Gambling Bill

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Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Does the hon. Lady accept that some of the research indicates that money going into gambling, albeit for regeneration, comes from other leisure sectors, often in the same area? Research shows that money spent on gambling is money not spent on other leisure pursuits.

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Mrs. Humble: I disagree. When visitors go to a particular area, they budget for what they are going to spend, but if there is a new opportunity for casino gambling in that leisure destination, they will take that into account alongside how much money they will be spending on restaurants, family amusement arcades—talking about Blackpool—and other things.

Since the hon. Gentleman's constituency is not too far away from Blackpool, I am sure that he will have seen the excellent report by Pion Economics, which was commissioned by the regional development agency and the Lancashire West partnership on behalf of the eight local authorities in west Lancashire. The report gives a detailed assessment and expresses a view about how much extra money will come into west Lancashire, how many extra jobs will be created and the potential for improving the skills base of the local people. That is an area that has not been mentioned, but Blackpool and the Fylde college—my excellent local college—is already considering putting on extra courses and improving the skills base of the local economy.

Bob Russell rose—

Dr. Pugh: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Humble: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman and then I will consider giving way to the hon. Member for Colchester.

Dr. Pugh: There is a duty to see what is going on at the college and what preparations it is making, but does the hon. Lady accept that the Pion report is to some extent speculative? We are talking about something completely new and unique in the United Kingdom, so those figures cannot be as firm as they appear. Anxieties have been expressed by some business interests in Blackpool that they will lose out—perhaps in the case of restaurants that are not incorporated in the casino complexes.

Mrs. Humble: The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about speculation. We are all speculating, which is why I applaud the Government's cautious approach. Nevertheless, the report was produced in consultation with the eight local authorities and local business, and it had a lot of support.

Most of the figures are based on the best guesses that anyone could have made in the circumstances. The key factor is that circumstances have changed; we are now talking about limiting the numbers and looking at where the new regional casinos will be. We must then ensure that they are focused on the areas of greatest need; without a shadow of doubt, one area of need is our resorts.

''Tomorrow's Tourism Today'' is an excellent document, and the Government are to be applauded for recognising the situation in our seaside towns. Their plight had never before been recognised. The report demanded that resorts be visionary and that they should reinvent themselves. They now have the opportunity to do so.

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When considering detailed proposals for the location of the eight casinos, I hope that the Minister will take account of the fact that their location needs to be considered in the context of detailed regeneration plans. I say again that Blackpool is unique. It has developed a master plan over five years, and casinos are an integral part of that. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at the possibilities of regeneration. I hope also that he will remember that casinos should form part of the local tourism strategy, which is another of his departmental responsibilities. The two should be linked. I emphasise again that location is important. The number of casinos not a problem; the danger is in putting them in locations that might not benefit.

The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford regaled us with stories of American developers. Blackpool has local developers who want to help to regenerate the town through the new regional casinos. Leisure Parcs, which owns Blackpool tower, the Winter Gardens, the three piers and many other properties in the town, is run by a Lancashire business man and is leading in the development of the area. Hilton Hotels, which has a hotel in Blackpool, is also interested.

It is not only American international money makers who want to make money from regional casinos. Blackpool has a home-grown product, and we want to see it developed. I am aware that eight of the 34 proposals already made for regional casinos are in the north-west. I am looking over my shoulder, Mr. Gale, but my colleagues from Greater Manchester are fortunately not sitting behind me. It will be a real problem for the Government to decide how to allocate regional casinos. With its eight proposals, the north-west has even more than Greater London, which has five.

The regeneration potential has been recognised by many local authorities. I am glad that I will not have to decide where to locate those eight regional casinos. My colleagues in various parts of the country all have areas of deprivation in their constituencies that would benefit from the proposal. It will not be an easy decision.

I would not deny other areas the opportunity for regeneration through regional casinos, but as one of the Blackpool MPs I have to argue the case for the town. And as one of the seaside MPs, I must argue that our seaside towns need to regenerate the tourism product that they have successfully offered for many years. Now, in the 21st century, the product needs to be reassessed.

Mr. Foster: This is clearly a significant U-turn, but the Minister seeks to dress it up by saying that the Secretary of State had committed herself to consultation. Most Members of this House, let alone most members of the Committee, assume that the usual procedure is that consultation takes place before the Government publish legislation. On this occasion, there was a great deal of consultation before the Bill was published. We had the Budd report, the various meetings of other bodies and more recently not one, but two, reports of the Joint Committee. Sadly, it is

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clear that the Government were not in listening mode for much of that time. At least, if they were listening, they were not listening very carefully.

The Government's introduction of a cap on the number of regional casinos is a major U-turn. After all, only at the end of last month when talking about the new super-casinos in his monthly press conference, the Prime Minister said quite clearly that the market will create between 20 and 40. It was quite clear that he believed that the best way forward was to allow the market to decide. It was reference to market prediction of the number of new super-casinos that led the Secretary of State to tell the House on Second Reading that between 20 and 40 were anticipated.

Clearly, the Government had not been listening, particularly to the Joint Committee, which says in paragraph 20 on page 9 of its report:

    ''It cannot therefore simply be left to the market, as Ministers have suggested.''

Clive Efford: Does the hon. Gentleman recall saying on Second Reading that he would prefer two super-casinos per region? If he does, how would he determine where they would go?

