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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 1 March 2006

[Mr. Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Regional Casinos

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Tony Cunningham.]

9.30 am

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): A few moments ago, I was concerned because we had no Minister with us. I think that the odds were 15 to 2 on him appearing on time.

This debate is rightly entitled "Regional Casinos" because the compromise reached before the last general election when the Gambling Bill went through Parliament was that the number of regional casinos—the largest to be allowed to operate—would be restricted to one. Previously, there had been considerable debate about numbers. It may help if I say at the outset that a partial objective of this debate is to argue the case that it is in the interest of Britain as a whole that we increase the number of regional casinos, rather than restrict their number to one. That would allow a better scale of response to the experimentation that they represent.

Mr. John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a compelling case for having eight regional casinos? That would give local authorities unparalleled opportunities for local regeneration. If they engage the local communities who go along with the process, that would be best for the people and the authorities.

Tony Lloyd : My right hon. Friend invites me on to territory that I will certainly get to later on. His point is central to the case throughout the whole nation; we need to consider the numbers. For the record, it is worth reminding Members that the Government have established a casino panel chaired by Professor Stephen Crow. On the instructions of the Secretary of State, it will ensure that locations satisfy the need for the best possible test of social impact, which may require a range of locations of different kinds, such as seaside resorts, edge-of-town developments or inner city centres. Those locations will also include areas in need of regeneration, as measured by unemployment and other social deprivation data, that may be likely to benefit from a new casino.

It is worth restating that point because it is the framework within which the case for Manchester can be put—I want to put the case for my own city as a location of a regional casino—but it is also the basis for the case that says that one regional casino will not be enough, as    my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire (Mr. McFall) argued. I would like to put the case that we should move towards the eight casinos to which my right hon. Friend referred, which was the number in the Gambling Bill when it was first put before the House.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): I am following the profound logic of what my hon. Friend is
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saying. Does he agree that it is not possible to test the social impact in just one place? A seaside town is very different from a major city. London is different from the rest of the United Kingdom. Suburban areas are different, and Scotland is different. The logic of testing social impact implies up to eight regional casinos, so that we can understand what would happen.

Tony Lloyd : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will share the logic of the case for a casino in Manchester, which is profound in itself, but he would also share the logic that it makes sense to consider the case for more. We need a proper base to examine the impact of regional casinos, as well as that of the large and small ones. We need that base because regional casinos are different in scale to such an extent that it is difficult to argue that experimentation with large casinos would allow us to know the potential future impact of regional casinos. We need to know specifically how to effect proper partnerships between local authorities—the holders of the public interest—and private partners.

We need to consider the commercial viability of regional casinos. We need to consider what we mean by regeneration opportunities and how they can be seriously translated into practice. And, of course, we need to consider how we can minimise and avoid the potential hazards, such as the existence of criminality in casinos, the abuse of those who are underage and questions of problem gambling. Those issues are all central and can only be dealt with if we have a range of regional casinos so that we can establish what is best practice.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): My hon. Friend, like me, represents a city where deprivation and unemployment are high compared with the rest of the country. Does he agree that although we need a diverse pilot to consider all the different areas of the country, and although regeneration and the need for jobs and employment have to be taken into account, there has to be some kind of guidance and unionisation? Ensuring unionisation in such casinos will go a long way to solving some of the problems that people keep putting forward.

Tony Lloyd : As my hon. Friend would expect, since we both have a strong background in trade unions, I expect any casinos in Britain to operate by the best standards of employment practice, which include, of course, a role for trade unions. That is good for those who work there and, in the long run, for the casino operators and their relationship with the wider community.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): The debate seems likely to develop into many interventions and speeches urging the Minister to expand the number of casinos in the pilot. Through my hon. Friend, may I urge the Minister not to do that? In some ways, the Minister is a political croupier in charge of the decision. The option that was decided a few months ago was correct, and the Methodist Church and the Salvation Army were correct. Therefore, as political croupier, I hope that the Minister will say in his winding-up speech, "Rien ne va plus".
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Tony Lloyd : I am not sure of my hon. Friend's Norman French. I can only say to him that—alas—although he exhorts me to urge the Minister to restrict the number, I cannot agree with him. My right hon. Friend the Minister will have heard his comments, but I hope that he will listen more to the louder voices from elsewhere in this debate.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): I am a Member of Parliament for Blackpool, one of the tourist resorts that wants one of these casinos. I listened to my hon. Friend listing the organisations that should determine where the casinos should be, but does he agree that local people should also be consulted? To pick up on an earlier intervention, the local community needs to be fully behind the process so that the regeneration potential can be maximised.

Tony Lloyd : I agree strongly with my hon. Friend and shall make the case as to why that applies to my city of Manchester and its preferred location for a regional casino. She makes a point that applies wherever casinos should be located: they should have fundamental local support.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting this debate this morning. He will be aware that if any of the schemes went ahead and the numbers increased, there would be strong regulation, with built-in safeguards that would allay a lot of fears people have about casinos, particularly in relation to young people. Is he aware that we already have a casino in Coventry, which would meet the criteria should the Minister and the Government decide to expand the numbers? We have one at the arena in Coventry, which is a very modem arena—probably one of the latest in the country—and we already have 90,000 sq ft that could accommodate a casino right away. The area where it would be located—

Mr. Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Order. That is long enough.

Tony Lloyd : Thank you Mr. Chope.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tony Lloyd : I will in time, but it will be in everybody's interests if I try to make a little progress.

It is already quite obvious, with some opposition, that the significant view in this debate is from people who want to see the number of casinos increased towards eight or whatever. That call exists not only among people in the debate, but on a much wider basis. It is important to recognise that other political parties as well as my own have begun to examine that question.

My right hon. Friend the Minister has not gone so far as to say that he will change Government policy—the official position. However, he said on the record recently:

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He went on to say that the Government themselves wanted to examine what the wider scale of interest in a change would be, so that he could assess whether there was that national demand.

I shall come to the main Opposition party's position shortly. It is probably worth placing on record, however, that in a debate on casinos in the House of Lords in October last year, Lord Clement Jones of the Liberal Democrats made their position clear:

That was a very helpful statement on behalf of the Liberal Democrats.

Several hon. Members : rose—

Tony Lloyd : Would Members please forgive me? I will most certainly give way soon.

