Gambling Bill

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Mr. Caborn: Three.

Miss Kirkbride: It has plans for three casinos, and they all have wonderful criteria attached to them. However, if Sheffield gets one, Leeds, York racecourse and the entire north-east will be upset. Where does the other one go?

Bob Russell: Bristol.

Miss Kirkbride: The hon. Gentleman is right; if we want regional balance, the south-west must have some of the spoils, but if Bristol got a casino the whole of the west country would be terribly upset. I do not see how any committee will be able to make such decisions in a reasonably civilised fashion.

There is another interesting prospect. The committee might say not just that a particular local authority wants a casino, but that it wants it to be on site X, or that it wants to give it to a certain football club or a certain person. In other words, it might say that it is interested not in any old high street location, but in other sites, some of which are already being earmarked for this kind of development. It is therefore possible that neither Blackpool nor Manchester will get the casino in the north-west, because the favoured site somewhere in the Wirral. We may end up with the peculiarity of the council for Trafford or somewhere else like that getting the licence based on criteria of regeneration and social need—even though it does not immediately appear to fit into that category—because for the committee and Ministers to get the site that they really want, it has to be given to the Trafford local authority, which will then choose a particular football ground so that the plan as desired can proceed.

We will end up with no real criteria being attached, other than what should have been attached to it in the first place; it will be ministerial decision making, to put it at its most acute. That is extraordinary. The Minister says, ''Well, the local authorities will be in control,'' but that is for the birds. If one of the big football clubs thinks that it is going to get a casino and its local authority has been given the permission to go ahead with one of them, do we really think that that authority will be able to face down local opinion and not give it to the popular national football club and give
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permission instead to some poxy little whatever—I do not want to mention any names because it might be held against me. It is simply not credible that it will give it to some other location that is not seen to be as desirable when a big national football club in its patch wants it. That is nonsense.

Mr. Caborn: It seems a long time since I made a statement at the beginning of this debate. However, the discussion has demonstrated the best of our oppositional political system. It has ranged right across the political spectrum from the views of those in favour of the free market to those of Members who want the greatest control, and from expressions of support for the industry to expressions of real concern about problem gambling. That is what political opposition is about. I will now try to state the Government's position, because we have the responsibility for putting these measures on the statute book.

There are more than 300 clauses in the Bill, 90 per cent. of which is now broadly accepted and thought to be good. I am thinking about the gambling commission and the response to remote and electronic gambling, for example. All Committee members know that it is important for the gambling uses of new technologies to be governed properly so that we can ensure that our young people are not put at risk via the television set. Today, we have been debating the remaining 10 per cent.

Both main Opposition parties have said that they broadly agree that eight regional casinos is about right. We are now down to the question of the numbers and where we locate large and small casinos. The question now centres on the 136 existing casinos in the industry—I shall try to ensure that we get a definitive figure for the hon. Member for Colchester—and the role that they play. We are now down to the contentious part of the Bill, which relates to where the large and small casinos are going to go and how many there will be.

Mr. Whittingdale rose—

Mr. Caborn: I shall give way on this occasion, but I would like to finish by 5.30 pm and we have about three more clauses to go.

4.30 pm

Mr. Whittingdale: I correct the Minister on one point. He says there is only one point of difference between us, but there is one other very big disagreement. A large lobby, which we strongly support, is coming to Parliament tomorrow to discuss seaside arcades. There is not only one area of difference between us.

Mr. Caborn: I agree: we also differ on the issue of the seaside arcades, so there are two areas of disagreement.

We try to ensure that all the information is sent to all Committee members and the House. On 20 December, we circulated the amendments and the Chairman agreed that amendments could be tabled to those amendments or new clauses, if necessary. Three
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weeks have passed, and there have been no amendments or new clauses even though there has been criticism. We also printed the amendments that we intended to introduce on Report, which the Committee has not been able to debate because debate on the relevant clauses had already ended. We printed them to ensure that Committee members and those in the industry could examine them. Therefore, if someone wanted to lobby for further amendments on the new clauses, or introduce their own new clauses, they could have done so. None did.

