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Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2, 9 to 11, 13 to 15, 20, 25 to 27, 36, 37, 40 to 46, 48, 58 to 80, 91, 92, 95 to 99, 104, 106, 108 to 111, 113, 115 to 167, 169 to 187, 189 and 191 to 193.
Tessa Jowell: I intend to propose that the House accept all but two of the 193 amendments made by the Lords to this Bill. I ask the House to reject two Lords amendments only because they confuse the drafting of the Bill.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendment No. 4 with the Government motion to disagree thereto, Lords amendment No. 21, Lords amendments Nos. 28 to 31, Lords amendment No. 39, Lords amendment No. 47, Lords amendments Nos. 50 to 55, Lords amendment No. 188 and Lords amendment No. 190.
I will briefly summarise the Government's position. I recommend that the House accept the amendments for the simple reason that securing the Bill is important for public protection. I very much regret that the Opposition have made a reduction in the number of proposed regional casinos in the first stage a condition of their support for this Bill. The conventions and circumstances of the time, however, require agreement.
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The Opposition had previously supported eight such casinos, then reduced the number to four, and now insist on one. On the basis of the Government's original proposition agreed in Committee, some seven local authorities will miss out on the potential benefits for regeneration in the first stage.
We believe that regional casinos should be tested, primarily for any impact that they might have, because of the different nature of the regime, on problem gambling, but also for their power to regenerate run-down towns and cities. As the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) is aware, we reserve the right to ask Parliament again what number of regional casinos is necessary to test their impact.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for setting out the purpose of the Lords amendments. The Bill is very different from that which received its Second Reading on 1 November. I want to pay tribute particularly to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) and Baroness Buscombe in another place. We support all the amendments, each of which improves the Bill, but because amendment No. 50 represents by far the biggest shift, I shall comment on that, as it has allowed us to reach agreement on the passage of the Bill.
We very much welcome the fact that we have been able to reach an agreement. We have always recognised that much in the Bill is important and necessary, and failure to update the law would leave the public with inadequate protection, especially in relation to remote gambling, which is already a huge business and likely to increase further. Responsible operators, such as those in the Interactive Gaming, Gambling and Betting Association, and providers of remote gambling such as BSkyB, have made a strong case that it is in their interests to be able to reassure their customers that they are subject to regulation, unlike their competitors from wilder shores.
The area of greatest controversy in the Bill remains the introduction of regional casinos. Originally, the Government argued that there could be up to 40 casinos, each of which would have 1,250 machines. That could have led to the introduction of something like 50,000 category A machines, which have been identified as carrying the highest risk of creating gambling addiction. Throughout the process, we have sought to increase safeguards against problem gambling and other concerns such as organised crime. For that reason, my colleague in another place, Baroness Buscombe, successfully persuaded their lordships to insert an amendment to increase the identification requirements, particularly to protect children who might otherwise be able to gain access to the gaming area. We accept that the Government have addressed that concern in a different way. For that reason, we will not press the two Lords amendments that Baroness Buscombe introduced, and we will accept the Government's alternative.
Even though the Government were forced in Committee to restrict the number of regional casinos to just eight, many organisations, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Salvation Army, have continued to argue that there is a significant risk of vastly increasing problem gambling. In our view, it was
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unthinkable that a measure that remains so controversial should have been rubber-stamped in the wash-up after just five hours of debate in Committee in the other place. Indeed, their lordships managed to consider just 11 out of 353 clauses. In recognition of that, we considered that it would be far better to have just one regional casino as a pilot. Although the advisory panel will need to give proper consideration to possible locations, we are convinced that it should be located in a leisure resort, away from city centres. From the beginning, Members on both sides of the House have recognised that Blackpool has a strong case.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) referred in passing to the concerns that many have expressed about the short period allowed in another place for debate on a very large number of amendments, which we have an opportunity to discuss today. I was delighted that last night, in another place, my noble Friend Lord Clement-Jones sought assurances from the Minister that if the various measures that we are debating are agreed to, and if the Bill receives Royal Assent, urgent consideration will be given to them by both the newly established gambling commission and the Government. I was delighted that the Minister in another place gave that assurance and I hope that the Secretary of State will repeat that today.
The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford also rightly referred to the most controversial part of the legislation in relation to casinos. What he did not say although I suspect that he would agree with meis that there is all-party support for large elements of the Bill, such as measures to introduce a much tougher regulator in the form of the gambling commission, regulation of internet gambling for the first time, and other measures that have been supported for a long time. Greatest concern, however, has centred on the issue of casinos.
It is worth recalling that when the Bill was first brought to the House, the Secretary of State said clearly that if the Bill, in the form in which she introduced it at that time, led to any increase in problem gambling, it would be a bad Bill and would have failed. Despite her assurances, considerable concern existed on both sides of the House, not least about the proposal to introduce new super-casinos, as they have been described. It is worth reflecting that those casinos will not only be much larger than we have seen previously in this country but will contain up to 1,250 category A machines that would have allowed unlimited stakes and prizes, about which a great deal of concern has been expressed.
We, too, sought to persuade the Government to reduce the number of super-casinos and to introduce a pilot period to test two things: first, whether it would add to regeneration in the area in which it is located, as the Government claim would happen; and secondly, to be assured that it did not lead to any increase in problem gambling. We were keen for the number to be reduced, and we were given an assurance. Now, following further
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deliberations, another reduction is being proposed. We are more than happy to support the trial of just one super-casino.
The Secretary of State said that the Government reserved the right to increase the number later. I hope that the Secretary of State will reassure us that that is not a hint that as soon as we return after the election there will be any such move.
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