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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.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 11Reinstatement of lapsed operating licences
Column Number: 319
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2004||Prepared 2 December 2004|