Column Number: 073
Standing Committee B
Thursday 11 November 2004
[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]
Facilities for gambling
Amendment proposed [9 November]: No. 82, in
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 83, in
No. 40, in
clause 5, page 2, line 35, leave out paragraph (b).
No. 84, in
clause 5, page 2, line 35, leave out 'operating or administering' and insert 'or operating'.
No. 41, in
clause 5, page 2, line 43, leave out '(despite subsection (3)(d))'.
No. 85, in
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), who is on his way, hotfoot, I would like to begin. I am sure from examining Hansard that I had finished speaking to my amendments Nos. 82, 83, 84 and 85. I shall now speak to amendment No. 41, which would remove from the clause the words ''despite subsection (3)(d)''. The only reference to subsection (3) in the clause is the one to which I am referring and there is no paragraph (d). I cannot see what that wording refers to in the Bill; I suspect that it is from the draft Bill and has not been cut out. It would be helpful if the Minister illuminated the Committee as to what it refers to. We have not got very far—we are only on clause 5—and we have already found some incredible errors.
My hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath has now arrived so I shall leave him to move amendment. No 40.
The Chairman: Order. I remind you, Mr. Hawkins, that you cannot move that amendment; only one
Column Number: 074
amendment can be moved at a time. You can speak to it.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): I apologise for being a little delayed. I suggest that the Committee ought at least to consider removing subsection (2)(b), as the amendment would do. I am a little out of breath because I had to receive on the fax machine in my office a three-page fax about the Bill from Blackpool council. I thought that it would be silly to rush up to the Committee until I had all three pages because it was clearly relevant to this morning's proceedings.
When my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) and I were considering subsection (2)(b), the phraseology seemed somewhat circular, as it refers to
''providing, otherwise than in the course of providing, operating or administering arrangements for gambling or participating in the operation or administration of gambling''.
My hon. Friend and I thought that there might be a more elegant way of expressing that, because anyone who reads the words
''providing, otherwise than in the course of providing''
would be bound to describe it as gobbledegook. The Plain English Campaign would not approve of that, and that lack of clarity is the reason for amendment No. 40.
The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): I shall deal first with amendment No. 82, which was moved on Tuesday. The history of the gambling regulations teaches us that business has been very sharp at exploiting weaknesses in the law. I have experienced that during the last two or three years—since I have been responsible for gambling—and I can assure hon. Members that this industry is very innovative and has some bright people working for it. As soon as a potential loophole is identified, everyone tends to pile through it rather quickly.
In preparing the Bill, we have thus taken considerable care, as I am sure hon. Members will agree, to ensure that it adequately covers the ground and provides for effective regulation not just for current practice in commercial gambling, but for what might be done in the future. I remind the Committee that we have tried to give the gambling commission future-proofing powers as well. It would take a lot to persuade me that it is sensible or prudent to remove words from the definition in clause 5, since that clause is one of the cornerstones of the Bill. If a practice does not constitute the provision of facilities for gambling, people can do it without needing to be licensed and without committing an offence.
Mr. Hawkins: I want to make it clear that I do not disagree with the Minister. The legal definitions need to be precise. Of course I understand what he said about the amount of work that went into drafting the clause. However, I hope that he understands that, when an ordinary person, or even someone involved in the gaming industry, looks at a subsection that begins
''providing, otherwise than in the course of providing'',
their natural instinct will be to think that it is very confusing. All that amendment No. 40 asks the
Column Number: 075
Minister to do is consider with his officials, perhaps before consideration on Report, whether there is a way of drafting the clause that is not so confusing and circular and does not lose the legal significance.
Mr. Caborn: I shall come to that point when I deal with amendment No. 40.
I return to the lead amendment, No. 82, which effectively offers a deal. In exchange for omitting the concept of administering the arrangements for gambling, the amendment would introduce the concept of providing arrangements in whole or in part. I do not think that it makes things any clearer, nor do I understand what is wrong with the reference to ''administering arrangements for gambling''. That covers people who control the way in which the gambling is offered, even though they may not control what is made available or be responsible for the operation of the gambling.
