Gambling Bill

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Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 156, in

    clause 22, page 10, line 22, at end add—

    '(6) In performing their duties for the purposes of this section, the Commission must have regard in all cases, to—

    (a) the principles under which regulatory activities should be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed, and

    (b) any other principles appearing to the Commission to represent best regulatory practice.

    (7) In reviewing their functions under this section it shall be the duty of the Commission—

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    (a) to have regard to the extent to which the licensing objectives are already achieved, or are likely to be achieved, by effective self-regulation or co-regulation; and

    (b) in the light of that, to consider to what extent it would be appropriate to remove or reduce regulatory burdens imposed by the Commission.

    (8) In determining whether for the purposes of this section the encouraging of procedures for self-regulation or co-regulation is desirable and effective the Commission must consider, in particular—

    (a) whether those procedures are administered by a person who is sufficiently independent of the persons who may be subjected to the procedures,

    (b) whether a person represents an existing established means of regulation, and

    (c) whether adequate arrangements are in force for funding the activities of that person.'.

The amendment would introduce a new subsection (6) to clause 22. The wording used is identical to that used in the Communications Act 2003 for the duties in that Act relating to Ofcom. We suggest that the gambling commission should have the same very onerous regulatory requirements placed on it as those on Ofcom. The proposed subsection would place a duty on the commission to follow the Better Regulation Task Force's five principles on better regulation. That would be an important addition to its responsibilities under the Bill.

Mr. Caborn: The clause requires the gambling commission to prepare a statement containing the principles that it will apply when undertaking its licensing and regulatory functions. The amendment would merely set out in the Bill what this Government already expect the commission's licensing and regulatory statement to contain. It goes without saying that we expect the commission to exercise its regulatory activities in a transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted manner. We also expect it to apply best regulatory practice, and it is expected that it will review the application of its functions with regard to the pursuit of the licensing objectives.

As a result of that review, we anticipate that the commission will consider whether the regulatory burdens imposed on the industry are appropriate. We also expect the commission to give due consideration to the best form of regulation for the industry and its implications, be that self-regulation, co-regulation or the imposition of additional regulatory burdens.

So, while I agree with the content of the amendment, I do not think that the requirements that it sets out need to be in the Bill. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Moss: In view of the assurances given by the Minister that the wording of the amendment, or something similar to it, will be incorporated in the gambling commission's regulatory framework, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

<<209>>Clause 23

Codes of practice

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 206, in

    clause 23, page 10, line 25, leave out 'whether'.

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

Amendment No. 207, in

    clause 23, page 10, line 26, leave out 'or by another person'.

Mr. Moss: If the amendments were agreed to, subsection (1) would read ''The Commission shall issue one or more codes of practice about the manner in which facilities for gambling are provided (by the holder of a licence under this Act).'' Including the words ''whether'' and ''or by another person'' at the end could mean that another licence under another Act—for example, the Licensing Act 2003— might be brought into the compass of the meaning behind subsection (1). Removing those words would clarify the situation and ensure that the provision would relate only to a licence under the Bill and not to any other licensing regime.

Mr. Foster: I am rather surprised by the explanation for the amendments that the hon. Gentleman gave. Will he confirm whether my interpretation is more correct than the one that he offered? Would the amendments not ensure that the licensee takes responsibility for all of the aspects of the running of the casino, as opposed to others who are currently responsible, such as operators, administrators or people who give advice? Surely, his amendments would sensibly ensure that an individual—the licensee—would take sole responsibility for the matters that are covered in the clause?

Mr. Caborn: We have had two explanations of the same amendment, which is very good. I will try to answer both at the same time.

As I see it, the amendments would exclude those persons who do not hold an operating, personal or premises licence under the Bill from having regard to codes of practice issued by the gambling commission. That means that permit holders and holders of temporary use notices under the Bill would be free to offer facilities for gambling without the restraints that the codes of practice could impose. That is certainly not something that this Government—or, I am sure, Opposition Members—want. Anyone lawfully providing facilities for gambling under the Bill, including holders of licences, permits and other authorisations should be required to have regard to the codes of practice issued by the commission. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Moss: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 93, in

    clause 23, page 10, line 33, at end insert

    'and

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    (d) setting forth reasonable steps that such a person might take which will constitute a defence to an offence under the Act.'.—[Mr. Moss.]

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

No. 223, in

    clause 23, page 10, line 33, at end insert

    'and

    (d) ensuring that alcohol is not consumed in areas where category A gaming machines or casino games are played.'.

No. 224, in

    clause 23, page 10, line 33, at end insert

    'and

    (d) preventing a person from gambling where there is reason to suspect that they may have consumed too much alcohol.'.

No. 225, in

    clause 23, page 10, line 33, at end insert

    'and

    (d) providing training for staff in the identifying of individuals who may have consumed too much alcohol or have problems related to gambling.'.

Mr. Caborn: I cannot think that amendment No.93 reflects any disagreement between the Government and the Opposition. We are agreed that the gambling commission should be a tough regulator, working for the public interest and pursuing social responsibility.

5.10 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

5.40 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Caborn: I was just explaining the effect of amendment No. 93. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire wants the commission to give people guidance on how they might succeed in avoiding offences. I appreciate that the purpose of the amendment is quite innocent. The gambling industry is a complex and evolving environment but the offences under this Bill are quite clear. It is for the operators to be sure that they are acting within the law. It cannot be for the commission to give advice.

Amendments Nos. 223, 224 and 225 would require the commission's codes of practice to include provisions on avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol on gambling premises and to preclude alcohol from being consumed in casinos. As such, the amendments have laudable aims. Excessive alcohol consumption is never to be welcomed. However, laudable as they are, the amendments are misguided. Not all gambling premises serve alcohol now. It is not permitted in betting shops and we have no intention of changing that. Alcohol is permitted in casinos and bingo halls now under separate alcohol licences by virtue of the Licensing Act 2003. If there are problems with the way in which establishments are conducting themselves, they put that licence at risk. It is right that they should be dealt with under the Licensing Act, rather. We should not create separate obligations under this Bill.

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Alcohol has been served on the gaming floor in casinos for some time now and there is no evidence to suggest that operators are doing so irresponsibly. However, if there is evidence of a problem arising, the Bill gives the commission the power to act. For those reasons, I ask hon. Members not to press their amendments.

Clive Efford: I shall be brief as I am aware that we are way behind. These are probing amendments. I believe that the sale of alcohol in proximity to casino gaming and category A gaming machines could leave people vulnerable to some of the sharp practices in this industry. We have to legislate against the worst possible scenario.

I do not go to casinos myself. I buy the odd lottery ticket and that is about as far as my gambling goes. I understand that alcohol is not consumed around gaming tables in casinos. The practice is to restrict it. The industry is perhaps showing slightly more restraint than we are trying to show in the Bill. I will not press the amendment to a vote, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to investigate the matter, so that we can perhaps have some amendments on Report that restrict the sale of alcohol in these large casinos.

 
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