Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: All I can say is that, given my handicap of 22, I hope that the hon. Gentleman never bets on me to win anything at golf. Poker is a game of chance.

Mr. Hawkins: I do not want to over-complicate the matter, although the Minister's reply has caused some consternation among the Opposition, because we are all aware that there are huge professional poker tournaments, which involve the development of great skill.

I wanted to put a slightly different question to the Minister. We know that people can play video golf games—virtual reality golf—on the internet. If the Minister rests his case for golf being a game on the skill involved in playing, I foresee a problem when the Bill and the debate on it come to be studied. What would happen if someone cleverly invented a betting game on the internet coupled with a virtual reality golf game? Would the Minister not then have a problem?

Mr. Caborn: That is exactly why there is a need for this type of clause in the Bill. The clause is intended to ensure that someone who distorts sport for gambling or gaming is caught, so it would be used not for sport, but for other purposes. That is why the Secretary of State will have this power. The hon. Gentleman answers his own question.

Mr. Foster: I am conscious of your advice, Mr. Pike. I am beginning to think that the Minister would have done well to take note of it and to be briefer, because the more he speaks, the more confusion arises.

I have two questions for the Minister. He said that a game of poker was a game of chance, presumably because of the uncertainty of which cards will be distributed. If so, why did he tell me that a pub quiz

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was not a game of chance, when the questions given are a matter of uncertainty? He also said that a game of golf included an element of chance—he gave the example of where the ball might go when it hits the pin—but he got out of it by saying that it does not matter because it is a sport. Therefore, how can he explain whether a darts competition is included, because a dart hitting the wire on the board is a matter of chance, yet by his own admission on the Floor of the House, darts is not a sport?

Mr. Caborn: There is a simple explanation. The hon. Gentleman is getting excited about pub quizzes, but a pub competition is not a game; it is a competition. As I said, poker is a game of chance. With that explanation the hon. Gentleman should throw the shovel away and stop digging that hole.

Subsection (6) provides a useful safeguard in the form of reserve powers.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham) (Lab): I am sorry that my right hon. Friend does not think that darts is a sport, because I think that it is. Could he help us by telling us the difference between luck and chance?

Mr. Caborn: I shall reserve my judgment and give it to my hon. Friend in writing.

The Chairman: Do let us make progress.

Mr. Caborn: I will, Mr. Pike. As I said, subsection (6) provides a useful safeguard in the form of reserve powers, which the present law lacks. Experience suggests that it would be wise not to leave loopholes in gaming.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

10.28 am

Sitting suspended for a meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee.

10.34 am

On resuming—

Mr. Caborn: I beg to move,

    That the Order of the Committee of 9th November be varied as follows:

    The order for consideration of proceedings set out in the table shall be varied so as to provide for consideration of Clause 7 after Clause 132 (and within the group specified in the first row of that table).

Mr. Whittingdale: We welcome the Government's amendment to the programme order, but it is a most extraordinary proposal. The Bill has been three years in preparation; it has had lengthy scrutiny, debate and consultation, yet now, at one minute to midnight, the Government say that they need more time to get it right. Nothing better illustrates the depth of the chaos of the Government's policy than that they cannot debate the crucial clause in the Bill without being given more time.

We said at the start of the Committee stage that we wanted the Secretary of State to fulfil her undertaking to listen; if this is a demonstration that the Government are listening, then we welcome it. I hope that it is an indicator that they are prepared to climb down on a number of concerns. The proposal

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requires clause 7 to be taken after clause 132, but the timetable motion requires us to complete consideration of the Bill up to that point by 5.30 pm next Tuesday. You will not need reminding, Mr. Pike, that we have already had two sittings; we are half way through the third, and we have just finished considering clause 6. At that rate of progress, it seems unlikely that we will reach clause 132 by next Tuesday evening.

I should therefore be grateful if the Minister would confirm that on Tuesday there will be a further amendment to the sittings motion so that we can take clause 7, because it is fundamental to the Bill and will require a lengthy and detailed debate. I would like the Minister to give the Committee an absolute assurance on the record in that respect.

