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The House must decide today whether it wants to accept, and support the consequences of, a policy that it voted for in 2005, and that the Opposition accepted at that time, and even welcomed. The policy recognised that in the new world, millions of people want to gamble and have increasing opportunities to do so, but that the role of government is to ensure a high and rigorous level of protection. I remind the House of the many thousands of new jobs and the millions of
pounds of investment that may be put at risk across the country if the order is not approved. Our policy recognises the inalienable role of the Government in protecting the public, and specifically the vulnerable and children, but it also responds to calls from local authorities to bring forward a limited number of casinos for the regeneration and leisure investment that they will bring.
On the debate that will follow my speech, when hon. Members consider how to vote tonight and think about voting with the Opposition, I want them to ask themselves two questions. First, are they really prepared to be associated with an Opposition who are so unprincipled and inconsistent? Who said:
I add my congratulations to Manchester on its success in securing the proposed regional casino.[ Official Report, 30 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 89.]?
It was the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire). The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who seems to have disappeared, said that he was delighted that Manchester won the competition. Secondly, I would ask Members whether they really are prepared to throw away the chance of seeing regeneration benefits for 17 local authorities across the country. I hope that, having considered those two questions, they will join me in commending the order to the House.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): The first word that springs to mind is astonishment. It must be almost unprecedented for a Secretary of State to come to the House and admit that there has been a climbdown in the other place, having given the Opposition absolutely no prior notification of what she intends to do in the debate. We learned that she wrote to a number of her partys Back Benchers to try to buy them off, but did not share with us the critical change in policy that she just articulated. It is absolutely astonishing.
The Secretary of State needs to clarify matters at the outset of the debate; that is absolutely crucial to the debate. It is crucial, too, I suspect, to the way in which many people will vote at the end of what the Order Paper says is a debate, although she is not encouraging debate because she did not allow people to intervene on her.
Will the right hon. Lady say whether the Joint Scrutiny Committee can scrutinise the decision that we have been asked to support? If, given the remit that she outlined, the Committee concludes that it was a mistake, or that there was something wrong with the process of awarding the licence to Manchester and that perhaps it should go elsewhere, will its recommendations carry any weight at all? Can the Committee recommend the withdrawal of the licence from Manchester if we vote for the order this evening? Will she confirm that she will not issue the Manchester licence unless and until the
Joint Scrutiny Committee agrees to it? If she cannot do that, the Committee, as she outlined it, is nothing more than an exercise to get her out of a hole, and it will not do any of the things that we would expect such a Committee to do.
The Secretary of State is right to say that there has been much recent discussion about those casinos, and about gambling in generaland not just by Members of Parliament. In the past week alone, we have heard the strong reservations of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who warned of the impact on
the youngest, the poorest and the most vulnerable.
The Secretary of State was understandably brief at the outset of her statement, but it is important to remind the House of why we are here today. My party agreed, largely thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), to a pilot scheme of one regional casino, and eight large and eight small casinos. We reached that position after the right hon. Lady initially proposed an unlimited number of regional casinos. Our top priority throughout the passage of the Act, and ever since, has been to minimise problem gambling, and we have been entirely consistent in that aim.
The Government always say that the Act is about protecting the vulnerable, yet they are pushing the order through without adequate scrutiny of the risks of problem gambling associated with siting the regional casino in a city centre. The casino advisory panel has made a recommendation to Parliament, which Parliament is free to accept or reject after debate. That is why we are here.
Mr. Anthony Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman said that he supported one regional casino and no more. Why, then, in 2005, did his party table an amendment, which he voted to support, for four regional casinos, not one?
Mr. Swire: If we had more time, perhaps we could go back over the legislation. [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members should allow me to speak; at least I have accepted an intervention. The hon. Gentleman would do well to remember that initially his Government wanted an unlimited number of regional casinos with unlimited jackpots. It was because of the official Opposition, and because of support from other Opposition parties, that we managed to get it down to one pilot regional casino, which we are discussing this afternoon. We are here to reconsider the panels recommendation, not simply to rubber-stamp it. If the order is passed today, we will finalise at a stroke the single biggest change to gambling law in the UK, which is why it is important that Parliament be given adequate opportunity to scrutinise the recommendation of the casino advisory panel before the final decision is made.
The right hon. Lady claims that the future of all 17 casinos is at risk if the order is defeated this
afternoon. That is clearly not the case. Let me remind the House that we need not be considering one order this afternoon. We offered the Secretary of State the opportunity to put forward one order covering the 16 large and small casinos, which we would support. She rejected that offer. Her approach remains all or nothing, and it is designed solely to put pressure on her Back Benchers and to steamroller the decision through without proper scrutiny.
Let me make it clear to the House that no Member who votes against the order today need worry that those 16 large and small casinos are under threat, regardless of the scare stories that the right hon. Lady is putting around. If she re-tabled the order with just the 16 locations, we would support it. We are voting against the order, but it is not a vote against the casino advisory panel or a vote against Manchester. It is a vote for further parliamentary scrutiny.
