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maximising beneficial social impact...whilst minimising adverse social impact
was implicit in its criteria, but it should have been explicit, because that was the concern of so many hon. Members. If it had been explicit, the panel would have looked much closer at destination casinos.
In various international analyses, destination casinos have been found to minimise social impact and maximise the benefits. When I go away on holiday, I take some money to spend, I spend it and I come home. If someone goes to Las Vegas to gamble, they will take spending money for that purpose. They will lose the money, but then they will come home and get on with their lives. All the evidence shows that the system would work best with a proper destination casino.
Sadly, Professor Crow, in his evidence to the Merits Committee, said that it was virtually impossible for a resort to be allocated the regional casino because of the criteria within which he was operating. He ruled it out without ever properly considering our case.
Graham Stringer: In this debate I have tried to avoid any direct competition between Manchester and Blackpool, and I have a lot of sympathy for Blackpool. But does my hon. Friend accept that Professor Crow wrote to the Merits Committee explaining that the panel was fully aware of destination casinos? He gave the example of Dortmund, which was in the middle of a forest and had zero regeneration benefits. One of his criteria was to achieve as much regeneration as possible from the casino, and that could not be done at the extreme endsuch as with the casino in Dortmund.
Mrs. Humble: My hon. Friend highlights how difficult it is for us, in the brief time available, to try to analyse in detail the casino advisory panels report. He and I should not be comparing the respective bids of our constituencies; that should have been done in the context of a Committee set up for that purpose, which could have taken evidence and questioned Professor Crow about his assertions. The report was full of assertions, with language such as I believe that or We feel that. On an issue as important as this, I want more than that. We need an assessment of evidence and as firm a conclusion as possible. We did not have that in the report.
I disagreed with Professor Crows conclusions, but he could have had better advice. The Merits Committee pointed out that he addressed the issue of profitability, which did not fall within his remit, although the Committee accepted that it was a matter of common sense for him to consider it. In Professor Crows assessment of Blackpool, he says that the
regeneration benefits of the proposal before us are unproven.
But that is true of all the bidders for the super-casino, because we have never seen one. No locality could prove its claims, but why did he say that about Blackpool? From my recollection, he did not say it of any of the others. He appears to have marked down Blackpool on all his subheadings, including methodology and location.
The most condescending and indeed hurtful remark in Professor Crows report, however, was about the
economy of Blackpool. He said that he did not accept that our economy was declining, in spite of the overwhelming evidence given to him by the very large numbers of people who appeared in the public evidence session. He said that he believed that there would be
stabilisation at a lower level.
this may well include the management of contraction. If so, this situation should be resolutely faced by the authorities and local businesses alike without visions of external intervention to cure all ills.
How dare he say that? What we were bidding for was absolutely the most appropriate external intervention in Blackpool. We have an economy that is built on leisure and tourism. Where else should there be a super-casino but by the seaside in Blackpool? Yet Professor Crow says that we should not look for external intervention, but that Manchester was already regenerated.
Mr. Evans: One of the odd things about this debate is that the vast majority of MPs have been to Manchester and to Blackpool, and they will have made their own assessments about regeneration in both places. What struck me about the criteria was that the Government set one set of criteria, but it seems that Professor Crow and his committee acted on a different set of criteria. Had Blackpool known about that separate set of criteria, perhaps the presentation would have been somewhat different or Professor Crow would indeed have started his research by saying Blackpool neednt apply.
Mrs. Humble: The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly valid point. What depressed me about the report was that on what we saw as the strong points of Blackpools bidit was a destination that people came to and then leftit was marked down. What nonsense. If we are trying to minimise problem gambling, we should celebrate that here we are pleading for a super-casino in a resort.
Time is passing, Madam Deputy Speaker. Professor Crow did not allow Members of Parliament to speak in the public evidence sessions, and this is the only opportunity that I have to speak on this issue. Although I thank the Secretary of State for extending the time, it is not long enough. We were denied the opportunity in Blackpool by Professor Crows decision, and we are now being denied the opportunity here because of the limited time.
I shall make two further points. For Blackpool, this issue is the single catalyst for regeneration. Manchester is a glorious, thriving city. I acknowledge everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd)he is my friendsays about his constituency, but I visit Manchester and I see all the new developments there. The excellent report on coastal towns published by the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, which all of us should read, features evidence presented from the north-west. Councillor John Joyce, the then chair of the North West regional assembly, and Keith Barnes, regional director of the Government office for the north-west, gave evidence. Councillor Joyce said that
we believe that now we have changed the North West Regional Assembly and gone into what I call a trinity with the
Government North West and also the Regional Development Agency, we are now of the same mind to target those areas where we need to perform better.
If this hearing were in Manchester or Liverpool, you would be able to see outside the number of cranes and transformation of those cities.
