Gambling Bill

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The Chairman: Order. I have to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, as it is inappropriate for any hon. Member to criticise another in his or her absence without giving notice of the intention to do so. The Secretary of State is not a member of the Committee and could not be present this morning. I therefore advise the hon. Gentleman that if having heard what the Minister says in response he or any other member of the Committee is still dissatisfied, the matter could, and should, properly be raised with the Speaker on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Foster: I am most grateful for your advice, Mr. Gale, which I, and no doubt other members of the Committee, will follow. In fairness, it is right and proper, as you suggest, that we should first hear the response to our concerns from the Minister, whose integrity I do not call into question.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to debate the Minister's statement in our discussions on clause stand part. I repeat that we support the programme motion.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford and the hon. Member for Bath have been moderate in their comments about the flagrant breach of the undertaking given to the Committee. If it were the only occasion on which such news management had taken place, we might be less concerned. However—

The Chairman: Order. I thought I had made plain my view on the matter. The hon. Gentleman must not try my patience. There will be an opportunity for him to seek to catch the Speaker's eye on the Floor of the House if he chooses to do so. Will hon. Members please confine their remarks to the programme motion?

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Mr. Hawkins: Thank you, Mr. Gale. I accept your advice.

An opportunity arises from the Government's U-turn, going back to what was originally envisaged: that any new casino development should provide an opportunity for regeneration, especially in run-down seaside resorts. I hope that when the Minister responds to this debate, and to the debate on clause stand part, he will expand on the Government's dramatic change of policy and reassure the Committee that as part and parcel of the detailed changes there will be a return to the view strongly expressed by members of the scrutiny Committee so ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). That view was that run-down seaside resorts could benefit if the casino development profits could be used for the regeneration of those areas.

It would provide quite a lot of reassurance to those who have been so concerned about the risk of the proliferation of large casinos if it were made clear at this 11th hour that the Government had gone back to what was originally put forward by the pioneers of the concept about 10 years ago as a reason for such large casino developments. They made it clear that such casinos had successfully regenerated many previously run-down resorts in the United States. If we can get back to that, a lot of the public concern will be allayed.

Even with the limited number of casinos now being planned, my concern is that if all of them end up in major inland towns and cities, we will lose all those regeneration benefits that are so earnestly desired in places such as Blackpool. I had the opportunity of being briefed by the council's chief executive and one of its senior officers yesterday, as, I believe, did other members of the Committee. I hope that the Minister will be able to go a little further than his announcement of a dramatic reduction in numbers and go back to the original concept of regeneration as the pioneers saw it.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): I welcome the principle behind the Minister's statement and I am delighted that the Government seem finally to have recognised the advice advanced by the scrutiny Committee several months ago. This is a classic case of legislating in haste, and I am worried that we will repent at leisure.

Mr. Foster: I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman; I know that the debate is short. I was slightly concerned when he suggested that the Minister's statement indicates that the Government are now following the recommendations of the scrutiny Committee. Does he acknowledge that many aspects of what the Joint Committee said—on category A machines and the need for super-casinos to be destination casinos, for example—were not included in the Minister's statement, as far as it went?

Mr. Page: It is very kind of the hon. Gentleman to point that out to me, because that was to be the last point in my short contribution to the debate on the programme motion. Nevertheless, I am glad to be reminded to say what I was going to say.

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The Bill shows all the hallmarks of legislating in haste. It is good that we have decided—I support my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford in advancing the idea—not to move the amendments and then, in view of the Government's appalling mishandling of the matter, to seek extra time on Report to debate clause 7 as it should have been debated in this Committee. I want a commitment from the Government to that effect.

In his brief statement on the programme motion, the Minister mentioned eight casinos for Great Britain, which obviously includes Scotland. I would be delighted to know whether he has reached an agreement with the Scotland Office on having casinos in Scotland, what percentage of the eight will be up there, whether the Scottish Executive will have to produce legislation to match our legislation, and whether our legislation will override any Scottish legislation. The Government, in rushing the decision, are getting themselves into a huge and serious hole. I sincerely hope that they do a little more thinking and planning before they proceed any further.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): I concur with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hertfordshire—

Mr. Page: South-West Hertforshire, at the moment.

Miss Kirkbride: My geography has never been the greatest.

I give a cautious welcome to what the Government have said today, because at least the announcement is going in the right direction. Nevertheless, it raises more questions than have presently been answered, so we look forward to hearing answers from the Minister today. As has been mentioned, the Government have had not just months but years to consider the legislation, starting with the Budd committee a long time ago. A few weeks ago, they were all set to give the green light to 40 casinos throughout the country. It came as no surprise to me or to my hon. Friends when that caused great alarm in the House and among many organisations throughout the UK. Indeed, it surprised me that the Minister was surprised to get such a reception.

It was the considered opinion of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for a long time that the market, plus the so-called triple lock, would be sufficient to ensure the distribution of casinos across the country. All of a sudden, following the great furore that was unleashed in the House, the Minister has begun to talk—welcome as it is—about limiting the number of casinos. He has mentioned a figure of eight, and there are many questions to be asked about those eight: where are they going to be, how they will be distributed between the four countries of the United Kingdom, and why eight and not nine or seven or 12 or four or one?

A great deal of questions must be asked, not least because an answer that I received from the Minister's Department a few days ago said that putting a limit on the number of casinos would be against European

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competition rules. So one wonders how the Government have suddenly been able to cobble together a proposal that does what many of us were asking for on Second Reading. I hope that the Minister will have some good answers to that question.

I welcome the Government's considerable climbdown, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford described it. I am not sure that the climbdown is yet sufficient to reassure me that there will not be problem gambling in the UK, but so far, so good. We look forward to the Minister giving us more details on the overarching policy that has been cobbled together this morning and announced to the Committee in the most unsatisfactory way.

Mr. Caborn: The Opposition say that we have made a humiliating climbdown and a U-turn, but the Secretary of State made it clear that we would consult. Let us be clear: we are talking about a Bill, which we hope to get on to the statute book, that is being introduced to protect people. We have said that consistently. That is why the Budd review was set up, ''A Safe Bet for Success'' was introduced and the wider discussion and consultation has taken place. That has led to about 90 per cent. of the Bill, which is going through satisfactorily.

We are dealing with the part of the Bill on casinos. As I said in the statement, we thought that the triple lock that we proposed would be a gradual approach to the rolling out of regional casinos. Clearly, there was concern about that, and any responsible Government respond to concerns. The Secretary of State made it clear in the House and in public that she would take those concerns very seriously. If the Opposition believe that to be a U-turn or a climbdown, so be it, but they are being disingenuous. I think that the general public will say that it is good government, that the Government listen to people and they reflect such views in legislation. [Laughter.] One can laugh, and I have no doubt that Opposition Members will continue their barracking.

Regarding the Secretary of State, I told the Committee that there would be no public statement. The statement made in private to the parliamentary Labour party last night did not contain numbers. There are Members here who were at that meeting and heard the Secretary of State, who was giving a report on the activity of the Department for the year, and the development of the five-year strategy. Part of that report concerned gambling. She said that we had been listening and that I would be making a statement this morning. She made that statement in general, and never made any reference to numbers at the parliamentary Labour party meeting.

10 am

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Prepared 16 November 2004