Gambling Bill


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Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The Minister says that the new clause prevents more than eight new casinos in each of the categories. Can he explain why the word ''new'' does not appear in the new clause?

Mr. Caborn: No, I cannot, but I will look into that question when I have finished making my point.

Until Parliament decides otherwise, when the new regime comes into effect there will be a maximum of 24 new casinos in Great Britain.

Bob Russell: Does the Minister accept that, although 24 does not sound a lot numerically, the number of gaming machines that will be accommodated primarily in the super-casinos will represent an increase of something like 800 per cent. on current provision?

Mr. Caborn: I do not know whether that figure is correct when one takes into account the number of gaming machines now present in pubs, clubs and casinos. However, I accept the general point. Anybody who wants to work it out can do so because the number of gaming machines per establishment is absolutely clear. In the light of our experiences in Australia, we have tied machines either to an establishment or to the number of tables. There will be a clear link between the number of machines and the operation of gambling in this country, if the Bill is enacted. The provision is in the Bill, so anyone who wants to make a calculation they can do so.

It is a clear policy decision not to allow machines to proliferate. The hon. Gentleman is right: the issue is not purely one of casinos; the important part is how we control the number of gaming machines. That is what I believe we have done in the Bill. I do not know the actual figures, but no doubt somebody will calculate them.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Just for clarification, the provision mentions no more than eight premises per licence. Does that include existing premises, for example bingo halls and smaller casinos, converted to larger casinos, or does it refer to brand new casinos separate from existing bingo halls that want to convert to casinos?

Mr. Caborn: If my hon. Friend allows me to explain a little more, I will answer his questions and come to the point about the 130-odd casinos—there is a debate about whether the number is 135, 136, 137—plus the 24 new ones. The number is important if we are to place at the centre of the Bill the need to test what happens as the new casinos are introduced so that people are secure in the knowledge that problem gambling will not proliferate. That is at the heart of what we are doing, because, as I said in my opening
 
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remarks on the clause, we have reflected on the arguments advanced on Second Reading and on the representations made to the Government.

Until Parliament decides otherwise, there will be an absolute maximum of 24 new casinos in the new regime. That is achieved in new subsections (1), (2) and (3). Members of the Committee had some seasonal fun and the Tories started before I got to my feet talking about the figure eight and the reasons for its selection. It is a decision based on the exercise of judgment, not on any precise, irrefutable scientific process, or on going to the Library to find out what the definition of eight is. There is no mystical significance to that number. We wish there to be a reasonably large number of each type of new casino so that the impact can be assessed in a range of areas and types of location that might be suitable. We think that a limit of eight each is a reasonable number to achieve the aim while ensuring any risk of problem gambling is minimised.

Some members of the Committee said on 16 December that there was no need for concern about small and large casinos, because there are plenty operating and they present no problems at all. The Government believe that that is incorrect. Small and large casinos under this Bill will be very different from those operating now. They will be bigger and offer new combinations on a large scale. All can offer eight to 15 times the maximum number of jackpot gaming machines offered in casinos now; large casinos will be able to offer betting and bingo in addition to casino games; and small casinos will be able to offer betting. The facilities will be appreciably bigger and different from those now on offer, so we must be cautious in our approach to their development.

I have also heard it said that it is unfair that the existing casinos will not be able to benefit from the full range of commercial rights that new small and large casinos will have. Again, I think that is incorrect, even though I acknowledge the disappointment that the operators feel. The reasons for imposing a limit on the new types of casino is because of the social risk that they pose, and that is true of small and large casinos, too. We propose to test limited numbers to minimise the risk. That cannot be achieved by testing as many as 150 casinos. If we did not impose the restrictions that we have, and gave the same rights to the 136 casinos currently operating, it would bring the total of new-style small and large casinos to about 150.

If an existing casino is one of the up to 24 areas selected by the Secretary of State, it may apply to operate one of the new-style casinos like any other applicant. We also needed a comprehensive solution because we had to acknowledge the implications of setting an initial limit on the number of regional casinos. If we had not done that and did nothing to control the number of small and large casinos, there would inevitably have been a market reaction and the risk of a large overall increase in the number of casino premises.


