Previous Section Index Home Page

How does that square with the Secretary of State’s claim that her legislation will protect the vulnerable?

The Secretary of State’s explanations of the casino advisory panel’s terms of reference are simply not sufficient. We have no confidence that the rationale of the casino advisory panel was the same rationale as this House had in mind when it agreed to a pilot scheme of new casinos— [Interruption.] It is not enough for the Secretary of State and Ministers to say that the Gambling Commission will tackle problem gambling. This pilot must not be some sort of social experiment. The new legislation clearly states that it should be about minimising harm, which must include the decision about where to locate the regional casino.

In the light of all the expert advice gathered by the Lords Committee and its conclusions, we believe that the panel’s recommendation on the regional casinos should be subject to further scrutiny by a properly reconstituted Committee of both Houses. That is necessary to ensure that Parliament is confident that the final decision is the right one, and that the importance of minimising problem gambling is fully taken into account.

The Secretary of State’s argument that this is putting 7,000 jobs at risk, which I have seen rehearsed in some of today’s and yesterday’s newspapers, simply does not hold water. We are calling for a four to six-week delay while this recommendation is given proper scrutiny. Given that the casino will not be built for three years or so, and that the legislation has in any case been on the cards since 2001, why would a delay of six weeks make any material difference whatever? Is it because, as many believe—and in line with her concession in the other place—the Secretary of State has already realised that the whole process was flawed?

Yes, we supported the establishment of an independent panel to advise the Secretary of State on the locations of the new casinos, but the right hon. Lady should not abdicate her responsibility and hide behind what is ultimately advice—I repeat, advice—without giving the recommendations adequate parliamentary scrutiny. So far, her only concession has been to extend the length of
28 Mar 2007 : Column 1564
this debate to three hours and to offer up a Committee that, on closer inspection, is likely to be powerless. That is simply not good enough.

Mr. Wallace: On 28 February, I received a letter from the Secretary of State saying that there was no need to have any type of panel reconvened, or otherwise to examine the decision. Does my hon. Friend agree that we now seeing a U-turn when she stands before the House and says that we can have one?

Mr. Swire: I think that there have been more U-turns than a driving instructor encounters in a lifetime. It is certainly extraordinary to try to reconcile that statement with what we have heard today. My hon. Friend would do well to examine what the Secretary of State has actually said about this reconstituted Committee. I think that it is effectively a dog without teeth, but we will come on to that in a minute.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that she could have saved her legislation in its entirety by splitting the order, as we and many others have asked her to do, so that the 16 large and small locations could be voted on while the regional casino recommendation was examined by a proper reconstituted Joint Scrutiny Committee? The Government are asking us today to make a leap of faith based on the recommendations of the casino advisory panel, but the Secretary of State’s attack on the Opposition would have carried more weight if the Government’s own stance had been clearer. We are voting this afternoon on the biggest change to gambling law in memory, yet only a week ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was imposing a new 50 per cent. tax rate on these casinos, because, we are told, of his personal distaste for gambling.

The Chancellor—or should I say the Prime Minister in waiting?—has apparently ruled out any increase in regional casinos under his premiership. At the same time, the Deputy Prime Minister, who, as we all know, takes an active personal interest in those wanting to build regional casinos, has been telling anyone who will listen—I understand that there are still one or two such people—that Blackpool should have been chosen. If the Secretary of State does not have the support of her own Cabinet colleagues, how can she expect to have the support of Parliament? Why is she so determined to charge ahead despite all these objections?

In a desperate last-minute attempt to buy off those who are set to vote against her this afternoon, the Secretary of State has suggested that she will accept the amendment tabled in the other place by Baroness Golding. I urge Members to get a copy of that amendment, which clearly states that it is

Will the Secretary of State confirm, as I asked her to do at the outset, that not a single licence will be issued until the reconvened Joint Scrutiny Committee has sat and judged whether the casino should be in Manchester or somewhere else? If the Secretary of State is using the reconvened Joint Scrutiny Committee only as camouflage, or as a device to get her out of the hole that she finds herself in, it simply will not wash on either side of the House.

28 Mar 2007 : Column 1565

The Secretary of State’s slightly chaotic, eleventh-hour approach typifies her attitude towards gambling. She dismisses with equal scorn the critical, the questioning, the concerned and the cautious. This afternoon we are simply asking, “What’s the rush?” She has already conceded defeat in the other place. It is because she is still refusing to grant the measures additional proper parliamentary scrutiny that we shall still vote against the order today. That is not a vote against Manchester, or against any of the other proposed locations. It is a vote for caution and for further scrutiny, so that Parliament can assure itself that the final decision is the right one, not only for the Government and for this beleaguered Secretary of State, but for the community in which the casino will be placed.

4.28 pm

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I say to the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) that if it looks like opportunism and smells like opportunism, it almost certainly is opportunism. I also say to him and to the Liberal Democrats that a vote against the order will be interpreted as a vote against Manchester, and it is important that we establish that. Those Opposition Members who intend to vote against the order must recognise that there can be no other interpretation of their action, which is being taken for reasons not of principle but of opportunism. As such, it can only be interpreted as a vote against the city of Manchester.

