Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman may be surprised, but there was a good reason for it, which I will now explain. Failure to pay a fee is not the same as a core renewal issue, which is referred to in later clauses. The safeguard—the hon. Gentleman must have missed this during his momentary deafness—is that the operator may apply for renewal up to three months before the licence expires and must have done so at least one month before expiry to ensure that the commission has time to renew it. That is to provide an adequate period for the gambling commission to look at the licence for renewal. It is not for failure to pay a fee.

Mr. Foster: I apologise, but I fail to understand the Minister's response. In relation to the revocation of an operating licence, the Bill clearly provides for a determination to be made if the failure is due to an administrative error. The decision can therefore be reconsidered in such a case. Similarly, a licensing authority has the opportunity to reconsider its decision not to revoke a premises licence in the light of its being clear that the operator's failure was the result of an administrative error. Those two cases are clearly covered in the Bill. That is acknowledged. I simply fail
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to understand why a three-month period does not alter a clerical error and why, on this occasion, it is not allowed.

Mr. Caborn: It is much easier to prove failure to pay a fee for clerical error. For renewal, the operator must have put its affairs in order. Indeed, the fees are annual. The renewal to which we were referring may be once every 10 years, so there is a big time difference. [Interruption.] The significance is nine years—between 10 and one. The fees are annual. The renewal is once every 10 years.

Mr. Foster: I entirely accept the Minister's point that one happens every year and the other every 10 years, but there can be an administrative error at the end of the 10-year period and at the end of the one-year period. It is clear that the Minister has a better argument to deploy, and we look forward to hearing it.

Mr. Caborn: I said what I said simply for the sake of a full explanation from the Government and for moving the Bill on. An operating licence will now have an indefinite duration. We believe that the existing structure is sound and can pick up clerical and other errors, so we do not believe that the amendment would add anything to the Bill.

Mr. Foster: I disagree, and I suspect from the look on the Minister's face that he is not totally convinced either. That may mean that he will discuss the matter quietly with his officials and others, which may give us another opportunity to discuss it. Given that possibility, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 107


Bob Russell: I beg to move amendment No. 243, in clause 107, page 49, line 20, at end insert

    'provided that the provisions of section 181 shall apply where the licensee dies,'.

We all accept that mother nature will get us all eventually. Unfortunately under the Bill, if a licensee dies, business, as we understand, must cease until a new licensee can be appointed. That is recognised in clause 181, which provides for a period of a week after the death of a licensee, perhaps from a heart attack or a road crash, which could not be predetermined.

The amendment would ensure a grace period, because otherwise the business would cease as soon as the licensee died and an offence would be committed if the business continued to operate. We therefore suggest that provisions similar to those in clause 181 should apply. There are those who believe that one week, as set out in clause 181, is itself insufficient, but it is better than nothing.
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Mr. Page: I support the amendment, which in many ways interrelates with new clause 11, which we shall discuss in a moment. As the hon. Gentleman says, if mother nature or bad driving claim any of us who operate a gaming licence, the current licensing system seems to give the executors of one's estate a much more generous period to enable them to put affairs in order and enable the business to keep going. The Bill takes away the power to reinstate an operating licence but the premises licence continues. That is a little like saying that one can have a public house but one cannot sell beer, which rather negates the point of having a premises licence.

I draw to the Minister's attention to a fact that the Committee will have got to know during its consideration of the Bill: the gaming and gambling industry deals with vast sums of money. It is no exaggeration to say that billions of pounds are involved. Some American corporations have absolutely enormous resources. Therefore the pressure on small businesses will become heavier and heavier. It is the Committee's responsibility to try to give the small business man a fair break.

10.15 am

I shall not talk about the fact that small businesses are groaning under the weight of regulations and excessive taxation, or go through the list of impositions that the Government have placed on them, because you would rule me out of order, Mr. Gale. In resisting that, I will say that people may ask why small operators have not adjusted and changed their affairs to take account of that situation. The plain fact is that someone who wants to run a small business must have some form of independence of mind; they must be an individual. The ability and wish to conform may not necessarily be the strongest in such a person, but I will fight for that individualism and independence for as long as I can.

No doubt the trade associations, such as the Bingo Association, will be advising their members on how to put their various affairs in order so as to meet the requirements of the Bill as it stands. However, the Minister is a fair-minded and generous person; he has given way and listened to reason so often already this morning that I like to think that he will consider the issue again and say, ''We'll give the small business man a break. We'll allow the estate to have the operating licence for a little longer, so that the affairs can be put in order.'' That would enable businesses to keep going and keep employment in the area.

Mr. Moss: I seek your direction, Mr. Gale. I tabled new clause 11, which we shall discuss in a moment along with clause 107 stand part, but the debate going on now is in effect the same as the one that we will have on the new clause. That replicates clause 181, which relates to reinstatement of a premises licence. Amendment No. 243 simply replicates that clause too, although there is a small deviation in new clause 11, in that it would change the number of days from seven to 28. I feel as though I should be speaking to the new clause now, because the Minister could then wind up both debates in one speech.
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The Chairman indicated dissent.

Mr. Caborn: We are discussing two different types of licence: a premises licence and an operating licence. Amendment No. 243 would provide that an operating licence did not lapse on the holder's death. It is well intentioned and the case for it has been put quite strongly. When the owner of a business dies, it is common for it to pass to the surviving partner, be that a husband or a wife. However, we are considering operating licences, and the amendment would give rise to consequences that mean that, regrettably, I cannot support it.

A valid operating licence is central to the world-class system of regulation that we want in the UK. The issuing of a licence will involve stringent checks on the suitability of the applicant operator to carry out the gambling activities for which they are seeking a licence. That is vital if we are to provide a well regulated industry that is free from crime. Clearly, if the operator of a gambling business dies, those stringent checks should take place afresh on the new proposed operator, even if they are the surviving partner.

We have said many times that we want to transfer all the good in the Gaming Act 1968 to a modern setting by establishing a commission that is much stronger than the existing Gaming Board. Hon. Members have said that there are problems, but that is not the case. To date, even under the 1968 Act, a gaming or betting licence cannot be transferred, and the hardship that hon. Members have said could arise if a partner dies has not, to our knowledge, arisen since 1968, because stringent checks are in place. We are transferring those checks from the 1968 Act to the gambling commission. We are talking about an operating licence, not a premises licence, which can be transferred. It is for those reasons and to preserve the integrity of the betting industry that I ask the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) to withdraw his amendment.

Bob Russell: Is the Minister saying that, if the licensee is involved in a fatal crash while driving to his business at lunchtime, that business will not be permitted to open? In another scenario the licensee is seriously injured in the accident and is put on a life support machine. Will the operating licence continue if he is technically alive but in no fit state to run his business?

Mr. Caborn: Again, we have to look at the definitions. Are we talking about the corporate operator or about an individual? More than one person can be on the operating licence, in which case it would be possible to deal with a death. We are transferring the arrangements that operate under the 1968 Act into this Bill. Those will be carried out to a large extent by the gambling commission. There has been some debate about the possible watering down of provisions and the explosion in gambling and gaming, but that will not happen except under extremely controlled conditions. These licences are central to the integrity of the operation. We are doing no more than already exists in the 1968 Act, and I do not believe that that has placed an undue burden on small businesses.
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