I want to get to the position that is rather difficult to interpret. This is where hon. Members on the Conservative Benches may be interested and may be able to help us all, because it is very difficult to know on which side of the flip and the flop the Conservative party is on the issue.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tony Lloyd : With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am going to quote more senior figures than he in the Conservative party, but at a later stage, I will allow him in to push his own Front Bench in the right direction. That is the role of humble Back Benchers such as myself and him.

Anne Milton : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tony Lloyd : I have already said to the hon. Lady that I will give way shortly.

It will be helpful if we talk about the position of the Conservative party. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who was the shadow Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport before the election, made it clear in recent days that he

We know that he was pulled back by the then Leader of the Opposition. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford went on to say:

The hon. Gentleman is normally seen as a cerebral and intelligent Member of our House, and as someone who takes issues on their merits and so on. Within that context, I welcome his clear commitment that one is no longer a viable number.
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Since the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) is present, he can either confirm or deny the following quotation. It was widely reported that when he spoke at the Social Market Foundation gambling seminar on January 19—

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I did not speak.

Tony Lloyd : I am fairly certain that the hon. Gentleman's mouth opened on occasion, because he is reported as having answered questions, which is a difficult thing to achieve without speaking. If he wants to correct me on my understanding of the means of communication, I am happy to reconsider it. However, he is quoted as saying that

in provision. In fairness to him, he is reported as going on to say

That is a legitimate position, but not one—

Mr. Moss : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tony Lloyd : Of course I will give way, but let me finish the comment.

Mr. Moss : That is a complete misquote. I never uttered those words.

Tony Lloyd : I have to take it from the hon. Gentleman that he did not utter those words. There was an off-the-record briefing reported by Matthew Garrahan in the Financial Times the following day. It was confirmed in spirit by other people who were at the seminar. The hon. Gentleman may want to clarify in his own remarks exactly where he stands. The perception is that once again, rather like the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, who was pulled back by an irate Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire—having followed the debate carefully and being a man who takes such matters seriously—faced the same problem whereby his own Front Bench were not willing to move forward with that rather more intelligent view of where we as a nation need to go.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his position. I understand the situation, as I have been in that position in the hierarchy of power. I simply regret that, to use the technical expression, he was shafted.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Tony Lloyd : Before I give way, I want to return to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham). He made an important point. I shall make it slightly embarrassing for him, because the real Tory party, which still wins things in the country, and I refer to Ken Taylor, the leader of Coventry city council, makes the same case as my hon. Friend whereby there is a profound case for Coventry's consideration for a regional casino. Mr. Taylor has made it clear that he will campaign to ensure that the Leader of the Opposition
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and the present shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport turn themselves away from their dead end of a policy.

Mr. Moss : I intended to bring my big guns to bear at the end when I wound up, but it is important to get the matter in context. The Government have a majority. To change the number of regional casinos from one to eight, all they need is a statutory instrument using the affirmative procedure. They could do it tomorrow; they do not need any support from the Opposition Benches.

Tony Lloyd : I would prefer to do many things without the support of hon. Members from the Opposition, but there is much broader consensus than simply within my party about the matter. Senior figures in the Conservative party—the leader of Coventry city council is one—want that change.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing such an important debate. Is he aware of an excellent report produced by Hall Aitken, an independent economic consultant based in Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle, which points out that the social costs of regional casinos are potentially high and that for most locations, they would almost certainly outweigh any economic benefit? I believe that to be true of Glasgow. Does he share my concern that it could also be true of other towns and cities? Does he agree that more balanced analysis and evidence are needed before we increase the number of regional casinos?

Tony Lloyd : Central to my own case, in Manchester, we do not believe that that is the position; we believe that the economic and social benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. Otherwise, I would not be standing here this morning. The case that Manchester would make is a case that would be made by other communities. I do not see it being forced on a reluctant Glasgow, but if Glasgow does not want a casino, it should be a decision for Glasgow, and it should not stop the rest of the country. I must give way to a few Members whom I have promised already.

Anne Milton : My concern is that the regeneration argument about which many people are talking is in fact illusory and that local authorities are allowing wishful thinking to get in the way of their judgment. They are not taking account of the considerable weight of evidence that says that the economic benefits will not benefit those local communities and that the social cost will be extremely high. Those casinos will rely on slot machines. That is where they will make their money, and that means local people putting their money into slot machines. Regeneration will not happen, and there is much evidence to support that argument.

Tony Lloyd : I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is saying that she does not like slot machines or that there will be no regeneration impact. She must be precise. Slot machines already exist, and we are talking about having them on a different scale. I am happy to discuss regeneration and, if I can get through all the
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interventions, will explain why I believe there will be a strong regeneration impact. That may not apply everywhere, but it certainly will in a city like mine.

Bob Spink : The hon. Gentleman mentioned my party's policy. We have, of course, changed, and we are listening carefully to people. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the NOP poll that showed that 56 per cent. of the population and 64 per cent. of women do not want a casino? Any hon. Members who want the casino destined for south Essex when the report comes out in December is welcome to it.

Tony Lloyd : It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is a member of the listening Conservative party. He referred to his party's policy, but I am not clear what that policy is at the moment or whether it is, as the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford once said, in favour of the increase that the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire does or does not want, depending on whether he did or did not say the words that he was reported to have said. I am not clear either whether that is the present position of the Leader of the Opposition.

We cannot run our political system simply with reference to opinion polls and snapshots.

David Taylor : The Tories would.

Tony Lloyd : The Tories are certainly now focus-group focused. The notorious habit known as flip-flop on the Opposition Front Bench causes a problem.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend accept that many of us are as committed as he is to attracting investment for the regeneration of our towns and cities, but do not want it on the back of further large-scale commercial gambling that just makes money for big businesses and wrecks lives? Does he accept that for many of us one casino is already one too many?

Tony Lloyd : I accept that some people argue that case. The compromise was whittled down to one and, remarkably, supported by very few hon. Members. Those who were opposed were opposed absolutely, but of those who were in favour probably all wanted more but did not have the guts to force that through before the election. That is the reality.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I understand that the hon. Gentleman must partake in party political jousting about the role of the Opposition, but we should weigh the evidence from both sides, and there is considerable evidence from organisations such as the Methodist Church, as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) said, the Salvation Army and Citizens Advice of the impact of casinos on lower socio-economic groups who do not have the income to sustain a gambling habit. We weigh the anticipated increase in problem gambling against a wish list from large organisations, gaming companies, opportunistic local authorities and, of course, Her Majesty's Treasury, which is after the income from tax.