 
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We believe that there may be social risks from the new types of small and large casinos. Because of those risks, we do not want to do anything that might promote an over-hasty expansion of casino numbers. Control of the overall number of casinos has always been one of our key concerns and is part of the reason we have acted on small and large casinos as well as regional ones. All casinos, including the existing ones, offer gambling that is acknowledged as involving high-risk activities. Therefore, the Government can never be indifferent to the number of casinos. That is as true now as it was during consideration of the 1968 Act. That is why we insisted in the Bill on high minimum sizes for new casinos and why we cannot be indifferent to the implications of constraining regional casino numbers.

Subsection (4) of the new clause requires the Secretary of State to determine by order where new casinos can be licensed. Premises licence applications to licensing authorities that have not been specified by the Secretary of State will not be allowed. To assist the Secretary of State in that decision, if the Bill gains Royal Assent we will appoint an independent advisory panel to recommend areas for regional, large and small casinos. Obviously, the members will need a range of experience in, for example, casino regulation, problem gambling and economic development issues. The advisory panel will be asked to identify a good range of types of area, with a good geographical spread across Britain. Subject to those primary criteria, the panel will be asked to choose areas in need of economic development and likely to gain regeneration benefits from a casino. It will be important for the advisory panel to take into account the broad locations being identified in the emerging work on regional spatial strategies, which we hope will become available during 2006.

10.30 am

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): The Minister is making an interesting point about where the sites will be located. Will the criteria under which the independent advisory panel operates be published? If so, at what stage? Will everybody have a clear idea of how it operates?

Mr. Caborn: The criteria will be published. The process will be open and transparent to the public. That will be laid out by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Prisk: The Minister referred to the regional spatial strategies that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is driving forward. Could he confirm that significant development and redevelopment measures may emerge because of the new casinos and, therefore, that they will have a significant and important effect on the strategies, which clearly would need to be amended? The regional spatial strategies will affect many other issues such as housing and transport, and it would be helpful if he would clarify that they will have to be amended once the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has agreed to new casinos. Does the Minister agree that the strategies would need amending?
 
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Mr. Caborn: Not necessarily. The regional spatial strategies are under consideration now and authorities will be asked to consider whether their strategy should include a regional casino. That would be quite permissible. They work very closely with the regional development agencies at regional level—such things do not stand in isolation. Consideration of the strategies includes economic development, transportation, housing and recreation, and casinos would be part of the strategy.

Mr. Prisk: The Minister will know that the east of England plan is out to consultation as we speak. Let us say that Great Yarmouth is chosen—I show no particular preference—after consultation on the plan ends in March this year. There is a danger that the plan would go forward and have to be amended after the public consultation. Can the Minister confirm that an adjustment such as a major casino in a town within the regional spatial strategy would require the strategy to be amended to reflect that significant change?

Mr. Caborn: If the plan had been out for consultation and the whole of the consultation had finished, yes. I must admit that I am not au fait with the timing of the spatial plans—as the hon. Gentleman knows, that is an ODPM matter—but I shall take his point on board. Previously, any additions to regional planning have gone out for further consultation, and I imagine that the same criteria apply. I hope that if the Bill is on the statute book before any of the spatial plans are passed by the ODPM, they can be amended in that consultation process. However, I shall take the point on board, because the east of England spatial plan will probably be the first to be put in place. I shall look at the timing and ensure that we come back with an answer.

Subsection (4) of the new clause also requires the Secretary of State to consult Scottish Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales before making decisions on the location of new casinos. Both devolved Administrations have a major role in land and economic development, as well as in local government, so it is important that they are consulted.

Subsection (8) allows the Secretary of State by order to vary the limits on the new casino categories or lift them altogether. That is what makes our new proposals a test rather than a permanent cap. We have said that the Government will ask the gambling commission to advise on the impact of the new types of casino no sooner than three years after the award of the first premises licence. We believe that such a period is necessary to ensure that a full assessment can be made. We will keep an open mind on the most appropriate moment to assess the impact. If only a couple of new casinos are open after three years or if casinos are not open in a good mix of locations, it would be foolish to try to make a decision on the basis of a small sample. We want to be sure that our decisions are based on a good spread of casino locations and types and a fair overall number. I do not say that in the expectation of any extension of the
 
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initial period, but the Government must make decisions about further expansion on the basis of firm data.

If, with the advice of the gambling commission, the Government decide to propose that it is safe to allow more casinos to be licensed, that decision will need the approval of Parliament. That is set out in subsection (8) and again reflects what Parliament said on Second Reading.

 
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