Gambling Bill

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Mr. Hawkins: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks: No, I will finish my point. One cannot have a change of mind, or even listen, without being accused of retreating, which is why people despise the language of politics and, in many cases, politicians.

I am trying to get out of my mind an image of the hon. Member for Bath sitting up in bed reading Coin

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Slot International and I can only send my great sympathy to Mrs. Foster.

10.45 am

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): The Opposition are prompted to respond, following the protestations from the Minister and the hon. Member for West Ham, who is my friend and who, I suspect, will be displeased by the Minister's remarks next Tuesday. The Minister has had a number of years to consider the legislation; the Government have not come up with it in the past six months. They established a scrutiny Committee, which spent many months doing a great deal of hard work on the issue. I disagreed with many of its proposals, but nevertheless its members treated the subject seriously. The Government were supposed to take the Committee's view into account, given that they initiated the scrutiny process. It is therefore disingenuous of the Minister to say that the Government are listening and that it is fine for them to backtrack on some of their proposals.

The Government had a long time to consider the issues, but they did not produce a solution acceptable to the House and have been forced to retreat. The Minister talked about the great things that the Bill will do and I accept that the provisions on internet regulation are right and proper. Indeed, they are welcome and needed. However, the legislation is limited because, as the Minister admitted just the other day in Committee, there will be no jurisdiction over sites not based in the United Kingdom. There is a limit to how much harm can be regulated by the Bill. However, the simple fact is that the most important part of the Bill, which deals with casinos, was to do a great deal—

The Chairman: Order. I remind hon. Members that they must speak about the programme order. Although they can debate it for half an hour, I am mindful of the fact that hon. Members have already referred to which part of the Bill they need to reach by Tuesday night. We must ensure that we debate all the provisions that are moved.

Miss Kirkbride: Finally, I am grateful that the Minister will table new amendments on the casino problem, which is at the heart of the Bill and is the most important part. The harm that the Government's original proposals would have done to the gambling scene in this country would far outweigh any good achieved by the other regulation in the Bill. I am therefore grateful for what the Minister said, but he and the hon. Member for West Ham protest too much.

Mr. Hawkins: I want to make two points about the programme order. First, I said on Tuesday that I thought it extraordinary but, sadly, all too typical of the Government that they had abandoned the convention adopted by Governments of both parties of allowing a clear week between the week in which Second Reading takes place and the week in which the Committee stage starts. The programme order makes it clear that the Government were unwise to ignore that convention—had they abided by it they would not have needed to introduce this panic measure. They

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would have a clear week and could consult everyone who is influencing them to make the changes to clause 7 that we shall hear about. They would not need to go through what to the outside world will seem a strange procedure and introduce an emergency programme order today to delay consideration of clause 7 until we have considered clause 132. We understand that when we return next Tuesday there will be another programme order to move consideration of clause 7 to some as yet unspecified time. I hope that the Minister and the usual channels accept that the indecent haste with which the Bill was rushed into Committee was a mistake. They should learn that lesson for the future. As I said on Tuesday, there was no need to rush the Bill into Committee, given that the Government have introduced a carry-over motion. I hope that they will acknowledge their mistake.

Secondly, it was remarkable that the hon. Member for West Ham, of all Members of Parliament, should decry the use of fevered language. We all recognise his wit, which I have experienced since I was lucky enough to hear him respond to my maiden speech 12 and a half years ago. I was grateful to him then and I am grateful to him now, but I think that he would accept that he is the last hon. Member, of whatever party, whom one would expect to protest about the use of fevered language. He and I will have to wait and see what the Government come up with to discover whether his views, which are not dissimilar to mine on liberalisation, reflect what is needed. However, I suspect that he may want to reflect a little further before he, of all people, protests about fevered language undermining the status of politicians.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8

Equal chance gaming

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

Mr. Caborn: By way of a short explanation, whether gaming is a matter of equal or unequal chance, its regulation is important. In principle, unequal chance gaming gives rise to greater opportunities for unfairness or indeed exploitation. The Bill accordingly lays down that low-level gaming must be equal chance gaming. For that procedure to work as intended a clear definition is needed. That is what the clause provides.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Betting: general

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 25, in

    clause 9, page 5, line 3, at beginning insert 'Subject to subsection (1A),'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 26, in

    clause 9, page 5, line 6, at end insert—

    '(1A) But ''betting'' does not include making or accepting a bet on the outcome of a race which involves placing money on any horse or greyhound to lose the race.'.