Tony Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman accuses me of party politicking, but when the Opposition make it so easy, it
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is difficult not to ridicule their position with its total lack of clarity and its continual change. The hon. Gentleman should talk to his Front Bench and ask his leadership to sort out its policy. Is their position that of Ken Taylor in Coventry?

A number of hon. Members, but not many who are here today, have asked about the regeneration impact and doubted whether it would translate into practice. During my remaining few moments, I want to refer to a report from Europe Economics. So that there is no ambiguity, I should explain that Europe Economics is an independent consultancy and was commissioned by Manchester city council, which wanted an independent assessment of the impact of regional casinos.

Europe Economics made a number of methodological points that are worth stating because they are interesting to a wide audience. It made the central point that any proposal from a local authority had to have a credible local authority behind it. At one level that is obvious, but not all local authorities have the capacity to deliver such complicated and important projects if they are to deliver the benefits that those of us who support regional casinos want. It made the point that any regional casino would need to demonstrate commercial viability. That is also obvious at one level because without commercial viability the regeneration process that should follow cannot be delivered.

The regeneration process is fundamental. My hon. Friend the Minister and the Secretary of State made it clear to the panel that that regeneration will be a central part of the process and that the regeneration impact must be demonstrated. It concluded by saying that, not least in the hierarchical sense but after the other issues had been examined, there would have to be a proper examination of the social impact—some hon. Members have raised this with me—in terms of issues such as the absence of criminality from casinos which is important, the prevention of under-age entry to casinos and gaming areas, and forestalling increases in problem gambling.

Those issues are important as part of the methodological approach, and I hope that the panel will adopt them because it is important that we have the reassurance of a sound methodology. However, it was slightly patronising of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) to talk about the lower socio-economic groups as being those who might be caught up in problem gambling.

Mr. Jackson : The hon. Gentleman is aware of what I meant.

Tony Lloyd : I am totally aware of what the hon. Gentleman means. I represent a constituency that is composed largely of people from those groups and my constituents would probably regard with disdain the idea that they are fickle and feckless and that only people like the hon. Gentleman are immune to the problem. He should be careful in his choice of language if he wants to pursue that case. However, there is a real issue concerning problem gambling and we must all address it.

We are confident that Manchester's bid is based on sound economics as well as a sound social strategy. The casino would be in Sports City, which is in my constituency. That is why I sought this debate.
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Sports City is already a successful part of regeneration in Manchester. It houses the new east Manchester stadium, the home of Manchester City's football ground, and is where the Commonwealth games took place. We have demonstrated in that area that economic and social regeneration follows economic investment and if the two are matched sensibly and intelligently, they can have a profound impact on the delivery of sustainable economic growth and the restoration of sustainability in our communities. Of those hon. Members who look down on the lower socio-economic groups, few would know what east Manchester was like when the Labour Government took office and about the transformation that has taken place since.

The proposal for a casino would result in investment of around £250 million—that is large-scale investment—and the creation initially of around 2,300 jobs, 900 of which would be targeted on the very local community. That is important as part of the development not simply of the viability but of the popularity of a regional casino in the local community. On the back of that, there would be a centre of excellence for the training of people in the hospitality and customer care industries. Again, that is important in a city such as Manchester where the service economy is so dominant. That would grow from the development as a second-round impact, which is important to the regeneration debate.

There would be community access to local sports and community groups because sporting facilities would be part of the casino complex. The city and would-be developers are committed to an independent analysis and practical methods to tackle the potential downside of a casino. I am confident that the package would be good for my constituency, my city and my part of my region.

Some hon. Members are opposed to regional casinos. That is fine. They are entitled to pursue their arguments and to debate them thoroughly. Their position is legitimate. What is very different is though for most of the rest of us, I believe, is the numbers game. To return to my theme, is it possible to have proper experimentation with regional casinos if there is only one? My central case is that there is a good economic and regeneration argument for regional casinos, but it can be properly examined only if we increase the number from one at present to somewhere around the eight originally envisaged, so that we as a nation can properly assess the impact of casinos in our national life.

Mr. Christopher Chope (in the Chair): Order. Before calling Dr. John Pugh, may I appeal to hon. Members, particularly those who have not already made speeches in the form of interventions, to keep their remarks brief?

10 am

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I was on the Joint Committee that gave the Gambling Bill some pre-legislative scrutiny, so I know more about this topic than I wanted to. To some extent, I approached it with scepticism, as I could never understand why a socialist Government, whom one supposed would at some time want to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, would wish to encourage gambling, which seems to do exactly the reverse. However, the Bill was defended rigorously in the House with the suggestion that the
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prospect of regeneration was attached to it, plus, of course, and not to be missed, the prospect of a certain amount of voluntary taxation being paid by the public.

None the less, it has been accepted throughout that casinos are problematic. First, they are not necessary for regeneration, and, secondly, even as vehicles for regeneration, they have mixed effects. Yes, they create employment, but they also knock out many local businesses, which are replaced by big concerns.

Mrs. Humble : As a member of the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft legislation, the hon. Gentleman will recall that it supported the development of resort and destination casinos to redevelop our seaside towns and give them new opportunities and a future. Why is he now denying that?

Dr. Pugh : One does not agree with absolutely every word of every report with which one is associated. I am unconvinced, and, when we visited Blackpool, the hon. Lady's constituency, some of the smaller retailers and hoteliers were not completely convinced that they would benefit from the development as designed, as they would be forced out of business by better and more profitable concerns.

We all accept that the proposals must be examined carefully, both as a package and specifically in respect of Blackpool. That point was persistently made. The issue is not just about gambling but many other entertainment industries that would benefit the population and community of Blackpool and the region at large. There was widespread agreement that we needed to make a distinction between destination gambling and ambient gambling, and that was part of the argument against extending the number of casinos.

The second limit put on the process during the course of the Gambling Bill was purely numerical. To some extent, it was determined by fears about social consequences and by a laudable desire to proceed cautiously, and it was embodied in the term "regional casino". A regional casino may carry the tacit presumption that there should be one casino per region, but it may also carry the assumption that it is a regional draw—that whatever is created, whether in Blackpool or anywhere else, is a draw throughout the region and perhaps in other regions as well. Either way, the assumption was that the market should not control the process and that criteria should be set, although throughout the entire debate there was almost an underlying assumption that, whatever was decided, Blackpool would succeed because it was the most preferred. It lobbied extremely well on its own behalf, it had no plan B for regeneration, and everyone accepted that something had to be done.

