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28 Mar 2007 : Column 1589

That is the key. The regeneration and job-creation boost in Blackpool would be proportionately much greater than in Manchester. That was one of the factors about which the House of Lords Merits Committee specifically talked about. There we have it. That was our pitch. Of course, any panel was bound to disappoint someone. Of course, as Blackpool MPs, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and I spoke up for our constituencies. How could we not have spoken up for the people of Blackpool who have given such tremendous support to the bid over the past six to seven years?

There were 11,500 signatures on the petition. Those were from people not just in Blackpool, but across the north-west. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) is entering the Chamber. May I say that 400 people from Manchester signed it? The reason was that they saw the Blackpool bid as a bid for the whole of the north-west. Obviously, we were going to be disappointed whatever happened. However, what has fuelled the anger, the sheer determination and the dogged persistence since 30 January in this House, in Blackpool and in the north-west, has been the lack of coherence and accountability that went with the process and with Professor Crow's report. From the moment it was announced, there was criticism that the various elements of it did not add up. Crow failed to make himself available to a press conference. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood has already referred to his sneering remarks about managed decline. I sometimes wonder whether there may not be an afterlife for Professor Crow as a motivational speaker somewhere. I do not think that Churchill in 1940 or Mrs. Thatcher in the Falklands in 1982 would have thanked him for his observations.

We hoped that we could turn to the Department for a review, but we could not. Why not? Because there had been no detailed scrutiny of the measure. The Secretary of State brought the measure and the panel's recommendations to the House six and a half hours after that report was received and said that she was minded to accept it. In a subsequent meeting, Members of both Houses, including members of the Joint Scrutiny Committee, who did such an excellent and eloquent job, asked her to review the situation before laying the order. She did not. It was left to the Merits Committee to drag a reluctant Professor Crow to the House of Lords, where the Committee echoed all the misgivings that had been put to it already.

In a letter to their colleagues about the matter, Baroness Golding and Lord Lipsey said that it was a case of “sentence first, verdict afterwards”. Indeed, the Merits Committee brought out strongly how that had happened. It said about Professor Crow and the regional casino that a number of respondents said that

That was supported by Professor Collins’ memorandum, which stated:

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The Merits Committee pointed out the lack of experience of members of the panel in the effects of social impact and regeneration. It said that in essence the panel was selecting candidates for research projects, and then said:

Finally, it said:

In effect, the Merits Committee shredded Professor Crow’s report, but with an elegant turn of phrase, as is the case in the House of Lords. It said at the end that it drew the order to special attention of the House on the ground that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House and

When I read that I was reminded of the famous remarks of Emperor Hirohito when he had to go on radio at the end of the second world war to announce the defeat of Japan and said that the turn of events had not necessarily turned out to Japan’s advantage. That was the basis on which the House of Lords talked about Professor Crow’s report.

We hoped that there would be scrutiny in the form of discussion between the Department and the panel during this period, but in all the written questions that I have put to the Department on the issue I have seen no evidence of that. Indeed, the written responses glorify in the fact that there was very little communication between the Department and Professor Crow’s panel, either before or after. Yesterday, in reply to a question asking how the panel reached its definition of social impact and what discussion there had been, I was told that there had been no discussion between the Department and the chairman of the CAP since the publication of the panel’s report on 30 January. Does that mean that the DCMS was entirely satisfied with the process that the House of Lords Committee had said was narrow and flawed, or does it mean that it was so entirely hands-off that it abdicated all responsibility for the process?

Professor Crow’s report rejected all the advice of regional planners, all the implications, all the matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood referred to from the regional assembly and the regional development agency. This was at a time when the regional spatial strategy had been a key part of the DCMS’s original strategy. It was one of the matters that dictated the timetable for this.

This is not just a Blackpool matter; it is a north-west matter. We in the north-west have all worked together on this. It is not an anti-Manchester matter at all. I rejoiced when Manchester got the Commonwealth games and did such a fantastic job with them. My hon. Friend and I, as secretaries of a departmental Committee, wrote a strong letter to the chief executive of the BBC urging that it should move to Manchester and Salford, so let it not be said that this is an anti-Manchester thing. We did not see this as a parochial decision. But if, on the basis of this precedent, independent planners are allowed to drive a coach and horses through the planning
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recommendations in regions, what does that do for the process of regeneration and for regional strategies?

