Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: The Secretary of State has the power to make reductions at any time. That would be an instruction to the gambling commission. [Interruption.] The power is there, and I shall write to hon. Members to lay out exactly what the procedure is, and we shall put that on the record. The Secretary of

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State will act on advice from the commission, but I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to ensure that the point is clear, and we shall put it on the record.

Mr. Moss: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. We sought clarification from the Minister on what he was going to do about clause 7. Are we to make it stand part of the Bill?

The Chairman: We are debating clause 7. We have reached the conclusion of that debate, and I have to put the question.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Foster: On a point of order, Mr. Pike. I wonder whether I could seek your advice. You will be aware from your co-Chairman that this morning we were debating an issue in respect of the assurance that the Minister had given the Committee that

    ''there will be no public statements or announcements before I come to Committee.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 November 2004; c. 89-90.]

You will be aware that there was much concern in Committee this morning about newspaper, radio and television reports that a large number of members of the media were aware of what the Minister was going to say before he came to Committee.

We received an assurance from the Minister this morning, which I accept entirely, that the Secretary of State did not refer to the specific figure of eight when she spoke to the parliamentary Labour party. However, I suspect that that rather clouded our judgment this morning, because it does not alter the fact that the Secretary of State clearly made an announcement about a number of the issues related to what the Minister has told us today. I would be grateful for your advice, Mr. Pike, on whether it would be appropriate to ask the Minister to provide the Committee with a brief summary of the comments made by the Secretary of State to the PLP, and to seek absolute assurances from the Minister that no representative of the Government gave any briefing to the media regarding the number of casinos.

The Chairman: Order. The Minister has heard the point, and if he wishes to make a comment, it is a matter for him, not the Chairman. What happened during last Thursday's sitting is clearly recorded in Hansard, and the Minister has heard the points.

Mr. Caborn: Further to that point of order, Mr. Pike. I say to the hon. Member for Bath that I believe that Parliament should be the first to know, and I genuinely mean that. I can give him clear assurances. I said that no statement would be made in public, to the media or anyone else. It is because there is concern—as there is in Committee and as there was on Second Reading—that the Secretary of State gave an explanation, without mentioning numbers, to reassure members of the parliamentary Labour party about the way we were moving. She also said that I would make a statement here, which I did this morning. The meeting was private; I said clearly that there would be

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no public statements made. How the figures got into this morning's press reports, I do not know. As I said this morning, how discussions I had with the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford got into the press, I do not know.

Mr. Foster rose—

The Chairman: Order. I am not prepared to allow a debate on that. We must move on. I have to think of where we have to get to in our consideration. The points have been made and quite clearly we will be returning to those issues after the Queen's Speech later this month.

Clause 21

Duty to promote the licensing objectives

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 110, in

    clause 21, page 9, line 30, leave out 'aim'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 112, in

    clause 21, page 9, line 31, leave out from beginning to 'the' and insert

    'pursue and shall act consistently with'.

No. 113, in

    clause 21, page 9, leave out line 33, and insert

    '(b) permit gambling in a manner'.

Mr. Moss: I shall be brief. As the Minister said, the clauses relating to the gambling commission form probably one of the most important parts of the Bill; great power is to be given to the commission in an unprecedented way. My amendments would firm up in a more objective way what the commission shall and shall not be doing. We want to take out the word ''aim'' so that the clause reads: ''In exercising its functions under this Act the Commission shall pursue''. That would be a more objective analysis and would firm up the clause in a way that most of us would agree is necessary.

Mr. Caborn: I cannot think that the amendments reflect any disagreement between the Government and the Opposition. We both agree that the gambling commission should be a tough regulator, working for the public interest and pursuing social responsibility. In developing the clause, the Government have sought not only to place demanding responsibilities on the gambling commission, but to ensure that it has a degree of flexibility.