A panel has been set up to run a kind of beauty contest. Two things are unclear to me, and they lead to the two points that I want to make. First, as the panel proceeds, is the extent of public subsidy a relevant consideration? Regeneration money for the north-west or anywhere else is limited. If it goes to one place, it cannot go to another. I have said in many debates on this subject that, on the continent, public subsidy is not to the fore. In fact, it is more the reverse: money from gambling concerns goes into the public coffers and public infrastructure.
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I have tried to find out the intentions of the Northwest regional development agency in this affair. It is supportive and sends me brochures and an enormous amount of data on a regular basis. However, it has not confided in me its strategic investment plan: that is, what money, and how much, it wishes to put in, or where and when. That being said, neither does it tell us a variety of other things that we in the north-west would like to find out about, such as funding for such important things as a second Mersey crossing or the Liverpool docks. Such important financial data are largely obscure to democratic representatives in the north-west. What the agency favours and refers to on many occasions are transformational projects. That jargon of the moment seems to mean any project to which is attached high publicity and big expense.

In judging where casinos should go, how much of a genuine concern is public subsidy? How much does it count against any particular proposal, and is it considered when proposals are evaluated?

The second thing that is unclear to me is the regional casino concept itself. Is a casino for a region, or does it draw people to a region? If it is the former, east Manchester and Blackpool certainly compete head to head. There could be a debate about whether we have one or the other, or whether there is room for both. However, if the case for Blackpool is that it will draw people UK-wide and perhaps internationally, right across the piece—to some extent, that is part of the argument for significant public investment to assist the venture—and will not draw in housewives from Barrow, Blackburn and other places, with all the possible social damage that that may cause, the argument for Blackpool and against Manchester does not work. It seems to illustrate a bias against regeneration in Manchester and in favour of regeneration in Blackpool, and it is difficult to make that case coherently, or to demonstrate that it is right.

I am not asking the Government to change their policy, but I defy them to explain it clearly.

10.7 am

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) on securing this debate on an important, albeit controversial, subject. The provisions in the Gambling Act 2005 were based on the presumption that casinos could act as a catalyst for regeneration in certain circumstances, bringing significant economic and social benefits. Equally, concerns were voiced about the potential negative impact. In the light of those concerns, the decision was taken to reduce the number of regional casinos from the original proposition of eight to just one.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Just so that we can be historically correct, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the initial proposal was for an unlimited number of regional casinos, not eight? That number came much later in the deliberations.

Mr. Raynsford : I have no reason to quibble with the hon. Gentleman's comment, but I was discussing the period when the Bill was under consideration.
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I have no doubt about the potential benefits of a regional casino as an element in the regeneration of the area that I represent in south-east London. It has suffered disproportionately from the decline of the traditional river-based heavy industry, which, when it left, left in a dramatic and damaging way. Huge numbers of people were left unemployed, and the area is gradually recovering from the resulting serious social problems.

The regeneration that is under way in several parts of my constituency includes an ambitious project for the transformation of the Greenwich peninsula around the millennium dome, which, of course, was created for the year 2000. Subsequently, finding a long-term viable solution for it has been a challenge, but work is now under way. The dome itself, now called the O 2 , will feature a 23,000 capacity arena when it reopens in a year or so. It will host music and other events, including some of the Olympic events in 2012. On most occasions, it will have an evening audience. As the National Audit Office recognised earlier this year in its report considering the project, the income earned from within the arena alone would not generate a fully commercial return, so it is    crucial to develop an integrated leisure and entertainment destination by adding other components that will ensure that people come to the area throughout the day and which will attract international as well as national visits. The scheme therefore includes a range of other provision, including a music club, cinemas, a theatre, an exhibition space—there is already a proposal to bring the Tutankhamen exhibition there, which would be a huge attraction and benefit—and a luxury hotel. With regard to the comments from the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), that will highlight the extent to which there is scope to generate revenue not from people in this country but from international visitors, who would not necessarily be considered as the poor. There may be a redistributive element in that, which he might like to think about. The provision also includes bars, restaurants, cafés and a new pier.

The project is ambitious and one element that would make it far more successful would be a regional casino, which would help to cross-subsidise other components, attract additional visitors, including international visitors, and support the regeneration not only of Greenwich but of many of the deprived areas of south-east London. It is estimated that, with a regional casino, there could be some 500 additional construction jobs during the construction phase and 1,100 jobs during the longer-term operational phase. That would have a significant impact not only on the local economy but more widely in south-east London. We have no doubt, therefore, about the benefits of a regional casino, were we to secure one, in Greenwich. It would be part of a successful regeneration.

We have seen evidence submitted by various organisations. The Hall Aitken report, which has been referred to, cast doubt on whether the estimates for the regenerative benefits in the north-west, Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and Blackpool would be delivered. I have no basis for commenting on whether that view is valid, but it is certainly not valid for Greenwich. We are confident that a regional casino would bring benefits. However, it would not be right to base an assessment of the potential contribution towards regeneration on one venture only in the unique
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circumstances of my constituency. Given the clear evidence and interest from many authorities in a range of areas—seaside areas, urban areas, more rural areas, the north, the midlands, London and the south—there must be a wider range of regional casinos from which we can learn lessons as to where they work and promote regeneration and where there are problems. There may be problems, and we need to learn from the initial phase in order to inform future policy developments. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central made a very powerful case that one casino is simply not enough if we are to use it as a test bed to establish whether creating regional casinos supports regeneration.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): The arguments that we have heard about not having more pilots are based on the belief among some hon. Members that some academic research, to which my right hon. Friend has referred, shows that there probably are not benefits or there are disbenefits from regional casinos. Is not the point of the pilot to prove on the ground which academic research is correct and whether the benefits or disbenefits actually exist?

Mr. Raynsford : I agree wholeheartedly and reinforce the point that a judgment cannot be made on the basis of one casino in one discrete location, because the circumstances that might apply in Sheffield, Blackpool or Birmingham will be different from the circumstances in Greenwich. I believe that we have a very strong and attractive proposition for a regional casino in Greenwich, but I accept that different circumstances apply elsewhere and I urge the Minister to reconsider the limitation to one and to accept that we need to conduct a pilot on a wider scale if we are to learn the lessons.

