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an explosion in online gambling...an explosion over which we have very little control.
Her Department and the Gambling Commission have both admitted that the online gambling market has more than doubled in the past five years and that there are now 1 million online gamblers in this country. It is surely worrying that when I asked the Minister of Sport, in a parliamentary question, what research he had commissioned into the relationship between internet gambling and problem gambling, he told me that he had commissioned no such research.
It is equally worrying that the Government's efforts to bring online gambling companies onshore and under our proposed regulatory regime, which we spent so much time in Committee discussing, have so far completely failed. Frankly, the Chancellor's recent Budget means there is now no chance of success. The online operators have made it clear that they will not seek a UK licence because of the 15 per cent. remote gaming duty outlined in the Budget. It is no wonder that the chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association, Mr. Clive Hawkswood, said that the Government
has missed a real opportunity to lead the way in terms of international regulatory standards.
To make matters worse, while everyone knows that problem gambling is on the rise, efforts to help those who suffer from gambling addictions remain woefully inadequate. Although, belatedly, the gambling industry has now contributed £3 million voluntarily to support the work of the excellent Responsibility in Gambling Trust and has promised more, we are still way behind other countries. We spend approximately £10 per head on problem gambling support, but it is significantly less than the amount spent in New Zealand, Canada and Australia, where it is £44, £40 and £26 respectively per problem gambler. Failures to address problem gambling should be factored into our thinking about the panel's recommendations.
We should also be considering the Government's complete failure to be clear about how many casinos we are likely to have at the end of the process. The Secretary of State said that there will be no more casinos until the next parliamentary Session, but in the Gambling Bill Committee it took many weeks even to get clear information about how many existing casinos we have139 at the time, as it turned out. Then the Minister confidently stated:
we can say with certainty that there will be no more than 150 casinos.[ Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 January 2005; c. 718.]
Clearly, he totally failed to take account of the possibility of more casinos opening under the existing gambling legislation. He knows that that is the case because, from the figures that he sent to me last nightfor which I am extremely gratefulin the worst case scenario there will be 249 licensed casinos. Even if we take a more conservative estimate and assume that only half the licence applications are successful, the Minister's cap of 150 will be far exceeded.
We also need to take account of the possible impact of the claim for judicial review being brought by the British Casino Association, which has so far not been mentioned. That association believes that grandfathering arrangements for existing casinos introduced by the Gambling Act are unfair and place existing casinos at a substantial competitive disadvantage to the proposed new casinos. If that judicial review goes ahead and is
successful, it would significantly change the climate in which the new casino trial is due to take place.
One final change in the gambling ecology that we should be considering also comes from the Chancellors Budget. By imposing a new high 50 per cent. top rate of tax, the new super-casinos profit margins will be reduced and its ability to contribute to regeneration, wherever it is locatedManchester or anywhere elsewill be diminished. Surely concerns about the explosion of internet gambling, the failure to provide adequate support for problem gamblers, the likely higher than expected number of casinos, the impact of a possible judicial review and the higher than expected super-casino tax are all matters that a reconvened Joint Scrutiny Committee would want to, and I believe should, consider.
The second fundamental reason for my decision to vote against the order today is based on my concerns about the remit given to the CAP and the way that it has executed it. Frankly, the panel was dealt an unfair hand, and the process by which it came to its conclusions has led to a range of criticisms, not least, as we have heard, by the Merits Committee. In its report, the CAP declared that the central tenet of its assessment of the bids was its quest to find the best test of social impact. Last week, as we have heard, the Secretary of State wrote to Lord Filkin in response to the damning findings of the Merits Committee. In it she said:
the criteria by which the Panel would assess submissions were set out in the national policy statement.
However, the Secretary of State must know that the best test of social impact was not included in the statement of national policy. In fact, the remit on which the panel based its decision changed significantly from the one outlined in the national policy statementsomething that the House had the opportunity to debateto the one outlined in the terms of reference issued much later by her and not subjected to parliamentary scrutiny. Despite placing the best test of social impact as the panels guiding principle, the Government never defined it. The panel was left to determine it for itself. It is not surprising that it admitted that seeking the best test of social impact was a peculiar problem. It certainly is. One of the UKs leading experts on gambling, Peter Collins, has vehemently argued that the very idea of finding a best test of social impact is an impossible task, not least because there are numerous interpretations of such an ambiguous term.
After considering all the evidence
no single regional casino proposal emerged as the self evident favourite in presenting the best test of social impact. All had one or another point in its favour.