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Mr. Hawkins: May I make it clear in the interests of making progress that these are probing amendments? In the light of the current inquiries into horse racing—the sport that I love—I felt that it would be unwise if the Committee did not have an opportunity to look into an issue that may well take up a lot of time when the Bill moves to another place.

As I said on Second Reading, a senior detective has been quoted as saying that more than 100 people are currently under investigation. The inquiries will last much longer than the police originally thought, so it is difficult to talk about the subject without infringing sub-judice rules. Obviously, as a lawyer who used both to prosecute and defend in the criminal courts, I am anxious not to infringe those rules. The whole issue of what is appropriate in the light of the way that betting on horse and greyhound racing has changed in recent years needs to be considered. I shall listen with interest to the Minister's reply, but amendments Nos. 25 and 26 are simply probing amendments to allow the issue to be raised in Committee.

Bob Russell: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that betting on a player being booked in football match would be covered by his amendments?

Mr. Hawkins: That certainly would not be covered by these amendments. It may be a related issue but I do not want to be distracted, Mr. Pike, as you would rule me out of order. We might end up debating the England captain deliberately getting a second booking, which would open up a new can of worms. That may interest the hon. Member for West Ham and many others, but it would be ruled out of order.

A number of people in the industry have argued that the kind of bets that my amendments deal with may provide a greater element of temptation. It has been pointed out that the same object might be achieved, even if a measure similar to the amendments came into the law, by putting larger bets on lots of horses or dogs. I do not pretend that the phraseology is perfect—the amendments are simply probing amendments to get the issue on the record. I suspect that when the Bill goes to another place the matter will be discussed in greater detail.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath said that these are probing amendments. If they were accepted they would bring about the complete collapse of the betting industry throughout the whole country, and doubtless the Minister has brief a mile long on them.

Obviously, to strike a bet and make it stand up, someone has to accept it so that it can be laid. If someone at Brighton race course fancied Saucy Sue in the 3 o'clock and wanted to put £5 on at 3:1, they would have to find someone else who thought Saucy Sue was going to lose, and who would take that £5 and pay out £15 if their judgment was wrong. As my hon. Friend said, the problem could be overcome with a huge, complicated raft of alternative heavier bets, the only advantage being that that might give a slightly increased levy to the British Horseracing Board. I am sure that we can find an easier way to go about things.

Mr. Banks: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr. Page: Of course I give way to my right-wing friend.

Mr. Banks: Thank you; very gracious. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath raises some reasonable concerns about the role of betting exchanges.

Mr. Page: If my new-found right-wing friend will just hold his horses, I will come on to betting exchanges in a minute. This amendment to a clause that attempts to define betting is very important. As we know, the question of betting exchanges occupied a considerable amount of time in the scrutiny Committee. We took evidence on several occasions from eminent people in the gaming and gambling industry, including people from the BHB and the Association of British Bookmakers, and those connected with betting exchanges. In fact, I opened an exchange account with Betfair—it is declared on the Register of Members' Interests—just to find out what it was all about and how easy it was to lay bets to lose. I am sorry to report that the horses do not win when I bet to win, but they do when I bet to lose. I have the coin the wrong way around and am working out how I can reverse the process. If I can, I shall make a small fortune and be able to retire even earlier than I anticipated.

I now understand the principal of exchanges. Their operation, which involves clicking on a screen, is rather soulless. There is nothing to compare with the thrill of going racing and losing one's money in person there and then, which is even better and even quicker. However, there is a serious and important point to be made. I mentioned on Second Reading the huge growth in international and internet gambling, and the moneys that can accrue. If we get our regulations right, more and more overseas money will be bet through our systems, as our people will be trusted.

 
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Prepared 11 November 2004