us time to consult before the Committee stage. [Interruption.] The Minister says, from a sedentary position, that this proposal has been many years in the genesis; of course it has, but it has changed dramatically. The Government's proposals are very different from those in the draft Bill that went to the scrutiny Committee.

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As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire said, members of the Committee have had only a limited time in which to table amendments. However, I do not doubt that there will be time for further consultation before the Bill goes to the other place. As I said on Second Reading, I suspect that what will determine the final shape of the Bill will be the views of many Labour peers, some of whom served with my hon. Friend on the scrutiny Committee. They have already said that they are much happier with what the scrutiny Committee said than with what the Government propose. I know those Labour peers and how much influence they have on their colleagues. The Minister and the Secretary of State are well aware that they will have to make huge concessions in this House. If they do not, their proposals will be changed dramatically not just by Conservative peers and Cross Benchers, but by Labour peers who want the Bill to be much closer in spirit to the measure that went before the scrutiny Committee.

I have said all I need to say about my reasons for speaking to amendments Nos. 36 and 37. I support what the hon. Member for Bath said.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): It is widely recognised in this country and internationally that the gaming and betting industry in the UK is largely free from corruption and criminal elements. That is the result of tough enforcement, which the Bill will reinforce. I therefore welcome paragraph (a), which sets out the objective of preventing gambling from being the source of crime and disorder. I sympathise with amendment No. 71, as it is important that those who run casinos or who are involved in gaming should not have a criminal record.

It is not so much that the operation of casinos or licensed betting outlets may involve organised crime as the fact that they may be used to launder large sums of cash. At present, there is clear protection and reassurance because people have to join casinos, so the operators and gambling commission know, or can identify who is laying the money. I am anxious that, if there is a large explosion of super-casinos, with no membership rules and no form of identity required, they will be used by unscrupulous individuals to launder large amounts of cash, possibly using different individuals to do so.

The Committee needs to look carefully at that issue, as we do not want to undo the Government's good work in introducing the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That measure is already having an effect in my

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constituency as people have to explain why they have large assets and where certain amounts of cash have come from. We do not want casinos and the gaming industry to become an easy way to get rid of or ''to clean'' large amounts of money that have been generated from the drugs industry, which causes misery to our constituents.

I welcome the new forms of gambling in the Bill, such as exchange betting, which has become popular. However, I have a word of caution: people using betting exchanges can remain anonymous in laying bets against one another. We need to look at that, because it is one way of laundering large sums of cash. The argument is that we would know that the money was to be paid into some other account. We would, but we would not know who was betting. It does not take a genius to work out that such a method could be used to deal with large amounts of cash.

Mr. Hawkins: I do not want to anticipate a later debate—I mention it now because the hon. Gentleman may not have had the chance to read it—but my amendment No. 26 to clause 9 deals with some of the points that he makes. In the light of what he said, I look forward to some sympathetic consideration when we reach that point.

Mr. Jones: I am grateful for that intervention but I want to raise the matter now.

It would be sad if we passed the Bill without tightening some of its provisions, because we could inadvertently give organised crime new opportunities. We do not want a criminal element to become involved in gambling; it is universally recognised that, to date, it has not been involved. It is about not just the operation of the Bill but ensuring that people cannot use gaming and gambling casinos as a way of ''cleaning'' their ill gotten gains.

Bob Russell: I appreciate that it may be difficult for the hon. Member for Surrey Heath to understand the word ''consensus''.

I put it on record that I have been participating in the Parliament and Industry Trust scheme for some months. I have been placed with the Gala Group. There is no financial interest in it, but it has provided me with a little insight.

I shall concentrate on amendment No. 1, which is to do with public nuisance. I could accuse the Government of many things, but would never accuse them of deliberately wanting to promote public nuisance. In the spirit of consensus to which the Minister alluded, the amendment would go down well in communities that are concerned not so much about casinos, despite many people's grave reservations, but about their spill-out effect, which would be similar to that in our towns and cities when people spill out from major drinking establishments.

It would be a positive sign of the consensus that the Minister seeks if he were to take the amendment on board, because public nuisance is the cause of considerable concern. To include such a provision in the Bill would go a long way to assuring people that

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there is a lot of sense behind what the Government propose.

Clive Efford: I respond briefly to something said earlier. It was suggested that Government Back Benchers all support of the Bill. Although I voted with the Government on Second Reading, I made it clear that they would not get my support in future if the Bill were not significantly amended. The suggestion that we are all in agreement about the Bill is not correct.

The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford prayed in aid a number of organisations. I commend those organisations for their consistent approach. However, we could not say that of the Opposition. The former Front-Bench spokesman on culture, media and sport, the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), said that he welcomed the liberalisation of gambling. Having spoken to small clubs and gaming bodies, he indicated that his main concerns were for good causes and for the small clubs. He made no reference to regional casinos or the other concerns raised today by the Opposition. There is an inconsistency in their approach.

 
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