All along, I believe that those of us who have been concerned about the order have tried to put forward alternatives. I have no desire to block large and small casinos and they would have to be reconsidered, as has already been said, in any order that came back. We suggested splitting the order. None of this has been properly taken on board. I have better reason than most in the House to know that the Secretary of State has worked hard over a long time to try to accommodate all the various elements of the twists and turns of the process. However, I say to her very gently this evening, as was said in the House about a Minister on another occasion in 1940, that she must not allow herself to be turned into an air raid shelter to shield the bad advice and incoherence of officials, advisers and unelected planners.

That brings us to the heart of things. The reason why the debate has taken off is not just the fair play issues and affection for Blackpool, but that the matter goes to the heart of Government and parliamentary process, and is a key question for us as Members and Ministers. We have always had advisory panels—good and bad—and the Government do not have to accept their recommendations, as we saw only last week with the recommendations in the Lyons report on the bed tax. The debate has generated such concern because it taps into a vein of feeling across the House—that we are in danger of acting as technocrats and not as politicians or representatives. It gives me no pleasure this evening to point that out to the Secretary of State and to Ministers—nevertheless, it has to be said. I and many of my colleagues who have grave doubts about the process do not believe that the order or the recommendations of Professor Crow represent either our party policy or Government policy on the issue.

A few days after the decision was made Steve Richards wrote about its implications in The Independent. He did not talk about the rights and wrongs of the Blackpool case, but about the process. He said:

That is deeply and grossly unfair to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is her Department and her Ministers who have been receiving the anger of my constituents—not Professor Crow, who has gone back to the anonymity from which some of us thought he originally came. In those circumstances, it is right for me to say that I am genuinely grateful to my right hon. Friend for everything she has tried to do to accommodate the concerns of Blackpool and of people who are anxious about the process.

I welcome the fact that there will be some form of scrutiny process, which was one of our central demands. However, as we have heard, that is something for tomorrow. I am talking about something for today—something that reflects on what has brought us to today. Ministers are not in this place simply to be messengers or rubber stamps, nor are we. I am grateful to the Secretary of State and to our Chief Whip for giving us time to debate the order properly, albeit not as lengthily as we wanted, but I am in no doubt about where my duty to my Blackpool constituents lies—it is
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to continue to stress my strong concern about the way in which the order was tabled.

Parliament will decide. The Secretary of State has said that. Let us take her at her word and send back the order, and in doing so exert the power and reputation of the House to do the job for which we were sent here.

deferred divisions

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I now have to announce the result of the deferred Divisions.

On the motion on immigration, the Ayes were 342, the Noes were 49, so the motion was agreed to.

On the motion on immigration and nationality, the Ayes were 366, the Noes were 54, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division Lists will be published at the end of today’s debates.]

6.19 pm

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): This has been at times a passionate debate, with heartfelt contributions from both sides of the House. I am sure that over the past few weeks many hon. Members—like me—will have been bombarded by letters, reports and e-mails from Manchester, Blackpool and a whole host of organisations that are lobbying for and against different locations. However, the debate tonight is not about one location or the other; it is about getting the right decision. It is about Parliament getting the right decision and having the opportunity for full and proper scrutiny of the casino advisory panel’s recommendations.

There is one sentence in the Lords Committee report that resonates not only around the House, but among the many organisations that have concerns about gambling. The report states:

The Government cannot feel comfortable reading those words when reducing harm and protecting the vulnerable were a crucial element of the Gambling Act 2005 and central to their aims.