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of what I said, which was that if the Government were seeking to reduce the number of super-casinos, they could, for example, consider one or two per region. As he will see if he studies what I said during that debate, that was if there was to be a limit. My preference was for there not to be an expansion of this new type of casino or an unlimited number of highly addictive category A machines. That is on the record. Many of us look forward to a debate on where the super-casinos are to go when we hear more from the Minister, but I shall return to that point in a second.

My point is that it is a bit late for the Government suddenly to say that this is not a climbdown or a U-turn but evidence of a listening Government, when we would expect them to listen to the expression of clear views much earlier. Rather than predicting what the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) might be about to say, may I say that I entirely agree with his request for the Minister to give us a very clear assurance that adequate time will be provided on Report to enable us to consider the proposals that are to be advanced then, if not before, by the Government? After all, the Minister has said little of substance about the proposals; indeed, the mystical number of eight is all that we really know. No details have been given on why the figure is eight, on where those eight will be located, on what the procedure for locating those eight will be, or on what controls will be placed on them and on other large and small casinos that may well proliferate as a result. There is very little detail other than that magical number of eight.

I do not want to trespass on your advice to me earlier, Mr. Gale, about who said what to whom, but it is very clear from today's press reporting that

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members of the Labour party knew last night of the figure of eight. I entirely accept the Minister's statement that they were not given that figure in the parliamentary party meeting, but at least some members of the Labour party have been briefed about what the figure was. At no stage in any discussions that I have had with the Minister or anyone else has that figure of eight been mentioned.

10.45 am

We need time to discuss in detail the proposals that the Minister will bring forward in due course. After all, we have cause for concern that the Government do not know a great deal about these issues. I referred on Second Reading to the Government's confusion about even the number of existing casinos. The Prime Minister told us it was 120. Lord McIntosh initially said that it was 126. We were subsequently told that he changed his mind and that it was 130, yet according to the parliamentary answer that the Minister gave on 9 November at column 600W it is 134.

We cannot even be clear how many casinos there are at present in this country. It is therefore not surprising that we have concerns about the Government's views and understanding of these issues. Indeed, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford referred to that classic statement by the Secretary of State to the Joint Committee:

    ''If the legislation gave rise to an increase in problem gambling then it would have failed and it would be bad legislation''

Many members of the Committee are deeply concerned that any expansion of casino operations could lead to an increase in problem gambling. Again we want to have the opportunity to explore those points in detail. That is why we urge that we have plenty of opportunity to discuss it on Report.

I should like to raise some other issues relating to clause 7. First, I remind the Committee that Lord McIntosh told the Joint Committee at question 47:

    ''I see gambling reform, which would be introduced by the Gambling Bill, as having three aspects: one is regulation, and that is clearly what the Bill is about, and that is most of what you have been covering; the second is the tax regime; and the third is the location regime. You will not fully understand the gambling reform unless you have all those three legs of the stool in place.''

I have mentioned the tax regime before and its importance in our understanding of where this may lead. In its evidence to the Joint Committee, the British Casino Association said that the viability of any new casino cannot be assessed

    ''until the future tax and duty regime has been resolved.''

We clearly need information about any future tax plans. I hope that that will be covered by the Government's amendments. When the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and I asked the Chancellor about the tax regime, we got this brief reply:

    ''The Chancellor keeps all taxation under review.''—[Official Report, 11 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 801W.]

Well of course he does, but given that this is such an important part of our understanding of the impact of the Government's amendments, I hope that we will get something clearer. I am therefore grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House, who gave the following clear statement:

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    ''On the gambling tax, I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman—

my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler)—

    ''is making—as the House will know, the Standing Committee is currently considering the Bill, and Members have requested information. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is aware of the point that has just been made.''—[Official Report, 11 November 2004; Vol. 426, c. 929.]

I hope that the Minister, too, will confirm that the Committee needs information about the issue of tax and that he intends to produce it.

On the issue of location—the third leg—we again have no detail from the Minister. He will be well aware that, as the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood rightly said, there is great concern about where these new casinos will be located. We know that the Government were keen to see them almost anywhere, because they rejected the Joint Committee's very strong advice that they should be leisure destination casinos. We have, indeed, tabled an amendment today—it has not been moved—to propose that that should be the name, with all the implications that will flow from that for the new casinos. As yet, however, the Minister has not told us the Government's thinking on the issue.

We know that the Joint Committee believes that it is vital that these new super-casinos are not located on high streets, with the problems of ambient, ''walk in and play'' gambling that can arise. It is important for the Minister to be aware that, although many of these new super-casinos are likely to be run by American operators, many of those operators themselves have expressed concern about ambient gambling. A letter that I suspect many members of the Committee have received from one such casino operator says that the important point in any increase in problem gambling is the accessibility of machine gambling. It goes on to say:

    ''A plethora of casino opportunities on every high street, as opposed to out-of-town regional sites, will give rise to impulse gambling in easy reach of passing shoppers. It will also''—

this picks up on a point raised in an intervention on the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood—

    ''displace the leisure spend from traditional town centre entertainment venues''.

Therefore, there is clear concern about the issue of destination, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that the eight will meet the requirement of being destination casinos.

I also hope that the Minister will tell us—it is a pity that the issue is not before us now—that the locations chosen will meet the requirement that they are areas where there is clear evidence not only of the need for regeneration, but that regeneration will take place.

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