Mr. Wallace: Does the hon. Gentleman concede that we could vote against the order today, the panel could be reconvened and the evidence could be tested and examined in detail, and if the panel came back and recommended Manchester, Liberal Democrats or anyone else in the House would no doubt support that panel’s finding? This is not a vote against Manchester.

Tony Lloyd: I am confident that the hon. Gentleman will join others in voting for Manchester at some stage but not, unfortunately, when it matters tonight. If Parliament passes the order tonight, the expectations for regeneration in my constituency, where the casino will be located, will be met.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) tried to intervene on the hon. Member for East Devon to point out his misunderstanding of Manchester. I invite him to visit my constituency so that I can disabuse him of the view that it is a city centre location. It simply is not.

We need to disabuse the House of the myth that Manchester somehow sneaked through on the question of regeneration. It is sad for me to record that my city and my constituency are still among the poorest parts of the country. Unemployment in my constituency is the fifth highest in Britain. Child poverty in my constituency is the highest in Britain. According to the Government’s index of deprivation, which takes account of a basket of factors, from housing to education to health, Manchester is still the third most deprived local authority. Every ward bar one in my constituency is massively more deprived—I do not use
28 Mar 2007 : Column 1566
this against Blackpool—than any ward in Blackpool, with one exception. That is the level of deprivation in modern Manchester.

Opposition Members—and one or two of my hon. Friends—who were fooled by the illusion of the glitzy city centre into thinking that the regeneration of Manchester is somehow finished, fail to recognise the reality of the poverty and the need for regeneration in that city.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): If, as appears to be the wish of the Conservative party, the order is not passed, and the panel’s consideration of Manchester and Blackpool is re-examined, there is no reason for the debate not to be reopened on all the other disappointed candidates for the regional, large and small casinos. Clearly, that is a concern to my constituents and the council in Milton Keynes, who are pleased that they have been successful, and would not want that decision reopened.

Tony Lloyd: My hon. Friend raises a real issue. It is almost beyond belief that other disappointed local authorities would not seek judicial review to alter the balance of a decision on the range of regional, large and small casinos.

The casino advisory panel recognised that Manchester has the advantage, despite the hon. Member for East Devon’s attempt to rubbish it, of an enviable reputation for being able to use regeneration moneys effectively and efficiently. We do have that good reputation. I repeat to the House, however, that Manchester still has enormous need. Opposition Members should consider that Manchester is still suffering from the 100,000 manufacturing jobs that it lost when the Thatcher Government were in power and did so much damage. Recently, Barclaycard has decided to move 600 jobs away from Manchester, and Ciba-Geigy has closed down a plant that has been there for 100 years, taking away another 400 jobs. Therefore, perhaps Opposition Members—who even now do not understand much about the economic geography of the north of England—will understand that a city such as Manchester constantly needs to replace the jobs that it loses. That is why we need these hospitality industry jobs. As the Secretary of State has told the House previously—this was met with guffaws—Manchester is the third most popular tourist venue for day visitors in the country. That might astonish Members, but it is a matter of basic fact.

Mrs. Humble: I do not dispute the poverty figures that my hon. Friend mentions for his constituency, but Manchester has one of the most thriving economies in the north-west—it is the fastest-growing in the north-west—and visitors to the city such as me like to enjoy the shopping opportunities there, while others like to enjoy the football.

Tony Lloyd: People come to the Manchester tourist destination for many reasons. Of course they come for the football and cricket—Manchester does both very well, and football better than anywhere else in the country. The city also does theatre and music very well, and nightclubs. Sports City has 5 million visitors every year, and they do not come for the shopping. My hon. Friend should be cautious about trying to rubbish Manchester’s claim to be a serious tourist destination.

28 Mar 2007 : Column 1567

Mr. Wallace: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take some advice from a fellow north-west MP, who knows the area’s economic geography and who also lives there. I understand his genuine concern about the deprivation and poverty in the centre of Manchester, so will he join me in expressing deep concern that Professor Crow admitted in his evidence to the Lords Committee that those factors were not taken into account when the location of the casino was decided?

Tony Lloyd: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is wrong on most counts and on this one as well. His intervention allows me to say that Professor Crow wrote to Lord Filkin, saying:

the Lords Merits Committee—

Professor Crow goes on to talk about the evidence taken from the Salvation Army, the Quakers, the Christian Institute, NHS primary trusts, faith groups and so on. He concluded:

and I emphasise that “more than anywhere else”—

I hope that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) and others will accept that the allegation of the Merits Committee was simply wrong, that the casino advisory panel considered in detail the concept of harm minimisation and that it accorded Manchester very high marks in that regard.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I have visited the area in question on numerous occasions to go to Sports City and the velodrome, so I am familiar with it. However, I genuinely do not know how to vote tonight. I am concerned about the social impact of casinos and not very enamoured with the idea of huge regional casinos. Nor am I convinced of the regenerational capacity of such ventures compared with other investment possibilities in the area. What would my hon. Friend say to convince me to vote for the order?