No one bid stood out for the panel in terms of testing social impact, and yet the panel continued to use it as their guiding principle. It seems odd that it spent so much time pursuing the elusive and undefined social impact, rather than considering the Governments other guiding principle of minimising the harmful effects of gambling, a principle that was supposed at least to be implicit in the panels terms of reference. So it was not surprising that the Merits Committee said:
when the objectives were in tension, the Panel veered towards their terms of reference with their emphasis on the research testing of impacts rather than the minimisation of harm.
What is more, the panel made its decision based upon testing the effects of the new regional casino assuming it to be a pilot, whereas it seems increasingly likelyif the Chancellor has his waythat there will only ever be one regional casino.
There are many other concernsfor example, the British Casino Association highlights the panels failure to consider the existing gambling landscape during its decision-making process. The association argues that
the location and proximity of existing casinos will dilute the likely impact of the new casinos and render any social impact test more complex and less certain.
Many people find it somewhat bizarre that the casino advisory panel recommended the location of proposed new casinos in areas where in many cases there is already a large number of casinosfor instance, Manchester already plays host to 10 casinos and there are 19 existing casinos near 10 of the proposed new small and large casinos.
Mr. Duncan Smith: I am not in favour of any of these things, but the hon. Gentleman touches on an important point about the number of existing casinos in Manchester. How much regeneration has there been around those casinos? How much has it contributed to the state of Manchester today?
Mr. Foster: I shall certainly give the matter some thought. Like the hon. Member for East Devon, I am well aware of the many reports that suggest that some of the regeneration benefits claimed may be somewhat bogus and may simply lead to a movement of staff from one institution to another in terms of the wider entertainment ecology of a location.
Given that the panel put so much emphasis on social impact, it is certainly odd that the location of existing casinos did not seem significantly to inform its reasoning. As the Merits Committee heard, there have been many other criticisms: inconsistency, a relentless shifting of the goal posts by the panel, chaos in the appeals process and constant changes to the all-important examination in public sessions, which changed from one candidate to the next, with varying amounts of preparation time for the sessions and presentation time within them. Sadly, the Merits Committee was unable to explore the last issue fully as the transcripts of those sessions have not yet been published. If the Secretary of State agrees to reconvene the Select Committee, I hope that it can have access to them.
Concerns have already been expressed about the regeneration aspects of the panels work. The panel said that the job creation proposals used to assess the regeneration potential of the bids were for the most part
prepared at a time when there was a belief that there would be more than one regional casino.
If that is the case, how could their estimates have been much help in assessing the bids for what will be a single super-casino? In relation to the choice of Manchester, what assurances do we have that the council will stick to east Manchester? That point was raised by the hon. Member for East Devon. After all, the Secretary of
States letter, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, makes it clear that the council has the choice
to issue the licence to any site within the authority area.
Tony Lloyd: Manchester is bound by the legislation; it was not Manchesters choice. The leader and the chief executive of the city council made it absolutely clear that they could only reconsider the Eastlands site on the basis of a bid that demonstrably proved that it would do everything covered by the present bid but better, so that there would be more jobs, more regeneration and a better framework for social responsibility. The council is bound to accept bids elsewhereit cannot do otherwisebut Eastlands is where Manchester wants the casino located.
Mr. Foster: I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is not entirely correct. Although I accept the integrity of the chief executive and members of the council, and would never call it into question, I hope that he will accept that the letter was specificManchester could choose any location in the city. He also knows that under the requirements of the legislation there must be a competition for the new casino. During that competition, it would be perfectly possible for other areas to make claims about regeneration and the prevention of social harm, so he cannot say with such certainty that the casino is bound to be in an east Manchester location. The CAP made it clear when it said:
It would not be easy to trace the city-wide social impact of the proposal...this would be less true, however, of East Manchester, where it would be relatively easy to adduce impacts.
Like many Members of the House, I welcome the Joint Scrutiny Committees recommendation that favoured destination casinos. I had hoped that those views would have been taken into account by the panel in its remit and final decisions. During the passage of the Bill, I asked the Minister for Sport whether he would
tell the Committee whether the concept of destination will inform the location of the regional casinos.[ Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 December 2004; c. 672.]
He replied: The answer is yes. Despite that answer, it did not. The leader of the panel told the Merits Committee that it was impossible for the panel to recommend a destination location, because the very notion of a destination, by definition, made it harder to test social impact. That shows yet again that one part of the remit usurped the other. Destination casinos had clearly been preferred by the Joint Committee and experts on problem gambling, but the panel had to rule them out. The dice were loaded before they were rolled.
