Gambling Bill

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Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): The purpose of the amendment and the way in which I presented it were aimed at overcoming the problem whereby only certain categories of casino—the regional casinos—will have access to category A machines. That means that the existing industry will not have access to those machines in their existing casinos. Is that not like granting planning permission for a brand new supermarket chain to compete with existing supermarkets in every location in the country, and giving them special treatment concerning the goods that they can sell over the counter?

Mr. Caborn: That may be the case, but we believe that we are taking the right approach. There is no doubt that there are differences between the types of casino. That is why we have the categories of regional casino, large casino and small casino. There are differences between casinos and the hon. Gentleman refers to one of them. I do not believe that that judgment is in conflict with competition law and I am advised that it is not. If the judgment were against competition law and people were aggrieved, they would have the right to take the matter to the OFT or the Competition Commission.

This morning we were told that there would be no clause stand part debate because the debate would be wide-ranging. So, I conclude by saying that clause 1 is the cornerstone of the Bill. It sets out the objectives of gambling regulation and, therefore, sets the framework in which the gambling commission as the regulator for gambling operators and the local licensing authorities as the regulator for gambling premises should carry out their responsibilities. So it is an important part of the Bill.

There are three objectives and we need to focus on them, because some of the publicity about the Bill and the debate has missed that. The objectives are keeping crime out of gambling, ensuring fairness and, importantly, protecting children and the vulnerable. All are necessary and all have equal weight in the Bill—as they will, hopefully, when it becomes an Act. Together, they will ensure that gambling is carried out in a socially responsible way.

3 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham asked the interesting question: why the Gaming Act 1968? If one looks back, one finds that that Act, introduced by the then Labour Government, was designed to remove crime and money laundering from our society. It was a very specific and prescriptive Act. The Budd report, the White Paper, entitled ''A Safe Bet for Success'', and the Bill all reflect the need to come to terms with the new electronic age and the somewhat outdated 1968 Act. It is interesting to see what has happened since 1968, and we are absolutely determined to ensure that the underlying principles of the Act are translated into this Bill by making sure that gambling is crime-free.

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The objectives proposed by the independent gambling review, chaired very ably by Sir Alan Budd, commanded general support, and we have carried them through into the Bill. I hope that with that explanation right hon. and hon. Members who are signatories to the amendments will withdraw them and not force them to a vote.

Mr. Foster: May I say how delighted I am to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Pike? You have experienced many Committees over many years, and you will not be surprised to see yet again the normal procedure of Committees unfolding, whereby the Opposition parties put forward suggestions to improve the Bill and the Government oppose them so that there is a strange changeover of our roles elsewhere. It is disappointing to hear the Minister agree with nearly everything in the amendments under discussion, while urging the Committee not to accept them.

The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire will be particularly disappointed by the Minister's response, because he was telling us only a few minutes ago that if we agreed to amendment No. 73, we could pack up and go home. It is clear that the programme motion will still be in force for some time, given that the Minister was unprepared to accept that amendment, although we all note with great pleasure that the Minister agreed with the thinking behind it and with the approach described. We therefore look forward with some anticipation to the debates on clause 7, when the Minister will describe in more detail how he sees us moving forward in the spirit of amendment No. 73.

Many of us would entirely agree with the Minister's remarks about the 1968 Act and the importance of retaining the principles on which it was based; namely, to ensure that crime is kept out of gambling. I therefore hope that when we come to deliberate on that issue and, in particular, the need to place in the Bill a provision requiring a form of identification to be presented on entry to a casino, he will be supportive of those proposals.

I want to comment on the Minister's response to amendment No. 1, which I moved. I wanted to include the avoidance of public nuisance in the Bill's objectives, but the Minister said that it was neither necessary nor desirable. He said that it was not necessary because the main cause of any public nuisance would be alcohol-related activities within casinos which are covered by the Licensing Act 2003. He absolutely assured us—although, based on that Act's track record, not totally convincingly—that it will be in force by the time this Bill is in force. The Minister smiles at that. He knows that the Act has not had a particularly good track record on implementation.

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman is being a little mischievous. He knows that the first allotted day has been assigned and that the timetable is enshrined in the Act. It will become fully operational roughly this time next year.

Mr. Foster: The Minister remains cheerfully optimistic. He will be well aware that only a few

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days ago he submitted for consultation the new fee structure. A storm of protest has already fallen on him and his Department about that. There may be a need to rethink things, certainly in regard to that.

The Minister made the point that it is only the alcohol-related activities in casinos that could give rise to public nuisance. Of course, he is wrong. We have many examples of public nuisance being caused by non-alcohol-related activities. One has only to look at the problems associated with fast food and takeaway shops, taxi ranks and cab offices, to know that what he says does not give us the whole picture.

The Minister also said that the amendment was not desirable. He said that it would be regulatory overkill. He is entitled to his view. However, I was disappointed to hear him go a step further and not only talk about regulatory overkill, but suggest that the amendment would enable local authorities to go beyond what it is reasonable for them to take into account. I suspect that local authorities may be particularly disappointed by that remark and by the fact that they would not be allowed, on behalf of the communities that they serve, to take public nuisance into account in respect of a gambling premises licence, but could do so only in respect of the alcohol-related activities in the casino.

That said, I would like the opportunity to reflect on the Minister's contribution, to consider some of his words and to have some further discussion with the Local Government Association before deciding what further action it might be necessary to take. To give me that opportunity, and to give the Minister the opportunity to reflect on his own words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 36, in

    clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—

    '(d) ensuring that there is no link between excessive drinking after licensing hours and casino gambling in city or town centres.'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 12.

Division No. 1]

AYES
Foster, Mr. Don Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Russell, Bob Whittingdale, Mr. John

NOES
Banks, Mr. Tony Byrne, Mr. Liam Caborn, Mr. Richard Chapman, Mr. Ben Cruddas, Jon Efford, Clive
Humble, Mrs. Joan Jones, Mr. Kevan McKechin, Ann Watson, Mr. Tom Woodward, Mr. Shaun Wright, Iain

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 37, in

    clause 1, page 1, line 11, at end insert—

    '(d) ensuring that the views of the Chief Constable for any police area determine the appropriateness of any increase in gambling provision in that area.'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

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Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 1, Noes 15.

Division No. 2]

AYES
Hawkins, Mr. Nick

NOES
Banks, Mr. Tony Byrne, Mr. Liam Caborn, Mr. Richard Chapman, Mr. Ben Cruddas, Jon Efford, Clive Foster, Mr. Don Humble, Mrs. Joan
Jones, Mr. Kevan McKechin, Ann Page, Mr. Richard Russell, Bob Watson, Mr. Tom Woodward, Mr. Shaun Wright, Iain

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Licensing authorities

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 74, in

    clause 2, page 1, line 17, after 'councils', insert—

    '(iia) a unitary council.'.

May I welcome you, Mr. Pike, to the Chair? This is my first time under your chairmanship on a major Bill. I have served under your chairmanship before, on delegated legislation, and it is a pleasure to do so again.

It is always interesting at the start of a new Bill Committee to see how the nuances of the debate play out, how the Minister plays his hand and how Members interpret what he says. There were moments in the Minister's last response when I thought that I had scored three bull's-eyes with my amendments. He said that they were agreeable, that they were worded perfectly, that they fitted the Bill and that they went to the heart of the Government's objectives, but they are rubbish and in the bin. I now know where he is coming from.

 
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Prepared 9 November 2004