Mr. Christopher Chope (in the Chair): I shall begin to call the hon. Members making the winding-up speeches at 10.35 am, which means that we have about 20 minutes left for this part of the debate. I hope that hon. Members will be brief.

10.14 am

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): My constituency already has three casinos, all of which are very successful and which are, in many ways, some of the safest places to be around and within in Southend, compared with some of the pubs and clubs there. I would support there being only one test bed, but on the basis that it was in Southend. I suspect that other hon. Members who want a regional casino in their area would also encourage only one if it was on their patch. The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) made powerful points about a larger number. I was somewhat confused, given that the Gambling Act 2005 allows the Government, through a statutory instrument subject to the affirmative procedure, to increase the number. I would be interested to hear, when the Minister winds up the debate, at what point, the initial casino having been tested, the number would be extended—whether that would be at six, 12 or 24 months.

There are major social impact issues, but as I mentioned, the casinos in Southend are some of the safest places in the area. Southend has high unemployment—4.9 per cent.—and therefore meets the
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criteria for a regional casino. The local council is keen to bring a regional casino to the town. I admit that I have been concerned at words coming from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister forcing our region to rally behind one proposal. It would not be right to force all politicians and authorities to rally behind just one proposal in a region; we should leave things wide open. In my region, I can see why the Government would think that there is a powerful case for one regional casino at the dome, but I do not necessarily think that that would be right.

My final concern relates to section 106 agreements. One reason why there is such a powerful case for a regional casino in Southend is that it would regenerate the area and, through a section 106 agreement, solve some of the social, economic and physical problems of the constituency, where there has been a cliff slip. However, if, over coming months and years, the Treasury decides that it wants to reform the system of section 106 agreements and to take the planning gain back into the central Treasury pot and redistribute it to other areas, I would be deeply concerned about Southend having a regional casino and about a number of other proposals. I ask the Minister to confirm, if possible, that that is not likely to happen.

10.17 am

Mr. Anthony Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) on securing the debate. I will be as brief as I can. I, too, served on the pre-legislative Committee, which sat for 18 months. We considered the proposals over that time and took the view that the open-ended criteria for regional casinos should be changed. The figure of 40 was determined by the Government at the time, but it went down to eight. The situation was accepted not only across the political parties but across the two Houses during the debate. There was no opposition in relation to the final report, so it was a bit disingenuous of the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) to put forward the view that he did.

The same applies to the Conservatives. They did make their point. On 24 January 2005, the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) said:

That is on the record in Hansard, so we are now seeing another flip-flop on policy, admittedly not by the leader of the party but by other Opposition Members.

The pre-legislative Committee came to its conclusion on the basis that the scheme would be fair, just and a proper test of some of the social problems that other parties considered the casinos would create. The scheme would come across the country, and we considered that the regional development agencies would be prepared to consider those issues. There are more than 150 applications for the casinos, so there is interest not only from the industry but from local politicians, local business people and local communities.
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I speak on behalf of my constituents in Great Yarmouth, and certainly the local authority, which is Conservative-controlled, wants one of the regional casinos to help to regenerate the resort. The regeneration is not just about having a casino. We have attracted a senior leader in the hotel industry to set up and build a brand new hotel in my constituency, which will lead to extra jobs.

Some advance the argument that such a development will be socially reprehensible, and people will turn to gambling. However, in Great Yarmouth we already have two casinos, a horse-racing track and a greyhound track, the amusement arcades and the bingo halls. I asked the people who look at social responsibilities in respect of those who get caught in the net of gambling whether there was a predominance of people with a gambling addiction in places such as Great Yarmouth, as opposed to other inland areas without such amounts of gambling, and they said no. The test needs to go across the country to find out if there will be a problem: I do not consider that one test will make a justifiable case.

There is a bit of hypocritical nonsense coming from some hon. Members who decide to take a particular viewpoint on gambling, saying that perhaps we should not have even one casino and, perhaps, we should do away with gambling altogether. However, I hazard a guess that many hon. Members would welcome some investment from the lottery into their constituencies. As far as I am concerned, we need to take on board the comments of the pre-legislative Committee, which the Government have accepted, and have a test across the country on perhaps four or eight sites, because one is too few. The hunger is out there in various constituencies—not just in businesses, but in the communities as well—to help regenerate resorts like Great Yarmouth and other areas throughout the UK.

The Government should revisit this point. I urge the Minister not to be the political croupier stopping this, but to share the chips around across the country rather than give them to one player on the board.

10.22 am

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) on securing this debate and making an eloquent and wittily barbed speech in terms of some of the Opposition's flip-flops.

As a Blackpool MP, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), I have a strong interest in the outcome of the discussions in this debate. Also, as honorary president of the British Resorts Association, I have seen, as colleagues have already mentioned, some of the broad issues of decline making seaside towns and resorts central to this debate. As a former Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department that introduced this legislation, I am fully aware of all the twists and turns that have accompanied it. Coming from Blackpool, I can say a roller coaster ride on the Pepsi Max Big One is nothing compared to being in the Department in the two or three months before the legislation finally went on to the statute book. However, we are where we are.
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I want to take as my text what the Secretary of State said in writing to hon. Members about 10 days before the final agreement, before the general election:

I believe that the Government have done that by setting up the panel and charging it with certain responsibilities. We should also remember that the process includes large and small casino expansion, which will give tests across the board and throughout the country from which conclusions can be drawn.

As the debate about the House of Lords and its composition has often just dealt with the issue of categories and numbers and escaped the issue of what people want a reformed House of Lords for, I want briefly this morning to pick up some of the points that the panel needs to consider and ask, "What do you want regional casinos for? What are the issues that affect whether we have one, four, eight, or whatever number?" On sustainability, surely we are not talking just about where a regional casino is sited, but the level of preparedness, the background and the context. That is one reason why we in Blackpool feel that we have a basis for development.

The leader of Blackpool council wrote in the latest document promoting the proposals:

Mrs. Humble: I thank my hon. Friend and Blackpool colleague for giving way. Does he agree that developing the local skills base is also important? Will he welcome the new courses available at Blackpool and The Fylde college to develop the necessary skills in the town and region to ensure that local people can take part in casino development?

Mr. Marsden : My hon. Friend makes a point on preparedness in considering regional casinos that I was going to deal with.

