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The North West Regional Development Agency strongly supports the Blackpool proposal on the basis that it would help to restructure a much less diversified and weaker economy than its nearest rival in consideration, Manchester.
The Secretary of State said that we have to accept these recommendations en bloc. As a member of the Education and Skills Committee, I remember a guy called Sir Michael Tomlinson producing an excellent report on the future structures of the education system. The Government did not accept all the recommendations of that independent report, but cherry-picked. I would say to Ministers that we must be consistent as regards recommendations from the independent panels that we set up and ask for reports. We must accept their recommendations en bloc or cherry-pickone or the other. We are not doing that at the moment.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): I want to keep my comments brief. Over the past few years, I have found myself coming down firmly against any further extension of gambling in this country. I set up an organisation called the Centre for Social Justice and I am now engaged with the social justice policy group, which has been taking evidence on this issue. We have commissioned an inquiry into gambling, which will report in May, but some of the early findings make very worrying reading, suggesting that problem gambling is to get worse and will be worsened by the current process.
I have great sympathy for those who have put in a bid, but speaking as a London MP, I can honestly say on record that I am extremely happy that London did not get any regional casino. Watching various
Members legitimately trading comments about which was the better city, one could begin to see how divisive the process has become.
One of the biggest and most worrying issues raised by our sub-group is the connection between debt and family break-up. I did not used to be so aware of it, but I am now, as the report shows that debt is the single biggest cause of family break-up. Family break-up in the United Kingdom is at record levels and when compared with every other country. We know that many of the problems in inner-city areas result from dysfunctional and broken homes and that one of the main drivers of debt is gambling, particularly among the lower socio-economic groups. I shall come back to that in a minute.
Putting aside my objections to the increase in gambling that this order will continue, I would have to say with respect to Members representing Manchester that if we had to locate a super-casino anywhere I cannot think of a worse place than Manchester. There are already a number of casinos10, I believeand I am not aware that they have contributed massively to regeneration in that city. Let me go through some of the relevant figures.
We know that Manchester has the highest number of robberies and the second highest level of vehicle crime among the four towns in the top 10 in that region. The same four make up one of the highest-crime cities. We know that 50 per cent. of the population are economically inactive and totally dependent on the state; that life expectancy for men is seven years less than the national average and four years less for women; that unemployment in the area where the casino is to be sited is 5.6 per cent. of the working age group compared with 2.8 per cent. in the country as a whole; and that 13.3 per cent. of the population of working age are on incapacity benefit compared to 4.5 per cent. in England and Wales as a whole.
I make those points because our findings have shown an intriguing and worrying feature: problem gambling and socio-economic disadvantage are hugely linked. The figures boil down to the following characteristics of a typical profile of a problem gambler: someone who is male; who has a parent who is or has been a problem gambler; who is separated, divorced or a product of a broken home; who is likely to be unemployed, in poor health and poor housing; and who has low educational qualifications. The orders objective is to place a super-casino right smack bang into an area inhabited by people with all those serious problems.
I simply cannot understand what this so-called independent committee was doing when it looked into the matter. It clearly failed to take into consideration any of those points. If we had spent a little longer and asked the many people who are now really worried about the increase in problem gambling in Britain, we might just have begun to realise the difficulties that are going to erupt as a result of the process.
We also know from the report that we are working on that there is a close correlation between problem gambling and other addictive activities such as drug and serious alcohol abuse. I remind the House that, right now, the UK is in the grip of an alcohol epidemic. We have a very high number of alcohol abusers and it is rising. We know that the connection between children
who imbibe serious levels of alcohollast year about 5 per cent. of children under 13 admitted to binge drinking once a monthand drug addiction is almost certain. We know that gambling, alcohol abuse and drug abuse are closely correlated.
I am particularly concerned about the sort of organisations that get involved in this level of gambling, and I must say to colleagues on both sides of the House that I cannot conceive of why we would want to get too close to many of them. The reality is, as we have seen from the behaviour of members of the Government, how insidiously corrupting so many of the people involved in this process ultimately become to those who are legitimately trying to seek some form of regeneration. We have seen that in relation to the proposals for the dome, and I guess that we shall see more of it as time goes on.
The connection between problem gambling and other addictions is deeply worrying. More worrying in regard to the report that we have produced is the way in which the most vulnerable, including the very young, are affected. The recent BMA report suggested that age is now a determining factor in this addiction. The group most likely to experience problems with casino-based gambling consists of single unemployed males under the age of 30. Adolescent gambling in the UK is also a grave issue for concern. We have not begun to tackle the problems surrounding internet gambling, even as we begin to expand the whole idea of gaming through these centres. The BMA report mentions a number of studies that identify a figure of between 5 and 6 per cent. of pathological gamblers among adolescent fruit machine gamblers, and states that that figure is three times higher than that identified elsewhere in the adult population.
