Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: On that specific point, the commission already has a duty to give advice to the Secretary of State. That is laid down in clause 25, so there is no need to add that power in part 10. The commission has to give advice to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament, so there is that link. The Government account to Parliament; we did so yesterday in Question Time and would do if brought before the House on other issues. There are ways of scrutinising the Executive, including a requirement that the commission report to the Executive—to the Secretary of State—as laid down in clause 25. Therefore, the commission will be accountable to Parliament. In making regulations, the commission must have due regard to many of the provisions detailing its powers. I therefore believe that reporting works.

I return to a point made earlier—the problem that we had in deciding the scope of the definition, which is probably close to being the core of the Bill. The definition is deliberately drawn wide. The operators will have to get out of that definition. At the moment, the problem is that the definition is too tight, so there is the potential for abuse. The clause is about having a broad definition; it is also about accountability and it aims to bring clarity to the issue. We will do that by regulation.

Mr. Page: I go along with everything that the Minister says, but does he not accept that, particularly when it comes to subsection (5), the Secretary of State can take decisions and actions without advice from the gambling commission? There is an independence about the position, but we want it linked to the commission's advice and direction. We do not want the Secretary of State to go off and do something to achieve some other end.

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Mr. Caborn: Subsection (5) says:

    ''Regulations under subsection (4)(e) may, in particular, make provision by reference to''.

So, the Secretary of State will have to refer to subsection (4)(e), which refers to domestic and dual-use computers. We are talking about a specific area.

If we want to future-proof the clause, we have to include such wording. If we did not want to future-proof it, we would not include that wording. So the balance of the argument of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, of the Budd report and of ''A Safe Bet for Success'' was an attempt to get consensus on how much power we give the Secretary of State and the gambling commission to future-proof regulations and to protect the punter. If one wants to continue down the path of narrowing the definition, there will be consequences.

10 am

Mr. Page: We are not trying to disagree with that. We are just trying to make the point that we would like any decision-making process to be coterminous with advice from the gambling commission. A Secretary of State—trustworthy though they all are—should not go roaring ahead in their own direction. I would like the Minister's assurance on that.

Mr. Caborn: The Secretary of State will always look to the gambling commission for advice on gaming machines regulations and there is no need to provide for specific consultation. The commission will be the regulator; it is the expert and it is the body that will advise Government. It will not just advise the Secretary of State but the industry as well. The hon. Gentleman is being a little pedantic and theoretical, which is out of character because he usually takes a more broad-brush and common-sense approach. It is a common-sense approach that one needs, rather than acting like one is in the Oxford debating society. However, that may be because it is Tuesday morning.

I shall go through some of the points raised. On the question of betting on virtual events, the scope of clause 219 is betting, gaming and lotteries. That includes fixed-odds betting terminals, although subsection (2) carves out certain types of activities, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledges. ''Dual use'' means the sort of computers used in business, whether in the office or in legitimate internet cafes. The definition in subsection 2(b) covers interactive television. That has been confirmed with parliamentary counsel. It covers all equipment for communication and we intended the definition to be broad.

The requirements in subsection (3) are cumulative. We do not believe that an additional ''and'' is necessary, but we will confirm that with parliamentary counsel. The powers in subsection 4(e) need to cope with a number of complex scenarios and can cope with digital television.

Mr. Prisk: May I clarify one point? Does the Minister mean that the word ''and'' should be inserted at the end of subsection (3)(a)? In other words, are the three conditions required together? The way that it is written suggests that that is not the case.

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Mr. Caborn: No, we do not think that ''and'' is needed, as I said.

With regard to subsection (5)(d), we must be able to take account of computers in public places with dedicated gambling software. That is to make sure that we catch the right sort of computers.

Mr. Prisk: I must confess that I was just double checking and I may have missed the point. Perhaps the Minister would guide me: where in the Bill or the explanatory notes is the term ''dual-use computer''?

Mr. Caborn: Subsection (2)(a).

Mr. Prisk: What does it mean?

Mr. Caborn: It means that the machine is in a public place. The regulations need to cover such matters as whether the machine is in a public place, whether there are links on the computer to gaming sites and whether there are posters advertising gambling. Therefore, the powers must be wide, which is why we have drafted them in such a way.

Mr. Prisk: I am grateful to the Minister for responding to several points, but that last sentence muddied the water. I do not think that he clarified the apparent danger of the distinctive regulation of computers and of interactive television. It being early on Tuesday morning, I may have misheard the last point about posters advertising gaming. I did not quite understand what that meant or its context.

Mr. Caborn: Much of that will be covered in regulations; it will not be in the Bill. We are setting out the scope. There will be many such areas. The means will be defined in regulation. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the definition of dual use is computer use for more than just gambling. When we bring out regulations, a number of those areas will be clarified and I hope that we will be able to communicate that to people so that we can remove some of the uncertainty that he and the industry are concerned about. We believe that we have got right the scope of the Bill and what has been included in it. We believe that the accountability that has been laid out is right. However, we realise that further information is needed. That will be dealt with in regulations, which should remove that uncertainty and provide the clearer definitions that the hon. Gentleman has been asking for.

Mr. Prisk: I do not want to stretch your patience too far, Mr. Gale, but I am still unclear about that last element. I just wanted the Minister to confirm what he said and what it meant. Presumably it is something to do with an indication that the machine has a particular function that is regulated—I am working off the cuff. Will he clarify what he meant by his concluding point in his last but one contribution? I do not understand where that point came in. I am clearer now on the question of dual use, in the sense that we are talking not about domestic versus business, but about whether the use is domestic or public. That has been clarified, but I really did not understand the point that he made two speeches ago, when he wound up by saying

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something about the presence of posters advertising the machines. Will he clarify that now or perhaps in due course?

Mr. Caborn: If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and to other members of the Committee about advertising and those definitions. I hope that we have demonstrated that we are trying to take those wider powers and define them in regulations. There will be accountability to the House through the structures that I have outlined. I will write to him on the points that he wants further clarification on.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): I have been listening to this debate with interest. Will the Minister undertake to write to all members of the Committee and not just to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford, because we are all interested?

Mr. Caborn: Yes.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 219 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 220

Gaming machines: Categories A to D

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 276, in clause 220, page 101, line 45, after 'sub-categories', insert

    'including a sub-category dealing with linked machines (as defined in section 228) to be known as Category B*'.

This clause is one of the most important in the Bill. There has already been some discussion—I think that it was under clause 163—relating to the categorisation of the various gaming machines, as that was the first area of the Bill where those issues were raised. The amendment relates to clause 220(2)(a), which states:

    ''divide Category B into sub-categories''.

I do not want to rehearse the arguments that I will be deploying later in the context of clause 228, which deals with linked machines. This is a consequential amendment that introduces in an earlier place in the Bill the concept that linked machines perhaps ought to be considered differently, whether they are category Bs or any other category, although this amendment is concerned specifically with category B. That would ensure that operators could not move the categories up and down if they were to link different categories either within the same unit or elsewhere.

This consequential amendment introduces the concept of a sub-category if machines, particularly category B machines, are linked in the same premises or elsewhere. It ensures that, if we are to have strict categorisation, we can prevent people from being able to link Cs with Bs, Bs with As and so on, because such practice would undermine the whole concept of categorisation in the first place.

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