Gambling Bill

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Mr. Prisk: The Minister is setting out some thoughts. As was alluded to at the beginning of this debate, in the east of England the plan may go to a planning inquiry this autumn. Will the Minister confirm that if, for example, the panel suggested that a casino was very important to Cambridge or Great Yarmouth, the spatial study would need to be adjusted accordingly?

Mr. Caborn: That would be the case, and that would have to be done by the ODPM. I am informed by the ODPM that the vast majority of spatial planning will come in 2006, and that is the limiting factor on timing that we are cautious about.

I turn to the feared explosion of casinos before the Act comes into force. The 53 permitted areas under the 1968 Act are still in force and will remain so until the Bill is enacted. That explosion could not happen because the constraints of the permitted areas will go only when the Bill goes on the statute book.

Mr. Jones: I accept that the permitted areas are in place, but that fact does not put a cap on the number of casinos in those permitted areas. There could be growth or a transfer. For example, last week in Newcastle what had been a slot machine arcade was turned into a small casino.

Mr. Caborn: There is the demand test. I do not know about that specific case, but under the 1968 Act there are not only permitted areas, but a demand test. Those are clearly laid down. Controlling the potential explosion to which my hon. Friend referred was clearly uppermost in the minds of those who put the 1968 Act on the statute book. That is why the Act includes those permitted areas and that demand test.

The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford mentioned problem gambling. All types of casinos present a risk of problem gambling; that has been clearly acknowledged. Through the eight, eight, eight and through not allowing the 136 to have the same facilities, we are trying to create a situation in which we can test the question of problem gambling and other things. It is not true that restrictions on existing casinos will be lifted. They will be restricted by the 24-hour rule and their advertising will be restricted.

Problem gambling has been uppermost in the House's mind and in our approach to the issues. The House has said clearly to the Government that it wants to ensure that the Government and Parliament control the development of casinos, which should not be left to market forces nor to the vagaries of the planning regime, whose interpretations can be very vague. The House was asking us to bring things forward and that
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is what we have done with the eight, eight, eight. We have responded positively to what the House said to us on Second Reading.

I answered my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood on the question of the timetable. I hope that that has reassured her that it could be sooner rather than later and that there is no need to go right to the end of 2006.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham asked about speculative planning applications. Anyone can apply for planning permission at any time for anything, but it is up to the local planning authority to grant it. Such applications would make no difference to the casino premises licence competition. As I said, the integrity of planning has been kept. We brought in the premises licence to keep the integrity of the planning regime as it is, and because the licence is a mechanism that we believe will deliver economic gain in regeneration and other areas. There will be three licences. There will be the fit and proper person provision and integrity through the gambling commission licence, planning provisions under section 106 and the premises licence, which we believe will give local authorities all the levers that they need to exploit that to the maximum.

4.45 pm

Mr. Foster: Perhaps the Minister might like to outline once again the sequence of events that will take place in the competition. My concern continues to be the interrelationship between the premises licence and the planning application.

As I understand it, there has to be an operating licence first. One then goes to an area that the advisory panel, with the agreement of the Secretary of State, has designated as a local authority area—for example, that could be Bath and North East Somerset. The Minister has said:

    ''One area could probably have three or four operators applying.''—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 December 2004; c 670.]

That is what he expects to happen.

The Minister told us that immediately after that has happened there would be the competition for the premises licence. That licence would not be given until the end of the process—after a planning application has been agreed. Nevertheless, does that not mean that all three or four applicants would have to go through the planning application process before they could even be considered in the competition for the premises licence? As the Minister will be aware, the licence requirements for a premises licence in clause 143(1)(g) include

    ''a plan of the premises''.

Mr. Caborn: The hon. Gentleman is right about the sequence of events. In terms of the—[Interruption.] The way I receive my pieces of paper depends on who is in the Chair, Mr. Gale.

The licence is obtained from the gambling commission, which is fit and proper. It could well be that in a planning area—as occurs in some areas
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already—outline planning permission is given on three different sites, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham said, an application has been made.

It might well rest on a judgment as to how the premises licence can be made to extract more regeneration gain or development in that area. That will be a judgment for the local authority. We are giving it the power to do that in terms of both planning and the premises licence. There will be a provisional statement on the premises licence, which is what I said before, and that becomes operable when everything has been completed; the whole project is given the full premises licence. That is the lever that a local authority has to ensure that the applicant delivers.

We all know that in some cases planning permission is given for seven years and somebody never builds. I have clearly said that the statement will indicate that an applicant will have to deliver within a time span. If they do not, they will be in breach of that settlement in terms of the premises licence. There is a lock on that so that someone cannot sterilise a situation by getting planning permission—that happens now. On many occasions a situation goes on for years and there is nothing to compel an applicant. That would be done on the interim statement on the premises licence and that becomes operational when everything has been completed.

Mr. Jones: I appreciate what the Minister is trying to achieve. If we were in the ideal world that he portrays, we would perhaps get to where we want to be. However, I must disappoint him, because in the real world it will not happen that way. Developers who do not need to be operators will apply for planning permission.

What has been assumed in what has been put forward is that the operators will necessarily be applying for planning permission—they will not. If an application comes forward for planning permission for a site and a local authority turns it down on the basis that the developer has not got an operating licence, that will not stack up in planning law. The applicant will appeal and they will get permission. Once that permission is granted, what is to stop that developer having a development of a casino on that site—as long as it attracts someone who has an operating licence? Therefore, the idea that somehow the two are linked together is taken away. What is being put forward will not work.

Mr. Caborn: It will work just as I have put it forward, because such an applicant will not get the provisional statement on the premises licence.

Mr. Jones: It does not matter about the actual premises licence. If I am a property developer who has no connection with the casino industry but who wants to apply for planning permission on his site, I can do that. If it is in the area designated for the casino development, I will do that. I will get the planning permission. I cannot be refused planning permission on the grounds that I do not have an operating licence,
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so I am locked into it. Therefore, I am sure that the ideal world that the Minister is describing will not exist.

Mr. Caborn: But the developer then cannot open the casino. They will have a casino that they cannot open, if they do not have an operating licence from the commission. They may have planning permission and then invite an operator to come in. They must have an operator who has a licence, or they cannot open the casino.

Mr. Jones: If a local authority grants three planning permissions in an area, it must first make sure that those sites get a value that will not lead to competition between them for the developers who want to make a lot of money. Secondly, the developers can go to operators who have licences and say, ''Come here and we'll sell you this''.

Mr. Caborn: Yes, that operator has a licence from the gambling commission. They must then go to the local authority, and perhaps to a site that already has planning permission for a casino, but they can operate that casino only if they get the premises licensed. They only way in which they can get licensed premises off that local authority is, in the first instance, by a provisional statement, which will give the local authority the power to negotiate with the person who has the operating licence from the gambling commission. Yes, it might be a site that already has planning permission: it might be a joint venture with a property developer. That will already have been dealt with by the local authority under section 106 and all that goes with it, but the casino cannot open until the operator complies with the statement on the premises licence and the premises licence is given. Only then can the casino become operational; until then it is sterile.

Therefore, the local authority is in the driving seat, because it gives the developer planning permission for a casino. The operator, who has an operating licence from the gambling commission as a fit and proper person, may come along and say, ''Thank you, developer. I will get into bed with you. I want to build my casino there.'' The local authority says, ''Thank you very much. We now have a settlement in terms of a premises licence.'' That will then trigger the opening of the casino and will deliver the regeneration sought by the local authority.

That is the simple process that will take place. It puts the local authority clearly in the driving seat, whether the planning permission goes to the developer or the operator, or the operator comes in and gets a premises licence.

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