Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: The hon. Lady is not quite right, so I shall explain the procedures again. To start on the road of operating a casino in this country, someone will have to get a licence from the gambling commission, which will be given to a fit and proper person in terms of their social and corporate responsibility. In parallel with that, a panel will determine where those 24 licences should be granted against criteria of regeneration and after consulting the regional development agency, regional spatial strategies and others. That panel will come to a decision for the 24 sites for regional, large and small casinos.

Miss Kirkbride: Not local.
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Mr. Caborn: Wait a minute. Against the criteria laid down, the panel will decide where those sites will be and make recommendations to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will say yes.

It is always dangerous to name names, but let us say that eight regional licences are determined for sites A, B, C, D, E, F and so on. The local authority—let us say it is Birmingham—will get a licence in its planning area. It can then invite any one of those who have received a licence from the gambling commission to make a bid. It will have laid down transparent criteria for what it wants for offering a regional casino licence to one of those bidders, who will bid against those criteria.

The local authority will have the power to give both planning permission under section 106 and a premises licence. There will be a negotiation about that. There are three separate things. The first is a licence to operate, which will come through the gambling commission. Alongside that, the panel will meet and determine against the criteria where the 24 licences ought to go. Its decision will go to the Secretary of State, who will inform the local authority that it can develop a regional casino. The local authority will have the powers relating to planning and the premises licence to be able to negotiate with those who want to bid. That is the procedure. It is quite simple, and I think it is pretty clear and transparent.

Mr. Whittingdale: I want to follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride). Is the Minister saying that, when the panel identifies the 24 areas where the casinos will go, it will specifically nominate local authority areas? In other words, if the panel decides that Chelmsford will be blessed with a regional casino, it will have to be in the borough of Chelmsford, not the district of Maldon, which is right next door.

Mr. Caborn: It will be the local authority, because it must give the planning permission and the premises licence. That local authority area, with planning permission, will be designated as the authority to invite those who want to bid to do so.

Bob Russell: Will the local authority have to apply to be considered or will it be told it has been chosen?

Mr. Caborn: I have no doubt that, in the real world that we live in, the members of the panel, who are sensible people, will get a real feel for who wants a casino. If the Lobby of the House of Commons is anything to go by, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there are a lot of contenders out there. It is amazing how many people said on Second Reading that they did not want casinos, but by God, the comments I have heard in that Lobby in the last few weeks suggest that more casinos would not be a problem. Make no mistake about it.

Mr. Page: May I give the Minister some encouragement? The process that he has outlined today is almost exactly that employed in France. The
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French Government give a specific authority the ability to grant a licence. The authority takes in the bids, finds the benefits and takes things forward.

Mr. Caborn: That is news to me. It is always interesting to know these things. We are following the French on this, but I hope they will be following us on the 2012 bid.

Mr. Foster: I agree entirely with the Minister's final remark. I want to ask again for clarification of a point raised in our deliberations just before Christmas. My understanding is that the competition will be for the premises licence—it clearly will not be for planning permission—yet in normal circumstances the planning gain comes in a deliberation in respect of the planning application. We then get into the question of section 106 agreements as amended by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

We know that, under the planning legislation, local authorities are not allowed to make excessive gain from a planning application. Therefore, this major regeneration benefit will come only through a mechanism that allows a local authority to make bids in a form beneficial to its area as part of the competition for the premises licence. Will the Minister confirm, first, that I am correct on that? Secondly, if I am, will he also confirm that his staff have checked that there will be no problems in that respect in relation to competition law?

Mr. Caborn: The answer to the last question is yes. Our lawyers say that what we are doing is absolutely within competition law. That is not to say that there will not be some gain from applying for planning permission, but, as the hon. Gentleman will readily accept, it is limited. We have introduced the premises licence, so that the true economic gain can be obtained from such a development. The two things are separate, and we have introduced the premises licence because the integrity of the planning laws must be maintained. That is why planning will be done separately. Nevertheless, there can be planning gain under section 106, although it will be limited in scope. The real economic gain could be achieved by the premises licence.

