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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Gambling Bill

Gambling Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 7 December 2004


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Gambling Bill

9.30 am

The Chairman: Good morning, ladies and gentleman. I apologise for the fact that we are, yet again, in Room 12. A state visit is the reason and we must be able to accommodate that.

Will all Committee members and anyone else who enters or leaves the Room be kind enough to be aware that the doors are not self-closing and that they slam, which annoys members of the Committee and its Chairman? The Committee would not wish to annoy its Chairman.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Gale. It is fair to say that the Committee made good progress last week and I am sure that all hon. Members welcomed that. However, I wish to register my concern and to seek your guidance, because on Friday the Government tabled a number of significant changes to the Bill, including new clauses 16, 17, 18 and, of particular concern, new schedule 2, which extends to six pages. There is some concern, as you will understand, over whether we are to achieve our aim of improving the quality of the legislation through good scrutiny, because there is a danger that we shall have very little time to consider the proposed changes. Pertinent to that is the fact that the essence of a Committee such as this is to understand the concerns of those outside whom the legislation will affect directly. They will not have had time to consider the effects of the changes. I seek your guidance, Mr. Gale, on whether it is appropriate to consider the new provisions at this stage.

The Chairman: The Chairman always wishes amendments to be tabled in a timely fashion to give Committee members and those outside who have a deep interest in the matter time to consider the nature of the proposals, their content and their possible effect, as the hon. Gentleman said. At the start of our proceedings in Committee, I made it clear that I would not accept manuscript amendments. That is all. So long as amendments tabled by any party are tabled in orderly fashion and printed on the amendment paper, they are available for consideration on reaching the appropriate part of the Bill.

Having said that, I have no means of knowing how much progress we shall make this morning. The Committee will rise at 11.25, as is our practice, and that will give ample opportunity for the usual channels to discuss these matters.

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): Further to that point of order, Mr. Gale. I apologise to the Committee. We have not had a lot of

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time in which to get these amendments and new clauses out. We have done so as quickly as possible and we have consulted the British Beer and Pub Association. Nevertheless, I accept the comments that have been made. The usual channels may agree that it will be convenient to stop a little short of the time allocated to allow for reflection and further debate. I hope that the usual channels will be able to deliver that.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Gale. I want to put on the record our gratitude to the Minister for his comments. We made excellent progress last week and we are ahead of the game. We are awaiting what will probably be a considerable number of Government amendments, which we hope to discuss in Committee rather than on Report. We will work with the Government to ensure that the Bill leaves Committee by 16 December, which gives us a little more time to consider the amendments with a little more scrutiny.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Gale. I find the situation completely and utterly unacceptable. The Government have had years to prepare the Bill. We on the Opposition Benches do not have the resources to examine the new clauses within a time scale that allows us to consult, whereas the Government have had plenty of time to do that. Introducing the amendments at this stage is disgraceful and a mark of the way in which this Government operate. I wish my objection to be registered firmly and strongly.

The Chairman: The hon. Gentleman has made his point. The Chairman always wishes amendments to be tabled in a timely fashion but, as long as those amendments tabled are in order, as these are, they are available for consideration by the Committee. The hon. Gentleman will have heard the Minister's comments and I hope and expect that the usual channels will work their magic during the break between the morning and afternoon sittings.

Clause 219

Gaming machine

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

Mr. Prisk: This is my first speech on the substance of the Bill and I take the opportunity to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Gale. I will seek your guidance as we continue with our deliberations.

Clause 219, which begins part 10 of the Bill, raises a number of important considerations that I want the Minister to respond to. It is clear that the definition in subsection (1) is significantly different and broader than that in the Gaming Act 1968 which it will replace. I understand why the Government have made that step. Since 1968 there have been a significant number of changes in technology and in the variety of machines on which gaming can be engaged in. One

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thinks immediately of computers, but a number of other forms of technology have also come forth since 1968. They include interactive television, with which even now many of us are grappling. I struggle to programme my video recorder, let alone cope with the challenges of interactive television. However, I am told by those from younger generations that such things are indeed the future.

