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Mr. Foster: The issue might have to be considered by me, indeedbut whoever is in a position to produce secondary legislation, I hope that we shall at least hear from the current Secretary of State that it will happen only after a suitable opportunity is provided for a trial of the one super-casino that we currently propose. I will make that pledge on my party's behalf, and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford will do the same. I note that the proposal for a reduction to just one super-casino initially came from my noble Friend Lord Greaves, but be that as it may, it now appears to have all-party support.
I end with one more plea, which echoes the words of the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford. Whatever location the commission recommends to the Secretary of State for the new super-casinoand, as others have said, there is a strong case for BlackpoolI hope that we will take on board the recommendations of the Joint Committee that carried out the pre-legislative scrutiny, and make it a destination casino. People should have to make an effort to visit it, rather than simply finding it on the high street. I hope that the Secretary of State will assure us that that is what she has in mind.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): I apologise for not being present for the Secretary of State's speech. The lottery of the London traffic and the timing of the debate are the only excuses that I can proffer.
Having chaired the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, I want to make three points that I consider important. First, the issue of mega-casinos has dogged the Bill from the start. It was the most contentious aspect of the Committee's work. We were introducing a new concept to the gambling environment, on which there are many different views. The Secretary of State and I might have preferred there to be more than one pilot, but it was argued in the Committee that we should recommend the trial of just one regional or destination casino. We did not do so, because at the time the concept was not in the Government's mind, but Committee members who have observed the reaching of this conclusion over the past 48 hours have expressed to me their satisfaction that we can both test the argument that a destination casino could regenerate a town such as Blackpoolwhich I sincerely hope will be the preferred destination, given all the time and effort that has been put inand prove that access to machines with unlimited stakes and prizes would not lead to a rise in problem gambling. Although I believe that to be true, I know that many people are not convinced. We need this pilot, and also the pilots involving large and small casinos with significantly more machines than have hitherto been available in gambling destinations.
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I think that it would have been a grave error to allow this issue to thwart the Bill's progress. I believe that the most important recommendation made by my Committee to both Houses was that without the Bill, there would have been an increase in gambling of doubtful legality. We have seen an explosion of gambling opportunitiesnot just via the internet but by means of mobile telephony, often involving young peopleand that is likely to increase during the next three to five years.
It is inconceivable that Parliament could allow the Bill to fall, given the pressing need to regulate all that gambling. It is not regulated at present, andas the Secretary of State knows, for I have said it forcefully on many occasions and in many forums over the past few monthsI consider the vital point to be not how many casinos there are or how big they are, but the explosion of gambling on the internet, on websites and on mobile telephones.
I know that visible gamblingpeople going into a mega-casino and playing on rank upon rank of gaming machinesoffends some, but they must not ignore what I consider to be the far greater problem of unseen gambling. People may lose their homes, all their money and their whole way of life through internet gambling that is not regulated. I believe our United Kingdom industry shares my view that this must be a regulated and respected part of the gambling industry, which is why I am so glad that we are to pass a Bill that has occupied the time of so many people for so long.
That was, in fact, my third point. I thank and pay tribute to all the many people who have been involved in the process, not just Ministers and their officials but my hon. Friends the Members for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) and my noble Friend Baroness Buscombe. They have devoted much time and effort to arriving at this point.
This is a hugely challenging Bill, and I feel strongly that this is a good day for our country. We are recognising that gambling is part of the leisure industrypart of our way of life. Some people may not like it, but we must face reality, and I fervently believe that the Bill tries to do that. This is not the end of the argument, by any stretch of the imagination. The Bill sets out what is virtually a whole Parliament's work after the election: the establishing of the commission, codes of practice, regulations and the framework that will govern gambling for many years to come. I pay tribute to all who have been involved in the process.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab):
I, too, welcome the amendment, but I am sad about one aspect. I supported the Bill at the outset, partly because it would liberalise the industry but also becauseas the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) saidit would regulate the parts that needed regulation. I was a member of the Standing Committee, and I found it frustrating that the Bill kept changing. If there is anything to be learned from the process and the point that we have reached today, it concerns the Government's thinking before they produce complex Bills such as this, and what they want to end up with.
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I thought that the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Ryedale did some very good work. I am a big fan of pre-legislative scrutiny. Much of that work, sadly, was ignored, although it should have constituted the foundation of the Bill.
The Bill was pulled in different directions. I have a lot of respect for the Minister who piloted it through Committee. He also felt on occasions that one week he was being pulled one way, and another week, the other way. He did a fantastic job in trying to pilot it through.
On the issues around super-casinos, or regional casinos, I would have liked more than one. I agree that it will be difficult to have a true test with just one area. We got carried away with the fact that the super-casinos were going to be a panacea, bringing redevelopment and regeneration in all types of areas. That is why we saw a feeding frenzy of various potential applications throughout the country. Newcastle city council, a Liberal Democrat council, is trying to support an application locally. A lot of time and effort have been wasted in local government and in the gambling industry, which have not only lobbied but put forward plans. That could have been avoided if at the first stage we had been a little clearer about where we wanted to end up.
I strongly support the proposal that the regional casino should be in a place such as Blackpool, which in its lobbying made a clear and coherent case as to why that area should be chosen. I hope that if that goes ahead, we do not wait too long before we have experiments elsewhere to judge the effects.
On the industry as a whole, I agree with the hon. Member for Ryedale when he says that, overall, we have had a clean industry in this country. It has provided some good quality jobs and is well run. The Bill will add to that in introducing better regulation of parts of the industry. I have only one concern as regards where we are at now, with one super-casino proposed: the potential damage that has been done to the existing industry's confidence. Whichever lead Ministry after the election deals with gambling, it needs to build up relationships again with the industry and ensure that that industry, which has been well run for many years, is given the confidence to expand. It would be a mistake to think that casino gambling or another area of gambling can be predicated on one super-casino. We should not take away from the fact that some of the smaller, existing casinos do a lot of good work, not only employing people locally but ensuring the high standards to which the hon. Member for Ryedale referred.
The Bill has had a long gestation period. It would have been a mistake if it had fallen today for the reasons that were outlined by the hon. Gentleman. Whole areas of gambling are not regulated at the moment, but they need to be regulated. That is what was sad about some of the discussion in the popular press. I understand why certain sections had the discussions concerning the super-casinos, but they did not recognise that today people can go out and gamble freely without any regulation. We need some publicity about the fact that the Bill will bring in regulation.
In welcoming the fact that this period is coming to a close, I support the proposals, but let us hope that, post the election, we not only get the super-casinos in place
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but ensure that regulation under the Bill can be bedded in. Whichever Government Department deals with it after the election, it must ensure that it has good relationships with the gaming and betting industry.
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