Even the Secretary of State seems confused in what she had told the House today and in her letter. The panel tells us that it discounted certain bids because they were destination locations, but in her letter to Lord Filkin, the Secretary of State now claims that the chosen location of the regional casino is a destination.
There is clearly something awry with the Secretary of States understanding of the meaning of a destination casino.
We need to be cautious. The gambling ecology has changed dramatically since the panel was proposed. It is apparent that there are problems with the panels remit, as laid down without parliamentary scrutiny in August 2005. Thanks not least to the Merits Committee, it is clear that there are problems with how the panel interpreted and carried out its remit. In short, there is confusion, chaos and contradiction. The Joint Scrutiny Committee should be reconvened to consider all these matters and to advise both Houses. If the Secretary of State cannot agree to that, we will vote against the order tonight.
Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): We cannot underestimate the shock, anger and disappointment in Blackpool when the casino advisory panel made its announcement. That anger has not dissipated since the announcement was madejust the opposite. The people of Blackpool are determined to fight for their future, and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and I are determined to fight within this Chamber for their future. On Monday, we accompanied the editor of our evening paper, The Gazette, to bring down and present to No. 10 a petition signed by more than 11,500 people. That shows the strength of feeling.
That strength of feeling has existed for a long time. Blackpoolers have been involved in this debate for seven years. This was our future. This was the new 21st century Blackpool. The people of Blackpool are wonderfully innovative. We put the tower up in the 19th century and developed the pleasure beach and lots of other attractions in the 20th century. Let us remember that what we are talking about is a huge entertainment complex including a conference centre, hotels, restaurants, theatreseverything. This was the big idea for the 21st century and I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we are not giving up on itand we are certainly not giving up easily. We are going to argue the case until the end of this debate and beyond, as she well knows.
I want to set the record straight about what we, as Blackpool MPs, have been asking for. My right hon. Friend said at the beginning of her address that it would have been wrong for her to present an order in which she had taken out Manchester and inserted Blackpool. We have never asked for that. We asked for two orders so that the eight large and eight small casinos could be considered separately from the other casino. I say to colleagues in the Chamber whose constituencies have been allocated a large or a small casino, I want them to get them. It is not my fault that we are voting for the whole lotI am in the position that I am in. I want Great Yarmouth to get its large casino, which I am sure will be hugely successful for the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), and I do not want to vote
down Manchester. I want the debate on the regional casino to be properly considered. I tabled my early-day motion, which was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South and Opposition Members representing neighbouring seats on the Fylde coast, because this affects not only Blackpool but all of us, given the regeneration potential of the super-casino. I have to say that it seems absurd to talk about a regional casino when there is to be only one. If the Secretary of State will forgive me, I will call it a super-casino, because that is what it is.
I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that became the Gambling Act 2005. I can see no relationship between the casino advisory panels report and what we debated in Committee. I must acknowledge the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport on that Committee. When we debated the new casinos, we expressed concern about the proliferation of gambling and the problems that that might bring. However, we also discussed the regeneration potential of casinos. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House backed the Bill only because of its regeneration potential for disadvantaged communities. I will put it even more strongly: they backed the Bill only because a debate had started on the regeneration of our seaside resorts, which, as we all know, have suffered over the past 20 years due to changing patterns of holidaymaking.
When we considered setting up the casino advisory panel during our consideration of the Bill, I supported itI can say that quite honestly. However, I supported it in the context of the criteria we were considering: eight regional casinos, eight large casinos and eight small casinos. Things changed when the number of regional casinos went down to one. The panel should have been given further guidance on how to examine that new super-casino. It was not the panels fault that it had to examine a range of criteria as part of its task. How could it determine what was Parliaments priority if the Government did not state what the priority was? When we debated the spread of casinos that would allow the impact of gambling to be properly assessed, we talked about having a spread of geographical locations for each of the categories. However, as soon as there was to be only one regional casino, we could not say, Well have part of it in a city, part in a resort and part in the middle of the countryside. Professor Crow had to try to make sense of the complex remit that he was given, so I cannot blame him for coming up with what he thought was the right answer. However, I can question whether, even within the rules that were setby and large he set them for himselfhe came up with the right answer.
My early-day motion, which was supported by many colleagues, highlighted the fact that we needed a proper investigation before we made a decision on the single regional casino. That did not happen. I congratulate the Merits Committee in the other place because, in a short time, it has highlighted serious deficiencies in the casino advisory panels report. If we in this House had had the opportunity to set up a Committee to consider the report, we could have highlighted other matters that could and should have been properly discussed. Nevertheless, I have to accept that that scrutiny was not performed, except by the Merits Committee, and we should address some of the points that it made.
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