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Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman described category A machines as a potential problem that needs to be monitored. Does he believe that the scrutiny Committee was right to say that category A machines should go into large and small casinos? Does he believe that that is still the case today?
Mr. Whittingdale: We have tabled another amendment, to which my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) will speak, if he has the opportunity, which would allow a limited number of category A machines in large and small casinos. That would allow a proper test of their impact in each type of casino.
Mr. Whittingdale: As I said, we believe that a limited number of those machines should be allowed in large and small casinos in order for there to be a proper test. However, I point out to the Minister that amendment No. 143, by reducing the number of regional casinos from eight to four, would halve the number of category A machines to 5,000, as opposed to the 10,000 that the Government currently propose.
Mr. Caborn: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now answer the question. Does he suggest that category A machines should be not only in regional casinos but in large casinos, in small casinos and in the 136 casinos that operate under the 1968 Act? Does he agree that category A machines should also be in those places?
Existing casinos are those that have never given rise to a significant gambling problem. We believe that if there is to be a proper impact test, it makes sense that there should be a limited number of machines tested in each type of casino. That is the purpose of new clause 13. I hope that we will have the opportunity to address that in more detail. However, the answer to the Minister's question is yes.
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Mr. Caborn: On category A machines, there is an important difference between what the Government are saying and the Opposition's suggestion. The pilot or experiment is limited to category A machines at eight sites throughout Great Britain. The Opposition are now suggesting that we have category A machines in 150 sites. That is my understanding. If that is not proliferation of category A machines, I do not know what is.
Mr. Whittingdale: If the Government adopt our amendment, it would mean considerably fewer category A machines than if they were to proceed with the eight regional casinos. There are other safeguards that we strongly believe are necessaryI am about to refer to themwhich would provide additional protection to that which is available under the Bill. Our concern is to take account of the warnings that have been given, especially about destination casinosregional casinos, as the Government term them. That new type of casino has given rise to the concerns that have been expressed by many bodies, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society, the Methodist Church and the Salvation Army.
Existing casinos have not produced a major increase in problem gambling and have a good record of responsible behaviour. However, a cautious approach needs to be taken to the new regional casinos, which are entirely untried and untested. That is why we have suggested that the pilot scheme should involve only four casinos, perhaps two in major cities and two at destination locations. That would enable a proper trial to take place. If it is shown that there is no significant problem attached to those four sites, we could proceed to increase that number. To start with eight means a huge increase in the number of machines and it would be almost impossible to move down from that number.
Amendment No. 116 relates to an ID requirement. It provides for an important additional safeguard that we would like to see in place alongside the proposals to bring in regional casinos and introduce category A machines.
The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said that he wished to retain the 24-hour rule. We see no great purpose in retaining that rule, which is now largely anomalous. Adults who decide that they wish to visit a casino should be able to do so without having to wait 24 hours in case they change their mind.
The arguments for retaining an ID requirement are much stronger. Such a requirement would provide an additional protection for those known to be suffering from gambling addiction. Existing casinos maintain a register of people who suffer from gambling addiction and who therefore cannot use their premises. It would also provide an additional means of ensuring that age restrictions are enforced. An identity requirement would mean that people under the age of 18 could not obtain access and use category A machines or the regional casinos.
The proposed draft of the third money laundering directive will change that identification requirement, so that it applies only to people who purchase or exchange gambling chips with a value of €1,000 or more. However, emails between officials in the Department and the American casino operators revealed that the Government were asking what figure they would regard as acceptable. It seems that the Government propose actively to lobby to try to increase that threshold to a much higher level, as the American operators believe that that is necessary for their business model to work. The domestic industry has no difficulty with an ID requirement. Rank is happy to retain such a requirement; indeed, it accepts that it could have positive advantages, as does the Casino Operators Association. Some operators of regional casinos are happy to accept an ID requirement. Sun International told us that its South African casinos that are equivalent in size to regional ones in the UK require someone to use a smart card, for which ID is necessary, before they can use category A machines.
Operators of regional casinos say that it is perfectly possible to have an ID requirement, and they accept that it would provide additional protection, both for people suffering from gambling addiction and as a measure to prevent money laundering. The amendment to reduce the number of regional casinos from eight to four and the amendment introducing a requirement for ID represent the cautious approach that, we believe, is necessary. We accept that there could be great benefits, but the last thing that we want is something that the Secretary of State spoke about when the Bill was introduced. If the Bill leads to an increase in problem gambling it will have failed. The amendments are designed to ensure that that is not the case.
Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton) (Lab): My hon. Friends will be aware that from the brewing industry, which began in my constituency more than 1,000 years ago, grew the gaming machine industry, which originated in pubs. Leisure Link and other companies in my constituency service machines throughout the country, so I am keen to protect our home-grown casino industry, which has proved to be responsible over the years. I spoke to that effect on Second Reading.
I welcome the Government's decision to limit the number of regional casinos, but my hon. Friends will be aware of concern about the unlevel playing field that disadvantages the existing UK casino industry. There are anxieties that the introduction of category A machines in regional casinossuch machines are not produced by the home-grown industry and would have to be importedwould have an impact on other casinos, whether in their existing form or in the proposed arrangement of eight large and eight small casinos. I hope that when the Bill goes to the Lords there will be more discussion with the industry about how we can make sure that there is not an adverse effect on existing casinos.
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Mrs. Dunwoody : I have the greatest admiration for my hon. Friend, but is she suggesting that the House of Commons should pass sub-acceptable legislation on the assumption that another place will throw it out? That is a rather sad doctrine.
Mrs. Dean: I accept that we should not have to rely on the other place to amend our legislation, but while the House of Lords exists and the business that proceeds through this House carries on there, I hope that gives the Government more time to talk to the industry. The Government have spent much time discussing all these matters with the industry over a long period. Hon. Members have commented that the Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny and that we have had Adjournment debates in Westminster Hall and elsewhere on the Budd report. There have been lengthy discussions, but more are still needed to ensure that we protect our home-grown industry.
It is ironic that people and organisations that oppose the development of casinos agree with those in the home-grown industry who want fewer regional casinos and more safety introduced into the development of those regional casinos. Both ends of the spectrumthose in the industry and those who oppose itwant us to proceed carefully. I hope the Government will make sure that we do that.
There are concerns about the development of regional casinos and the introduction of category A machines. The question was asked whether the Opposition support category A machines in all casinos. It might be better to go the other way, continue to have category B machines in all casinos, and support our home-grown industry. I hope Ministers will be able to provide the reassurance that I seek.
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