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Mr. Jones: Could I not apply for planning permission without having a premises licence? What would the criteria be for a local authority, if, for example, I set up a company but did not have a premises licence and wanted to apply for planning permission? It seems that there is nothing to stop anyone doing that. As part of the process, will the council have to designate the site in advance, or will it just be a geographical area? I can envisage a situation in which people will appeal against refusal of planning permission for perfectly legitimate projects that meet planning regulations, on the grounds that they do not have a premises licence.
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Mr. Caborn: If anyone wants to apply for planning permission for anything, they can do so—if they are daft enough to spend a lot of money doing something that they know will not materialise, they can apply for planning permission. Indeed, there are local authorities that have granted planning permission for casinos in the full knowledge that a licence will be needed to operate them. I have said before that I think every football club—certainly every premier division and every first division football club—and many rugby clubs have already been examining development in terms of casinos. They are entitled to do that, but that does not necessarily relate to what I am doing in terms of putting legislation on to the statute book.

Mr. Jones: I would not be daft if I applied for planning permission, because if it was granted I would have a marketable commodity with an actual value to a whole range of operators who would potentially have licences. I do not accept that the two can be knitted together as the Bill envisages.

Mr. Caborn: We can debate this, but the local authority may decide that it does not want such development in a particular area, because it will not deliver the regeneration that it wants. It might be more selective in relation to a site where the premises licence is conditioned not by planning but by economic gain. The authority might say, ''You asked for planning permission for that site and we have given it to you, but that is not our preferred site. Our preferred site is this one for these reasons.'' It is entitled to do that with the premises licence.

Mr. Hawkins: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Caborn: Yes, but I want to finish speaking to the new clause.

Mr. Hawkins: The Minister was critical of organisations such as rugby and football clubs that have already put in planning applications. However, they did so because they believed all the promises that the Government had made up to and including Second Reading, before their series of massive U-turns. Those organisations were not being stupid; their only stupidity was in believing that the Government would follow through on what they had been saying for months, throughout the scrutiny Committee process and through the passage of the legislation until midway through the Standing Committee proceedings, when they went into reverse.

The hon. Member for North Durham, with all his experience of the local authority world, clearly takes the same view as me, that developers quite frequently change the goalposts in the middle of a negotiation and hold pistols to the head of a local authority. Would it not therefore be a much greater guarantee of regeneration, instead of leaving the whole issue to be negotiated between the potential operators and local authorities, the Government included a specific
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mechanism in the Bill that gave the local authority the opportunity to get those regenerative benefits? That would put the local authorities in a much stronger negotiating position to guarantee those benefits.

The Chairman: Order. The Minister said when he gave way that he wanted to finish speaking to the new clause. I recognise that we are discussing an important point, but hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate the new clause when the Minister has finished. I will therefore support the Minister if he resists giving way too many times.

Mr. Caborn: To answer the last intervention, if anything has put local authorities in a stronger negotiating position it is the limitation to eight regional, eight large and eight small casinos. There is no doubt that it is a seller's market. I cannot tell local authorities what to do, but I have every confidence that they will be able to extract what they want from the process. The key point is that the casino operator will have to convince the local authority that its proposals are the best for the community, having regard to the authority's stated objectives. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham was concerned about that point, but I hope that I have reassured him and that my explanation of the system will also reassure members of the Committee who are concerned about the risk of legal challenges to local authorities. The Bill will give authorities a foundation to run a competition on the basis of benefits to their areas. As long as local authorities act reasonably, they will have wide discretion to seek benefits for their areas.

The proposals offer a balanced and cautious approach to the introduction of the new legislative framework for casinos. They represent a significant shift from our position on Second Reading. That shift has happened because we have listened. On Second Reading, hon. Members on both sides of the House asked us to put in place a stricter regime. We have done that in a way that puts public protection above all other interests, whether commercial or those of local authorities. The proposals allow us to secure economic and regeneration benefits while ensuring that we can maintain Britain's good record on problem gambling.

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