Gambling Bill

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Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): May I ask the Minister about two points? First, will he repeat what he said about B2 machines? There was some confusion earlier as to whether FOBTs could be used in premises licensed for betting other than betting shops Secondly, he acknowledged earlier in his deliberations, and has repeated again today, that there is little evidence concerning category D machines to date, and more research is needed. Can he explain why, without any detailed final convincing research, the Government are making the major change of reducing the prize limit for those machines from £8 to £5?

Mr. Caborn: I will go through all the questions that were asked and give answers. A question was asked about category A machines and small and large casinos. We rejected the recommendation from the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee for very good reasons. It was clear on Second Reading that access to category A machines was of real concern to the House and the public; that concern manifested itself during the debate. That is why we reacted as we did and limited the number of regional casinos to eight. If we had not done that, there would have been real problems in returning to the House with a Bill. It would, therefore, be ludicrous to accept eight regional

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casinos, but then to allow 130 casinos that already operate on our high streets to have category A machines as well. Indeed, we believe that we responded properly to the public mood and that is why we limited the number of regional casinos to eight and limited category A machines to those eight regional casinos.

2.45 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath) (Con): Because of my commitments to a Select Committee, I did not hear the latter part of this morning's proceedings, but I want to comment on what the Minister has just said and to ask him if I understood him correctly. He seemed to be eliding what the Government said on Second Reading with their subsequent U-turn on eight casinos. On Second Reading, they argued the opposite of what they more recently argued when making their U-turn in Committee. Is the Minister adopting the scrutiny Committee's report, or is he saying that, following the Government's huge U-turn, the scrutiny Committee was wrong? Which is it?

Mr. Caborn: What I am saying is simple. There was a debate in the House. My Secretary of State said clearly in the House and in public that if there was a force of evidence to suggest that we had not got it right, we would reflect on that, and we did. Sometimes, we have to be big boys and return to school to tell pupils in the school yard what we have done. I make no apology for that, because that is democracy. When the House spoke, it spoke positively. Some of my hon. Friends were concerned about the matter and we reacted to that. There is nothing wrong with doing that in a democracy. We have done it; we are big enough; we have come back; that is what we have done. I hope that we now have agreement across all parties.

Mr. Moss: I rise as a bully in the school yard.

Mr. Caborn: I never mentioned the word ''bully''.

Mr. Moss: The implication was there. I am puzzled by some of the logic. The Government rejected the scrutiny Committee's recommendation on category A machines in existing small and large casinos months ago and before Second Reading. At that time, the Government had in mind 20 to 40 regional casinos, each with 1,250 category A machines. To repeat what I said this morning, that could mean a maximum of around 50,000 category A machines. The Minister was correct in that he and his colleagues responded to the arguments on Second Reading, the press campaign and the reaction in the country to such a large number of regional casinos, but the Government were happy to reject category A machines in ordinary existing casinos when it was contemplating 50,000 machines elsewhere. Now they have changed their tune to eight regional casinos and a reduced number of, say, 10,000 category A machines. Why would the extra 900 machines that we are proposing should go into small and large casinos on a proportional basis cause any difficulty whatever?

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Mr. Caborn: I go back to the earlier argument that we want to control the number of category A machines in regional casinos, whether there are eight or 20 of them. That was the Government's position. We responded to concerns about the number of regional casinos. If we accede to the suggestions that have been made, we would be extending the provision on category A machines to the 130 casinos that are already operational. We are not prepared to accept that.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Have there been any representations from the American backers of regional casinos who do not want existing UK casinos to have category A machines?

Mr. Caborn: Not to me; I would not accept such representations. If they have been made to other Committee members, so be it, but as far as I am concerned the answer is a categorical no.

FOBTs—category B2 machines—are already in betting shops, and that was an agreement with the industry. We said that that was a probation arrangement and it still is. The hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire mentioned the report. I have not seen it, but it is in my Department. My officials have a copy of it and I believe that they went to a seminar on it some time last week. Hopefully I will receive it in the next few days.

Mr. Foster: Just to get the flow of things right, the Minister will see that I tabled a parliamentary question about this very issue. Perhaps he can answer it now to save a lot of time for officials. Will he assure the Committee that, once he has read the report—I accept that he says that he has not yet read it—he will place copies in the Library of the House and make them available to members of the Committee?

Mr. Caborn: Yes, although the report will probably be in every betting shop, because it is not just our property. It is the ABB's property, as well as ours. I have no doubt that it will be in every betting shop and the Library of the House of Commons, so all the informed people will be able to read it.

On the decision on the B2s, and why they are not in the bingo halls, at the moment bingo halls can have four machines with a payout of £250, but they will be able to have four machines with a payout of £500. That is a new promotional opportunity. I am talking not about FOBTs, but about category B3 machines with a payout of £500. They have the same maximum prize money of £500, but the stake is different. Why? It is because there is hard gambling in betting shops; if someone wants to put thousands of pounds on horses, they can do so. There is a difference between where hard gambling and where softer gambling take place, which is why we believe that category B3 machines—with a £1 stake and a maximum payout of £500—are right for bingo halls, and FOBTs are right for betting shops. FOBTs will also be allowed in large and small casinos: 150 in the large and 80 in the small. I think that was what the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) was referring to.

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The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) asked in great detail who had paid for the research that is being done. Earlier there was some suggestion that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport may have put a few bob into it. It did not. It was paid for in totality from outside, although—

Mr. Page: I would hate the Minister to run away with the idea that I suggested that the DCMS put any money in at all. It was the industry that put the money in to work out the code of conduct for those particular machines.

Mr. Caborn: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said, he would know that there was an hon. Member earlier in the debate who said that he thought that the DCMS had put some money in.

Mr. Moss: It was me, guv.

Mr. Caborn: I made it clear that the ABB paid for that out of the small profits that its members made.

Mr. Moss: Now that this has become public I must make a grovelling apology to the ABB for even suggesting that the DCMS put one penny into its research.

Mr. Caborn: Miracles take a little longer, if I may say so. I reiterate for the record that we did not provide any of the money.

On the important question of time, as has been indicated, we propose to restrict the prevalence studies to two over a six-year period. Therefore, there will be a prevalence study every two to three years and change will not be possible until six years after implementation. That was clearly known during pre-legislative scrutiny.

Mr. Page: I have a simple question for the Minister: has he ever run a business? Does he really think that people can hang on for six years waiting for the Government finally to make up their mind? That is an incredible admission.

Mr. Caborn: Is it a matter of making one's mind up? I do not think so. It is a matter of having the advice and information with which to make an objective judgment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows about medium and long-term strategies. All I am saying is that there is concern in the House, and Members wanted to run, in the words of one hon. Member, pilot studies. We have responded to that. Such studies need time to bed down. Once the results are known, the House will decide whether it wants to proceed with any further regional, large or small casinos. We made that very clear. Opposition Members asked us to do that. We have provided that lock, and the final decision will rest with Parliament. That is what people asked for; that is what we responded to; and that is what I announced when I said that we would limit the number to eight casinos.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): I also listened to that admission with great concern. Will the Minister respond in a positive tone to this request? If it becomes clear from representations made by the

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industry that the provision is having an onerous and undue effect on the industry, will the Minister consider them seriously and decide whether the Government are able to respond? Six years is a worryingly long period. Returning to this morning's discussion of owner-managers, this measure might be the difference between them having a successful business in the future or not.

 
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