If the hon. Gentleman's amendments were agreed, the commission may well find itself having to prohibit new forms of gambling that are perfectly acceptable. That is because it would be required to permit gambling only when it was wholly consistent with the licensing objectives. All gambling products involve some risks, particularly to vulnerable adults, so the test is one that few new products would be able to pass.

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I presume that amendment No. 110 is meant to toughen up the duties of the gambling commission. However, we do not think that the deletion of that word will achieve much. Even if the commission were required simply to pursue the objective, it could only aim to do that on each occasion.

Amendment No. 112 would remove the duty of the commission to have regard to the licensing objectives where appropriate. I am not clear about the intention behind the amendment. Under various provisions in the Bill the commission is required to have regard to the licensing objectives—for example, when considering applications for operating licences under clause 66. Clause 21 makes it clear that the commission must have regard to the licensing objective in those circumstances. If amendment No. 112 were accepted, it would make the commission less accountable, not more. The amendment also requires the commission to act consistently with the licensing objectives, but that is inherent in its duty to pursue the objectives and therefore the amendment adds nothing.

Amendment No. 113 would require that the commission permit gambling only when it is consistent with the licensing objectives. It removes the commission's discretion to permit gambling where it is ''reasonably consistent'' with the objectives. If it were accepted, there could be a risk that the commission would be obliged to prohibit new forms of gambling that were perfectly acceptable.

As I have said, I do not think that there is any policy difference between us, but the amendments push the principles that we agree on too far and could have some perverse effects. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. We were attempting to firm up the clause. As he said, he and I are not a million miles apart on the objective. In view of his comments—particularly those relating to greater flexibility in future—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

5 pm

Clause 22

Policy for licensing and regulation

Mr. Caborn: I beg to move amendment No. 18, in

    clause 22, page 10, line 12, at end insert—

    '(aa) Her Majesty's Commissioners of Customs and Excise,'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 111, in

    clause 22, page 10, line 18, at end insert

    'which are affected by the statement or revision'.

Government amendment No. 19.

Amendment No. 92, in

    clause 23, page 11, line 14, after 'businesses', insert 'or industry trade bodies'.

Government amendment No. 20.

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Government new clause 1—Consultation with Commissioners of Customs and Excise.

Mr. Caborn: Amendments Nos. 18 to 20 require the gambling commission to consult Her Majesty's Customs and Excise on areas that have implications on Customs policy, procedure or functions. Those areas are: the preparation of the commission's policy statement, the issuing of codes of practice to operators and the preparation of guidance to local authorities.

Mr. Moss: I want to speak briefly to amendments Nos. 111 and 92. Their intent is obvious, so I do not need to speak to them at great length. No doubt the Minister will have comments to make about them. By tabling the amendments, we sought to achieve greater clarity in the Bill.

Mr. Caborn: Amendment No. 111 would require the gambling commission, in issuing or revising its policy for licensing and regulation, to consult only those businesses that were affected by the statement or a revision to the statement. Under the provisions of the Bill as currently drafted, the commission is required to consult organisations representing gambling businesses. That duty is wider than would be the case under the proposed amendment.

The Government believe that it is unnecessary to restrict in that way the commission's ability to consult the gambling industry. When the commission issues its policy for licensing and regulation, it will cover how it will apply the principles to all sectors of the gambling industry. It is therefore right that the commission should be able to engage in a wide consultation exercise across the industry. That applies equally to amendments to the policy proposed by the commission; gambling businesses that are not directly affected by a revision but that may have to deal with its consequences should have the opportunity to make their views known. The amendment would preclude that in an unnecessarily restrictive way.

Amendment No. 92 would require the Commission to consult industry trade bodies before issuing or revising a code of practice. The amendment appears to be based on a misunderstanding of clause 23. As drafted, clause 23 requires the commission, before revising a code of practice, to consult

    ''one or more persons who appear to the Commission to represent the interests of persons who . . . carry on gambling businesses.''

The clause therefore already provides the commission with the scope to consult industry trade bodies.

Amendment agreed to.

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