As somebody who lives in the north-west, I see that development and celebrate it. However, we have in front of us a combined order that I did not want to see; no scrutiny of the casino advisory panel; a disregard for regional planning guidelines; and no opportunity for us to separate out the order or say to the large and small casinos that we back them and want them to proceed, but want a more detailed examination of a unique opportunity, through the super-casino, to regenerate whatever area it is in.
That decision should have been taken with much more care and consideration, so with huge sadness I have to tell the Secretary of State that I cannot support the order in its current form. It is wrong to present it in that form, and I hope, even at this late stage, that she will withdraw it.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), who made a powerful speech. She referred to the early-day motion that she tabled, which was in the Order Paper, and to the fact that a number of north-western Members on both sides of the House had signed it. I represent a coastal town, too, but I suspect that it is as far away from Blackpool as it is possible to be. However, I was happy to sign her early-day motion, because she presents a persuasive case.
I begin by expressing some sympathy for the Secretary of State. Those of us who were involved in the debates during the passage of the Gambling Act 2005 always suspected that she was never that enthusiastic about the legislation. Certainly, the passage of the Bill was dogged by disaster throughout. Almost weekly, the Minister for Sport had to make an announcement of Government policy to the Standing Committee that was almost in direct contradiction to what he had argued the previous week. Then in the Bills final stages in Parliament, the Secretary of State was forced to reduce the number of proposed regional casinos from eight to just one. That cannot have been easy for her, but I suspect that she must have sighed with relief when the Bill finally received Royal Assent. She could not have anticipated that not so long afterwards, she would be back in the House of Commons having to defend this order, and facing possible defeat.
I currently chair the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, but during the passage of the Bill I was the shadow spokesman, and it is in that capacity that I want to speak. I want to reflect on some of the arguments that I presented at the time, and to say why I believe that the position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) is entirely consistent with all the points that we made during the Bills passage.
There was much in the Bill that we always supported. We believed that there was a strong case for introducing a regime to regulate online gambling, and we supported the abolition of the 24-hour rule and the removal of the ban on advertising. The problem with the Bill was always regional casinos. They represented an entirely new form of gambling that had never before been seen in this country. They would introduce category A gaming machines, too; the proposal was, and is, that each of the regional casinos should have 1,250 of them. There was a real fear that that would lead to an increase in problem gambling. The Governments problems on that score began when they ignored the recommendation in the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who chaired the Joint Scrutiny Committee.
Initially, the Government had proposed no real limit on the number of regional casinos, but my hon. Friends Committee came up with a sensible scheme, under which we would use an economic mechanism that would limit the number. The Government did not accept that recommendation, but instead, halfway through the passage of the Bill, they had to come up with a cap of eight casinos, which flew in the face of what they had previously argued. It was never entirely clear to us why the number should be eight. It was even less clear why, just a few weeks later, they came back with further caps of eight on the number of large casinos, and on the number of new small casinos. Certainly, in the case of regional casinos, we felt that the figure was too large and should be reduced. In the end, we argued that there should be just one, and the Secretary of State was forced to accept that position.
In arguing about where that one regional casino should be located, we were entirely happy to accept the Secretary of States decision that the decision should be given to an advisory panel. However, we have always made it clear that we share the Joint Scrutiny Committees view that the impact on problem gambling would be minimised if the location were a destination resort. We strongly supported the Committees recommendation that the regional casino should not be located in close proximity to residential properties. At the time, we said that that should be the overriding consideration, and while we certainly were not in a position to say that it necessarily should go to Blackpool, we recognise the strength of the case that Blackpool made.
The criteria against which the panel will assess these submissions were set out in the governments national policy statement on casinos...The primary consideration will be to ensure that locations provide the best possible test of social impact.
As previous speakers have said, it was extremely unclear precisely what that meant, and the panel clearly had great difficulty interpreting what was meant by social impact. It was clear to us, however, that the national policy statement, which was issued when it was proposed that there should be eight regional casinos, rather than one, nevertheless set out at the very outset that the Governments first objective was to protect children and other vulnerable people from harm. It was not unreasonable to believe that that would be one of the guiding principles of the advisory panels work.
We were therefore astonishedat least, I was certainly astonishedwhen the Secretary of State announced a few weeks ago that the panel had decided that the regional casino should be located in Manchester, as that plainly was an area in close proximity to residential properties. As I said at the time, I was even more astonished to find that the panels report stated that
problem gambling is more a town planning consideration rather than one for us.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) has sought to argue that Professor Crow has since said that he did accord importance to social impact and problem gambling when making his decision. However, the panel plainly states that it did not consider that that was a matter for it. Its interpretation of the test of social impact appears to have been to look at the various applications and decide which one was most likely to lead to an increase in problem gambling, and choose it, because it would offer the best test, which is an entirely perverse interpretation of the way in which most people thought that it would undertake its task.
