Gambling Bill

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Bob Russell: I beg to move amendment No. 238A, in clause 93, page 43, line 16, at end insert

    'provided that such circumstances are relevant to the activity licensed'.

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This is a minor amendment. Although we must assume that those who will implement the Act will take its wording at face value, I hope that the Minister recognises that lawyers and the awkward squad might seek to widen the interpretation of ''different circumstances'', as referred to in subsection (3)(b). ''Different circumstances'' is an extremely broad term, and any circumstances should be relevant to the administration of the different types of operating licence. Therefore, the amendment simply adds wording requiring them to be relevant. It is stating the obvious, but if one does not do so, there might be those who interpret the legislation as they wish. I hope that the Minister will agree that we need to clarify the terms of the Bill.

Mr. Caborn: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern; perhaps I can provide some reassurance. The requirement for fees to take account of different circumstances is necessary, as they should reflect the inspection and monitoring costs involved in different parts of the industry. That is central to the way in which such fees are calculated across the range of Government services in order to recover the costs involved. The clause is not an attempt to discriminate; rather, we wish to ensure that different sectors pay different and appropriate fees for the regulation of their parts of the gambling industry. I do not think that the amendment adds anything, so I would ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Bob Russell: I am grateful for the Minister's response. His interpretation will be on the record for all time. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 93 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: Because of the fast-moving nature of our proceedings, my technique is to call the number of each clause as we work through them. If any Committee member wishes to speak to a particular clause, it would be helpful to the Chair if that could be indicated as we proceed. I shall then ensure that every clause that needs to be debated is debated.

Clauses 94 to 96 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: Order. This is a small Room and voices carry. I would ask those on both sides of the Committee to restrain their conversations or to have them outside. Even if nobody else wishes to hear the debate, the Chairman most certainly does.

Clause 97

Application to vary licence

10 am

Mr. Foster: I beg to move amendment No. 240, in clause 97, page 45, line 20, at end insert

    ', unless the operating licence is transferred pursuant to subsection (7) below'.

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The Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to take amendment No. 239, in clause 97, page 45, line 43, at end add—

    '(7) The Commission shall make a statement regarding the circumstances under which an operating licence may be transferred.'.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful, Mr. Gale, and I am sure that you will find this debate particularly scintillating and fascinating, because it refers to changes in licence agreements. The explanatory notes are, as ever, inordinately helpful. They tell us:

    ''Holders of operating licences may, for their own commercial reasons, wish to vary the gambling facilities that they provide, whether that is to cease carrying out an activity, or to start a new activity. Equally, they may wish to vary an individual condition that has been attached to their licence. In such circumstances, the holder of an operating licence will need to apply to the Commission to vary the terms of the licence.''

That is what the clause is all about. However, interestingly, the explanatory notes go on to state:

    ''An application for variation cannot be used to transfer an operating licence to another person. Operating licences are non-transferable.''

That is where the amendments come in.

It is clear that an operating licence cannot currently be transferred and that provision should be made to effect such a transfer, if deemed necessary. A company that holds an operating licence could undergo corporate restructuring, which would require it to hold its assets with an operational function in one corporate identity. Equally, a company may wish to reorganise its structure for the purposes of consolidation or disposal, so that the entity holding an operating licence would wish to transfer the licence to another related or associated company within the corporate group.

Such flexibility is certainly not unusual, and it is usually contemplated in corporate contracts and corporate finance. It would be unreasonable not to permit such a transfer if the commission was satisfied that the transferee was an appropriate holder of the licence. Clauses 95 and 96 provide for a change of control of the holder of an operating licence, and the amendment is consistent with the approach set out in the provisions on change of control.

Mr. Caborn: Clause 95 already deals with corporate control. Transfer is different from corporate control, so the amendment does not address the issue.

Operating licences are central to the new system of regulation and will involve stringent checks on the suitability of the operator to carry out the gambling activities for which they seek a licence. The commission will have to satisfy itself as to the integrity of the applicant or relevant persons, and their competence and financial circumstances. All that must take place before the licence is issued, which is vital if we are to provide a well-regulated industry that is free from crime. If the operator of a gambling business changes, stringent checks should clearly take place afresh on the new proposed operator. For those reasons, I cannot agree that we should provide for circumstances in which an operating licence can be transferred. It seems right that any operator should go through the same application procedure as any
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operator of a new gambling business. I reiterate that corporate control is dealt with in clause 95, and clause 97 is about licensing.

Mr. Foster: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 97 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 98 to 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 104

Power to limit duration

Mr. Caborn: I beg to move amendment No. 290, in clause 104, page 48, line 8, leave out 'and'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 291.

Mr. Caborn: The clause does not provide any express powers to the commission to revoke a determination that an operating licence should be of limited duration. Amendments Nos. 290 and 291 simply make it clear that the commission has those powers. That was always the policy intention, but without the amendments, the clause does not make that clear.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 291, in clause 104, page 48, line 10, at end insert

    ', and

    ( ) may revoke a determination under subsection (1) (in which case the determination shall cease to have effect in relation to licences already issued).'. —[Mr. Caborn]

Clause 104, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 105

Renewal of licence

Mr. Foster: I beg to move amendment No. 242, in clause 105, page 49, line 9, at end add—

    '(9) The Commission shall make a statement regarding the circumstances under which failure to act within the time specified for renewal through inadvertence, impossibility, clerical error, or other relevant circumstance may be remedied by the extension of time.'.

There is no provision in the Bill covering failure to renew owing to clerical error. The commission may determine that an operating licence will be for a specified period, and such determination may give effect to the necessity for renewal of the licence. There are specific time limits for renewal, and the commission should surely have the ability to address the situation when an application for renewal is not received or processed because of administrative fault. Subsection (3) specifies the time within which an application for renewal may be made and subsection (8) states that

    ''The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (3)''

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with a different time. The amendment would allow, in exceptional circumstances, an extension of the time during which the application for renewal must be made.

Mr. Caborn: The amendment, which would allow the period during which renewal of an operating licence can take place to be extended if there were an oversight or clerical error, is well intentioned, but I am afraid that it would have consequences. Because of that, I regret that I cannot support it. The Government want a world-class system of regulation in the UK that is crime free and which protects the public, and I know that all parties support that. A valid operating licence is central to that system, and if operators do not have a valid operating licence, they should not be allowed to carry on a gambling business in the UK.

The clause already provides for an operator to apply for renewal up to three months before a licence expires, and he must do so at least one month before expiry to ensure that the commission has time to renew it. That provides more than an adequate safeguard for the type of inadvertent or clerical error that the amendment seeks to address. For that reason, I cannot accept it.

Mr. Foster: I was listening carefully to the Minister, but I must have gone deaf for a moment, and I should be grateful if he would repeat the last part of his brief. He made no reference to clause 112(3), which allows for a time extension if there has been an administrative error. Similarly, clause 179(2) allows licensing authorities to decide not to revoke a premises licence if there has been a failure to pay the annual fee and

    ''they think that a failure to pay is attributable to administrative error.''

Given that that is already covered in relation to other aspects in clauses 112(3) and 179(2), neither of which were referred to by the Minister, I am surprised at his response.

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