Gambling Bill

[back to previous text]

Bob Russell: The hon. Gentleman is obviously well briefed and well informed on the subject. Would he like to suggest why the Government have ignored all that advice and gone down the route that they have taken?

Mr. Moss: We have been trying for weeks to get that out of the Government, but with no success. The Minister will have an opportunity to answer that important question in a few minutes.
Column Number: 752

Mr. Caborn: If I ever get to my feet.

Mr. Moss: I will give the Minister time in a minute. He need not panic; I am nearly there.The Government set great store by the fact that they listened carefully to the opposition that came from their Back Benchers on Second Reading and subsequently. Before Christmas, the hon. Member for North Durham told us that he held a quick consultation in the Tea Room with those Labour Members whom he thought were against the proliferation of regional casinos on Second Reading. According to his straw poll, none showed any opposition to large and small casinos developing as everyone expected them to. He said today that he did not think Labour Back Benchers had any idea of the fact that eight, eight and eight had been proposed, let alone had a view on it.

I throw this gauntlet down to the Government; if the reason for the proposal is genuinely opposition from Labour Back Benchers, why do the Government not write to them tomorrow? They should put the proposals to them and ask them to say whether they are in favour of the cap on large and small casinos, or whether they are not fussed about it. The Government will not do that, of course, because they know that the answer would be, ''What's the problem?''. There is no great tidal wave of opposition to large and small casinos developing as the scrutiny Committee and the industry expected.

4.15 pm

If the Government really want to test all the proposals under the new legislation, why not have a proper test? Why not include the existing industry, rather than ignore it? Why not have category A machines distributed around the system? If that is a problem for the Government, they should come up with a sensible cap. If few small casinos will be built under the present arrangements, it is pointless to nominate eight, because the investment will not be made in the initial phase.

The Minister admitted today that under the proposals that we are discussing all eight of the regional, all eight of the small and all eight of the large casinos could be located in the same region. I cannot believe that they will be, but there is no built-in geographical distribution. The statement on national policy says, loosely, that the panel will be set up to consider the geographical spread of locations throughout Britain and that it is supposed to consider a good range of types of location. However, in the same breath as it mentions locations, it also mentions areas: which is it to be? There is a difference between an area and a location. If those are the same, the statement should use the same word. The job given to the panel is difficult and, without proper guidelines, almost impossible. Why set up an intermediary? The Government could easily do the job. There are only 24 locations for three types of casino—it is not rocket science, for goodness sake. Why set up an expensive panel that will take time to deliberate, and even when it has done so who is to believe that it has found the right results?

Column Number: 753
The market has a clear idea of where it wants to put its money in casinos; it has threshold populations. Most of our cities will have a large or small casino and the big conurbations will, no doubt, get the regionals. Trust the market. If the market wants to carry out a proper test, let there be one, with category A machines involved across the board, and let it be measured, albeit with a cap imposed for a period. However, the Government are skewing things in one direction. I believe that there is an American overseas investment that is, not blackmailing the Government, but saying, ''Look, if you do not restrict the investment in opposition to us or in competition with us, do not expect us to come in if there are only eight locations to look at.'' That has not come out and no doubt the Minister will never admit it, but that it must be an ingredient. If not, it is difficult to understand why the Government have come up with the triple-eight figure.

We will not oppose the clause. There is little point in doing so, because we will lose the vote. The debate has been good and has strongly questioned the Government's proposed solution to their difficulties. We will table amendments on Report and continue to argue for a level playing field and a sensible, pragmatic, easy way forward, rather than the over-complicated mish-mash before us.

How many Committee members have asked in this debate, ''Where is the consultation with the industry?'' Consultation ceased at the end of the scrutiny Committee's second report, since when there has been no consultation or discussion with the industry in this country. It is no surprise to me that the Government have got themselves into a mess; they have not consulted. If they cannot carry the industry with them, they should not expect to carry Members of the other place, because they will not sign off bad legislation.

