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Geraldine Smith: Many of the points have already been made, but I must say a few words, as I represent the seaside resort of Morecambe. Many of my constituents who own amusement arcades have lobbied me about the issue. The possible blight on their business is of great concern to them and they are worried about investing in new category D machines. I can assure the Minister that those do absolutely no harm to children. I have played on them many times, and I have to declare an interest and say that I have won, so it is possible to win on such a machine. The House may be interested to hear that I won a cuddly bulldog with a Union Jack, which I passed on to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) as a Christmas present.
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The machines provide a great deal of fun for children. They make a rainy day in Morecambe. [Interruption.] Of course, it rarely rains in Morecambe, but when it does people can escape into the amusement arcades and have some harmless fun. I hope that common sense will prevail.

Mr. Hoyle: As somebody who has owned up to winning a prize, will my hon. Friend share her knowledge with the House so that we can all win?

Geraldine Smith: I will be happy to give Members lessons if they see me afterwards.

We have had a laugh and a joke, but this is a serious issue for seaside arcade owners and the people who work for them. I am glad that the Minister appears to have taken the concerns on board. I hope that we can make progress and that clause 58 can be deleted from the Bill.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I declare an interest in that two towns in my constituency, Hunstanton and Heacham, have a large number of amusement arcades, which are, in the main, family owned. Many have been in those families for generations, and they employ, directly and indirectly, up to 250 people, which in small seaside towns is a significant number.

I have been lobbied by a number of arcade owners. I had the opportunity of going around an arcade only recently, as a guest of Mr. Michael Thomas and Michelle, his daughter. I, too, have a confession to make: I won a cuddly bear—but I was given an unlimited number of goes on the crane. Had I been a young child, persevering so long would probably have cost me four years' pocket money.

The Minister has given us an assurance that he will review the powers, but I do not feel that that is enough. He said that he would revisit the matter, but why can he not say that he will withdraw the clause? He has no friends whatever in this place, and the explanation that he gave was pretty unconvincing to me. Is it not ironic that the Government are giving substantial extra gambling opportunities in the small number of mega-casinos and in the machines that will offer unlimited prizes, yet doing significant harm to small family-owned arcades?

A constituent told me the other day:

As Michelle Thomas said, "Costs are going up at a time when seaside economies are struggling. Why give them a kick for no reason? We feel very strongly indeed that this is wrong."

The Minister is friendless. Some powerful arguments have been advanced—I refer to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) about the other clauses that affect family-owned amusement arcades. I hope that the Minister will listen to what has been said and have the good sense to withdraw the clause or accept the amendment.

Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy) (Lab/Co-op): I represent a constituency that has probably the longest continuous fair in Europe. It goes back 800 years. Clearly, when it
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started grab machines were not part of the entertainments. However, for as long as I have known it, they have been. One of my earliest memories is of walking through the amusement arcade in Dundee, which was in the basement of the town chamber—an odd place for it to be. The machines always fascinated me. Unlike other Members, I have not won anything on them. However, I have tried them for years. My misspent youth was completely unrewarded, and my misspent middle age likewise.

Rather than to descend into burlesque, I shall make some brief points. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to think carefully about the implications of the clause, and related clauses, for small businesses. I know owners in my constituency. The fair comes once a year, in April, and it always rains. The wind cuts through us like a knife. I can tell the House that when the wind does that in Kirkcaldy, we really feel it. Despite the fact that we are on the east of the country, it rains much more in Kirkcaldy than it does in Morecambe—or at least, it seems to. That being so, amusement arcades serve a useful function. In the small town of Burntisland in my constituency, and at other places along the coast, the machines provide a worthwhile service for families, given the state of the weather in Scotland. Roll on global warming. Many of us say that there is no sign of it where we come from.

It has been asserted that the machines are harmful. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who spoke about pre-legislative scrutiny. It is easy for those with strong views to make assertions about the effects of this and that, and how terrible they are. When we seek to examine objective evidence, we find that none is forthcoming.

