Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hoyle: I do not want to argue about whether there are 131 or 136 casinos, but would the hon. Gentleman limit the number of category A machines that they have? If he is saying that there would be no more category A machines than the Government propose, and possibly fewer, what number does he envisage?

Mr. Moss: I shall come to that when I have finished developing my argument. It is an important point, of course, and I will not leave the hon. Gentleman in suspense for long.

We propose that an existing casino that qualifies as a large casino in terms of floor area should be allowed to have, instead of just 10 category B machines, the number allowed to the new large casinos on a machine-to-table ratio of 5:1. With an extra, say, 20 large casinos, that would provide an extra 3,000 category B machines—or rather 2,800, as there are already 200. Under amendment No. 142, existing casinos with a 2:1 machine-to-table ratio would be categorised as small casinos. Those that do not qualify as large or small but are sub-small, and come under the 5,000 sq ft threshold, would have the same machine-to-table ratio. Many of them are very small and cannot get many gaming tables in, so, as the Joint Committee proposed, the limitation on machines would be a qualifying measure.

New clause 13 would extend the trial. It poses this question: why should the punters in existing casinos such as those in London—where we have, in the form of the membership clubs, some of the top casinos in the world—be restricted to playing category B machines, while a new regional casino somewhere else in London
24 Jan 2005 : Column 68
will enable people to play category A machines? New clause 13 would allow a fifth of all the machines in a casino to be category A. That would mean, for example, that the large casinos in the existing estate would have a total of 600 category A machines, or 30 per casino. For the small casinos, there would be 480, or 16 per casino, and for the sub-small, there would be around six per casino. The idea that such machines, with unlimited stakes and prizes, will pay out millions of pounds is nonsense, because they cannot be linked from casino to casino. If there are just six in one small casino, the stakes and prizes will be similar to those for the category B machines that already exist.

Mr. Don Foster: The hon. Gentleman knows that I have great reservations about his proposals for category A machines, and several hon. Members may be concerned about his earlier proposal for trading up. He mentioned the additional machines that would be introduced as a result. Will he confirm that the number will be about 6,000 or 7,000 additional machines, compared with the 10,000 category A machines that the Government propose and the approximately 33,000 fixed-odds betting terminals that currently exist?

Mr. Moss: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which I was about to cover. He has stolen some of my thunder, but he is right. We contend that the 10,000 category A machines in the regional casinos should be reduced to 5,000, and that more category B machines—and some category A machines—should be put into the established casinos. The total under Government proposals—I am now answering the question asked by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), so perhaps he will concentrate—is 10,000 category A machines and 3,240 category B machines. That encompasses the machines in the new casinos—the eight and eight—and those in the existing estate. Our proposals are for 5,000 category A machines in the new regional casinos and 8,540 category B machines throughout the estate, including the new eight large and eight small casinos. The total is 13,540. That should be compared with the figure of 13,240 under the Government's proposals, but with half the number of category A machines.

New clause 13 provides an alternative proposal and would introduce category A machines instead of category B machines in some casinos. That would mean 6,985 category A machines and 6,555 category B machines, and therefore a total of 13,540. We do not propose to increase the number of machines throughout the country; we are keeping to the Government's figures but contend that our approach, involving a trial of all casinos, is a better way of going about it, and a better test than the Government's proposal.

I promised to be brief. I have made my points and I simply reiterate that we shall divide on the three amendments to which I referred at the beginning of my speech.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): I apologise for not being here at half-past 4 when proceedings started. I had to go to North Yorkshire today to attend the funeral of a close friend.

Ideally, we would have longer to discuss the Bill. However, I want to reflect on some of the issues that the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee considered and its
24 Jan 2005 : Column 69
general conclusions. I hope that that will be helpful. First, the Committee recognised that the decision to introduce category A machines into United Kingdom casinos for the first time was bound to be controversial, but we did not challenge the principle of that, as some now try to do. The policy decision seemed clear to us. From the Budd report, through the White Paper, the draft Bill and the Government's proposals that they presented to our second inquiry last July, there was a seamless robe of agreement that the proposal was a good idea and that it was time to relax some of the restrictions on our UK industry. The availability of category A machines was an example of that relaxation.

However, we also believed that key issues about numbers and accessibility to the machines needed to be considered. We established an important principle, which forms the basis of our debate tonight, that the original Budd and White Paper proposals for unlimited category A machines throughout the estate was neither necessary nor desirable. We also acknowledged that operators needed flexibility. I therefore believe that in the fullness of time, the Government have to resolve category B limits if there are not to be category A machines in the existing estate.

We also believed that the largest casinos, which the Government have chosen to call "regional", posed several challenges to policy across Departments. There is undoubtedly capacity for regeneration. The right hon. Member for Newport, East (Alan Howarth) asked who wanted the proposals. He should go to Blackpool, for which there is no plan B. Even the Churches, representatives of which met my Committee, said that they supported the proposals, because Blackpool needs jobs and regeneration. We believed that the number of large casinos would ultimately be limited by the market but that programmes of social responsibility, especially for operators from outside the UK, who have no experience of the UK market, are crucial. We are considering big leisure destination casinos and major leisure complexes, which would support and offer many other facilities. They would not need unlimited numbers of machines, but their location would be important, for the avoidance of easy access.

6.15 pm

However, when the June proposals were published and the Government introduced the subject of size for the first time and the decision on category A limits, the Committee believed that the ideas had not been properly thought through and that the result was that too many casinos, which the Government initially envisaged as large, would be encouraged into the big regional category as a means of getting hold of the category A machines. We were also doubtful about the mechanisms for selection of sites through regional spatial strategies. The structure to do that simply does not exist.

The key question that hon. Members should ask me tonight is whether we would have perceived pilots as a good idea, had we been asked to make that judgment. Given the general tenor of the scrutiny Committee's comments, we probably would have found the idea of pilots attractive on balance, but we would have been worried about the competitiveness of the existing industry, especially with regard to machine entitlements. We did not consider keeping category A machines from the existing estate, but we said that the
24 Jan 2005 : Column 70
Government needed to be cautious. If there are to be pilots for the largest casinos, especially because of their size and the number of category A machines, is there also a case for trials for large and small casinos?

I have given much thought to that question, and the only basis on which one can justify trials is that the large casinos will have 150 machines and the smaller casinos will have 80. That is significantly fewer than was first envisaged, but many more machines than exist in the current casino estate, although we are considering category B machines. Professor Peter Collins told the Committee that there was no evidence that category A machines were more harmful than any other sort of gaming machine, including a category C machine with a £25 jackpot in your local pub, Madam Deputy Speaker—although I do not suggest that you would go there to play one.

The need for research, and to test the market and public reaction, was brought home strongly to us. Trials can therefore be said to be sensible. We are left to argue about two matters. First, what are sensible numbers for the trials? Secondly, what do we do about the existing estate? We felt all along that there was a need to be cautious. Once the genie is let out of the bottle, it cannot be put back in. I differ with my hon. Friends on the Front Bench about the figure of four; eight is a sensible number. On Second Reading, I urged on the Government a policy that would have limited the number to 20.

Next Section IndexHome Page