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I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House who have brought the legislation to this stage, and in doing so I should like to recognise that this is an issue that for many presents fundamental difficulties and conflicts of moral principle, but I am grateful to the House for the spirit of tolerance in which all stages of the Bill so far have been conducted.
It is important to recall the principles that underpin the legislationthat children and vulnerable adults should be protected, and that gambling in Britain should be kept crime-free, and conducted according to the principles of fair play. Everything in the Bill will be judged against those principles. If we secure the legislation, we shall have the toughest, most
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comprehensive regulatory framework in the world to protect the public interest and to prevent the exploitation of children.
This is legislation that has been shaped over the past five years. A major contribution has been made by the Joint Committee, to whose members I pay tribute, particularly to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will recognise that the Government have listened to the concerns raised, as we undertook to do on Second Reading.
It is a curious thing in modern British politics that in one breath Ministers are accused of being arrogant, out of touch and refusing to listen, and in the next breath, when they have listened and responded positively, they are accused by the same people of a humiliating climbdown or a screeching U-turn. Ministers are damned if they do listen and damned if they do not, so they may as well listenotherwise, what is the point of Parliament? We have listened to the concerns raised about the Bill, and it is a better Bill as a result, in relation to casinos, bingo, charity lotteries and the important issues raised by colleagues in connection with seaside arcades.
Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab/Co-op): I rise briefly to express the sincere thanks of the parliamentary group for non-profit-making members clubs to the Minister, and to the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), for accepting in Committee the amendment increasing the clubs' weekly bingo jackpot from £1,000 to £2,000. That will be welcomed by the whole clubs movement. May I say that I never cease to be amazed at the fairness and reasonableness of this Government and this Secretary of State?
I believe that we now have a Bill that will give greater protection to the public, a vital role for local authorities, a fair deal for the industry and the prospect of more and better jobs for industry employees. Indeed, right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Benches will know about the strong support given to the Bill by the GMB and the Transport and General Workers Union, and also by the Labour group of the Local Government Association, all of which I warmly welcome.
In conclusion, the Bill is essential because without such legislation, gambling technology is leaving the law in its wake. If we do not modernise, people will not be protected. Without the Bill, there would be no gambling commission with the objective of social responsibility in gambling at its heart, internet gaming would continue to go unregulated, and there would be no powers to deal with roulette machines in bookmakers' shops, or the chain gifting schemes about which I know hon. Members will have received representation from constituents, and which continue to exploit women.
Mr. Whittingdale: We have always made it clear right from the start that there is much in the Bill that we agree with. It contains a number of important measures that will help to introduce controls over remote gambling, for instance, and give new powers to the gambling commission. Since Second Reading there has, however, been the most extraordinary saga.
The Government rightly began their preparation of the Bill by consulting widely and then subjecting the draft Bill to scrutiny. I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and his Committee for their work. There is no doubt that the scrutiny Committee improved the Bill. Indeed, the Government's troubles started when they departed from its recommendations on regional casinos. Having done that, they appeared surprised at the chorus of opposition that they encountered. That led to not just one but two U-turns, reverses or whatever the Secretary of State chooses to call them, during the Committee stage.
The Government certainly appeared for a long time to be in a state of blind panic. What they have done has completely changed the whole thrust of the Bill, and at the very last stage of its passage. They have done so without any consultation with the industry and without any proper scrutiny. In some areas, they have turned a Bill that began life as a liberalising measure into one that will put in place a more restrictive regime than exists at present. By doing so, they have ended up satisfying almost no one. The overseas investors who were led to believe that there would be an opportunity for them in this country now feel betrayed because they will be restricted to a small number of locations. The domestic industry saw £0.5 billion wiped off its share values as a result of the Minister's statement in the Committee. The local authorities, many of which looked on the Bill as offering potential regeneration benefits, also feel let down. Those who are concerned about the dangers of gambling addiction still feel that the Bill may allow too many regional casinos and too many category A machines.
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): The Government should listen. As there was so much criticism from both sides of the Houseindeed, more criticism probably came from the Labour sideabout the unlimited number of casinos, what is wrong with the Government responding to the views of Members of the House of Commons? They have taken the right turn, and I therefore support the Bill.
Mr. Whittingdale: In some areas, we welcome the fact that the Government have listenedindeed, we would have preferred them to listen rather earlier. As I said earlier, many of the problems would have been avoided if the Government had listened to the Joint Committee's original recommendations. Obviously, we welcome the fact that on some matters, the Government have moved in the direction in which we have urged them.
The Government have now agreed to introduce a pilot scheme for regional casinos, but the proposed number of casinos is still too large. We also regret the fact that they are unwilling to introduce or maintain an identity requirement for those using casinos.
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On seaside arcadesa matter of great concern to many hon. MembersI welcome the commitment from the Minister for Sport and Tourism this evening to conduct a review. However, we would have liked him to make it clear at this stage that the Government will remove the clause giving the Secretary of State reserve powers to ban children from using those machines. Because of the movement by the Government, and because we support the measures to give powers to the gambling commission and to tackle remote gambling, we do not intend to vote against Third Reading.
Despite the enormous amount of preparation time, the Bill has not received proper scrutiny. It was changed dramatically on the last day in Committee, when we did not have a proper opportunity to examine those changes. Even tonight, there were five whole groups of amendments that the programme motion did not allow to be debated. I hope that those in another place will now subject the Bill to the scrutiny that it still badly needs. I accept the Secretary of State's point that the Bill is better than when it started, but it is still flawed, and the fact that we do not propose to divide the House tonight does not mean that we do not believe that the Bill is capable of significant improvement in another place.
Mr. Win Griffiths: My remarks this evening are tinged with sadness. Although I recognise that the Government have moved significantly on a number of important issues, as the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said in support of the number of experiments, once the genie is out of the bottle, it is difficult to put back.
The concept of responsible gambling is a contradiction in terms. All Governments have a pathetic history of dealing with addiction problemsfor example, alcohol. We are not coping with the problems. I tabled amendments, which we unfortunately failed to reach, to introduce specific references to finance and expertise, both to try to prevent gambling problems from developing and to treat people with gambling problems.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) spoke to amendment No. 1, which unfortunately, we did not have an opportunity to vote on, he mentioned that there are three times as many problem gamblers in households earning less than £15,600 a year as in households earning more than £32,000 a year. A wide body of opinion suggests that the Bill will at least double the number of problem gamblers to about 750,000; some estimates are even higher. For each problem gambler, the lives of half a dozen people in their immediate vicinity are seriously damaged, so the Bill will affect millions of people. As the Opposition do not intend to vote against it, it will go to the other place, where I sincerely hope that it will be substantially amended.
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