Tony Lloyd: I suppose that it depends on the exact nature of my hon. Friend’s difficulty. Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I have genuine respect for those who are opposed to gambling—full stop. That is a perfectly legitimate and intelligible position, but what is not intelligible is to play politics about whether the casino should be located in Manchester, Yarmouth, Milton Keynes or somewhere else. That is not a reputable argument.

However, we can argue about how we maximise regeneration. I believe that regeneration could be done very successfully in Manchester, which has a good record for making it work. We can also argue about how harm minimisation could be carried out, and Manchester—uniquely among those areas that bid for the casino—put forward a comprehensive plan in that regard.

28 Mar 2007 : Column 1568

In any case, and irrespective of the decision reached this evening, Manchester city council accepts that problem gambling already exists in my city, as a result of the internet and all the other ways that people can access gambling in our society. The town hall’s responsible gambling unit will carry on its work anyway, because we feel that we have a duty to take a responsible approach to the gambling that already goes on. Manchester’s commitment to responsible gambling must underwrite the bids for regional casinos, and the whole approach to gambling in modern Britain.

Gambling is better done in a casino regulated by law than in those that exist in hyperspace, which allow people to operate on credit and incur considerable debt without proper recourse. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) will at least acknowledge what Manchester tries to do about problem gambling and to ensure that the 2,700 jobs we believe that we can create through the casino turn into more by using it as a lever for the hospitality industry. Despite hollow laughter from Conservative Members, that is an important part of the Manchester economy.

It is important to hold a parliamentary debate on the matter. There is little opposition in Manchester, other than from the occasional opportunistic politician, to siting the casino in the city. The north-east Manchester Advertiser, the Manchester Evening News and the local media have all run campaigns in favour of locating the regional casino there. We want the casino to be based there—the general public in my city are overwhelmingly in favour of it. That is an important endorsement. Frankly, that cannot be claimed by all those who promote different casino sites throughout the country. I do not criticise people for that; I accept that the subject is controversial in some areas. However, it is not controversial in the poorest part of the city of Manchester, which I represent.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): I respect the hon. Gentleman’s point, but does he accept that when people are bombarded by those in authority almost guaranteeing that huge numbers of jobs and massive redevelopment of an area will flow from such a decision, they will vote for it? However, nowhere have those results been demonstrated. If, in two or three years, expectations have not been realised, will the hon. Gentleman come to the House to demand that the casino be closed down?

Tony Lloyd: Let me go this far with the right hon. Gentleman: it is important to use the Manchester experiment as a template for the rest of the country. The Government have made that commitment. If we discover that the impact is as negative as he suggests, we would not want casinos in Blackpool, Manchester, Milton Keynes or anywhere. However, I emphasise that gambling and its problems exist in our society and that it is better for them to be regulated. I guarantee that the regional casino in Manchester will be examined more often and more closely than any casino that currently exists. We will know in a short time whether we can make the casino work for regeneration and job creation and whether we can minimise the impact of problem gambling in a way that should reassure those who argue, however speciously, that they support an experiment and nothing more.

28 Mar 2007 : Column 1569

I hope that the plea to recognise the needs of a city such as Manchester will not, once again, fall on deaf ears on the Opposition Benches. If it does, that would be interpreted only as a vote against Manchester.

4.42 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Like the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) and his colleagues, we will vote against the order. I want to make it clear, especially to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), that our decision has nothing to do with a specific casino bid or a particular location. I hope that he will acknowledge that my speech demonstrates that.

Also like the hon. Member for East Devon, I am disappointed that the Secretary of State did not make available to me or the hon. Gentleman the contents of the letter that she wrote to hon. Members who represent Blackpool. I have now had an opportunity to read it, but the Committee that she proposes to establish, through an amendment tabled in another place by Baroness Golding, will do nothing to tackle our anxieties. The letter describes the creation of a fresh Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the casino advisory panel and ascertain what lessons can be learned for the future. Clearly, such a Committee will have no impact and give no help to those of us who believe that we need to establish a Committee to examine the recommendations before a vote is taken on them.

The Secretary of State knows that this is extremely controversial legislation. She said so herself in her speech. She has many times argued for a cautious approach. That is why I wrote to her on two separate occasions requesting that she reconvene the Joint Scrutiny Committee of both Houses of Parliament, which was ably chaired by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and gave us excellent advice, before we set off on the road that led to the Gambling Act 2005. We believe that it should be reconvened and that we should not go ahead with a vote on the CAP’s recommendations without the Joint Committee's views on two specific issues. First, it should consider the impact on the CAP’s recommendations of the recent and significant changes in gambling ecology in this country. Secondly, it should consider the concerns that have been expressed not least by the Merits Committee in another place about the remit given to the CAP and the way in which it met that remit. The Secretary of State's toothless Committee will offer none of those things.

Since the CAP was established, there have been some significant changes in gambling in this country, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central. Surely those changes have to be considered alongside the recommendations of the panel. In particular, as he said, there has been a huge growth in internet gambling.

It was a year ago that the Secretary of State herself expressed concern. She told the "Today" programme that there had been

Next Section Index Home Page