I turn to the substance of the matter before uswhether the Opposition are willing to accept the casino advisory panels recommendation to site the regional casino in Manchester. The right hon. Lady referred to the congratulations that my colleagues and I offered to Manchester and the 16 other locations in the hours after the advisory panel made its announcement. Those congratulations were genuine. We had no intrinsic opposition to Manchester or any other individual location, but given the surprise choice of Manchesterthe right hon. Lady conceded that, even for her, it was a surprise choice, not least, I suspect, as it had risen from the bottom of the casino advisory panels ranking table to the topit is right for us to have used the time since then to look in greater detail at the report and to listen to the concerns that are now in the public domain.
hold the Government to account on the many promises they have given to protect the most vulnerable and those most at risk from their legislation.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The House of Lords Statutory Instruments Committee found that the panel did not take proper account of or give a high priority to the impact of the casinos on the community and their harmful effect. Does my hon. Friend consider that a reasonable reason why the House should reject the CAPs recommendation?
Mr. Swire: That is a reasonable reason for the House to reject the order and for a proper Joint Scrutiny Committee to be reconvened in order to examine that and many other accusations and suggestions that are in the public domain.
I add my congratulations to Manchester . . . I and my party hope that that will bring the promised regeneration to that great city in the north-west[ Official Report, 30 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 89-9.]
was there any ambiguity in that statement? I can see none. With reference to his remarks this afternoon, can
he tell me exactly what doubts have been cast on Manchesters ability to deal with both regeneration and problem gambling?
Mr. Swire: I am about to tell the hon. Gentleman all my doubts. If he had allowed me to proceed, our exchange might have been more interesting. I congratulated Manchester that day, as did my hon. Friends. The city won a competition. One hopes that the regenerative benefits will be as envisaged, although there are all kinds of reports, such as the Hall Aitkin report and another report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which suggest that the regenerative benefits of the regional casinos are not all they are cracked up to be. If the hon. Gentleman read the exchange between the Chairman of the House of Lords Merits Committee and Sir Stephen Crow, he would see that there are serious doubts about the regenerative benefits of some of the regional casinos.
The Secretary of State has tried to turn this into an issue of party politics, yet she cannot deny that a clear coalition of concern has emerged in both Houses and across all parties in the weeks since the casino advisory panel published its report. Before the strong arm of the Government Whips swung into action, 83 of her Back-Bench colleagues signed an early-day motion questioning the panels decision and calling for the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Gambling Bill to be reconstituted. That is the clearest evidence that there can be of the concern that exists on both sides of the House.
imperfectly achieve its policy objective.
protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.
did not give high priority to the prevention of harmful effects to the community from gambling.
veered towards their terms of reference with their emphasis on the research testing of impacts rather than the minimisation of harm.
The Joint Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who is in his place, concluded that regional casinos should be located in a resort destination rather than in a city centre where there is greater risk of ambient, or casual, gambling from people living nearby.
was not used in the Panels selection process,
according to the Merits Committee. The Secretary of State will remember that one of her former Ministers, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, formerly the Minister with responsibility for gambling, told the Joint Committee:
we have taken the view that in what I call destination gamblingin other words where you have to make a positive decision to go into a location where gambling takes place
Graham Stringer: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is saying that the casino is to be in Manchester city centre, but it is not. Can he please be accurate in his description?
Mr. Swire: Not only that, but it is not a very good point, because I happen to know that although the casino is destined to go to east Manchester, under the legislation it is within Manchesters rights to relocate it anywhere within the area, as the Minister for Sport confirmed to the Merits Committee. I can happily refer hon. Members to the relevant Hansard.
we have taken the view that in what I call destination gamblingin other words where you have to make a positive decision to go into a location where gambling takes place, rather than casual gambling which is thrust at you at the street cornerthere is likely to be less increase in problem gambling than there is from casual gambling.
convenience is the single greatest spur to increase problem gambling.
Their interpretation of their terms of reference made it virtually impossible for them to recommend that there should be a destination casino?,
Are we not right in wanting to scrutinise further why such a diametrically opposed approach was taken by the casino advisory panel? Why is the Secretary of State content to push this order through without proper consideration of that fundamental discrepancy? Why are the Government so intent on forcing their Back Benchers to rubber-stamp this decision without allowing proper scrutiny?
the panel had added some elements to the selection criteria, for example their own assumptions about relative profitability.
was not in the terms of reference?
Adding maximisation of profit into the consideration...seemed to have a greater weight on the Panels recommendations than minimisation of harm.
Does not the Secretary of State find it amazing and worrying that maximisation of profit was such a priority for the panel, ahead of reducing social harm? Indeed, the casino advisory panels report states explicitly:
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