The machines provide relatively simple amusement. As I, as a psychiatrist, would know, they provide nothing of the reinforcement so essential to problem gambling—quite the reverse. Two Members have claimed that they have won something from the machines but I have met far more people who have not. If we are to rely on anecdotal evidence and opinion, the fact that so few people seem to win, and thus receive the reinforcement that they would need to continue playing, would seem to suggest that the machines perform a public service at remarkably little cost.

To reduce the price of playing the machines is a serious issue. To reduce the price of such an entertainment from 30p to 10p is ludicrous. I know many of the proprietors, and they do not strike me as numbering among what I would charitably describe as the filthy rich. They run family businesses. They usually live in the towns where they run their businesses and they have a responsible attitude to the gambling that takes place in their establishments. To reduce their charges to those that prevailed 20 years ago would be unfair, especially in comparison with the rides at the fair that I mentioned. The whole point of the Links market in Kirkcaldy is that every new ride for the fairs in Europe comes up to the mile-and-a-half-long display. It now costs £2 to go on one of those things.

Having too great a concern for my own well-being, I am unlikely ever to be persuaded to take a ride. Given the speed at which they fly and the number of dimensions in which they seem to operate, it is probably worth while to take that approach, especially for someone of my size. When we are reflecting on the price
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of the entertainment provided by the machines, we should compare it with the price of the other entertainments available, and get a sense of proportion.

What are reserve powers for? They have to be provided. They are not just a cover-your-arse method—if that is parliamentary language; if it is not, I will withdraw it. Somebody in the Department has put in the provision because they think that it might be a good idea for the future. There must be reasonable grounds for supposing that reserve powers might be needed at some time. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister has said that he wishes to be reasonable and to think again, and we are grateful for that. We certainly should think again. In the absence of anything other than prejudice and anecdotal opinion, let us leave these harmless pleasures alone and continue to gratify the tens of thousands of people who use the machines every year.

7.45 pm

Mr. Simmonds: When the Minister made his short statement earlier, I hoped that he would say unequivocally that he would withdraw the clause. I understand, however, that that is not what he actually said. He said that he would review the position and consult further, which will not put at rest the minds of the family amusement centre owners in Skegness or any other successful UK seaside resort.

It is not only those who own the family amusement centres who are concerned. Their concern is shared by many of the people who work in the amusement centres, and by those who visit successful seaside resorts such as Skegness. They are deeply concerned that their exciting and vibrant holidays may be destroyed by the sword of Damocles—to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale)—hanging over many successful businesses and successful seaside resorts. I hope that when the Minister replies he will go even further than he did earlier by stating clearly that when the Bill goes to the other place the clause will be removed in totality.

Category D machines are the fundamental lifeblood of tourist resorts such as Skegness. Members of all political parties are in their places tonight because they are concerned on behalf of their constituents that the clause could have a devastating impact on the tourist industry. Generations of families have enjoyed the facilities that we are discussing, which are at the centre of successful family resorts. Families return year after year to Skegness, not only to play on the same machines, but to use the new machines that have been put in place to create entertainment and vibrancy for the UK tourist. That activity could be decimated by the clause.

The clause is already stopping investment. I held a meeting in my constituency with between 25 and 40 amusement arcade owners. They told me that they had already stopped orders for new machines while the clause remains in the Bill, so this is not something that will have an impact only in the future. It is already starting to have a serious negative impact on resorts such as Skegness.

Despite the Minister's assurances about a review and deeper and wider consultation, I do not understand why the clause is in the Bill. If the evidence does not exist, and
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almost every body that has considered the issue has come to the same conclusion, why should we have the clause? The Budd report, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the excellent Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), BACTA and the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions have all concluded that there is an absence of evidence to show that playing category D machines under the age of 18 has any knock-on impact on future gambling problems. Indeed, I would argue that the evidence is to the contrary. Category D machines allow families to participate together in harmless fun and enjoyable entertainment.

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