Gambling Bill

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Mr. Page: I appreciate everything that the Minister has said. We all want to see integrity in the whole gaming industry. He is looking a little higher up the chain, however; I have in mind a small business which is just an owner-operator, on his own with no partner. He might be reluctant to bring someone else in and to add their name and enable them to operate the business. He may wish to sell it and have another operator come in. This measure will take away the time scale in which he can make the necessary change.

Mr. Caborn: Hon. Members are putting hypothetical situations to the Committee. We are not dealing with hypothetical situations; we are operating in real conditions. The licensing structure, which will largely be operated by the gambling commission, is absolutely central to the integrity of the industry. The Bill will maintain a system that has operated for some decades, and to the best of my knowledge none of the situations that hon. Members have described has arisen. I believe that the integrity of the industry is more important than hon. Members' hypothetical examples.

Bob Russell: The Minister has already dismissed the amendment, despite the strong common-sense case that we put forward. Although there would probably be only a few instances during the lifetime of the legislation, without some provision and some period of grace in the unfortunate event of a sudden death a small family-owned business could cease trading. What happens to the licence if someone is seriously injured or otherwise mentally impaired but still living? The Minister did not respond to that realistic scenario. I invite him and his officials to take note of what has been said and to see whether some form of wording can be inserted. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 11—Reinstatement of lapsed operating licences—

    '(1) This section applies where an operating licence lapses under section 107(1).

    (2) During the period of 28 days beginning with the date of the lapse of the operating licence a person may apply to the Commission for the licence to be reinstated with the applicant as the licensee.

    (3) The provisions of this section shall apply in relation to an application for reinstatement as they apply in relation to an application for an operating licence—

    (a) subject to provisions of this section,

    (b) with any other necessary modifications.

    (4) An application for reinstatement must (in addition to anything required by section 65 or 69) request that the reinstatement take effect upon the application being granted.

    (5) The Commission shall grant an application for reinstatement unless it thinks it would be wrong to do so having regard to the matters in sections 66 and 67 (as applied by subsection 3 above).

    (6) On the grant of an application for the reinstatement of an operating licence the Commission shall—

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    (a) alter the licence so that the applicant for reinstatement becomes the licensee,

    (b) specify in the licence that the reinstatement takes effect at the time when the application is granted, and

    (c) make such other alteration of the licence as appears to it to be required (which may, in particular, include an alteration to reflect a decision of the Commission under section 73 as applied by subsection (3) above to make new or varied provisions for the attachment or exclusion of conditions).

    (7) An application under this section for the reinstatement of an operating licence must (in addition to anything required by section 65) be accompanied by—

    (a) the licence, or

    (b) both—

    (i) a statement explaining why it is not reasonably practicable to produce the licence, and

    (ii) an application under section 100 for the issue of a copy of the licence.

    (8) In the case of an application under section 100 made in accordance with subsection 7(b)(ii)—

    (a) the application shall be made by the applicant for reinstatement, and

    (b) a reference to the licence being lost, stolen or damaged shall be treated as a reference to the licence being unavailable to the applicant for reinstatement.

    (9) Regulations under section 65, as they have effect in relation to applications for reinstatement by virtue of subsection (3), may require notice to be given to specified persons.

    (10) Where an application is made under this section for the reinstatement of an operating licence, the licence shall have effect as if the applicant for reinstatement were the licensee during the period—

    (a) beginning with the receipt of the application for reinstatement by the Commission, and

    (b) ending with the determination of the application by the Commission.'.

Mr. Moss: Without repeating the arguments, I can tell the Committee that the debate that we just had is the same as the debate that we will have on new clause 11, because we have simply taken the reinstatement of a premises licence in clause 181 and applied it to the reinstatement of an operator's licence in new clause 11. All we have done is change the seven-day period in clause 181(2) to 28 days, which appears in subsection (2) of the new clause.

We recognise the need for the gambling commission to do proper checks on a new operator and to allow 28 days for that to happen, whereas a premises licence can be done much more quickly. However, it comes back to the same point. The Minister says that under existing legislation, there are no provisions to allow a gaming licence to continue. He is saying, therefore, that in a family-owned business where a husband and wife are bingo operators, but only one has the licence, that business would have to close if one of them were to die. I am puzzled, then, as to why the Bingo Association has said to us that it sees that as a problem with the Bill. There is no provision for an operator's licence to continue in some form or other, so that the business does not close on the death of the licence holder. That means that jobs would be lost, and the value of that business to an estate would be undermined because it would not be an ongoing business.

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All that we are asking for here is some practical means whereby small businesses can continue to operate on the death of one of the licence holders. The premises licence can be reinstated quite quickly, within seven days. Paragraph 14(1) of schedule 11 deals with the reinstatement of a prize gaming permit, so there seems to be some inconsistency here which the Minister has not addressed so far in the debate. We recognise the strength of his argument about the importance of operators' licences. It is the core of the Bill's integrity that it ensures that only the right people have such licences. However, there surely has to be some recognition of the difficulties faced by small businesses in the event of the death of a partner. It may well be that the instructions to those people would be to form themselves into a company, but that would be forcing them down a route that they do not particularly favour. There may well be a simple answer, which would be to hold the operator's licence in both names. However, again, that would force people to do something that they might not want to do initially.

We are not going to press the matter, because we recognise the Minister's argument about the integrity of operators' licences, but it would help small bingo operators if there were some practical guidance from the Minister about how, when the Bill is implemented, they could face up to that eventuality of one of the partners dying and the business closing. The business's value would be seriously undermined, whether or not it could be resold in that interim period: it probably could not be. The new clause is an attempt at least to give some continuity so that arrangements can be made to ensure the survival of the business.

The Chairman: Before I call the Minister, I remind the hon. Gentleman that if at the end of the debate he wishes to submit new clause 11 to a vote, he will need to indicate that and it will be called at the appropriate point in the proceedings.

Mr. Caborn: The new clause would overturn the provision in clause 97(2), which we have already debated, which provides that an operating licence

    ''may not be varied . . . so as to authorise anyone other than the person to whom it was issued''.

The reinstatement of a premises licence does not involve the same conditions as for the suitability of the operator running the premises, precisely because such checks have already been carried out in the granting of an operating licence. For that reason, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should provide for the reinstatement of an operating licence in these circumstances. It seems right to us that a new operator should go through the same application procedure as any operator of a new gambling business. Before licences are issued there will be stringent checks on the suitability of the applicant for the gambling activities for which they seek a licence. That is vital if we are to provide a well regulated industry that is free from crime.

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I also draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that we are introducing amendments to clause 181 that will allow six months for the transfer of the premises licence. That may well be of assistance.

10.30 am

Mr. Page: Does the Minister accept that it is a little unfair of him to make out that we should have moved new clause 11 when the Committee was dealing with clause 97, because we are dictated to by the selection of amendments? I think that the Chairman would have objected if we had tried to move new clause 11 in the middle of our debates on clause 97.

I refer the Minister to clause 107(1), which clearly says:

    ''In the case of an operating licence issued to an individual, the licence shall lapse if—

    (a) the licensee dies''.

It then goes on to deal with mental and physical incapacity. The plain fact is that as soon as the licensee dies, their business has to close its doors. Anybody knows that when one runs a business, continuity of supply to one's customers is vital. Restarting or relaunching at a later date makes life that much more difficult. This request for 28 days in which to get a new applicant in place, apply for a new licence, keep the business going and ensure that the estate is not unduly damaged is something that any Government should do to help small businesses.

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