Gambling Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: I want to raise a couple of issues and make a couple of comments. I was interested in what the Minister said about people who might defraud the national lottery. I entirely understand what he is getting at, but the thought immediately came to mind that that is a bit rich coming from a Government who in opposition said during the passage of the National Lottery etc. Bill that lottery money should never be used for purposes that should really be funded by the taxpayer. Since they have been in government, they have hijacked a large proportion of what should have gone to good causes and directed it to purposes connected with health and education—which should be taxpayer funded. The biggest defrauding of the national lottery has been carried out by the Government.

Nevertheless, I know that that is not what the Minister is aiming at in the provisions that we are considering. I am surprised to hear him say that he does not remember the case to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) referred. I accept his word that he does not, and I do not expect him to be able to answer off the top of his head, but I am surprised, because it received huge publicity not only at the time but regularly ever afterwards. The person concerned has wasted all his money and been involved in breaches of the law following his release from the institution, which has received further coverage.

When I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department of National Heritage before 1997, Ministers were provided with a news cutting service, so that every story that related to the Department's work—particularly something as potentially controversial as lottery winners—was automatically given to Ministers. Perhaps only the Secretary of State sees those things now, or perhaps it is only the Under-Secretary in the House of Lords.

I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove said; I think that it sticks in the craw of law-abiding people, who pay their pound, their standing order of £16 or whatever to compete in the lottery for a week or eight weeks at a time, when large wins are handed over to criminals. That undermines the purpose of the lottery. The Minister says that the Bill is not the right provision in which to do something about that, and that any changes should be made by amending national lottery legislation, but the fact remains that the Bill deals with aspects of the national lottery.

Miss Kirkbride: I am sure that my hon. Friend clearly remembers that many of our national

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newspapers were in full flight on the issue and Ministers, including the Secretary of State, were very keen to suggest that the fault lay in the drafting of the original Act by a previous Conservative Government. Now that the moment has arrived to tackle the matter, the whole thing has been forgotten.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend is right. Time after time, not only in matters that are the province of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but across the Government, Ministers are always in favour of the knee-jerk response that gets the eye-catching headline: ''Of course we will do something.'' However, faced with the acid test of a real opportunity—which the Bill provides, as my hon. Friend points out—they duck it. They think that the press agenda has moved on. My hon. Friend, as a distinguished former journalist, knows how the media caravan moves on. The story is no longer the focus of attention. I hope, however, that now that my hon. Friend has raised the matter, she will be able to alert some of her friends in the media about yet another broken promise, and yet another occasion when the Government have proved to be all talk but no action.

Mr. Banks: I remember the case particularly well; the thing that annoyed me most was that I had not won that amount of money on the lottery. I do not understand; the guy did not steal the lottery ticket. I assume that he paid his pound. I do not understand why people who might find themselves detained at Her Majesty's pleasure should be precluded from joining in the lottery, if they want to pay their pound. What is the problem?

The Chairman: Order. That intervention was very helpful to me; I was just thinking that the point that is being debated is not relevant to the offences under discussion. I hope that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath will bring his remarks speedily to a close.

Mr. Hawkins: I shall of course abide by your ruling, Mr. Pike, but my hon. Friend's intervention, which gave rise to this short passage of the debate, was relevant, because the fact that the Government amendments and the new clause and schedule deal with one category of offences in relation to the lottery means that the Government could have used the opportunity to deal with some other issues had they chosen to do so. My answer to the hon. Member for West Ham, to finish the point, is that I think that most law-abiding citizens think that those in prison should not be allowed to buy lottery tickets. If we had a referendum, I suspect that the votes would be on my side, but we shall leave that for another day.

There is an opportunity to raise one other serious point about the new clause and new schedule that I wanted to ask the Minister about. Government amendment No. 34 inserts a note into schedule 14 stating that the repeal of section 2 of the National Lottery etc. Act shall not extend to Northern Ireland. I would like the Minister to explain why that is being inserted into the Bill, because I do not understand what makes Northern Ireland different. I would be grateful if he responded to that point.

The Chairman: Just for clarity, I was not saying that the issue was not important. I was saying that it was

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not an offence that related to the clause that we are debating.

