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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Gambling Bill

Gambling Bill

Column Number: 303

Standing Committee B

Thursday 2 December 2004


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Gambling Bill

9.30 am

The Chairman: Before we commence this morning's business, I apologise on behalf of the House authorities for the fact that we have been moved without consultation into a Room that I regard as wholly unsuitable for our purposes. I shall make appropriate representations to the authorities. If that decision has inconvenienced Members who have gone to the wrong Room—it looks as though it may have done so—I extend my apologies to them as well, but we are required to commence our business in a timely fashion at 9.30 am.

Clause 84

Remote operating licence

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 43, in page 36, line 29, leave out 'condition that' and insert 'conditions that—


The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 44, in clause 84, page 36, line 31, at end insert

    ', and

    (b) there must be no link between—

    (i) any remote communication used for the provision of remote gambling, and

    (ii) the remote provision of pornography or any other unsolicited services such as ''pop-ups''.'.

Mr. Moss: These amendments are straightforward. We had an earlier discussion about access to internet sites containing pornography. The amendments seek to try to prevent as best we can—I accept that such things are extremely difficult to do—combined access to internet gambling and the provision of pornography or other unsolicited services such as pop-ups.

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): The hon. Gentleman seeks to impose the prohibition of links with pornography on pop-ups in licensing conditions for remote operators. The regulation of pornography is not in the remit in the Bill. Legislation is in place to address the issues arising from both remote and non-remote forms of communications. For example, the Obscene Publications Act 1959 applies equally to material published on the internet as to that published in a magazine. There are already many protections in place, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
Column Number: 304

Mr. Moss: I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 84 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 85

Casino operating licence

Amendment made: No. 287, in page 37, line 22, leave out subsection (1).—[Mr. Caborn.]

Clause 85, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 86

Bingo operating licence

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 236A, in page 38, line 4, at end insert 'or a roll over'.

I hope that I am being helpful to the Minister. It appears that the phrase ''or a rollover'' is used in various similar places in the Bill but it is not used in the clause. I assume that that is an oversight. If there is some other reason, I look forward to hearing it.

Mr. Caborn: I fully understand the intention of amendment No. 236A concerning bingo roll-overs and I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling it. The Government have said for some time that we agree with the Budd recommendation that roll-overs should be permitted for bingo. That is what we want the clause to achieve.

I accept that the position is not self-evident from the clause, so I would like the opportunity to consider the matter further with my officials. If the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to withdraw his amendment, I will undertake to consider the clause further and propose amendments that put the issue beyond doubt. I ask for more time because there is a definition of ''rollover'' in relation to lotteries in clause 240 and I would like to ensure that any changes proposed to this clause are not confused with that. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Foster: I note, Mr. Gale, that from a sedentary position, you showed some uncertainty as to whether that response entitled me to a postcard to Mrs. Foster. I am clear that it entitles me not just to a postcard but to a very large one or, as the Minister intimated, to two postcards. With the assurances that the Government will consider the issue and return to it later, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 86 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Column Number: 305

Clause 87

General betting operating licence

Amendment made: No. 288, in clause 87, page 38, line 24, leave out subsection (2).—[Mr. Caborn]

Clause 87, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 88

Pool betting operating licence

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): Will the Minister expand on what this clause involves? Greyhound track operators have expressed their concern about how the pool betting operating licence will impact on what they already do. As the Minister knows, every greyhound track holds an exclusive right to offer pool betting on racing at the track. Pool bets on greyhound racing must be struck on course, although it is legal for two or more courses to co-mingle the pool. A punter is allowed to bet from a stadium into pools at another stadium—a form of betting known as inter-track.

For the past two to three years, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Customs and Excise have given greyhound racing permission to trial online, and therefore off course, betting into on-course pools, on the condition that the relevant rate of duty is paid on punters' stakes before that money is passed to the on-course pools. It has been indicated that as part of the changes to the gaming regulations during the reform of the gambling law, greyhound tracks will be officially able to accept bets into their pools from off-course punters. In doing so, however, do we not encounter the problem whereby the right to run off-course pools on greyhound races should therefore be available to anyone with the relevant operators licence?

