Family Entertainment Centre Gaming Machine Permits
Amendment made: No. 171, in schedule 8, page 163, line 16, at end insert
'except that, in paragraph 5(d) it means, where the application is made to a licensing authority in Scotland, prescribed by regulations made by the Scottish Ministers.'.—[Mr. Caborn]
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 311, in schedule 8, page 163, line 38, leave out 'may' and insert
'shall, after consultation with—
(a) one or more persons who appear to represent local authorities,
(b) one or more persons who appear to represent chief constables of police forces,
(c) one or more persons who appear to represent the interests of persons carrying on relevant gambling businesses which will be affected,
(d) one or more persons who have knowledge about social problems relating to gambling,
(e) to such extent and in such manner as appropriate, members of the public,'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:
No. 312, in schedule 8, page 163, line 39, leave out 'propose to' and insert 'shall'.
No. 313, in schedule 8, page 163, line 40, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
No. 314, in schedule 8, page 164, line 2, leave out
'need not (but may) have regard to'
and insert 'shall follow'.
No. 315, in schedule 8, page 164, line 3, leave out 'have regard to' and insert 'follow'.
No. 320, in schedule 11, page 189, line 19, leave out
'need not (but may) have regard to'
and insert 'shall comply with'.
No. 321, in schedule 11, page 189, line 20, leave out 'shall have regard to' and insert 'shall comply with'.
No. 322, in schedule 11, page 189, line 21, at end insert—
'(4) The licensing authority shall ensure that the statement of principles does not in any way conflict with the licensing objectives or guidance issued by the Commission.'.
Mr. Moss: Welcome back to the Chair, Mr. Pike. Amendment No. 311 lists the parties that we think ought to be involved in the consultation before the licensing authority prepares its statement of principles to apply when exercising its functions under the
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schedule. Those whom we think ought to be involved include
''one or more persons who appear to represent local authorities'',
which would probably include some local councillors. The best people would be members or representatives of the licensing committee. We also think that the following people should be involved:
''one or more persons who appear to represent chief constables of police forces''—
in other words, some of the local police;
''one or more persons who appear to represent the interests of persons carrying on relevant gambling businesses which will be affected'',
which is straightforward;
''one or more persons who have knowledge about social problems relating to gambling'';
''to such extent and in such manner as appropriate, members of the public''.
As I said, we have included, in sub-paragraph (1)(d), people who have knowledge about social problems relating to gambling. We have been approached by representatives of Churches and groups who think that they ought to have an input at some stage, particularly at a local level, on how the matters will impact on protection of young people and the vulnerable. Before the statement of principles is formulated, full consultation ought to take place with all those people referred to in the amendment.
Amendment No. 312 would replace the words ''propose to'' in line 39 with ''shall'', and amendment No. 313 would replace ''may'' in line 40 with ''shall''. It is critical that the basis on which decisions about applications are made is clearly set out and unambiguous. That will enable applicants to understand what is required of them in order to comply with their permits. Let us remind ourselves that any breach of that permit would make an individual liable to conviction of an offence under clause 30, without defence. It is essential that the requirements are set out clearly in the Bill not only for that reason, but to achieve compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. In addition, the Budd report specified that the principles under which local authorities should act should be set down unambiguously to ensure uniformity and consistency of regulation. Those safeguards should be enshrined in the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 314 and 315 would also firm up the words in the Bill. Sub-paragraph (3) states:
''In exercising their functions under this Schedule a licensing authority—
(a) need not (but may) have regard to the licensing objectives''.
That is far too sloppy and weak. By taking out the words
''need not (but may) have regard to''
and replacing them with ''shall follow'', amendment No. 314 would leave us with a clear statement of intent, which would strengthen the Bill. We feel that if the licensing objectives are important, the licensing
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authority ought to take them into account in issuing permits.
Amendments Nos. 320 and 321 are consequential amendments which would take the same wording and replace it with the words ''shall follow'' in schedule 11. I need not deal with that any further. Amendment No. 322, which again relates to schedule 11, would insert a new sub-paragraph (4), which reads:
''The licensing authority shall ensure that the statement of principles does not in any way conflict with the licensing objectives or guidance issued by the Commission.''
We would expect common sense to prevail in such matters, and licensing authorities should not do anything contrary to the gambling commission's views, but including the requirement in the Bill would make it clear and unambiguous that nothing that the licensing authority does in relation to the permits should run counter to the clear aims of the commission.
Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): You may recall, Mr. Pike, that during our last sitting I spent a little time going through all the ''mays'' that would allow the Secretary of State to introduce regulations. I said at the time:
''I do not know why we are even bothering to debate the Bill. Why does the Bill not simply say, 'The Secretary of State may, by regulation, determine what is going to happen'? Then we could all go home.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 7 December 2004; c. 448]
It appears that this malaise is catching because the Government now want to introduce ''may'' back into the provisions relating to the licensing authority—the licensing authority ''may'' prepare a statement of principles. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) that that uncertainty should be completely removed from this part of the Bill. Surely one of its most important aspects is to ensure correct and proper licensing. We need to see exactly how it will all operate, not whether the authority ''may'' draw up a statement of principles.
Earlier on in the Committee's deliberations, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) spent some time on the question of rowdy clubs in Guildford. He pressed the matter to a Division, in which the Government were not minded to vote with him. I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend because I know that particular stretch of high street, which has a string of clubs, and on Friday or Saturday nights it can be very ''exciting''—the police are frequently present. My hon. Friend asked what would happen if one of those clubs were to apply for a licence to run a casino.
The bodies that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire has detailed in amendment No. 311 should be consulted so that it is clearly understood that the licensing of any casino has been checked and vetted by all the bodies with an interest in ensuring that it is a proper and fitting place in which to run such an operation. My hon. Friend was very good about not wanting to take up too much of the Committee's time, so he did not go through each of the individual bodies and their relevance.
However, we all know that if a local councillor is worth their salt, they will know what is going on in
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their area and will know the places that look likely to apply for licences. Surely to goodness they should be consulted. Surely the police, too, should be consulted. They are in the area, they know the type of people who go to the various places and, probably, whether those making the application are fit and proper people to hold a licence. It is only right, too, that those who understand the social problems relating to gambling should be involved in the licensing of any gambling establishment. Those of us on the scrutiny Committee visited GamCare and other organisations interested in and concerned with the social problems caused by gambling. Surely those people should be consulted on whether an establishment is the right and proper place to be given a licence.
Turning to the issue of fair play, those people who are interested in gambling should be consulted on whether the application that is being made is proper and whether it is being correctly treated.
When one considers the whole body of opinion that should be consulted, it is absolutely right that we should change the word in the clause from ''may'' to ''shall''. That way everyone would know where they stand. I do not say to the Minister that every one of the phraseologies and titles in my hon. Friend's amendment is perfect. The Minister may wish to shave them and produce a more polished wording; nevertheless, it is absolutely right that a licensing authority ''shall'' prepare a statement of principles. My hon. Friend has done an excellent job in preparing the basis of such a statement of principles. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on the subject.