Mr. Moss: Will the Minister confirm now or in writing that I was sent the new amendments? I never received them. I had to ring up the Vote Office and they were posted to me last week. Is he now saying that Committee work continues in parliamentary recesses?

Mr. Caborn: I think that the Chairman said that there would be the opportunity to table amendments and new clauses relating to those amendments, as long as they were produced before recess. Whether people took the opportunity to do that was entirely up to them. Because of the ferocity of opposition I want to put it on the record that the amendments were tabled before the recess. If Committee members wanted to add amendments or new clauses, that option was available to them. I do not have the power to make that ruling; it was the ruling of the Chairman.

I shall try to answer some of the questions asked during the debate. We have come down to a difference on the matter of large and small casinos.

Mr. Prisk: I do not think that the Minister will want to leave the Committee with an incorrect impression. The amendments that we received were printed on 20 December, which, I recall, was the day the House rose. As I understand it, that meant Members had 24 hours while the House was sitting to table any reply. Is that correct?

Mr. Caborn: It is correct that there were 24 hours. That did not deny Members the right to submit amendments. I do not know whether you want to offer guidance on the matter, Mr. Gale, but we said that we would get the amendments out before the recess, and it was announced from the Chair that if Committee members wanted to add amendments or new clauses, they would be accepted. Do you want to comment on that, Mr. Gale?

The Chairman: I am perfectly willing to clarify the position. Any Member has the opportunity to table an amendment up until the final Friday during the recess.

Mr. Prisk: On a point of order, Mr. Gale. Your clarification is helpful, but I am concerned by the Minister's seeming to imply that there was sufficient time for Members. I would appreciate your guidance, as I am sure that you will understand that 24 hours is not the normal or conventional period in which members of a Committee are allowed to table amendments or comment on legislation newly presented to them.
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The Chairman: The Chairman, and indeed the Speaker, in seeking to protect the business of the House will always prefer that any amendment from any quarter be tabled in a timely fashion, but the Chairman has no right to dictate that and the opportunity was there for Members.

Mr. Caborn: I thank you for that explanation, Mr. Gale, because we were genuinely trying to be as helpful as we could to members of the Committee. Obviously the opportunity was not taken and hon. Members know the reasons why.

The idea that the 136 casinos in this country are the same as the new small and large casinos is way off the mark. The explanation for eight, eight, eight is that we want to test the new arrangements with the three types of new casino. With the figure set at eight for regional casinos, as I stated in my earlier announcement to the Committee, we needed to place controls and consider how to stop proliferation. The hon. Member for Bath acknowledges that there had to be controls. There may be arguments about whether they are the right controls, but there is an understanding that once the number of regional casinos was capped at eight, there was, by definition, an unmet demand, which if left to market forces would result in proliferation—the very thing that the House clearly told us on Second Reading it did not want. All the evidence and professional advice we received was that we would have to intervene on both the large and the small casinos. That is what we have done. It is proportionate to test the new arrangements on regional, large and small casinos and then return via the gambling commission to inform Parliament and the public whether further casinos should be developed.

On Second Reading, concern was voiced about the proliferation of small and large casinos, although the debate coalesced around regional casinos. I spelled out the criteria for the selection of areas: the geographical spread, the spread of the types of location to test the effects of regional casinos, and the suitability for regeneration. It is clear that if we do not intervene and leave the matter to market forces, we will not get the spread of locations across the UK that we want.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford raised the question of the time scale. If the Bill is enacted and the gambling commission is set up in the autumn, there is no reason why the panel determining the location of the 24 new casinos cannot be set up in parallel. There ought, however, to be consultation with the regional development agency about economic and spatial planning matters. We have been advised by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister that the spatial planning will come to fruition in 2006. I have worded the measure so that the panel can take advice on spatial planning, but if the panel believed that there was enough evidence to submit its considered view to the Secretary of State, there would be no reason why its view could not be submitted in early 2006. The only restriction on submitting a view to the Secretary of State is the importance of considering spatial planning as well as the role of the
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regional development agency when determining the location. It will be an informed decision in order to achieve the objectives laid down.

On the timetable, as long as the gambling commission is set up there is no reason why the panel could not be set up. It could start its work and advise the Secretary of State at the earliest opportunity, which, as I say, could be early in 2006.

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