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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
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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:

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.

4.3 pm

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 party’s 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.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Swire: Not yet.

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.

Tony Lloyd: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Swire: No, I will take my lead from the Secretary of State. If the hon. Gentleman will just allow me to complete a paragraph, I will give way to him in due course.

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
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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 general—and 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

Those are the very people whom the Government’s Gambling Act 2005 is supposed to protect.

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 panel’s 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.

Tony Lloyd: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Swire: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have quite a long speech to make. He can intervene, but if he will allow me to make progress, he may find that I will answer some of his questions.

The right hon. Lady claims that the future of all 17 casinos is at risk if the order is defeated this
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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 us—whether the Opposition are willing to accept the casino advisory panel’s 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 Manchester—the 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 panel’s ranking table to the top—it 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.

The right hon. Lady will also remember that in the same statement I said that we intended to

That is the right approach, and it is exactly what we seek to do today.

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 CAP’s 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.

Tony Lloyd: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is being nice—but only after a time. When he said to the House on 30 January,

was there any ambiguity in that statement? I can see none. With reference to his remarks this afternoon, can
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he tell me exactly what doubts have been cast on Manchester’s 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.

Mrs. Humble: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Swire: I must make some progress. I have given way far more—in fact, 100 per cent. more—than the Secretary of State.

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 panel’s 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.

Were that not enough to make the Secretary of State think again, last week the House of Lords Merits Committee raised some crucial questions. It stated that the order might

One of the three core objectives of the Gambling Act 2005 is

Yet the Committee found that the casino advisory panel’s interpretation of its criteria

It said that the panel

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.

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Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Swire: I must make some progress.

Not only was that the view of the Committee, but it was backed by the study of international research which was commissioned by the casino advisory panel, but which for some reason

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:

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?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced Member of this House, knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair.

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 Manchester’s 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.

Lord McIntosh told the Joint Committee:

As Professor Peter Collins, an expert in gambling who is himself based in Salford, which is not in east Manchester, said:

Yet when Lord Filkin asked Professor Crow, the chairman of the casino advisory panel, to confirm whether

Professor Crow replied, “Yes.”

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?

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It is also not sufficient to say that the casino advisory panel simply followed its terms of reference. Is the Secretary of State content that, as the Merits Committee makes clear,

Or is she happy that, according to the Committee, the panel’s analysis of the ability of local authorities to manage the process

What is clear is that many of the problems arose from the panel’s interpretation of the terms of reference. I quote the Lords Committee again:

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 panel’s report states explicitly:

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