We heard a number of contributions. In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) raised the interpretation of the casino advisory panel remit, the concerns of the Church, the uncertainty of the outcome of the regional casino in terms of regeneration and social impact, the casino advisory panel methodology and the changing and shifting of the criteria as the process went on.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) raised issues about the Secretary of State’s last minute offers to her Back Benchers. Those offers do nothing to address the issues relating to the scrutiny of the order. He also spelled out the fact that, despite the Government’s intentions to try to do something about the huge concerns over remote and internet gambling—I have heard Ministers address this matter before—clearly we still have no progress on that. Indeed, it is going to be difficult for any Government to do anything about remote or internet gambling.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who
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has spent a considerable amount of time on the issue. He pointed out that the Government’s problems began some years ago. There is a sense that, because the issue has gone on for years, the Government simply want the decision over and done with, thus denying Parliament the opportunity for proper scrutiny.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) spoke highly of the pre-legislative scrutiny process but said, with some sorrow, that he could not support his Government tonight. He was joined by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who added their considerable insight to the debate. My hon. Friend pointed out the important difference between a destination casino and a casino that relies on ambient gambling, and the important difference in the impact that they have on local people and on the harm that gambling can do. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) pointed out early on that the Secretary of State had a choice tonight: she could have split the order.

The hon. Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) delivered particularly passionate speeches, endorsing the message that we have heard from both sides of the House, which is “stop and look again”. The comments made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood were particularly fair and measured, bearing in mind her interest in a casino for Blackpool. She asked only for proper scrutiny, as she went to some lengths to explain. I am not quite sure what the Government Whips were promising her during the debate, but good for her for sticking to her guns, not just for her local constituents, but for Parliament. In contrast, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) persisted in telling us about Manchester’s needs. The debate this afternoon is not about the needs of the people of Manchester; it is about—I say it again—proper parliamentary scrutiny.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) rightly pointed out that there is some uncertainty —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but the sedentary comments that are being made across the House are not helpful.

Anne Milton: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green pointed out that there is no certainty about the regenerative benefits. Indeed, that is why we are having a pilot—if we knew the answer, we would not have the pilot. My right hon. Friend has done a considerable amount of work on the impact of gambling on debt and family breakdown. It would be wise for hon. Members on both sides of the House to take note of the fact that there is a paucity of evidence about the regenerative benefits of casinos.

Mr. Wallace: A charge has been made that we are taking opportunistic action tonight. Many Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members might well be voting against an order that would give them a casino in their constituencies, but surely that is not opportunistic at all.

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Anne Milton: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is easy for Ministers to point the finger and say that we are being politically opportunistic. That does not hold any water, given what their Back Benchers are saying. Ministers should listen to what their Back Benchers are saying; they are simply asking for proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Tony Lloyd: To dispel once and for all the charge of opportunism, will the hon. Lady tell the House why the shadow Chancellor recommended Manchester as being the right bid, yet the shadow Cabinet changed its mind?

Anne Milton: I am not aware of the shadow Chancellor recommending anything. None of us is recommending anything. We are simply asking the Government to stop. What on earth is the rush? The Government have spent so long considering this issue that I fail to understand why they need to rush ahead now. If they were intent on listening to Parliament, they would listen to what they have heard tonight and in the previous few weeks: Parliament wants more time. There is no reason at all why they should not give Parliament more time. The Secretary of State and her Ministers could then be satisfied that Parliament had scrutinised the matter and that the decision was robust. Hon. Members, not least Labour Back Benchers, would then be a great deal happier.

I urge right hon. and hon. Members, especially those who signed the early-day motion calling for more scrutiny, to vote against the order. Nothing that has been said in the debate has given any Member who signed the early-day motion a reason to change their mind.

I reiterate that this is not about Blackpool or Manchester. It is not about the Secretary of State, or about voting with or against the Government. This is about Parliament. It is through us that Parliament can make the right decision that is based on proper scrutiny. We are in uncharted territory in which we face massive changes to gambling legislation, as the Government would admit. We will not and cannot support the order. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially Labour Members, to join us in doing what is, without doubt, the right thing and give us proper parliamentary scrutiny.

6.28 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): I thank my hon. Friends and Opposition Members for their contributions. Many of my hon. Friends at least addressed the order that we are considering. My hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) and for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), who served on the Joint Scrutiny Committee, made valid contributions, as did the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who ably chaired that Committee. Indeed, he guided much of our debate in the Standing Committee. Opposition Members’ speeches sounded more like those delivered on Second Reading of the Gambling Bill—tomorrow’s Hansard will certainly show that to be true of the speech by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).

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