We in Blackpool have tried, over a six-year period, to deal with this matter. It is six years since Leisure Parcs first produced its Pharaoh's Palace plan, during which time we have had the Psion report, which talked about potential regenerative benefits in Blackpool, development of the local strategic partnership and the urban regeneration company—the only one in the country—which has at its centre regeneration around the casino. The scrutiny Committee testified to the preparations in Blackpool, as the hon. Member for Southport said earlier. The chairman of the urban regeneration company is Sir Peter Hall, one of the most distinguished planners in the country.

As my hon. Friend says, there has been a series of developments designed to broaden that base and deal with preparation. Sustainability is important, which is why we in Blackpool have not just looked at beaming in a resort, or regional, casino as if it were an alien spaceship, but considered it in the context of much broader regeneration for the town. Hon. Members who
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have visited Blackpool recently, for party conferences or other reasons, will have seen that we already have an intelligent, comprehensive master plan that is developing the town in contexts other than just the importation of a regional casino. That development includes the southern gateway, which has totally redeveloped the southern side of the town and the promenade area, the Solaris Centre, which is part of the partnership between Blackpool and Lancaster university, and work currently being done on a central gateway to connect the resort zone with the proposed conference and casino quarter.

The point I am trying to make is that regional casinos cannot be thought about in a vacuum, or even in terms of one particular project, however attractively packaged and financed by the private sector it may be. We have to consider overall involvement and, indeed, as colleagues have said, the issue of local acceptance. In Blackpool, we have had, over six years, probably the most sustained argument and discussion of these issues. Of course, as the hon. Member for Southport said, there are people in Blackpool who are concerned about the potential effects of regional casinos there or anywhere else, but overall there is an understanding that without a regional casino and a kick-start element many other regeneration points on which I have touched run the risk of being still-born. That is the context in which we need to consider regional casinos, wherever they are located: will they work on their own terms and will they work in the context of the larger regeneration of the area?

If there were any doubt, our case has been put eloquently in recent years by the council, by businesses in the town and, I hope, by elected representatives and others. The five inner wards of Blackpool, where it is proposed that the casino development is located, have experienced intense multiple deprivation, which is not always recognised in seaside towns, although it is recognised in inner cities and on housing estates. We have the tenth most intense multiple deprivation in the country and male life expectancy that is shorter than that in only one other place in the country. We have poorish educational standards and transience, with primary school turnover of between 25 per cent. and 50 per cent. a year, and poor housing, with 35 per cent. of households with no central heating and 5 per cent. sharing amenities. That is the social context in which we need to look for local acceptance. We have that local acceptance across the board, even among some of the small hoteliers, who appreciate that it will involve disruption.

We have not done that at the cost of ignoring social responsibility, which is an important issue for the panel to consider. Rightly, the Government came under pressure from the Churches, the Salvation Army and the Methodists; it is right that they, and all Members, should be prodded to consider that issue. We must avoid the experience of Australia and some of the experience of the US. Blackpool is acutely conscious of that, which is why we have developed the gaming academy and training facilities and why we are in deep consultation with the trade unions. Only last week, the local authority published a draft policy document on gambling that will be considered by the licensing committee, although obviously it cannot be finalised until the Gambling Commission publishes its guidance in May.
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The issue of what we mean by a regional casino has already been raised. From the support and endorsement given in Blackpool by the regional spatial strategy, the north-west development association and the North West regional assembly, it is clear that a regional casino is seen as something that will draw people in from elsewhere and that it has to have a national and international impact.

We in Blackpool welcomed the award of the Commonwealth games to Manchester—as a native Mancunian, I particularly welcomed it—and Liverpool's designation as city of culture because those were transformational moments not only for those cities, but for the whole region, so we see anything that happens in Blackpool as having a regional and international impact.

Finally, let me say something about regeneration. Regeneration has to be genuine and integrated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood said when she spoke on the Gambling Bill in November 2004, development is not the same as regeneration. Hon. Members would do well to reflect on whether we are talking about destination gambling or doorstep gambling. I am sure that the panel will reflect on that in coming to its conclusions.

10.32 am

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) set out his case for the dome's suitability as an area for the regional casino in London. May I highlight Rainham in my constituency? It is on the edge of the Thames gateway, adjacent to Rainham marshes, and we have the opportunity to regenerate the east London corridor and kick-start much-needed investment for regenerating Rainham and the London Thames gateway area.

When we talk about the regenerative effects of regional casinos, it is important that we should focus heavily on where the relevant sites, or site, would be, given that the negative social impact, about which a number of Members have talked this morning, can be acute. Research suggests that 0.8 per cent. of the population could be prone to problem gambling, and we should take that carefully into account when considering the appropriate site for a regional casino.

Rainham has the advantage of being quite distant from population areas, separated by the channel tunnel rail link and other industrial areas. In my view, it could be a good site, because its distance from population areas would reduce the risk of problem gambling there; it is almost a destination location, and that marks it out as slightly different.

We also need to consider displacement; by that, I mean how a regional casino—a large leisure complex—will impact on other leisure areas in the vicinity. That factor cannot be downplayed. When considering the location of an appropriate site, the negative impact on the region's micro-economic climate should be taken closely into account.

My final word is that the issue should be considered carefully; the ramifications of choosing the wrong site for a casino would be long lasting and have negative impacts on the population areas that the casino served.
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10.35 am

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): As others have, I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) on securing the debate. I remind Members that the regional casinos that we are debating were only one part of the Gambling Bill, which has become the Gambling Act 2005. Although regional casinos have been a highly controversial element of that Act, many other parts have been welcomed across parties—for example, the regulations on internet gambling, tougher social responsibility and the tougher regulator in the shape of the Gambling Commission.

The greatest controversy has been about regional casinos. Indeed, Members across the House were deeply surprised when the Government first came forward with their proposals for a massive explosion in the number of casinos, whether small, large or regional. People were particularly surprised by the initial proposal, which I referred to in my previous intervention, to have an unlimited number of new regional super-casinos, which would have had up to 1,250 new-style category A machines, untried and untested, with unlimited stakes and prizes, and most closely linked in many people's minds to a potential increase in problem gambling.

That proposal for an unlimited number of such casinos was deeply surprising, and people could not reconcile it with the Secretary of State's statement to the Joint Committee; she said that if the legislation gave rise to an increase in problem gambling, it would have failed and would be bad legislation. Stung by the criticism, the Government made a U-turn, not all of which is bad, and introduced their proposal for a cap of eight on the number of regional casinos.

