Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-132)


25 OCTOBER 2007

  Q120  Mr Evans: So there is a chance then.

  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 authorities.

  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 still interested.

  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 rewards—hallmarks 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 study.

  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.

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