I am now more opposed to this headlong rush into expanding gambling than ever before; I am very worried about it. Many decent, reasonable colleagues in the House are grasping at the idea of regeneration and at the huge promises that have been made, yet there is absolutely no evidence that these casinos will add anything constructive to the lives that people should and could be living, particularly in areas such as Manchester, which have serious levels of deprivation. Such a casino would be a disaster for that area. I wonder what has happened to us if we are genuinely considering regenerating and rebuilding our cities by placing this kind of nonsense in their midst to attract people into the most destructive behaviour in the most destructive areas. I shall vote against the order tonight because I now genuinely believe that this expansion is wrong in any cause.
Mr. Anthony Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): I want to return to the order before us today. This is not just about Manchester and Blackpool; it is also about the other 16 casinoseight large and eight small. Great Yarmouth is to have one of the large ones, and I will certainly support the order.
Like many of my colleagues, I was a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, and I endorse the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) that it was a good experience of looking at legislation. I want to put on record that my concerns related to the fact that the Committee was looking at resort casinos. The view was held universally across the Committee that we expected that to be the
case. Contrary to the opinions expressed by Opposition Members, it was the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee that came forward with the proposal for the eight regional casinos, determined on a regional basis, that was put to the Government.
I want to talk about the positive aspects of the order, and about the opportunities that I envisage for constituencies such as Great Yarmouth. Regeneration is already taking place there on the basis that we have received the go-ahead for the casino and for a new harbour scheme. Other people are now investing in the town, and we can already see a great renaissance there, compared with 10 years ago. Huge amounts of regeneration money from the Government is supporting the private sector money that is coming into the town. We see the casino as an opportunity in that regard, but the bids that are coming in illustrate that this is not just about the casino; it is about the other facilities that will be added to those attractions.
On the Blackpool and Manchester issue, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden). I understand their concerns and reservations about the order. I, too, would feel pretty aggrieved and I would certainly have wished the casino to have been in Blackpool. What I get annoyed about, however, is the political opportunism of the Oppositioncertainly the official Opposition. They see an opportunity to give the Government a bloody nose. What they will actually do, however, is delay at best, and scupper at worst, the chances of others towns such as Great Yarmouth.
It is great that the Opposition have had yet another change of heart. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) has indicated his opposition to gambling as a whole. I would therefore question the Conservative partys acceptance in 2001 of £5 million from Stuart Wheeler of IG Index. Given the Conservatives new view, perhaps they will donate that £5 million to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, run and chaired by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). Once again, double standards are being seen in the Chamber. I would like to think that Members would support the order, and accept the proposals considered by the other place to set up an independent committee to consider such matters in future.
I reiterate that if the order is voted down, there is no surety that it will come back to the House. If we consider the previous initial evaluation, and the points awarded, we see that Great Yarmouth was awarded 54 points, Manchester 57 points and Blackpool 65 points. In the final evaluation, however, Great Yarmouth was pushed to the side to top the large casino ratings, while Blackpool was overtaken by Manchester. A number of other towns and cities up and down the country also had a different initial evaluation. Canterbury, for instance, initially received 51 points in the large and small casino ratings, but got nothing in the second evaluation. What would stop those towns and cities challenging the premise that towns such as Great Yarmouth were above them in the
ratings? That question suggests to me that rejecting the order at this stage would set a dangerous precedent.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood that I support the view that Blackpool would have been the best choice. Perhaps I say that because I also represent a seaside resort, but the evidence taken by the Joint Committee of which I was a member also supported that view. Although she will understand the reasons why I cannot vote with her tonight, I am sure that Blackpool will come back from this and still be one of the top holiday destinations in the UK.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), who was a distinguished member of the Joint Committee. As Great Yarmouth has been allocated a large casino, I can understand that he wants to see that development go ahead. I remember the visit to his constituency.
I must confess, however, that I am disappointed and somewhat dismayed at the direction that policy on casinos has taken. It was my wish that the publication of two unanimous reports by the Joint Committee, on both the Bill and casinos, would enable both Houses to proceed with the implementation of the Gambling Act 2005 by consensus. If we are to have a policy that will last for 40 years, as the previous one has done, genuine cross-party agreement is critical.
It is also important to understand that todays vote is not a rerun of the vote for or against the Act, but simply a vote on the order, and on whether we yet have sufficient information on which to make a judgment about the panels selection. Some of us have been dealing with this matter for more than five years. The Minister for Sport and I probably agree about the need for closure: this issue has gone on long enough, and it is time for us to draw a line under it. I have spent most of the past five or six weeks suggesting that that is what we should do.
However, I must make some criticism of my party. It was a huge mistake to insist on having just one pilot regional casino. I do not see how a research project, as recommended by the panel, can have only one pilot. The tensions that exist now stem from that judgment. There was an opportunity to have more than one regional casino, but the House seems to lack the necessary courage.
