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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Gambling Bill

Gambling Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 14 December 2004


[Mr. Roger Gale in the Chair]

Gambling Bill

9.30 am

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Gale. Are we quorate? There seem to be more people on the Opposition Benches than on the Government Benches.

The Chairman: Yes. We require eight Members and I can see eight.

Clause 263

Application of sections 264 to 268

Mr. Moss: I beg to move amendment No. 368, in clause 263, page 117, line 9, leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 10 and insert 'which have a bar'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 349, in clause 263, page 117, line 9, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 388, in clause 263, page 117, line 9, after 'alcohol', insert 'or food and alcohol'.

No. 389, in clause 263, page 117, line 9, after 'alcohol', insert 'and food'.

Mr. Moss: The clause aims to grant permission for gaming machines to those premises that are currently authorised by the Gaming Act 1968 to have a full on-licence under the existing liquor licence. That licence is due to disappear on the coming into force of the Licensing Act 2003, which regulates the sale of alcohol and deals with regulated entertainment. It will be replaced by a single licence that covers the sale of alcohol and the provision of public entertainment. The Licensing Act sweeps away the old distinctions between on-licences and off-licences, part 4 licences for restaurants and the like.

Welcome as that is, it has created difficulties in the Bill because the old definitions can no longer be relied on. We are not sure that the Bill needs to reinvent the old definitions and the invention of an ''on-premises alcohol licence'' does not appear either necessary or accurate, as the Licensing Act sees no need to make such a distinction and an alcohol licence on those terms does not exist under that Act. By defining such permission as being confined to those premises licensed under the Licensing Act

    ''which are used primarily for the supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises'',

we believe that many thousands of pubs would be excluded from offering category C machines, and we do not believe that that is the Government's intention.
Column Number: 534

The Government have given the industry assurances on a number of occasions that they will preserve the existing right in the case of those who have category C machines with their alcohol licence. The explanatory notes to the legislation, however, state specifically that hotels and restaurants would not be given such a right. Hotel bars currently have the right to gaming machines when they have a full on-licence. Often such bars are open to the public and are in effect pubs. Some pubs, on the other hand, have a heavy food focus and might be regarded more as restaurants.

It might be thought somewhat strange that it would be only premises that have a heavy emphasis on drinking that would be permitted to operate gaming machines. The reason why gaming machines are allowed under those licences is that there is a licensing test for the licensee, who is qualified under the Licensing Act, and there is also a premises licence, which is regulated by the local authorities. Both those licences can be removed in case of a breach of the law or condition attached to the licence.

In effect, the Bill introduces a restriction on the provision of category C machines, for which there is no apparent justification. It would also exclude the application of grandfather rights to those pubs that are not primarily used for the consumption of alcohol. Were such a definition to persist and be applied retrospectively, many pubs would be forced to remove category C machines. The money earned from those machines would be permanently lost for many of those small businesses.

The Bill appears to create a conflict with the definition of licensed premises under the Licensing Act. That Act prohibits the entry of children under the age of 16 where the premises are used exclusively or primarily for the consumption of alcohol. The guidance to the Licensing Act, however, explains that such a limitation

    ''would not necessarily apply to many restaurants, hotels, cinemas and even many pubs where the main business activity is the consumption of both food and drink.''

Pubs could be forced into a situation whereby the only way to have gaming machines would be to ensure that the premises were used primarily for the consumption of alcohol. That would be a retrograde step, reversing the development over recent years of family-friendly environments and encouraging a return to the enclosed drinking parlours of the past.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): My hon. Friend is setting out an important point. Does he share my concern that the definition of ''primarily'' for the purposes of consuming alcohol will be difficult to enforce and could prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare for many of our local pubs?

Mr. Moss: My hon. Friend makes a good point. We had that debate when the Licensing Bill was in Committee. It is clear that the vast majority of our pubs offer food and that that is an important income-generating ingredient. We argued about the problem of those under 18 years old gaining access to the drinking areas of pubs by going to the restaurant, and we arrived at a sensible outcome. This clause throws
Column Number: 535
that outcome into sharp question. We need clarification from the Government to ensure that this Bill does not act against the interests of an existing Act of Parliament.

The definition would also exclude many hotel bars, cinema and theatre bars, and bowling alleys and similar venues that have full on-licences under the Licensing Act 1964. All those venues hold permits for category C machines, and we have been presented with no argument for their exclusion. The simple amendment would narrow the definition to those premises that serve alcoholic drinks through the use of a bar. It would not exclude existing pubs and bars or hotel bars, but it would retain the restriction that restaurants without a bar would not be entitled to gaming machines.

The Minister and the Government may argue that it would be easy for a restaurant to set up a bar and thereby qualify for category C gaming machines, but the danger of that happening is quite remote. We would argue that many restaurants are primarily for food, that the ambience of such places is not conducive in the main to having gaming machines and that when a bar and a restaurant are combined, very few gaming machines are present.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I entirely agree with the comments made by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss). I could have regaled the Committee with much of the same commentary, since we obviously have a similar briefing. I could have amplified my comments by referring to those of the all-party leisure group on the matter, and to the equally trenchant comments of the hon. Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean), who made a similar argument to that of the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire. I also could have referred to some commentary from Punch Taverns. All those individuals and organisations are deeply concerned by the language in this legislation.

The point of my rising is, first, to state that I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and secondly, to ask the Minister whether he would address the issue of grandfather rights either in response to this group of amendments or shortly thereafter, as there is an opportunity when we come to some amendments to a later clause. The Minister will be well aware that were he to go down the route that is proposed in the Bill, many pubs that raise their income predominantly through the sale of food and other services would suddenly not be entitled to the machines that they now have. That would be in marked contradiction to the Government's original thinking on the Bill. I refer particularly to a note by the Department on transitional arrangements for grandfather rights. Does the Minister wish to intervene on me for the benefit of the Committee to say whether it is his intention to address the issue now or later? If he is to do so later, I will draw my remarks to a close.

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): The hon. Gentleman has raised this issue on a number of occasions. I can confirm that a policy
Column Number: 536
statement that confirmed grandfather rights for pubs was published in February 2004 by my Department. It reads:

    ''Premises licensed for the consumption of alcohol under the Licensing Act 2003 should be entitled to continue to operate as many Category C or D gaming machines as are already authorised under those licences . . . If they wish to apply for more then they may do so''.

We will come to the point about grandfather rights later on.

Mr. Foster: There are two ways of interpreting what the Minister just said. If he is assuring me that we will discuss the issue of grandfather rights in more detail later, I am more than happy to draw to a close my remarks on the amendment that stands in my name and on others in the group. I merely say, as I began, that I entirely support the comments made by the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): I want to say a few words on the amendments in my name, which are designed to achieve exactly the same thing as those to which the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire spoke.

There is concern in the licensing industry at the prospect of a different definition for premises serving alcohol under the Bill from that in the Licensing Act. There is a concern that certain pub premises that generate a lot of income from serving food could be excluded from the terms of the Bill. So, I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to reconsider the definitions of licensed premises in order to clear up some of that confusion, and to give assurances to the licensing trade that pubs that serve food will not have to revert simply to selling alcohol to come under the provisions of the Bill.

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