Miss Kirkbride rose—

The Chairman: Order. I will call the hon. Lady, but she has been in the House long enough to know that it is customary to hear the entire speech before rising to speak, particularly when the Chair has called the Front-Bench spokesmen.

Miss Kirkbride: I am grateful to you for your calling me to speak, Mr. Gale. I did not realise that the Committee would sit for as long as it has done and I had to pop out for an engagement, for which I apologise.

I wish to put on the record my opposition to the Government's proposals. It was obvious when we started that the Government had got it wrong in wanting a free market. They listened to the House, for which they should be congratulated, but in doing that and seeking to fix the problem as they have, it was inevitable that they would end up facing the chorus of opposition that they have heard today. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) that it would be difficult for the Government to get the Bill through the House given the level of opposition that they are encountering, even from their own Back Benchers. It
Column Number: 754
is certainly unfair to the domestic industry at present, and it is hard to understand why the Government wish to disadvantage the domestic industry by creating 24 new casinos with so much more marketing power available to them when there seems to be no good reason for so doing.

The issue before the House is regional casinos and the different type of gaming that they will introduce. Why the Government have sought to make life even more complicated with a further 16 casinos, large and small, is beyond me. I very much fear the Government will do what they planned to do all along, which is to delay proceedings at this point by saying that they will look at what has happened in the light of experience three years down the road. We are not sure when the three years start. Do they start at the point at which planning permission is given, or when the casinos are built? We do not know how many casinos have to be built before the Government will ask the relevant committee to investigate whether they have been a success and whether they should be allowed to extend. As I said earlier, I smell a rat. Action will be taken as quickly as possible on the basis of as little evidence as possible and the conclusion will be that we should have as many as possible and, in that way, the Government will get to where they started from in the first place. Whatever reassurances the Minister gives now, we do not know when that moment will come. As we all know from our experience of previous Ministers, promises are not worth the paper they are written on, as they will be written in Hansard. I fear that we will end up where we always thought we would end up.

In trying to fix matters by creating amorphous committees that will decide matters on our behalf, as opposed to doing what the hon. Member for North Durham suggested and making a ministerial decision about where the regional casinos will be sited, the Government have got into even more trouble than even they could have envisaged. It is hard to see what criteria will be used when deciding the location of the regional casinos. Many parts of our wonderful nation are crying out for regeneration, so who will decide which area will receive the precious eight? On what criteria will that decision be based? Destination? Will it be decided on the basis of the more people who can get there within 20 minutes, the merrier? Bearing in mind the different views that are held in this Committee, it seems utterly impossible that another committee whose members are not even elected can decide competing and irreconcilable interests. That is the politics of a mad house—but, there we are; we have a Labour Government.

I cannot begin to imagine what sort of the mess the Government will get into. Let us consider the eight regional casinos that will be allowed to proceed. We can assume that, because politics enters the frame—politics enters into everything, whether we like it or not—Scotland and Wales will get one each. That is two down, six to go. We assume, but do not know for sure, that Blackpool will have one because it has been so noisy about it. However, if that happens, it will really infuriate other centres in the north-west that consider that they should have a casino. In the north-west,
Column Number: 755
football clubs, Liverpool and parts of Manchester will be beside themselves if they think that they will not get a look in, so there is a question mark over whether Blackpool will receive a casino. The word is that London will have one—it is the capital, there is tourism to consider, and anyway the business plans have already been predicated on the basis that it will get a casino because that is how the taxpayers will be repaid for the vast sums that have been lavished on Wembley and the dome for no good purpose.

That leaves three centres. I presume that my own area—the midlands—will have a casino, because it would be impolitic not to give it one. Therefore, there will be a big bust-up between Birmingham and Coventry, both of which already have plans afoot. The Minister's area will be exciting, because Sheffield has an all-singing, all-dancing plan on the table, ready to go ahead.

Previous Contents Continue
House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 11 January 2005