I want to draw to the Committee's attention another concern to which I hope the Minister will be able to respond. When reading the excellent explanatory notes that accompany the Bill, I saw that paragraph 485 on page 84 says:

    ''The new definition accommodates developments in technology which have taken place since the 1968 Act.''

I have referred to that. The paragraph goes on:

    ''It also covers a wide range of gambling activities which can take place on a machine, and includes betting on virtual events.''

Therefore, as I understand it, the scope of the definition is related not simply to the technology but to the activity on that technology. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified the scope of those activities, not just the scope of the machines, which are more easily defined and are set out in subsection (2).

My second consideration and concern is the manner in which the definition has been presented. In subsection (1) we are provided with what it is fair to describe as an all-embracing definition. The subsection says:

    ''a 'gaming machine' means a machine which is designed or adapted for use by individuals to gamble (whether or not it can be used for other purposes).''

There is then a series of exclusions from that wide-ranging definition. For example, the definition excludes a ''domestic'' or, for that matter, a ''dual-use computer''—by which I assume is meant a computer used for domestic and business purposes, although it would be helpful if the Minister confirmed that. It also excludes telephones and other such items, which I shall consider in a moment.

My concern is that by establishing an all-embracing definition and then trying to anticipate exceptions, there is a danger of gaps. There is also a danger of uncertainty in the areas between those elements that have been excluded. I would be appreciative if the Minister explained the reason for defining machines in the way in which the Government have chosen. That is important because, just as we recognise that technology has changed since 1968, this Act will have to respond to future changes. Therefore, there is a danger of uncertainty about what is within the scope of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will enlighten us on that point, technical though it may be.

I turn to some more detailed points that concern me and, I suspect, will concern those affected by the Bill. I draw the Committee's attention to subsection (2)(b), which refers to

    ''a telephone or other machine for facilitating communication is not a gaming machine by reason only of the fact that it may be used to participate in remote gambling''.

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I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify this point, but I assume that the phrase

    ''other machine for facilitating communication''

relates to interactive television. There may be other technologies, but that is not made clear. I return to my previous point: it is a rather woolly description. Will the Minister set out exactly what the Government understand by

    ''other machine for facilitating communication''

in that context? That would be very helpful for those following our deliberations.

I turn to subsection (3). I confess that the point is slightly pedantic, and I fully own up to that trait. I am unclear whether all three conditions are required to meet the definition, or whether a combination of each of the individual sub-conditions are required. I shall explain what I mean by that in English. I noticed that where paragraph (b) says ''and'', it implies that both (b) and (c) are required to meet the definition. Do I take it that the end of paragraph (a) should also include the word ''and'', in order to mean that all three are required for the definition to be met? That is quite important because there will be a danger when people are trying to meet the conditions that they will be uncertain whether they need to meet (a), (a) with (b) and (c) or (a), (b) or (c). That is a small point—indeed, ''and'' and ''or'' are small words—but it is important in relation to people's compliance with the legislation.

I wonder whether the Minister would clarify the Government's intention in relation to subsection (4)(e). It states:

    '''domestic computer' and 'dual-use' computer shall have the meanings assigned by the Secretary of State in regulations.''

That is a pretty wide power. Given the way in which technology changes, the provision has a large scope—I shall provide an example. As I understand it, television technology such as Sky+ uses a hard drive to store received television signals.

Most of us would understand that the technology of a personal computer and such hard-drive storage equipment, which allows higher services such as interactivity, are one and the same technology. I am unclear whether there is a danger that computers that happen to have a screen and are understood to be a conventional PC may end up being regulated differently to a box with the same hard drive that happens to sit under a television. Indeed, as I understand it—and I am no expert in this field—the computer screen and the television screen may become one and the same. Far be it from me to anticipate how people will endeavour to use their computers and televisions in the future, but there is a danger that the two may be regulated differently.

I would be grateful if the Minister explained the Government's intention with regard to the Secretary of State's making regulations.

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Prepared 7 December 2004