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The last group of amendments concerned casinos. Casinos are an important issue, but the number of people in the country who use them is, in fact, relatively limited. We considered the potential impact if the new casinos were allowed, and there were a significant
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but will hon. Members who are not staying for the debate please conduct their conversations outside the Chamber?
Amendment No. 110 is of vital importance to the existing 960 family entertainment centres, many of which can be found in our seaside resorts. They are long established and play a vital part in the local economy of many such resorts. In total, they employ some 8,600 people and spend about £100 million in doing so. More importantly, perhaps, they are a central part of the traditional British seaside holiday. They have undoubtedly brought pleasure to the millions of families who spend their summer holidays at the seaside, and there is no evidence that they have ever led to any harm. It seems extraordinary that, at the same time as introducing a Bill that will allow new and untried casinospotentially leading to a considerable increase in gambling addictionthe Government seem intent on striking a series of hammer blows to existing seaside arcades. Such blows will do enormous damage and perhaps jeopardise their survival, even though there is no evidence that they do any harm.
Several later amendments deal with specific matters relating to seaside arcades, particularly machine stakes and prizes and the question of trading up. Amendment No. 110, however, deals with a power in the Bill that many regard as a sword of Damocles hanging over the industry: the Secretary of State's having a reserve power to ban children from using category D machines. Let us be clear what such machines are. One example is the "crane grab", whereby the player manoeuvres a crane in an attempt to grab a cuddly toy from the collection within the machine. A further example is the "penny falls", which involves rolling a coin down a slide, in the hope that it will push a number of coins over the edge and one will get one's money back, plus a little more. Such machines are not exactly examples of the hard gambling that leads to the worst examples of problem gambling or addiction.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): I wonder whether my hon. Friend can think of a worse example of the nanny state than the Secretary of State's taking the power to prevent a small child from grabbing a cuddly toy.
Mr. Whittingdale: This Government have come up with many different ways of imposing the nanny state, but I agree that this is one of the worst examples, particularly given that this provision appears to have been introduced without any supporting evidence whatever.
The whole point of such attractions is that they are part of what are called family entertainment centres. The latest published survey shows that some 47 per cent. of the population visited such a centre at least once in the past year. Like many people, I remember visiting seaside arcades during my childhoodin Weymouth and in Lyme Regisand playing on the machines. Indeed, one of the strongest advocates of such machines, and opponents of this clause, is my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who represents Lyme Regis.
"low-value gaming machines have been available in amusement arcades for many years, and there has never been compelling evidence that it is harmful . . . for children to be able to play low-value gaming machines."
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