The Liberal Democrats supported that proposal. As we know, during the washing-up period, the Government were forced to reduce the number from eight to one. The Liberal Democrats were not involved in that deal, but it was what the Secretary of State was forced to accept. It is worth recalling that in doing so, she said,

That is what we are debating today. Before we make any decision to agree to an increase from one to whatever number, there are important issues to be resolved.

It is crucial that we take into account the effect of any change in that number on the existing and future casino estate in this country. We know that there will be more casinos than at present because of the applications still being made under the old Gaming Act 1968. I find it surprising that we are debating how many new casinos there will be when we still have not had a clear agreement from the Government on the cut-off date for applications to set up new casinos under the 1968 Act. Indeed, if the figures given in a parliamentary answer are any indication, something like 50 or more new casinos could be established under the old legislation. All that is taking place while the independent advisory panel is considering how many new casinos there should be and where they should be located.

The Government have not got their Act together on use class orders. Even before Second Reading, many of us were concerned about how a swimming pool, a dance hall or many other entertainment centres could change
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into a casino without needing planning permission. We argued that there was a need for a single use class order for casinos. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State promised us that we would have it, yet to date the issue has not been resolved.

The Government have consulted, and the consultation report has been finalised and published on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but there still have not been any statutory instruments. That issue is still unresolved, but it is crucial, because if another form of entertainment centre can be converted into a casino without planning permission, no form of section 106 agreement has to be offered up and there will be no benefit from regeneration.

Mr. Betts : I am listening to all of the hon. Gentleman's caveats. However, does he accept that if pilots are to be a meaningful test of the benefits or disbenefits of regional casinos, the right number is not one?

Mr. Foster : We will test a number of issues in the pilot, one of which relates to social responsibility and another to regeneration. I believe that it is possible to have a trial involving just one pilot, although there might be arguments for having more. Until we know the background—the environment in which the number of pilots will take place—it is difficult to judge whether there should be one, four or more. That is why this is crucial.

We are also considering issues about other impacts on gaming in this country. It is crazy that the Government still have not made a decision on what to do about the triennial review in terms of stakes and prizes for family entertainment centre machines. The Minister has said that he wants more evidence. He has been given that. He has said that it would be helpful to have cross-party support, which he has been offered. Yet, we still have not had the decision. That is creating a loss of jobs in seaside resorts and in many other places, and it is not an economic benefit. We need an answer.

As others have said, we need to be clear about the regeneration benefit. It is fascinating to note that when the Secretary of State reluctantly accepted that there had to be a reduction in the number of regional casinos from eight to one, she said that it would probably mean a

That represents 5,000 jobs per casino, which is in strange, marked contrast to what the hon. Member for Manchester, Central told us in his speech about the bid for east Manchester's casino. He said that it would create only 2,300 jobs. The Secretary of State has been somewhat cavalier about the economic benefits. We know from the Henley Centre's study and the Hall Aitken study, to which reference has been made, that

I am willing to consider good arguments for increasing the number from one, but several other issues need to be sorted out first. Many assurances need to be given and we need clear evidence of the real benefits if we are to accept an increase in the number.
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10.42 am

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I give my customary congratulation to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) on raising the issue in this debate. The numbers in attendance show that there is a need for it. I suspect that it ought to have been held on the Floor of the House and on a better occasion, when more hon. Members could have made a contribution.

On the other hand, I am not sure whether I should really congratulate the hon. Gentleman on taking the Minister's line—it is probably a set-up job by the Minister—of placing the blame on Conservative Members for the fact that there has been no progress on this issue.

I reiterate that introducing the statutory instrument is all that the Government need to do to make progress. The provision is in the Bill, and it could be done tomorrow. Presumably they have the votes.

Tony Lloyd : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moss : I have only seven minutes, so I shall continue.

The Government presumably have the votes, so they should get on with it. They should not pray us in aid. They should not say to Conservative Members that they need to carry this through with our support; they do not need it. The House of Lords cannot change the statutory instrument, and the Government know that, so if Labour Members feel that this is a crucial issue, all they need to do is bring forward the statutory instrument and get on with the job.

I was misquoted on two occasions during the debate. At the Social Market Foundation, when questioned by the journalist who has been mentioned, I simply said that we had argued for less than eight regional casinos in the pilot; in fact, to answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), I tabled a probing amendment for four—[Laughter.] If we were all to be bound by the probing amendments that we tabled in Committee, there would be no point in debate.

The issue was that the Minister came to the Committee plucking out of the air the magic figures of eight, eight, eight. He made no justification for why the number was eight rather than six or 24. We tabled an amendment to tease out the reasons for the choice of eight. Even now, we might hear some reasons why the magic figure of eight is so terribly important.

Tony Lloyd : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moss : No, I have not got enough time.

The amendment was a probing one; that answers that point.

In answer to a question that has been posed, I can say that we always argued that we had to approach the matter cautiously. On the number of category A machines that would be released through regional casinos, the evidence from Australia and the United States indicated that a cautious approach was necessary. We said that we were advocating one regional casino in the pilot because of serious concerns about problem gambling. If the Government could demonstrate
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through evidence that there would be no increase in problem gambling as a result of an increase in the number of regional casinos in the pilot, I said that we would consider the proposal. In other words, we would consider the evidence on problem gambling and would not turn our backs on a proposal backed up by evidence. That is not to say that we will back the Government if they simply come up with a figure of eight either today or tomorrow. That deals with that point.

In answer to a written question last year, the Minister said:

Why is the Minister now suddenly organising a debate, through the hon. Member for Manchester, Central, to get the issue raised again?

Tony Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman may not value consistency in his approach to this matter, but I put forward a strong case for a regional casino in Manchester, irrespective of what my right hon. Friend the Minister said. Indeed, I have had discussions and even arguments with my right hon. Friend about the issue in the past. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

Mr. Moss : All right, I will accept that, in the sense that the hon. Gentleman wants to promote, through regeneration, an area of Manchester that I know well. I would argue that it is the worst possible place in Manchester in which to put a super-casino. It is the most deprived area. There will no longer be any membership requirement to enter a casino. Therefore, the ambient gambling that will be done by the deprived people in that vicinity makes it just about the worst possible location for a regional casino that I can imagine. However, we will not argue about that now; perhaps we shall at another time.