I make no apologies for the fact that there may be an element of belt and braces in the definition. I suggest to the Committee that the last thing that we want to do is open up a new loophole in the system of administrative control. I stress that the integrity and credibility of the industry flows, to a large extent, from the Gaming Act 1968. We have tried to maintain the integrity of gambling in this country by translating those provisions into the Bill. It is against that background that many of the explanations that I will give are deployed. Therefore, I cannot advise the Committee to accept the amendment.
Amendment No. 83 also seeks to remove from the definition of provision of gambling facilities any reference to those who administer gambling being done by other people; for example, staff employed to administer betting rings. Instead, the amendment would provide that anyone who participates indirectly, as well as anyone who participates directly, in the operation of gambling thereby provides facilities for gambling. I cannot see that the amendment is any improvement on the Bill. The concept of indirect participation is obscure; the concept of administration is clearer. In the interest of ensuring that the Bill is as clear as possible without narrowing its scope, I advise the Committee to vote against the amendment.
I turn now to amendment No. 40, which would remove subsection (2)(b). The purpose of that subsection is to clarify those activities that will not constitute providing facilities for gambling. Paragraph (b) is specifically concerned with those who supply articles that may be used in gambling. We do not want the clause to catch such suppliers; for example, if a pack of cards is supplied by a newsagent, the supplier is not involved in the provision of facilities for gambling. That may also be a belt-and-braces approach, but we think it important for the Bill to be clear on that.
Amendment No. 41 would remove the words that cunningly refer to a non-existent paragraph. I said I would come to this point. The reference was intended to be to subsection (2)(c) [Hon. Members: ''Ah!'']
Column Number: 076
That is exactly what Standing Committees are for—to scrutinise Bills line by line. I commend the official Opposition: they scrutinised the Bill and found a little mistake, which they became quite excited about. I will rectify that for them as we continue.
The cross-reference is necessary to make it clear that subsection (3) applies despite the exception on remote communication in that paragraph. We hope that that correction can be made without the need for an amendment when the Bill is reprinted. On that basis, I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments, but I commend the official Opposition for their forensic, line-by-line examination of the Bill.
Amendment No. 84 is also concerned with subsection (2)(b), but it would extend rather than narrow the scope of the exception. It is important that the exception applies only where the supplier of the article is themselves not doing anything covered by subsection (b) or (c). I assume that the amendment is consequential on amendment No. 82, and I have explained why we do not accept that, so I ask the Committee to reject this amendment as well.
Amendment No. 85 takes up the model of clauses 6, 7 and 14, which recognise that there is a balance to be struck between legal certainty and clarity on the one hand and flexibility on the other. In general, when Parliament makes law it is desirable for that law to include firm and settled definitions, so that all those affected, including businesses, know what they may and may not lawfully do, and can plan accordingly. It is sometimes necessary to build in some flexibility, and gambling is a case in point.
Gambling is a dynamic, fast-moving and increasingly global industry, where definitions in current law have broken down or been overtaken by developments in technology. We therefore thought it prudent to take some reserve powers to make sure that damaging loopholes do not emerge. For example, clause 6 provides for regulations to specify that something is or is not to be treated as a sport for the purposes of the Bill, the point being that playing a genuine sport for money should not constitute gaming.
The inclusion of such a power in clause 6 is prudent, because the concept of a sport is not precise. We want to guard against the possibility of an unscrupulous gambling operator dreaming up what is in reality a game of chance and claiming that it is a new and hitherto unknown sport. The game might involve racing beetles on a table top with stakes being placed on which beetle makes it across the table first. If we do not tighten the definition, that could, I suppose, be seen as a sport. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) would have something to say about the beetles, though.
The amendment would apply an equivalent regulation-making power to providing facilities for gambling. I am grateful for the suggestion, but we take the view that the definition is already clear enough. Such regulation-making powers should be used sparingly, because they potentially undermine the principles of making law and confer wide powers on the Government of the day. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press the amendment.
Column Number: 077