Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: I have some sympathy with the amendment. The hon. Gentleman wants to ensure that applicants are able to have their say, as is absolutely right, if an authority proposes to turn down an application. We want that too, and the paragraph already gives all applicants the right to be heard in those circumstances.

However, in our view the authorities need some discretion over what form representations should take. In exercising discretion, authorities will have to consider the rules of natural justice anyway. In some circumstances an applicant may well be able to make his case effectively in writing, without any damage being done to the fairness of the proceedings. Therefore, we want the assessment to be carried out by the authority, which will be in possession of all the facts relating to each application. The authority will be able best to determine whether an oral hearing or written submissions are appropriate. Therefore, I am afraid that I cannot agree with the amendment.

The same has to be said about amendment No. 323. As it stands, the Bill would treat all applicants fairly and give them the necessary rights. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. An applicant may—dare I say it—not be terribly literate or capable of a making written submission, even though they are running an extremely profitable and sound business. As I understand the paragraph, the local authority has discretion, as the Minister rightly said, in determining what form of representation the applicant should make. In very rare circumstances, an applicant might be embarrassed at having to submit a written application. Getting that done by someone else might cost extra money, but the applicant would be more than able to give an oral representation in support of their application.

I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division, but there may well be circumstances in which, in the interests of natural justice, the applicant should be given the benefit of the doubt and be able to
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choose. In the light of what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.15 am

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 317, in schedule 8, page 166, line 32, at end insert

    'and there has been a material change in circumstance since the original granting of the permit'.

The amendment relates to paragraph 18(4)(b) of schedule 8, which deals with the renewals of permits for gaming machines and contains the second ground for refusal—

    ''that renewal would not be reasonably consistent with pursuit of the licensing objectives.''

Our amendment would add to that the words

    ''and there has been a material change in circumstance since the original granting of the permit.''

It is felt that there should be a presumption that provided that an application has been granted initially, the circumstances when the initial grant was made should be deemed to be consistent with the licensing objectives. It could be inequitable if a licensing authority were entitled to re-interpret the same set of circumstances and judged them to be inconsistent with the licensing objectives. We are attempting with our amendment to clarify that situation should it arise.

Mr. Caborn: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is trying to give some extra reassurance to the amusement machines industry. We have already agreed, in earlier proceedings, that family entertainment centres throughout the country are well run and offer real entertainment for families. No doubt the vast majority of family arcades will never cause concerns that might give the licensing authority reason to refuse the renewal of their permit. However, paragraph 18(4) allows for those unusual circumstances where the FEC was no longer run responsibly. In such circumstances it is right to refuse renewal.

The grounds for refusal are clear. The licensing authority has to provide evidence that allowing the FEC to continue operating will involve some threat to the licensing objectives. Not only are those grounds clear, they are constrained. The authority cannot refuse to renew a permit on a whim or fancy.

A case that might merit refusal could, for example, be based on evidence that the permit holder was encouraging children to play machines excessively, perhaps during school hours. Such evidence would have to involve a material change in the circumstances since the time of the application, otherwise the permit would not have been granted in the first place.

I hope that with that explanation the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Mr. Moss: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, on the basis of which I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Eighth schedule to the Bill.
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Mr. Moss: Under paragraph 12—''Duration''—permits are effectively handed out for a 10-year period. I should like clarification that that is replicating the existing period under the Gaming Act 1968 and the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976.

Paragraph 15 deals with the lapsing of a permit. The words

    ''A permit held by an individual shall lapse if . . . he dies''

or she dies, are fine, but sub-paragraph (2) says:

    ''In any other case a permit shall lapse if the holder—ceases to exist''.

I am not sure what that means. Why not ''dies''? Of course, the holder might be a company. I should like clarification that that is what the Minister was alluding to.

Mr. Caborn: Yes, 10 years, but it can be longer. The current minimum is three years, but it can also be longer. The phrase ''ceases to exist'' covers companies, not individuals.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 8, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 232

No prize

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

Mr. Moss: I have a quick comment. The clause deals with no prizes, and states that:

    ''A person does not commit an offence under section 34 or 226 if—

    ''(a) he makes a gaming machine available for use by an individual, and

    (b) the individual does not, by using the machine, acquire an opportunity to win a prize.''

Clause 34 deals with providing facilities or premises for gambling of one kind or another, and clause 226 deals with making a machine available for use. I cannot think of a situation where clause 232 might pertain, and I would be interested to know what it deals with, and why a clause of this nature is necessary.

Mr. Caborn: I think the relevant game would be pinball machines.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 232 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 233 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 234

Single-machine supply and maintenance permits

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

Mr. Moss: I have another couple of quick questions. Subsection (3)(e) states that an application for machine supply and maintenance permits must

    ''be accompanied by the prescribed fee'',

and a later subsection states that the Secretary of State will set those prescribed fees by regulations. Under existing legislation, are fees required, and if so what is the order of those fees, or are we introducing new fees here—is this a new concept, and a new charge on
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businesses? If these fees are new fees to be set down by the Secretary of State by regulations at some future date, do the Government have any idea of what the scale will be of these fees that will be required to accompany the application?

I am also a bit confused about subsection (6). We have just been talking about permits for up to 10 years, and possibly three years in the main, and yet subsection (6)(a) refers to

    ''a period, not exceeding one year, during which it has effect''.

Perhaps I have missed something, but I am puzzled about that reference to one year, when elsewhere we are talking about permits for three years and 10 years.

Mr. Caborn: I shall give an explanation of the clause first, as that might give my officials time to find the answer to the hon. Gentleman's questions. I hope he will bear with me.

The clause provides a special permit procedure for people who want to supply, repair, install or maintain a single gaming machine, not as part of a commercial gaming machine business but, for example, because they collect antique machines. The clause sets out the details of how the application can be made to the gambling commission.

The commission may grant an application only if it is satisfied that the licensing objectives are irrelevant to the activity for which the permit is sought. That replicates permits that are currently issued by the Gaming Board to individuals outside the gambling industry who have single machines that they wish to dispose of or repair. That appears to work without any problems, so we have preserved it in the Bill. It would be an entirely unnecessary regulatory burden to force people with a single machine to apply for an operating licence.

I will now address the hon. Gentleman's questions. Yes, fees are required; this is not a new concept. However, collectors of antique machines will not be charged, but that exemption will not affect many people.

The hon. Gentleman's last point was about fees.

Mr. Moss: It was on dealing with different permits.

Mr. Caborn: In light of what the hon. Gentleman said, I would prefer to reflect on the matter and give a precise answer in writing to the Committee.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about one-year permits. They are one-year permits because they are for just one machine.

I shall reflect on the point about fees and write to members of the Committee to let them know exactly what the interpretation is.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 234 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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