Mr. Caborn: I shall respond to the question that was asked about entering, which is the word the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) used. ''Entering'' is used in the National Lottery etc. Act 1993, which is why it appears in the amendments—to maintain consistency. On the question of Northern Ireland, none of the provisions in the Bill will extend to that country. The amendment simply prevents the repeal of section 2 of the 1993 Act in Northern Ireland. That was the explanation I gave, and I stand by it.

Bob Russell: I am sorry if this sounds pedantic, but although I understand the advice given I am now more puzzled as to why the original wording in the previous amendments was carried. I cannot work out why it is necessary to include the two phraseologies in the same Bill.

Mr. Caborn: I thought that I had given a reasonable explanation of that. I shall ask my officials and counsel to supply further explanation if the hon. Gentleman is still concerned about the wording, and I shall return that to the Committee. The advice given by counsel was to maintain consistency and simplicity and to marry the national lottery with provisions in the Bill, which we believe protects the punter even more than at the moment. If that is not right, I shall return to the matter and explain it to the Committee.

Mr. Foster: Is the Minister saying that, given that it was necessary to table amendments to the draft Bill, the Licensing Act 2003 would equally benefit from such changes—in other words, the National Lottery etc. Act wrong?

Mr. Caborn: I am not saying that the 1993 Act is wrong. We believe that there are more protections relating to offences under the Bill that were not in the 1993 Act. If the hon. Gentleman reads my explanation in Hansard tomorrow, it will be clear that where we are using the powers in the Bill, weaknesses in the 1993 Act will be strengthened by the amendments.

Mr. Moss: The last line of new schedule 1 states:

    '' 'lottery' has the same meaning as in the Gambling Act 2005''.

I am not aware of a Gambling Act 2005. Are we now legislating on the basis of what may or may not happen in the future?

Mr. Caborn: We can dance on a pinhead if we want to, but I thought that this was the Gambling Act 2005.

Mr. Moss: Where does it say that?

4 pm

Mr. Caborn: It will become law in 2005.

Bob Russell: It could be the Gambling Act 2004 if we hurried up.

Mr. Caborn: In that case, we would table an amendment and make it 2004.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Caborn: One purpose of the Bill is to streamline the regulation of gambling, so that it is consistent

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across all forms of gambling. Until now, gambling regulation has operated separately and differently for different forms of gambling. The Bill will introduce consistency by means of a regulatory mechanism. The product of that is that we need a single definition of gambling that is regulated by the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Remote gambling

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 75, in

    clause 4, page 2, line 18, at end insert

    'other than that used for the playing of linked and multiple bingo under a bingo operator's licence.'.

The game of linked bingo is played simultaneously in a number of bingo club premises linked by a two-way audio connection, so that the drawing and the calling of the numbers are contemporaneous. The calling takes place in one of the premises and is heard in all the others. A claim in one of the premises is also heard in the others. That type of bingo may be played only under the authority of a bingo club licence issued under part II of the Gaming Act 1968. Almost 580 bingo clubs play linked bingo at some time, although they do not play it in one link because technology cannot yet accommodate that number of premises in a fully interactive mode.

Multiple bingo is played jointly in different bingo clubs, with the drawing of the number taking place before the beginning of the game at a central location licensed especially for that purpose. Those numbers are transmitted via a computer connection to all participating bingo clubs. The game is played in each of the participating clubs and numbers are called in a specified period that begins and ends at the same time for all clubs. Each club produces its winner, the details of whom are transmitted back to the central location. The overall winner is the person who called ''House'' with the lowest number of numbers called. That type of bingo was authorised by the Gaming (Bingo) Act 1985. It may be played only in bingo club premises licensed under part II of the Gaming Act. About 450 clubs play the main form of multiple bingo, which is called the ''national game'', every day of the year except Christmas day.

Thus, while the two games are slightly different, both use a link. That link between premises operates by means of remote communication. The clause on remote gambling discusses remote communication. The fear is that, because of the link by the normal communication channels covered in clause 4, the clubs will be faced with a licence under remote gambling as well as their licence for bingo. The amendment seeks to ensure that that is not the case and to include in the Bill provision that those clubs may derogate from the all-embracing catch-all situation outlined by remote communication in clause 4.

 
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