Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: Licensing authorities can regulate where alcohol is served. My hon. Friend is right. Some casinos allow alcohol to be taken at the table; others do not. It is up to them. For the two years during which there has been a relaxation, there has been no report of misuse. We believe that there is no need for this measure to be included in the Bill.

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 19, in

    clause 23, page 11, line 11, at end insert—

    '(aa) Her Majesty's Commissioners of Customs and Excise,'.—[Mr. Caborn.]

    Clause 23, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 24

    Guidance to local authorities

Amendment proposed: No. 94, in

    clause 24, page 11, line 39, leave out 'shall have regard to' and insert 'must follow the'.—[Mr. Moss.]

Mr. Caborn: Local authorities will have a key role to play. They will have responsibility for licensing gambling premises in their areas, and will be accountable to their local communities. It is important, therefore, that they have some discretion when exercising their licensing function, but the amendment would prevent such discretion. One size does not always fit all. Making the gambling commission's guidance to local authorities mandatory would limit an authority's ability to do what is right for its locality.

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It is important to bear it in mind that it may be difficult for local authorities to comply with guidance, which will inevitably be general in nature, to the letter. It is important that they should be able to take account of their local circumstances in applying the guidance. That is why the Bill enables general guidance from the gambling commission and individual policy statements from authorities. I know that local authorities will welcome the availability of the commission's guidance when developing their licensing policies. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

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

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 20, in

    clause 24, page 11, line 42, at end insert—

    '(aa) Her Majesty's Commissioners of Customs and Excise,'.—[Mr. Caborn.]

Mr. Foster: I beg to move amendment No. 3, in

    clause 24, page 12, line 4, at end insert

    'and

    (f) one or more persons who appear to the Commission to represent chief constables of police forces.'.

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

Amendment No. 4, in

    clause 24, page 12, line 8, leave out paragraph (a).

Mr. Foster: I have a lengthy briefing, but let me say briefly that the amendments are based on the principle that representative chief constables should always be consulted when the commission issues guidance on the manner in which local authorities should exercise their functions, particularly on the principles to be applied by local authorities when exercising functions under this legislation. As the Bill stands, representative chief constables of police forces are to be consulted only if the commission thinks it appropriate given the nature of the guidance. Bearing it in mind that the key objectives of the Bill all relate to activities about which chief constables are, quite reasonably, likely to have views, we think it vital, notwithstanding the lengthy evidence that I have to back up what I am saying, that the amendments should be accepted.

Mr. Caborn: Amendment No. 3 would require the gambling commission to consult representative chief constables before issuing guidance to local authorities. Under the Bill, the commission is required to consult representative chief constables when that is deemed appropriate, rather than on a mandatory basis. Amendment No. 4 follows from amendment No. 3, and would remove the reference to chief constables in clause 24(5).

Before issuing guidance to local authorities under clause 24(4), the gambling commission must consult a number of interested parties, including representatives from local authorities and the gambling industry. Under clause 24(5), the gambling commission may also consult chief constables of police forces and members of the public if it thinks that appropriate on

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the basis of the guidance. The Government believe that it is unnecessary to have a mandatory requirement for the commission to consult representative chief constables in all cases. If there is an issue that merits involvement from the police, the commission will, under clause 24(5), consult them about it.

If that involvement is not merited, the commission's guidance will be issued to local authorities without police consultation. However, that does not mean that the police will not have a say about how local authorities conduct their licensing responsibilities. Under clause 327(3), it is compulsory for local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to consult chief constables of police forces before finalising the publication of their three-year licensing statements. In the Government's view, sufficient measures are in place to ensure that all necessary parties, including chief constables, are properly consulted about the way in which local authorities exercise their licensing functions under the new regime. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Foster: Given the assurance that I have received, particularly on clause 327(3), I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25

Duty to advise Secretary of State

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move amendment No. 131, in

    clause 25, page 12, line 33, at end insert

    ', and

    (c) on a regular basis by reports no less frequently than annually.'.

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

Amendment No. 275, in

    clause 25, page 12, line 33, at end insert

    ', and

    (c) where required by any provision of this Act.'.

Amendment No. 152, in

    clause 25, page 12, line 35, at end add 'and the general public.'.

Mr. Hawkins: I shall be brief, Mr. Pike. Under clause 25, the new gambling commission would give the Secretary of State advice about

    ''(a) the incidence of gambling,

    (b) the manner in which gambling is carried on,

    (c) the effects of gambling, and

    (d) the regulation of gambling'',

but only

    ''(a) in response to a request from the Secretary of State, and

    (b) on such other occasions as the Commission thinks appropriate.''

Amendment No. 131 would introduce a provision for the gambling commission definitely to report no less frequently than annually. In the light of the Government's huge U-turn today, the new proposals

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about casinos and all the promises that the Minister has made about the fact that the commission will look carefully at the evidence to see how the casinos progress, it is vital that we have regular reporting on the four categories in clause 25(1). It should not be a case of leaving it to the Secretary of State or to the commission as and when they think it appropriate. We should have a regular report specified in the Bill, so that we know that it will happen at least once a year, if not more often.

I was surprised not to see an annual reporting requirement in the Bill as drafted, and I hope that the Minister will reconsider the matter with his officials. I will not deal with amendment No. 152; I will leave that to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. However, I have put my name to it, and I agree with it.

Mr. Caborn: The clause places a duty on the gambling commission to give advice to the Secretary of State on various aspects of gambling. Subsection (2) refers to the timing of the advice. The commission must provide advice when the Secretary of State requests it, and also at any other time when it believes that to be appropriate. Amendment No. 131 would include an additional requirement for the commission to report regularly to the Secretary of State. It would ensure that, at a minimum, the commission was required to report once a year.

As the clause stands, if the Secretary of State does not request advice or the commission determines that no advice is necessary over the course of the year, there is no requirement for the commission to report. Amendment No. 131 therefore raises a valid point.

Under clause 25(3), the gambling commission is to make available to Scottish Ministers any advice that it gives to the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 152 would require such advice also to be made available to the general public. That is likely to be achieved by publishing the advice on the gambling commission's website. I agree in principle with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, and there is no intention that the advice should not be available to the public. However, it would not be appropriate to put that requirement in the Bill.

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is due to come into force in January 2005. Under that Act, the public have a general right to access recorded information held by public authorities. The gambling commission, like all other public bodies, will be required to comply with that legislation. However, there will be cases where it is not appropriate to make certain information available to the public: for example, if the information is personal, confidential or commercially sensitive.

In such circumstances, the commission will be able to rely on the exemption under the Freedom of Information Act and not release the information. My concern is that requiring the commission to publish all the advice given to the Secretary of State will not be in the spirit of that Act and will put unnecessary burdens on the gambling commission. However, when it is appropriate to do so, I agree that the commission

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should make public the advice given to the Secretary of State. On that basis, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment, so that—

 
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Prepared 16 November 2004