When the Secretary of State wrote to Lord Filkin after the publication of the advisory panels report, she stated that minimising harm from gambling was not the primary consideration that she set for the panel. That leads us to believe that the panel conducted its own inquiry in the light of its terms of reference, but that the Government set it terms of reference that excluded from consideration what we always believed to be the most important issue. On that basis, the panels report is flawed, as the Government misled the panel about the issues and criteria that it should have used to make a judgment by excluding what we in the House had always considered to be the most important issue when determining the future location of any regional casino.
It is on that basis that I continue to believe that the recommendation is flawed. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon has argued that we do not have a problem with the recommendation for the locations of the eight large casinos, or, indeed, for the eight small casinos. Certainly, it would have been preferable had the Secretary of State separated the two issues and put before the House two orders, so that the 16 locations that are likely to benefit from large or small casinos could proceed without being delayed while the matter was re-examined.
The location of a regional casino is extremely important. There is a real risk that if we get it wrong, that will lead to a significant increase in problem gambling, which is what we have always sought to avoid throughout the consideration of the legislation. If that risks exists, it is worth pausing, as my hon. Friend said, and referring the matter back to a Committee which can take account of the concern about problem gambling, rather than to the advisory panel, which seems to have excluded that issue from its consideration.
For that reason, I hope the House will vote not against Manchester, as some have suggested, but in line with the recommendation in the House of Lords that the matter should be referred back to a Scrutiny Committee. Whereas in the House of Lords it appears that the Governments belated acceptance of Baroness Goldings amendment will change nothing, the proposal should
be considered by a Scrutiny Committee, and the order should be laid and permission given only after that Committee has had a chance to report.
Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important debate. Like every other speaker so far, I shall focus on the most controversial aspect of the orderthe choice of Manchester before Blackpool in the Crow report. I was one of the serving members of the pre-legislative Joint Scrutiny Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I found that a very positive experience. We should look to more pre-legislative Committees to pave a smooth way for Bills through the House. The Government should take heed of that.
The pre-legislative Scrutiny Committee went on a couple of site visits. One of the most interesting visits that we undertook was to Blackpool, and another was to Great Yarmouth, of course. In Blackpool we could see the commitment of the council and the people to a super-casino. As a member of the Education and Skills Committee, I was impressed by the range of vocational courses being provided by Blackpool further education college ahead of the possibility that the super-casino might be located in Blackpool. There were not only good catering courses, but courses to train croupiers and so on. That was extremely positive and I hope that that facility will be used anyway, no matter what the final location of the super-casino.
As well as examining the evidence, the Joint Scrutiny Committee considered the term destination casino. Then we moved to resort casino. I was quite happy with those definitions, but when we got to the definition of a regional casino, I was less happy. I prefer the term super-casino, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) suggested, to the title regional casino. Many, if not all, Members of the Joint Committee supported the principle of a super-casino on the basis that it was a way of regenerating a town on the periphery of a region that had few alternative strategic options available to it from a regional perspective. In that regard, Blackpool would have been an ideal choice. Many, if not all, members of the Scrutiny Committee would agree.
Such a location would have the added bonus of potentially reducing significantly the possible social impact of problem gambling, because most people would have to travel some distance to visit the casino, rather than having it on their doorstep. The spin-off, in regeneration terms, would be the overnight stays that would result, providing a big multiplier effect in regeneration terms.
As a former leader of Barnsley council before I entered the House, I take a keen interest in regeneration. Barnsley and Doncasterthe other town that I serveare examples of the city regions model that is being developed in all the regions, with the aim of successful regeneration. Barnsley, for example, is on the periphery of the Sheffield city region and the Leeds city region. It is always more difficult for towns in such
peripheral locationsthe Barnsleys and Blackpools of this worldto be regenerated as successfully as big city centres such as Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester.
In settling on Manchester, the Crow report placed too much emphasis on the need to be able to test the social impact of a super-casino, and not enough emphasis on regeneration factors and the multiplier effect that comes from choosing a location such as Blackpool. Paragraph 116 acknowledges that factor in relation to the Blackpool bid:
The fact that most customers would come from outside Blackpool and have to travel would be a deterrent to ambient problem gambling. The proposed central location for the regional casino appears to us to be a good one for it, and conducive to local regeneration.
The super-casino represents a possible flagship regeneration project for a region. I would have thought that two of the major players in terms of regenerating a region would be its regional assembly and its development agency. Indeed, the report considers the opinions of those two main drivers of regeneration. Paragraph 110 says:
The North West Regional Assembly supports the development of regional casinos in Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool, with their preferred location for the single regional pilot being Blackpool.
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