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The hon. Gentleman overstates his case. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister wants to decimate the industry, but I do think that the Government need to think again.
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The British Amusement Catering Trades Association's survey of its members indicated that 90 per cent. of owners are less likely to invest in their businesses in the light of clause 58. That would be the direct effect, but there could be more general effects. For example, if a family entertainment centre owner needed to invest to refurbish the centre, he might find that his chances of getting a bank loan could be damaged by the threat posed by clause 58. And what about an owner seeking to sell his business? Could the price of that business be reduced by the threat of a clause 58 ban? The owners of both seaside amusement centres in my constituency are firmly of the view that the clause would have such an impact on their sector. If one adds to that the proposed reduction in stakes and prizes for category D machines in clause 226, the Bill has given my constituents great cause for concern.
Neither of my constituents is given to overstatement or melodrama. Both are knowledgeable businessmen with a wealth of experience in their field, and both are firmly of the view that clause 58 as it stands will be damaging to their industry. Ministers insist that they have no intention of using their reserve powers to ban children from using category D machines, and perhaps the impact of the reserve powers on the industry was not foreseen. However, the industry is very worried that just by taking those reserve powers the Bill will have a harmful effect on their sector. I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise that Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about this measure, and I urge him to listen to those concerns.
Mr. Don Foster: The House will be well aware that earlier we debated the issue of casinos, when many hon. Members expressed considerable concern that a Labour Government had sought to introduce an unlimited number of new untried super-casinos with up to 1,250 untried category A machines. Fortunately, as a result of pressure, the Government were prepared to change their mind on that issue. Many Members who were surprised by those proposals were puzzled that, at the same time, the Government were making huge attacks on traditional seaside resort entertainment facilities.
As the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) pointed out, this issue is not the only problem. Those hon. Members who have not studied the deliberations of the Committee in great detail may be surprised to learn that the Bill still contains a proposal that the cuddly teddy bear that can be won from a grabber machine should have its possible value reduced from £8 to £5. That is from a Government who happily proposed to introduce 10,000 new category A machines with unlimited stakes and prizes. The Government's thinking on the matter is bizarre.
Several hon. Members have already made the point eloquently that the reserve power in clause 58 simply is not necessary. Other parts of the legislation give the Secretary of State the power to make changes in the light of advice from the new gambling commission. No doubt whoever is Secretary of State at the time will do that in regard to many different aspects of gambling, so why is it necessary to single out, in this bizarre way, that one
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aspect of the industry, especially as not a shred of evidence exists to show that it contributes to problem gambling?
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Is not the simplest explanation that the proposal is part of the murky agreement between the Government and the large casino operators? If those casinos do not produce the revenue that the Treasury wants, the Government want to retain reserve powers to extinguish what remains of the competition.
Mr. Foster: If the right hon. Gentleman is right, he is failing to acknowledge that by leaving these measures in the Billthis sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of such establishmentsthe chances of family entertainment centres making any money for regeneration in the future are very slim. It is worth reflecting that in a recent survey, 47 per cent. of families reported visiting such establishments at least once in the past 12 months. Some 90 per cent. of those who run such establishments believe that if the powers remain in the Bill, they are likely to affect their investment potential for the future. As other hon. Members have said, that is already beginning to have a huge impact.
If the Secretary of State were to invoke the powers, meaning that only over-18s could use category D machines, there is little chance that families would bother to visit places with such machines. As a result, such centres would no longer be viable and no investment would come in from them. There is no evidence to suggest that such reserve powers are necessary in addition to the existing powers that the Secretary of State will be given by the Bill. I hope that in the same way as the Government have been prepared to listen to the concerns expressed by many people about super-casinos, they will be prepared to consider the concerns expressed on this issue. Let us hope for another welcome U-turn.
Mr. Hoyle: It is obvious that many hon. Members are worried about the future of category D machines. One might ask why people in Chorley have an interest in the matter because it is not by the seaside, but my constituency contains Camelot, which is a theme park with category D machines. Another group that is concerned is travelling showmenthe funfairs. Travelling funfairs such as Greens and Silcock based in Chorley have category D machines, and many showmen go around the country with those machines. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that people who follow the great tradition of travelling around the country and those in seaside resorts do not have to worry about their future and livelihoods, because they are being put at stake?
We know about the proposal to reduce prize money, but there is a problem with that because there is no way of allowing it to increase with inflation over the next 15 to 20 years. A mechanism should be built into the Bill to allow category D machine prizes to increase over the long term. I hope that my right hon. Friend will think about what hon. Members have been talking about: the future viability of category D arcades, whether they are owned by travelling showmen or sited in seaside resorts and theme parks. Why does he want such special powers
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and does he really need them? Will he think long and hard about the travelling showmen, the seaside and theme parks?
Amendment No. 110 would remove the Secretary of State's power to restrict children's access to category D gaming machines. I want to clarify a few points on the Government's attitude to low-prize gaming machines, because the debate has reflected the fact that there has been much frenetic lobbying on the matter, which has resulted in misunderstandings.
Many people have said that the Government are unfairly singling out category D machines with the reserve power in clause 58, but that is simply not true. Under the Bill, as, indeed, under the present law, every type of gaming machine except category D machines has a statutory age requirement for play, which is 18 years. Category D gaming machines thus single themselves out as a matter of fact.
The Government's policy over all the years covering the gambling review, the White Paper and the draft Bill has been that children should continue to be allowed to play those machines. We have taken that view because the amounts of money involved are modest and there is not yet a substantial body of compelling evidence to make us think that children's access to category D machines is truly a problem. However, contrary to what one might have thought after hearing the debate, there is a body of opinion that disagrees with the Government. There are serious academics who doubt our conclusions. There is also a strong body of public opinion that children should not be allowed to play gaming machines at all. Indeed, by far the largest number of responses to the public consultation on the draft Bill were from people who did not want children to be allowed to play the machines at all. The Government needed to make a choice between the options, so we have chosen to continue with the status quo, with children being allowed to play the machines.
We believe that the amendment goes a little far. I have to ask the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) whether he thinks it right for the Government to ignore those who hold strong views or offer different evidence. Is it not better to hold powers in reserve that will be subject to the approval of the House, using the affirmative procedure, so that we could act to protect children better? The Bill already provides for that, so it will give the Government and the gambling commission the powers needed to protect the public now and in years to come.
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