Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: You asked us to move along speedily, Mr. Pike, and we are doing so. I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling this probing amendment, as it gives me an opportunity to explain what this aspect of the Bill is about. The amendment would remove an element of the definition of gaming that has existed for some 40 years: the requirement that gaming does not need someone to be at risk of losing something in order to be gaming. That requirement is a necessary part of the definition to ensure player protection. In the case of gaming machines, it is lifted in part 10, in which clause 232 permits use of machines if no payment is made for them. However, when it comes to real games of chance, such as poker or blackjack, it is important that we capture gaming in all its forms, including those where there is no apparent outlay by the consumer.

When I read that, I thought that it was a little offbeat. After all, not losing anything is one of the protections. However, it is again important to underline what we are taking from the 1968 Act and putting into the Bill to protect people and to maintain the integrity of the industry. Experience has taught us that apparently minor changes to the gambling regime can have significant unforeseen consequences. We have been down this road before, with apparently modest concessions ushering in large abuses. The requirement has served us well over some 40 years, and we think it prudent not to remove it now. With that explanation, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Moss: Before I consider doing so, will the Minister answer a question about scratchcards? Often when people buy a newspaper, a scratchcard drops out. They then have a go in what is presumably a game of chance. They did not pay to enter the game; they paid for the newspaper. Some proprietors are concerned that the measure might catch them in that situation. Will the Minister clarify whether they are involved under the subsection?

Mr. Caborn: The answer is that they are not, because what the hon. Gentleman describes is classed as a lottery, not a game of chance.

Mr. Moss: I thank the Minister for that answer. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.15 am

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 79, in

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    clause 6, page 3, line 34, at end add—

    '(7) For the purposes of subsection (6)(b) and (c) the Secretary of State shall consult with all recognised sporting bodies and organisations.'.

The amendment is fairly clear; it would provide a comfort zone for those involved in sport. Subsection (6) states that the Secretary of State may introduce regulations defining the activities that can be encompassed in the Bill as gaming or games of chance. We had a discussion about what is and is not sport. It seems only fair and reasonable that some comfort be given to sporting bodies that they will be consulted on the boundaries between the different activities if at some stage such regulations are introduced.

Mr. Caborn: Amendment No. 79 would the Secretary of State to consult sporting bodies before she made regulations about the distinction between games and sports. I am fairly sure that she would want to consult sporting bodies if she were to use that power, but I do not believe that a duty to consult would be helpful, particularly if there were a need to act swiftly to deal with a specific uncertainty. If an activity were being abused for commercial gain, outside regulation, it would be important to get it under control as quickly as possible. The clause tries to protect against that situation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Moss: I heard what the Minister said, and the Hansard record will show that he gave an assurance that a Secretary of State would want to consult before introducing any regulations. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Hawkins: During my remarks on amendment No. 132 in one of the earlier groups, I specifically asked the Minister to indicate whether he would be able to provide drafts of the regulations during the Committee stage—at any rate, before Third Reading—but he did not answer the question. Indeed, the answer that he gave at the end of his response to the whole group of amendments was read so quickly that I did not understand a word of it, apart from understanding that he did not respond to my specific point. Therefore, I raise it again on clause stand part.

As I said earlier, it is crucial that not only parliamentarians but all those who will be making commercial decisions and others carefully following the proceedings on the Bill know when they will see the regulations, as the devil is always in the detail in such matters. We want to hear from the Minister very clearly and firmly whether he will be able to provide Parliament, and this Committee in particular, with a draft of the regulations that he has it in mind to introduce under this important clause before the Committee finishes its consideration or, at the very least, before Third Reading.

Mr. Caborn: I have been saying that the intention of the Bill and the powers that it gives to the Secretary of State and the gambling commission is to try to make

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the system foolproof, wherever possible. The hon. Gentleman knows that there have been some difficulties. In fact, the whole reason for introducing the Bill was to bring the law up to date and to regulate to protect people, to a large extent because of the changes brought about by electronic and remote gambling, which we are aware is possible.

The powers in subsection (6) will be used only if a new problem arises. One cannot draft for something that may or may not arise. The clause is about future-proofing, where we can, within the constraints that I outlined earlier. It would therefore be impossible to provide draft regulations.

Clause 6 provides the definition of gaming for the purposes of the Bill. That definition is based on the definitions in the 1968 Act, but with improvements to take account of the fact that games can now be played against computers, and not just in person. The clause provides for greater clarity and certainty about the distinction between games of chance and sport by giving the Secretary of State the power to specify on which side of the borderline a particular activity should fall. We all know that there is an element of chance in all sports; for example, whether the golf ball hits the pin and drops into the hole, which does not often happen to me, or whether it is deflected into the bunker, as often happens to me, is often a matter of pure chance. However, golf is a sport, and we do not want the Bill to make golf, when played for money, subject to the same regulation as gambling. Gambling on the outcome of golf matches is, of course, another matter. In the case of traditional sport, it is clear what the activity is, but with other activities it may be less clear. We do not want to leave loopholes through which a commercial gambling operator can claim that something which is, in reality, gambling and has the characteristics of gambling, is exempt from the control because it is defined as a sport within the subsection.

Mr. Hawkins: I have been reflecting on what the Minister said in response to my point. I understand his valid point about future-proofing and the need to leave a future Secretary of State the discretion to take account of something new being invented. That is an adequate answer.

However, may I pose the question the other way round? This may give some security to people who are planning investments in this area or who may have to consider licensing or planning as a consequence of the Bill. Is the Minister able to state that, based on the current definitions of ''game of chance'' and ''sport'', he does not expect to have to produce regulations under subsection (6) immediately after the enactment of the Bill, but wants the power only for something that might be invented in future? If the Minister were able to make such a statement, that would give some certainty. I fear that if the Secretary of State and the Minister cannot give such an assurance, we might be faced with a situation in which something that everyone at present treats as a game, a sport or a game of chance suddenly changes immediately after the Bill has come into force. I hope that the Minister will understand why I put it in that way.

Mr. Caborn: I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I do not accept it. In explaining why the

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Committee should resist the amendment, I said that there were clearly defined areas in which the Secretary of State should act. Now, in the stand part debate on clause 6, I am again explaining the parameters within which the Secretary of State would act, and also the reason why she would act in that particular case. It is against that background that the hon. Gentleman must accept that we either tie everything down and partly future-proof the Bill or we leave some discretion, but within the confines that I explained when asking the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire to withdraw the amendment. I can go no further than that.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): The Minister used an illustration of his playing golf, in which a great deal of skill is involved—particularly, I am sure, in his case—but said that that was not regarded as gambling, whereas someone betting on the outcome of the Minister's match would be gambling. What is the difference between his playing golf and a person taking part in, for instance, a professional poker tournament? Card playing also requires considerable skill—it is not a game of chance. Would someone who was playing cards in that context also be regarded as not gambling, but as taking part in a skilful activity?

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