I hear what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) says, and there are clear objections to expanding gambling in any way. However, resort-type destination casinos have been developed in other jurisdictions, and it is clear that we have missed a golden opportunity to regenerate places such as Blackpool, Cardiff and Glasgow, all of which were big bidders for the one available licence.
I accept that problem gambling is an issue, and I shall say a little more about it later in my speech. The Minister and I get on extremely well, having worked together on many matters involving gambling and sport, but alarm bells rang loudly in my mind when I read the Merits Committee report. There is an obvious tension between ensuring that the statutory objective to
protect children and the vulnerable was paramount in the panels recommendations, and the panel members apparent belief that they had to recommend a location that would provide a strong test of social impact. They interpreted that to mean that they could measure the problem gambling that resulted from establishing the casino. That complete contradiction flies in the face of what we have tried to do in promoting the Gambling Act 2005.
That was of real concern to the Joint Scrutiny Committee, which recommended that the super-casino should be a resort destination casino drawing its clientele from an extremely wide area and providing a nationalor, indeed, internationalattraction. As a result, in our casino report published in July 2004, we recommended that the generic term of reference regional casino should be dropped and that the casinos should be called destination resort casinos.
At the time, that suggestion was dismissed perfunctorily by an official of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I am not even sure the extent to which Ministers considered it but, given that the Crow panel has said that a destination casino could not provide a social impact test, it seems to me that by calling them destination resort casinos from the start we could have avoided the problem that we have now.
I make no judgment about the competing claims of all the possible locations for the regional casino. I am not looking for more work, but I am pleased and relieved that the Secretary of State has said that she is willing to reconvene a Committee. I may not be invited to be a member, but there needs to be a bit more clarity about what the Committee would be asked to do. What are the terms of reference? How will they be determined? Tony Banks, who died, and Richard Page, who retired, were members of the previous Committee. I am sure that we could fill those vacanciesthe enthusiasm that the debate has revealed for the topic suggests that there would be several volunteers. However, if we reconsider the matter, I cannot believe that we would expect to settle the issue by simply having one regional casino.
If the order is approved as it stands, we should realise that we would approve a location in Manchester, where, according to the panels admission, there is a risksome would say a serious riskof problem gambling. My concern is that that is the opposite of the statutory objective to protect children and the vulnerable.
The tax rate of 50 per cent. that the Chancellor announced last week calls the regeneration opportunity into question. The Joint Committee constantly asked what the tax rate was likely to be. It is critical in the equation for whether such projects make sense. The tax rate is bound to have an impact on what can be done in some of the small and large casino locations.
A couple of colleagues referred to the fact that I chair the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. One of the issues that weighs heavily on colleagues minds when considering whether to support the order is the potential for increased problem gambling. The trust has made huge strides in the past year since I became chairman in commissioning education, public awareness, research and treatment projects relating to gambling addiction. Time does not allow me to say much more about it, but I promise hon. Members that they need have no concern about the provision of help through counselling services, public
information and education for the people who patronise the new casinos. We have achieved £3 million funding in the current year and we have been promised £4 million and £5 million from the industry for the next two years as a result of a seminar that the Minister kindly addressed. I am optimistic about the future, although I am sure that the tax rates that the Chancellor announced will create some difficulty in our funding.
With a heavy heart, I believe that we need to examine the panels comments more closely before we can conclude the matter. I hope that the reconvened Committee, which the Secretary of State announced, will enable us to do that and devise the right recommendation. If there is to be only one regional casino for the whole of the time that most of us are in Parliamentthat is a considerable time for most hon. Members present; I have been here for 20 years and will probably not stand next timewe must make the right decision. What is wrong with taking a little longer to ensure that we get it right?
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): When I was a child in the 1960s, my parents used to take me to Blackpool, where trains arrived at the old central station every three or four minutes and when Blackpool could still attract the cream of stage, screen, TV and radio at the north pier shows and throughout the constituency. That was the golden ageif there was ever oneof the British seaside. However, like so many other seaside towns, Blackpoolperhaps more than others because we were always the biggest and, we argued, the bestsuffered from slow decline and the gradual change in the structure of holidays.
Dean Acheson once said of Britain after Suez that it had lost an empire and not yet found a role. Much of that truth is embodied in the predicament of British seaside towns today. The report that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, which my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) chairs, recently produced on coastal and seaside towns provides eloquent testimony to that. It also eloquently outlines some of the resolutions that I and other hon. Members who represent seaside towns, including my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), who spoke so valiantly earlier, urged on the Government.
That is why, for the past six or seven years, Blackpool has put all its feelings and every sinew behind the proposal for a resort casino. We did that not because we believed the insulting words of Professor Crow that it was a hand-out or a cure-all that would be dropped into our laps, but because we saw it as a catalyst. The mayor of Blackpool wrote only this week
Blackpools proposals for its regional Casino would bring an estimated 2500-3400 jobs and £200-450m of capital investment associated conference/exhibition; leisure...and hotel uses in a small economy.
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