Gambling Bill

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Mr. Moss: Does the Minister not think, in the model that he has just outlined, that a local authority could be tempted to grant planning on various sites, because the more planning permissions it gives, the more people are in the competition, so presumably they can use that to ratchet up the section 106 payments?

Mr. Caborn: That will be a decision for the local authority to make. We have made that clear. People ask how the local authorities will get regeneration.
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Some have argued that they will not get the type of regeneration that they want. Local authorities will be very much in the driving seat to drive up regeneration.

I repeat that the eight, eight, eight arrangement is to test social responsibility and its effect on our social fabric. The rest of it is secondary in terms of regeneration and the like. We have made that perfectly clear.

I think that I have answered most of the questions, because I answered many of them in my statement earlier this morning. I have tried to answer all the questions that were raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

The Chairman: Before I ask the Clerk to call the next new clause, I should say that it is abundantly plain, as I am sure the Committee will accept, that many of the issues arising from new clause 21 were discussed in the previous debate. It seemed intelligent to allow that debate to run, but I do not wish those arguments to be repeated in the debate on new clause 21.

New clause 21

Premises licences: general: planning permission

    '(1) In making a decision in respect of an application under this Part a licensing authority shall not have regard to whether or not a proposal by the applicant is likely to be permitted in accordance with the law relating to planning or building.

    (2) A decision by a licensing authority under this Part shall not constrain any later decision by the authority under the law relating to planning or building.'.—[Mr. Caborn]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Caborn: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause makes it clear that success in the licensing competition provided for in new clause 20 and in new schedule 3 should not be taken to mean that planning consent is a foregone conclusion. The fact that the applicant's proposal may be the preferred option in the competition will not guarantee planning permission. Applications for planning permission will be considered entirely separately from the competition process.

New clause 21 states that a licensing decision should not constrain planning decisions taken by the same local authority. Two systems are at play and each has an important function. The first, the licensing system, is about the provision of gambling and the second, the planning system, is about the use of land and development.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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New clause 4

Liaison between Gambling Commission and OFCOM

    'The Gambling Commission will liaise with the Office of Communications (OFCOM) on all issues relating to the internet and all other communication media over which OFCOM has a remit, to ensure that there is no regulatory gap between the Commission and OFCOM.'.—[Mr. Hawkins]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hawkins: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following:

New clause 5—Information about internet sites.

Mr. Hawkins: New clause 4 is an attempt to include in the Bill something that clarifies the need for the gambling commission to liaise with Ofcom on all the issues relating to the internet and other communications media that Ofcom has a remit over to ensure that there is no regulatory gap between the gambling commission that the Bill creates and Ofcom. There has been a lot of concern that there might be opportunities for unscrupulous promoters of material on the internet to find loopholes and a gap between the two regulatory bodies. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that the Bill includes provisions that avoid such a gap. I tabled the new clause to flag up the concerns that have been expressed to me by a number of organisations and individuals in the broadcasting world and by those involved in the reputable side of the gaming industry.

New clause 5 raises a different point, which the hon. Member for Colchester mentioned when talking about kitemarking. His suggestion was that we might use three cherries as a kitemark of a safe gambling site. In new clause 5, my concern is that those who are providing sites that are based on UK companies should not be prevented by European Commission rules from doing that. In one of our debates before Christmas, the Ministersaid, if I understood him correctly, that if the Government provided a facility for a company to say, ''We are proud to be a British company, operate to the highest standards and are licensed by the new gambling commission'', some bureaucrat in the European Commission might say, ''Oh, that's illegal.''

It seems to me that that would be yet another erosion of our sovereignty, one among so many that I and those on the Conservatives Benches who share my views constantly complain about. There are some brave Government Back Benchers, such as the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins), who share my concerns that the sovereignty of this country is constantly being eroded. There is a proud tradition of a small number of Eurosceptics on the Labour Back Benches. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) is another who frequently raises those issues. It is sad that none of those hon. Members is on this Committee. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will find a way to stand up for Britain.

