Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-132)|
MP AND MR
25 OCTOBER 2007
Q120 Mr Evans: So there is a chance
James Purnell: I notice your technique
of repeating the same question again and again even though I have
given you an answer. My answer is that we will make a statement
after the regeneration review is completed. You may repeat the
question if you want to but I will still give you the same answer.
Q121 Mr Evans: Cracked records are
not really all that useful, are they?
James Purnell: Repeated questions
get the same answers.
Q122 Mr Sanders: Why have you had
to extend the deadline for these local authorities which at one
point were really excited about having a piece of paper which
allowed them to license a casino in their area?
James Purnell: Because some of
them asked us for more time to do the review.
Q123 Mr Sanders: What is that review?
Is that about them consulting in their local area?
James Purnell: Yes, some of them
did consult. They all have their individual views and they asked
us for more time and we gave it to them.
Q124 Mr Sanders: How many replies
have you actually had?
James Purnell: We have had 14
replies and we are still waiting for another two.
Q125 Mr Sanders: So two are still
outstanding. In the feedback I think Nigel's was one of the first
to say they wanted to go ahead. I know that one of the criticisms
in other areas has been that this is only a piece of paper to
license a casino which could come with social costs and will really
only provide a few low-value jobs when what some of these areas
need, particularly coastal resorts, is real help with their regeneration.
Do you really see that a casino is an answer to regeneration in
an area which already has a lot of low-value jobs and does not
want any more social costs?
James Purnell: Clearly the Act
was put into place partly in response to requests from local authorities
for us to examine that and that is why there was a consensus around
the small and large casinos. I am not going to say that is the
only way that coastal towns can regenerate themselves. Some local
authorities may decide to do it in a completely different way.
That is very much a matter for them rather than for me.
Q126 Chairman: Is it not unfair that
the authorities which gambled on getting a regional casino, Blackpool
being the most obvious, now that it looks unlikely in the foreseeable
future that regional casinos are going to arrive, are excluded
from a large and small opportunity because they staked everything
on a regional?
James Purnell: It is worth saying
that Blackpool have completed a regeneration report which they
have put to DCLG and we are looking at it; so there is a wider
context for this. We have to operate within the framework which
is set out in the Gambling Act and we have to operate legally,
so we will do exactly that. We will make decisions on that in
the light of the responses we get from the remaining two local
Q127 Chairman: But you could allow
those authorities which originally wanted a regional to bid for
a large and small now that the regional is off the agenda.
James Purnell: I am not going
to start speculating about what our legal powers may or may not
be. We will make decisions on that based on what people say to
us as part of those responses.
Q128 Mr Sanders: Has anyone said
they are no longer interested?
James Purnell: Not at this stage.
Mr Sanders: All 14 have said they are
Q129 Janet Anderson: You will be
aware that there was a lot of speculation and worry about gambling
addiction and that there might be an increase in problem gambling,
but actually the Gambling Commission study in September showed
that it has stayed about the same; the problem had not increased.
There is concern about the gaming activity with the strongest
link to problem gambling, which is touch screen roulette which
people can access in betting shops around the country. In fact
the chairman of the helpline charity GamCare said that these terminals
were "[...] easily accessible, rapid-play and you win or
lose rapid rewardshallmarks of games which tend to addiction".
Is that something you intend to keep a watchful eye on?
James Purnell: Yes, we have set
up research coming out of the Commission's study which, as you
say, did not show an increase overall but did show some increase
in certain categories and the Gambling Commission will be leading
that research and making proposals if they think that is appropriate.
With the Gambling Commission we have arguably the strongest regime
for protection of gambling anywhere in the world and they have
powers to deal with that if they think it is appropriate to do
so. We set up specific research as a consequence of the present
Q130 Mr Evans: May I ask you as well
for some clarity on the Blackpool issue? We did have the local
authority before us on Tuesday. You are clearly governed by the
Gambling Act but are you saying that if Blackpool wrote to you
and said they were rather interested in a large casino now that
the super casino future is dead for the foreseeable, you would
just look at the rules to see whether that is possible?
James Purnell: We will make our
decisions once those people have replied to us. I really cannot
start saying what we would do because at this stage we do not
have a full set of answers. We would clearly need to look at what
our legal powers were at that stage. I am not ruling anything
in; I am not ruling anything out. I am just saying that these
things need to be done in a proper order. Studies have been commissioned
and we will respond to them pretty shortly.
Q131 Mr Evans: As it should be, but
you would at least encourage Blackpool then to write to you to
indicate that they are interested one way or the other.
James Purnell: We are working
with them on the basis of their regeneration review which they
have submitted to Government. We have a very good process and
good engagement with them on doing exactly that.
Q132 Chairman: In the first few weeks
after the Prime Minister took office he proceeded to ditch a large
number of the policies of his predecessor, a number of which came
from your Department. One of the ones which were widely speculated
on, indeed it was hinted at in lobby briefings, was the 24-hour
licensing law, that this was going to be reviewed and possibly
amended. Is that still a possibility or are you content with the
operation of the Licensing Act?
James Purnell: We are reviewing
the Licensing Act and that was always planned, in fact it is something
I announced when I was in the licensing job two years ago. We
have always said that we would evaluate the Licensing Act. We
are doing that across the whole range of issues which it raises
from live music through to crime. It is worth saying that crime
in the night-time economy has actually fallen by 5% but we are
working closely with the Home Office on the review that they are
doing of the crime side of things and the Prime Minister was referring
to that. We are also doing a wider review of the effect of alcohol
on society and the way in particular that children are exposed
to that. That is something which the Home Office and DCSF are
working on. Clearly that is a much wider issue than just licensing;
licensing is only one part of that particular issue.
Chairman: We have no more questions.
May I thank you both very much.