Mr. Foster: I join the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) in welcoming the proposal if it provides a breathing space so that the Government can finally decide how far they will back down on the Bill.

I have no doubt, Mr. Pike, that, like me, you are a keen viewer of ''Have I got News for You?'' You will know that that programme often has a guest publication; because I am a member of this Committee, I have looked at magazines I might not otherwise read. I draw the attention of the producers of ''Have I Got News For You?'' to the excellent magazine Coin Slot International. A recent editorial in that publication, under the heading ''Viewpoint'', stated:

    ''The government must be looking at the tsunami of unrest with outright despair.''

It continued:

    ''The ball is now in the government's court. Having been shown quite clearly that this Bill is not just unpopular, but largely derided by UK plc, some major amendments have to be a serious option.''

I entirely agree with that editorial; I made clear in Committee and on Second Reading which amendments my party wants; we hope that the additional time for the Government to consider where they are going will lead to their accepting the sort of proposals that we recommended.

Like the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, I seek the Minister's assurance that there will be a different programme order when we return in the next sitting but one. I would also like him to give us a clear undertaking that any announcement that he makes about major changes to clause 7, or any other part of the Bill, will be made first to the Committee and to no other organisation.

Mr. Caborn: In saying that the Bill is incredibly unpopular and that it should be ditched, Coin Slot International is naive, as I am sure the hon. Member for Bath would acknowledge. I remind the Committee that we came to the Bill by way of the Budd report. It is unfortunate that on Second Reading there was a difference between what was reported in the press and the reality in the world outside. Today, many people are vulnerable because the House of Commons has not introduced regulations and powers to deal with the new technologies of remote and internet gambling. Many young and vulnerable people have been exposed

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because of the law's inability to act. Indeed, 90 per cent. of the Bill is about protecting those people. I had responsibility for gambling when I joined the Department two or three years ago, and I had a dialogue with the Churches, GamCare and many others. That dialogue is what the Bill was predicated on, and to a large extent it still is. Some newspapers ran headlines of ''Kill the Bill''. If the Bill is killed, many people will remain vulnerable to some of the biggest sharks. That is why we are doing what we are doing.

Let us keep the issue in proportion. There was discussion about one part of the Bill—casinos—and it was brought to our attention that it was creating concerns. That is absolutely right. We have responded in a way that, as the Secretary of State clearly said, shows that we take those concerns on board. Surely, that is what the democratic process and consultation are about. The Bill is about a change in the law from 1968. I agree that because it tried to take crime out of gambling, that area of the law was draconian, prescriptive and time-consuming for the House of Commons and the legislative process. We are trying to move it to a modern pattern for the 21st century, but with all the safeguards that we need.

We would have abrogated our responsibilities had we not brought a Bill of this nature to Parliament, so I make no excuses for doing so. We went out and consulted. I make no apologies for coming to the Committee and saying, ''Can we have a few more days?'' We want to return with a considered statement so that we can respond in full to concerns on that limited part of the Bill. I do not know what Coin Slot International and the others are lobbying for, but naive editorials, such as the one in the Daily Mail, saying that they want to kill the whole Bill do a disservice to millions of people in this country.

I give the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford an assurance that on Tuesday we will make sure, subject to your agreement, Mr. Pike, that there is plenty of debate on clause 7. We will be more than ready to accept such scrutiny. In reply to the hon. Member for Bath, there will be no public statements or announcements before I come to Committee.

Mr. Banks: I am not certain that I will be pleased by the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Minister on clause 7, but I support his approach. I remind the Opposition that if a Government are prepared to listen and reconsider they are acting responsibly. It is strange to hear Opposition parties couple pejorative terms such as ''climb down'' and ''retreat'' with the word ''welcome''. It adds to the fevered language of politics that we hear so much about when decisions and the reasons for them are discussed in the media.

 
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