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Mr. Foster: The long string of amendments may appear to deal with rather technical issues, but many are important. The shortage of time means that I shall not do justice to them all, but I want to give other hon. Members an opportunity to raise issues about which they are specifically concerned.
Amendment No. 106 covers an issue that has been mentioned many times: the level of stakes and prizes in family entertainment centres. It deals with the value of a cuddly teddy bear in the grab machines that have been discussed. I therefore hope that we will have an opportunity to express a view on at least that amendment.
New clause 10 tackles an issue that we picked up in Committee. "Pub gaming machine permit" is the term in the Bill that covers a machine permit that is held by on-premises alcohol licence holders. The name is somewhat misleading since the permit does not apply only to pubs. It could apply to a range of other facilities, including bowling alleys, sports centres and so on. When I raised the matter in Committee, the Minister agreed with me. He said:
"we are aware that the name 'pub gaming machine permit' . . . appears to limit the premises that may apply for it. That is not the intention, and we shall table further amendments to rectify that."[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 14 December 2004; c. 559.]
Amendment No. 106 deals with another issue of great importance to the family entertainment centres, namely "trading up", in which a number of prizes in the form of a token or voucher can be collected and swapped for a larger prize. The Bill discontinues that practice, despite the fact that there is no evidence that it causes any harm. This is a similar issue to others that have already been raised, and the amendment seeks to enable the continuation of the practice. All the evidence suggests that discontinuing it would lead to problems.
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Amendment No. 109, on which I hope hon. Members will have the opportunity to express their view, relates to the present level of prize values. The Government's argument is that those levels should be reduced. They have not provided for that in the Bill, but such a provision has been mentioned in the background papers and it is clearly their intention to introduce such a reduction. All the evidence suggests that reducing the value of prizes would be likely to affect business, which would reduce the profitability and viability of the organisations concerned.
I note that several amendments in this group seek to withdraw any mention of category A machines from the Bill altogether. I was initially sympathetic to such proposals and, indeed, I tabled a number of amendments in a similar vein in Committee. However, the Government have subsequently introduced the concept of a pilot scheme or trial, and said that category A machines will be used only in the casinos in the pilot areas. In the light of that, we have agreed that it would be sensible at least to try these machines in the limited number of casinos that the Government are proposing. I am therefore unlikely to be sympathetic to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths).
The basis of many of the amendments in this group relates to what are known in the trade as grandfather rights. These rights are covered in schedule 18 of the Bill, and we hoped to have heard much more from the Minister on this subject. We have teased out some of the issues in earlier debates and the grandfather rights of some casinos are clearly fairly well covered. I hope, however, that the Minister will use his response to these amendments, which are in part about continuing existing practice, to say more about this.
I have been very brief, and I would have liked to raise a number of other issues. However, I know that other hon. Members want to raise other important matters and I want to give them the chance to speak.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, Central) (Lab): I want briefly to refer to a point raised by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), namely on the issue of prize values. In my constituency, there is a long-standing family business called Codona's seaside resort, which has been there for more than 30 yearslong enough, perhaps, for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to have paid a visit to it when she was a young girl growing up in Aberdeen. I am sure that she will be familiar with it. It is a traditional business with a seasonal fairground alongside an all-year-round covered area that supplements and pays for the improvements to the traditional fairground. As with many such enterprises, the business is fairly fragile.
A key part of that business depends on the category D machines, which are mainly an attraction for children. As the hon. Member for Bath said, it is quite clear that the Secretary of State intends to reduce the maximum value of the prizes in such machines from £8 to £5, although there is nothing about it in the Bill. This would create a major problem. The main difficulty that my constituents would face is that the vast majority of the prizes are things that today's children want, which
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tend to be branded goods. It is no good just throwing in cuddly toys, teddy bears and so on. People now expect prizes that are linked to things that they want, which tend to be commercial goods linked to television programmes but, mainly, to films. They want models of Shrek, Spider-Man and so on. Because of the licensing costs, and the fact that those goods are now a major part of the marketing of any film, they are very expensive. Some costings have been done, and with a maximum value of £5, it will be impossible for the business to provide the sorts of toys that customers demand. As I said earlier, this business, like most such businesses, is fragile, and it is deeply concerned about the future.
I have considered carefully the various statements made by the Secretary of State, and I understand and support totally the precautionary principle. It strikes me, however, that the precautionary principle has gone a little too far here. I voted with the Opposition, if one likes, on amendment No. 100, as it is important to have such a reserve power if there is any evidence that this sort of gaming has an effect on children. The Secretary of State has sufficient powers, in terms of her ability to regulate prize levels, possibly when the Bill is enacted to bar children up to a certain age from using such machines. To strike now, at a time when the industry is learning to adjust to new legislation, and to threaten a significant reduction in prize money of more than 30 per cent., would be destabilising.
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