I want to raise several more issues. First, until the past few days, we had not seen any research or evidence that showed a completely different picture about the regenerative claims that are made by those who want to invest in regional casinos. The Hall Aitken report, which has been mentioned, represents the first evidence that we have of research that says, "Hold on a minute. The claims being made for a regenerative benefit of £50 million do not stack up if they are considered more closely." This is the first evidence that we have received, and the Conservative party was right to be cautious.

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Moss : The Minister will have plenty of time to reply.

On jobs, the report concludes:

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On social impacts, the report states:

The report also states that evidence from the Henley Centre's work

The Psion report was in relation to the north-west.

All those issues are being raised, and they support our cautious approach. If the Government can come up with counter evidence to say that there is no evidence of potential problem gambling in having more than one regional casino, we shall consider it.

10.50 am

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn) : It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Chope. I have never seen so many hon. Members turn up at 9.30 on a Wednesday morning for an Adjournment debate. I do not know whether that is due to your chairmanship or to the subject matter under consideration. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) on introducing the debate. He has been a champion of such matters for a considerable time. I assure the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) that my hon. Friend needs no prompting to make sure that the matter is brought out in the proper way.

We have been debating not only regional casinos but how we have approached gambling as a whole from the Budd report onwards. That is important, because the Government did not have the powers to control remote gambling and e-gambling that are now serious issues for society. They are increasing at a rate that could not have been envisaged five or 10 years ago. It is therefore right that the Government set up a inquiry board and the playing for success initiative. I thank the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee for its good work. It brought to the House a measure that will go on the statute book to protect and deliver the real core values of the legislation, which is to keep the area crime free, protect the vulnerable and ensure that there is integrity within the industry. It is what we will deliver.

While discussing the modernisation programme, we believed that it was important to investigate casinos. We went back to legislation from the mid-1960s that was probably the most draconian legislation in respect of gaining a licence. In fact, the most difficult licence to obtain is not that for casinos. We thought that such matters needed to revisited under the strict control of the new Gambling Commission, which many throughout the world regard as a model of how to have responsible gambling and make sure that the three core values are kept right at the heart of any gambling establishment in this country. As a commission, it has the teeth, the power and the resource to make sure that that happens.
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Our cautious approach was absolutely right. The work of Hall Aitken has been held up this morning as a well-researched report. Its estimated social cost is based on work commissioned by the British Amusement Catering Trade Association. That is fine. I have no problems with it but, for goodness sake, if people are to undertake a responsible piece of work, the work done by my Department must be taken into account. It is at odds with the base of the report. If we want an informed debate, let us have one. As a professional organisation, it does Hall Aitken no good at all to put out such rubbish. It is biased to an extent that is unacceptable. It has been presented as evidence by the Opposition spokesperson, who said that we based responsible decisions on it. It does not do itself any justice. There needs to be an informed debate.

Let us be clear about the argument of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Yes, we are changing the Gaming Act 1968 in respect of casinos. Yes, we are consulting on such matters, the closure date for which is 28 April. However, casinos are not the big issue. That was raised by the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) when she referred to the number of slots in the establishments. What clearly affected me when I saw what was happening in Australia was not casinos, pubs or clubs, but the number of slots that were allowed to operate. I assure the House that we have tied each establishment to a specific number of slots, so that the Gambling Commission can control what happens with that development in the light of social responsibility requirements. We are determined to take a cautious approach to make sure that that happens.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Talking of slots, does my right hon. Friend recognise that one regional casino will be allowed 1,250 slots with unlimited stakes and unlimited prizes? That will double the total number of slot machines in British casinos at present. Does not that reinforce the case for a more cautious approach and for having one regional casino and determining its enormous effect over three years?

Mr. Caborn : I understand what my hon. Friend means, as I do what my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) was concerned about and what was said by the Methodist Church. My mother is 90 years of age; she is a Methodist. She is temperance—I do not know what she thinks her son is doing. I can understand where the Methodists come from, but we are legislating in a cautious way. We need evidence. The best way in which to test reports such as those from Hall Aitken would be to have a number of regional casinos, a number of large casinos and a number of small casinos, so that there were eight, eight and eight.

Let us consider political manoeuvring. The Daily Mail ran a big campaign to which the Tories acceded. They thought that it would bring them a few votes in the election if they knocked down the number from eight to one. It did not work. We were returned. Nevertheless, we must reach consensus. The Opposition treated the matter with a flip-flop, but a considerable number of Conservative Members made representations to me when going through the Lobbies asking whether they
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could have the casino in their area, if there was to be only one. We heard the same this morning. However, let us at least approach the matter sensibly.

Anne Milton : What does the Minister believe is the motivation behind the Hall Aitken report? If he can so readily dismiss it as rubbish, why does he think the organisation carried it out in the first place?

Mr. Caborn : The evidence in the report is exactly the same as the evidence that BACTA presented a considerable time ago. My officials have been through it. We examined it seriously and evaluated it. It was found wanting. If Hall Aitken want to produce a report, let them at least put the other side of the argument, too. It was already on the public record. The way in which the organisation carried out the report did not do it any good. I am willing to debate such matters. They were the subject of the Budd report, the playing for success initiative and the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. The House then decided to subject the proposals to a Joint Committee that made recommendations of which the Government accepted pretty well every one.

We then put the measure to the House and, because the Opposition thought that they could steal a march for a few votes in the election by pandering to the Daily Mail, they changed their mind from eight to one. That is the political reality of the position, and they are now trying to say that we can put that aside. I made it clear to the hon. Member for North-East Cambridgeshire, as I have to many hon. Members, that we shall reconsider the matter if those on the Opposition Benches say that they will reconsider moving from one to a number between one and eight. It is right to move forward in that way, and we are still prepared to go in that direction.

Mr. Moss : Why does the Minister need our support? The Government do not ask for our support in respect of all their other legislation—except for education, of course, but that is a recent development. Why does the right hon. Gentleman need our support to bring through an statutory instrument? The Labour party packed the Committee with hon. Members who want a regional casino in their patch. They will vote the measure through, end of story. Why does he need our support?

Mr. Caborn : I have been speaking for the past seven or eight minutes, but what I have said has obviously not penetrated through to the hon. Gentleman, as usual. I said that the legislation was not only about casinos, but about dealing with e-gambling and remote gambling. As it was, a side issue of the whole matter was casinos. To take forward regional casinos will need consensus across the House. That is the best way forward. If the Conservatives do not want to agree, it is at their doorstep that there will not now be a continuation of the regional casino.

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