Gambling Bill

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Mr. Clifton-Brown: I hear what the Minister is saying and I have every sympathy with it, but how will the consumer—the potential gambler—know which internet sites are properly licensed and which are not? Do the Government intend to establish, for example, a form of kitemark or give some warning so that people

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know whether they are dealing with regulated or unregulated gambling providers?

Mr. Caborn: I do not know what the British standard is for gambling, but I will find out because my officials will tell me. While I am finding out, I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford).

Clive Efford: The internet is also a problem in respect of matters that are not related to gambling. I have been raising questions in the House about the sale of prescription drugs over the internet, where they are on offer from companies across Europe and not only elsewhere in the world. One would expect there to be some sort of partnership arrangement for regulating in such sectors, but drugs are on sale on the internet. People in this country can obtain drugs over the internet, although they should not be able to obtain them without a prescription in this country. The problem of that loophole exists not only in relation to gambling but in a range of sectors.

Mr. Caborn: My hon. Friend is right. The consumer has to make the decision. If a company operates from these shores, it will be able to tell the consumer when they want to lay a bet that it is regulated by British regulation and by the gambling commission. That information will be there for people to see. If people do not want to operate in that way, there is nothing to stop them, but they know, or they may well know, that they will not get the protection that they get under British law.

Mr. Foster: Is the Minister aware that the majority of the industry that operates in this sector is very keen on this regulation? It believes that it is selling integrity and that the regulation provides it with evidence of that integrity. Is he further aware that Betfair, which is one of the largest providers of the type of facility that we are discussing, is desperately trying to persuade the Australian Government to introduce regulation of its activities in Australia and is desperately unhappy that that Government are failing to do so?

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I spoke to the international regulators a little while ago, when I was dealing with the first stage of the proposals. There has been a great deal of discussion of whether international standards can be achieved. We, the Australians, the New Zealanders and, I think, the Americans were seriously looking at that. There is a case for it. In the light of what we are doing and the number of countries that are looking to the Bill, particularly after the experiences of Australia and New Zealand, there may well be a good case for international regulation, voluntary though that may be. It would give punters the assurances for which they are looking. The hon. Member for Bath is absolutely right. Many operators are asking that we bring in these regulations. Such regulation has them in good stead in the past and contributed to the integrity of the industry. It would be a win-win situation for the British industry if we could translate that into the Bill.

4.45 pm

Mr. Jones: I do not want to send the hon. Member for Surrey Heath into hyperspace, but could not the matter be considered by the European Union?

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Mr. Caborn: Very much so. As I said, the international regulators meet from time to time. I met them when they were at Earl's Court a little while ago—some 18 months or two years ago—and there was a great deal of interest expressed. The issue moves on. It is not just about problem gambling and the research that needs to be done on that. There is much around regulation besides the integrity of the industry. Also, problems can be addressed within the industry. The Australians were keen on it at that time.

Yes, there is a European dimension, but there must be an international dimension because of the internet and the ability to pass information electronically around the world at great speed. Regulations would have to be international if they were to be truly effective.

Mr. Hawkins: Will the Minister give way on a separate point?

Mr. Caborn: I thought that the previous time was the last one.

Mr. Hawkins: That was before my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) intervened and raised a different point. I assure the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) that he will not send me into hyperspace. My point is a slightly different one.

On the issue raised by my hon. Friend, would not it be useful for British business if the Minister were to put something in the Bill to show that there was no regulatory gap between the two regulators, the gambling commission and Ofcom? If that were in the Bill, there could be something like an Ofcom kitemark for UK providers, which would give potential punters some sense of security. That might be very helpful for British industry, with which we as UK Members of Parliament ought to be principally concerned.

Mr. Caborn: It would, were it permissible. I understand that it would not be permitted under European Union competition law and so would be out of court.

Mr. Hawkins: That just shows the problems with Europe, does it not?

Mr. Caborn: That is another debate. We could debate Europe, but I am sure that you would pull me up, Mr. Pike.

The Chairman: I certainly would.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Facilities for gambling

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 82, in

    clause 5, page 2, line 27, leave out 'operates and administers' and insert

    'in whole or in part or operates'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 83, in

    clause 5, page 2, line 29, leave out

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    'in the operation or administration'

    and insert

    'directly or indirectly in the operation'.

Amendment No. 40, in

    clause 5, page 2, line 35, leave out paragraph (b).

Amendment No. 84, in

    clause 5, page 2, line 35, leave out 'operating or administering' and insert 'or operating'.

Amendment No. 41, in

    clause 5, page 2, line 43, leave out '(despite subsection (3)(d))'.

Amendment No. 85, in

    clause 5, page 3, line 3, at end add—

    '(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that a specified activity or an activity carried on in specified circumstances is or is not to be treated for the purposes of this Act as providing facilities for gambling.'.

Mr. Moss: It would be helpful to discuss amendments Nos. 82, 83 and 84 together. They propose textual changes and relate to the same form of words in each case. There is a feeling that the words ''administers'' and ''administration'' do not sit comfortably in the clause. It is thought that they

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could be open to litigation, and I have been advised that it would be clearer and more appropriate to leave out the word ''administers'' and simply concentrate on the word ''operates''. That is what the three amendments together seek to do.

Amendment No. 85 would add new subsection (4) at the end of clause 5. The amendment would allow a mechanism for the Secretary of State to clarify that certain activities do not fall within the definition of providing facilities for gambling. It is felt that that could be helpful and important, particularly for clarifying whether providing facilities for gambling includes, for example, a bank holding stake money, or a gambling operator, accountant or credit card company providing finance directly or indirectly for gambling. The amendment is an attempt to allow the Secretary of State to make regulations to define accurately and specifically those areas that are caught in the net and those that are not.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Watson.]

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes to Five o'clock until Thursday 11 November at half-past Nine o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Pike, Mr. Peter (Chairman)
Banks, Mr.
Byrne, Mr.
Caborn, Mr.
Chapman, Mr. Ben
Clifton-Brown, Mr.
Cruddas, Jon
Efford, Clive
Foster, Mr. Don
Hawkins, Mr.
Humble, Mrs.
Illsley, Mr.
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Kirkbride, Miss
McKechin, Ann
Moss, Mr.
Page, Mr.
Russell, Bob
Watson, Mr.
Whittingdale, Mr.
Woodward, Mr.
Wright, Iain

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