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I would prefer British internet gaming sites to be able to include something that says, ''This site is British and is therefore of the highest standard''. A Union jack would be a useful kitemark. If sites cannot be kitemarked with a Union jack, perhaps they could at least include some kind of kitemark that does not go against the European Commission rules, whether it be the three cherries suggested by the hon. Member for Colchester or whatever. That would, at least, be an advance. The Minister said on behalf of the Government that British sites will not be allowed to say that they are British. That so appalled me that I tabled new clause 5 in defence of the high standards of the British gaming industry.

5 pm

Mr. Caborn: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's attempt to ensure that there are no gaps in the regulations between the remit of the Gambling Commission and that of Ofcom. The principle is sound. However, the hon. Gentleman appears to be confused about the remit of Ofcom. It does not generally regulate the content of the internet services. During the passage of the Communications Act 2003, the Government worked closely with the industry to ensure that broadcasting regulation was clearly distinguished from the internet.

It may be helpful to repeat the example that just because football is shown on television, it does not mean that Ofcom is responsible for regulating football. Perish the thought. The same is true for gambling. It is clearly the responsibility of the Gambling Commission. Furthermore, the Bill already explicitly requires the Gambling Commission and Ofcom to work closely together on regulating the broadcasting of gambling advertisements. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.

We all know of the hon. Member's scepticism about, or indeed disapproval of the regulations emanating from the European Union. He holds these views honestly and sincerely, albeit wrongly. On this new clause I must disappoint him yet again. The lawyers tell me that it is unlikely to achieve his aims. Perhaps, more importantly, I can reassure him that internet operators regulated by the Gambling Commission will be able to promote that fact. Nothing can stop operators publicising their licensed status. That is important. It is clearly in their interests to do so. For legal reasons, we are unable to set up an official accreditation scheme run by the Gambling Commission itself. That would be contrary to European law. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find sufficient comfort to enable him to withdraw the motion.

Mr. Hawkins: I am more comforted by the Minister's reassurance on new clause 4 than his reassurance on new clause 5. As he has said that there will be at least some kind of opportunity for British
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sites to point out that they are approved by the Gambling Commission, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 13

Conversion of Existing Permits

    '(1) Within the period of 6 months beginning with a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State, any person or persons in possession of a premises licence granted under the Licensing Act 2003 may apply to the licensing authority to convert machine permits issued under the Licensing Act 1964 and as transposed into the Licensing Act 2003.

    (2) The licensing authority must grant the application.'.—[Mr. Moss.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Moss: I beg to move that the clause be read a second time. Perhaps 13 will be lucky on this occasion. I have it in my power to bring these proceedings to a swift and easy conclusion. The new clause is clear cut. It is an attempt to secure grandfather rights so that on the appointed day when this Bill is enacted those with a premises licence granted under the 2003 Licensing Act will automatically have rights for all their existing machines.

Mr. Caborn: It has always been a clear public commitment that pubs that have already been allowed to install category C gaming machines should be allowed to keep them when this Bill comes into effect. If the pub has been allowed to have more than two machines those additional machines should be allowed to stay. This entitlement cannot be wholly unconditional. If a pub is caught allowing children to play category C machines, permission to operate any machine may be revoked. Subject to that we accept that pubs should not need to make a fresh justification for their machine entitlement.

I should at this point acknowledge that clause 263 is also relevant to the issue of grandfather rights. We have already been in discussion with the British Beer and Pub Association about the clause, which refers to licensed premises that are used primarily for the supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises. We have noted the concern that has been expressed that the word ''primarily'' may cause difficulty for off-licences that are allowed to have gaming machines. Hotel bars and ten-pin bowling premises may also be affected. We have undertaken to take steps to address those concerns and if necessary to bring forward amendments to the Bill.

The issue raised by the amendment is narrower than the one about pubs and other licensed premises having grandfather rights written into the Bill. That would be covered by schedule 15 in the same way as all other gambling authorisations. We believe that schedule 15 is sufficient as it stands. It provides that a commencement order may provide not just for licences, but for any other kind of permission given under legislation that the Bill supersedes to continue to apply with any modifications needed.

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I can see no good reason to single out pub machine authorisations for special treatment. We have given a clear commitment about how such machines will be treated under the schedule. I hope that, with that explanation, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the new clause.

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