That situation will expand the whole operation, and greyhound operators are worried because pool betting revenues are responsible for the major proportion of any stadium's income. Although the promoters welcome the opportunity to take bets from off-course, the benefits and much more will be lost if the change is accompanied by the opening up of the right to accept greyhound pool bets. The individual managers to whom I have spoken cannot see how the Tote can be protected with an exclusive seven-year licence following its sale to a horse racing trust, yet greyhound racing pools can be exposed to a market without any time to establish themselves in relation to any off-course to on-course operations.

The Committee can see that the threat from any future competition would be sufficient to encourage promoters, prior to any introduction of that competition, to re-evaluate their deductions from the pool in relation to a strong and loyal customer base. It is necessary for survival. The situation is quite clear: as I understand it, there is not enough time to allow the
Column Number: 306
greyhound pools to establish themselves against any immediate competition that opens up this whole area and damages greyhound racing.

Mr. Caborn: As the hon. Gentleman said, we are allowing the Tote at greyhound races to accept off-course betting. We ought to reflect on what he has said, however, and even though I request that the clause stand part of the Bill, I can assure him that we will answer his questions fully and, if necessary, table amendments. He has made several points that are worthy of further evaluation, and I would like to reflect on them and come back to him at a later stage.

Mr. Page: I thank the Minister for his immediate grasp of that potentially worrying situation, and I look forward to what will be an even longer Report stage than we thought originally.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 88 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 89

Horse-race pool betting operating licence

Mr. Caborn: I beg to move amendment No. 289, in page 40, line 2, at end insert—

    '(4A) A condition of a pool betting operating licence to which this section applies (whether attached by virtue of section 71, 73 or 74) may make provision regulating or restricting the activities of persons authorised under subsection (2).'.

This is a technical amendment. The horse-race pool betting operating licence, like the football pools operating licence, allows the licence holder to authorise others to provide pool betting. However, conditions may be attached to the football pools operating licence that regulate or restrict the activities carried out by the authorised person. In its current form, the Bill does not permit such conditions to be attached to the horse-race pool betting licence—an anomaly that must be corrected in order to give the same safeguards to both licences.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 89, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 90

Gaming machine technical operating licence

Mr. Foster: I beg to move amendment No. 237A, in page 40, line 12, at end insert

    'provided that such standards shall be included in the statement set out in section 22(1) and shall be not more onerous than is reasonably required to achieve the licensing objectives and shall distinguish between categories of machines as described in Part 10.'.

The explanatory notes to the clause are particularly helpful. They state:

    ''Without prejudice to other condition-making powers, the Commission may establish, or authorise others to establish on its behalf, standards in respect of systems and processes used for the manufacture, supply, installation, adaptation, maintenance or repair of a gaming machine. These standards must be consistent with the rules concerning gaming machines contained in part 10.''

Column Number: 307

They continue:

    ''The Commission can enforce those standards through licence conditions including the testing of the operator's systems on application and from time to time.''

The amendment is clear in its wording. The Committee will be aware that section 22(1) states:

    ''The Commission shall prepare a statement setting out the principles to be applied by it in exercising its functions under this Act.''

Clearly, there will be wide testing arrangements and the industry is conscious that it has well tried testing regimes for machines other than those in category A and B2. The existing system has been developed over many years and is believed to operate very effectively. A new regime could seriously damage innovation and the ability of manufacturers to meet consumer demand for new games. Experience from other countries, such as the Netherlands, shows that an onerous and disproportionate regime can prevent markets developments, and clearly the Committee would wish to ensure that that was avoided.

The amendment is designed to seek assurance that the new testing regime will be built on the successful system already championed by the Gaming Board and the industry. Therefore, it will not be too onerous or involve disproportionate cost.

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Prepared 2 December 2004