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I want to make two further brief points. The people who run amusement arcades are nice family people and have massive numbers of visitors at weekends. Southend is not a tourist resort, but people go there for a day out and families go there and enjoy themselves immensely. The Minister's proposal will affect machines such as the cranes that grab toys, the coin-pusher games involving
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10p and 2p coins and redemption machines that issue tickets as prizes. I do not think that there is any way at all that the Minister can say that there is evidence that such machines cause damage. We should encourage families to go together in visits to the seaside.
Finally, I hope that if the Minister is thinking of going ahead with the proposal, he will wonder how on earth he will apply it. Regulations are very difficult for businesses to operate, particularly since we joined the European Economic Community, and I hope that he will bear in mind how he would operate the scheme. Is a father allowed to play a machine with his son standing beside him or is the father not allowed to do that? Must there be a separate place in amusement arcades for such machines? I hope that the Minister will realise that the proposal is a mistake, but I greatly appreciate the kind response that he has given.
Sir Teddy Taylor: Our machines cannot be converted, and I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the massive costs the industry is facing because of the EU. If the euro is introduced, it will impose massive costs on the industry.
I hope that the Minister can make it clear that his intention is to remove the powers of the clause when the Bill goes to the House of Lords. If he said that, we would all be grateful and say that he had done a good job. If that is not done and we lose the opportunity, we will have no further chance. Once the Bill leaves the House of Commons, we will not have another chance to look at it unless there is an astonishing amendment in the House of Lords.
In view of the fact that the Minister has said that he is prepared to reconsider the issue, if he is willing to visit Southend-on-Sea to visit our arcades, he would be very welcome and I would give him a splendid lunch on the seafront. It takes only an hour to get to Southend and an hour to get back, so I hope that he will come there and realise that the clause was a great error.
Mr. Gummer: I would like to press the Minister. I represent the seaside town of Felixstowe, which is a place for day trips and weekend, weekly and fortnightly stays. Indeed, I am told that it is safer to rely on having two full days of sun in Felixstowe in the first two weeks of September than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I am proud to represent it, not least because Charlie Manning and his friends produce some of the best seaside entertainments available. Not only are they family entertainments, they are run by families.
I am not always flabbergasted by the Government, but I find it difficult to understand why they have introduced the clause. One usually understands the nefarious reasons why they have decided to do something that is manifestly unpopular and extremely unproductive. Why they have done it on this occasion defies all reason. That is why I became even more worried when the Minister did not actually say that he would introduce an amendment to delete the clause in the House of Lords. I would be very unhappy to go without voting on this amendment unless we had an
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absolute undertaking that the clause will be removed. It is not good enough for the Minister to cite a series of mythical people who are opposed to cranes that catch woolly animals.
Mr. Caborn: Before the right hon. Gentleman describes the cranes, will he tell me whether he has consulted other constituents, such as the faith groups, that he also represents? I do not know whether he has spoken to the Methodist Church or to the Salvation Army in his constituency. Discussions are going on between BACTA and the faith groups about the effect of gambling on young people. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for some time, and I do not think that he would dismiss organisations such as the faith groups. They have a point of view and that must be factored into the decisions that the Government take.
Mr. Gummer: As the proud relation of a sister-in-law who is a Methodist minister, I would find it difficult not to consult the Methodist Church in my constituency. I merely say to the right hon. Gentleman that, although I am a Catholic and therefore take a rather different view of these matters from Methodists, I have taken other views into account. I would be sad if our whole public life were organised in such a way that it was not possible to say a very simple thing: for many years the majority of people in this country have managed to grow up in peace and tranquillity while using penny-in-the-slot machines or their modern equivalent.
I am not sure that I would put the cranes that catch woolly animals high up on the list of all the things that have done me harm in life. Indeed, a number of things that have done me harm are not banned. The Minister is not taking reserve powers to protect me and my children against a whole range of other things, which he could do were he concerned about the matter. He should consider that, in a society in which he seeks to extend choice and allow people to do what they want to doin some areas rather dangerously, in my viewit seems very odd that he should stop children playing these machines. Worse still, he is not actually going to stop them. He will have a reserve power to do so, thereby blighting the industry without having the courage of his convictions.
I simply say to the Minister that, if he agrees with the small number of people who think that the machines should be banned, he should come out and tell us. If he does not agree, he should say, "Right, the machines will go on." I will tell him what I will do: if it emerges, amazingly, that the possession of a woolly bear taken from one of these machines by crane damages the psyche of individuals, I will ask my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) to agree to rush emergency legislation through the Commons to ensure that, forthwith, woolly bears may not be put in such machines. If the Minister agrees now to withdraw the measures in the upper House, we will agree to facilitate emergency legislation should some miraculous new information be brought forward by
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Methodists, the Salvation Army, Jehovah's Witnesses or any group he likes. In the meantime, can we please have our cranes?
Mr. Gummer: I was not going to enter into that, but it is hard to find someone clutching such a bear, because the bears seem to remain, week after week, inside the machines. All I know is that, for a very small amount of money, the machines give a great deal of pleasure to people hoping for a teddy bear. Why does the Minister want to take away from small children the chance to hope? Is he not the kind of nanny who would be had up under today's laws for cruelty to children?
Mr. Greenway: My right hon. Friend talks about whether new evidence will emerge in a blinding light and persuade him to change his mind. A number of organisations told the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee that such machines were damaging to children, but in my judgment and that of the Committee, that was pure assertion. There was not a shred of evidence that it was true. If it were true, we would have more problem gamblers than other countries, which we do not.
Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend is perfectly right. I say to the Minister that I have seen no evidenceI have seen opinion, but no evidencethat these machines do any harm. All our experience, of our own childhood and that of our children, and, in my case, that of my constituents' children, is that they do no harm at all. I know of no body of academic research to the contrary that stands up.
The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of being laughed out of court on this proposal. If the blight cast over businesses by the proposals were not so serious for my constituents, those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) and others, we would laugh, rightly, at a Government who hold reserve powers to protect children from the dangers of machines that have been part of their inheritance for this and most of the last century. What is the House of Commons doing debating woolly bears in crane machines on the front in Felixstowe? Surely we have many more important things to discuss, and the Minister should say now that he will withdraw the proposal.
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