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we can say with certainty that there will be no more than 150 casinos.[ Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 January 2005; c. 718.]
We know that there are already 144 casinos, and if we add 16, the total reaches 160. However, will the Secretary of State confirm that according to the Governments latest figures, up to 125 applications under the Gaming Act 1968 are still in the pipeline? That brings the total to not 150, but 285. So was not the former Minister wrong? What is the Secretary of States estimate of the likely number of casinos?
I congratulate the Secretary of State on being consistent in one respect. He is the third successive Secretary of State since 2003 to threaten a compulsory levy if the gambling industry, most notably the internet gambling industry, does not contribute more to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. He wants a substantial increase, but without a clear target and deadline, does he not risk sounding like the boy who cried wolf?
Andy Burnham: Although I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, I could not work out whether he supported the order; but let me take him on directly in regard to his accusation about dithering. He spoke of 11 months of delay. Surely it would have been wrong not to reflect on the deep concerns expressed on both sides of both Houses, and wrong not to take soundings from the local authorities involved. We allowed time for local consideration of the issues, and I feel comfortable that that was the right way to proceed.
I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman about the consultation of local people. This is essentially an enabling order. It is right for the decision to be made at local level, and I expect local authorities not just to use the powers and observe the requirements to consult provided by the Gambling Act 2005 but, as good practice, to consult local people and communities at every stage of the process, particularly when the detail of the proposal is clear. It is very important that there is an expectation of consultation all the way through.
On the number of casinos under the 1968 Act, the hon. Gentleman put out figures last week claiming that potentially 300 casinos were in the offing. They are not our figures; I do not recognise them at all. There could not under any scenario be anything close to 300. He is right that 144 are in operation. The order would allow for 16 more. Others have been turned down and are awaiting appeal, and others are being processed by the Gambling Commission, but the numbers come nowhere near the figures that he published last week.
May I say a word about the legislation that we have introduced? Under the old 1968 Act system, the House had no control over the proliferation of new casinos. Applications could be authorised through a local process. However, under the Gambling Act 2005, which we passed in this Parliament, the will of Parliament has to be heard before any new casinos can be created, and as the hon. Gentleman knows, we suspended further applications under the 1968 Act some time ago.
I listened carefully to the hon. Gentlemans comments. I think we responded rightly to the concerns raised, and I hope that he and his colleagues will support the order when it comes before the House.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): My right hon. Friend referred to the ad hoc ministerial group that is to be set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to work with Manchester city council on regeneration alternatives. In her letter to the leader of the council today, she talks about
replicating the kind of job creation numbers that the casino could have delivered.
While my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) of course has a primary interest in the location of the casino, because the jobs would have been spread widely all Manchester Members of Parliament have an interest in job creation and regeneration, and I should be grateful for an assurance that the Gorton constituency will be well included in such plans.
Andy Burnham: I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. I am sure that he will join me in celebrating the success of the Manchester economy in recent times, and that he would want to pay tribute to the city council for the remarkable job it has done in bringing Manchester around from its position in the 1980s and early 1990s. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government leads on regeneration matters, and I know that she was listening carefully to his comments.
Of course, in east Manchester we are building on the legacy of a successful Commonwealth games. My Department has a role to play in ensuring that we build on that sporting legacy and further enhance the sporting potential of that region, and use it as a catalyst for regeneration. As we have seen, sport can be a catalyst for regeneration. I give my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) an assuranceas I did a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Centralthat we will work with good intent to develop a strong package that will respond to the needs that Manchester city council has put to us.
Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that most people will regard his statement this afternoon as the final chapter in a saga of total shambles and incompetence? Does he understand the resentment that is bound to be felt in authorities such as Blackpool that chose to put in an application only for a regional casino licence? It is one thing to lose in fair competition, but the competition has now been scrapped entirely. Should such councils not at least have another opportunity to apply for a licence for a large or small casino?
Andy Burnham: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, as I know that he has taken a close interest in these matters over a long period. I think, however, that it is also true that he supported the recent gambling legislation when it passed through this House, so although he talks about a long saga it appears that he has supported the Government position fairly consistently throughout the process.
On the Blackpool and Manchester question, it is important to say that when local authorities put forward applications it was entirely their own decision whether to apply to the independent advisory panel for one of the licences. Although I was not in the Department at the time, I understand that authorities that did not bid for all the potential licences were advised that they could do so should they wish to change their original bid, but Blackpool and Manchester remained as bidders purely for the regional
licence. It is a matter for local authorities to decide their own strategies in pursuit of regeneration opportunities. It would be entirely wrong for me to reopen that process and allow a new process to begin. We should proceed with the eight and eight locations, as the panel advised us to do.
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows full well that his Department instigated the taskforce for Blackpool in the context of very strong support last year in both Houses for Blackpools position. He referred to the statement and document from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government about Blackpools funding package. It remains to be seen how much of that is new and focused money, and that will obviously be examined carefully. Given the moral responsibility that his Department bears in this issue, will he use his good officeshis strongest officesto work with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ensure that those proposals are for new money and that they begin to fill the regeneration hole left by the removal of the prospect of a super-casino in Blackpool? Will he use his best endeavours, with his senior officials
Andy Burnham: I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) for the way in which they have pursued Blackpools case in recent times. As a north-west MP, I know that, along with other Members across the House, people agree and sympathise with the case that my hon. Friends have made for regeneration in Blackpool. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has asked the Government office for the north-west to report back each quarter on progress made against the taskforce recommendations published today. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South that there is a further proposal for the creation of an events site at the tower festival headland to showcase Blackpools cultural connections and provide a centrepiece so that it becomes the capital of dance. That is a serious proposal; it is being considered by my Department, and we hope to make further progress on it shortly.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) for their support for the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. May I point out to the Secretary of State and the House that funding for the treatment of problem gambling has increased more than tenfold since the trust was formed six years ago? Last year, we launched the gambleaware website. We have a business plan and we are launching a problem gambling national strategy later this year. But this has to be funded, and I welcome his support. The major bookmakers, casino operators and trade associations all support the trust. Will he ask the Gambling Commission to use the voluntary funding mechanism agreed between the trust and the trade associations in assessing the licence obligations of other operators who are currently not paying the trust?
Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentlemans welcome for what we have announced today is heartening. I assure him that this is not an empty threat: this system has a final chance to work on a voluntary basis. It might be shown not to work, and I shall be interested to hear his views on whether it is working as we make progress from this point before making a final determination on whether we need a statutory levy. I pay tribute to him and to his colleagues at the trust. The gambleaware website has been a very welcome development. I shall listen to him carefully over the coming months before deciding whether we need to take further action on the status of the levy.
Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) made the point about spin-off job creation not only in east Manchester but throughout the east side of Greater Manchester. When the ad hoc ministerial group that has been announced identifies and proposes a range of regeneration alternatives, will the Secretary of State ensure that they are of an equal strategic nature in respect of the wider eastern part of Greater Manchester, as undoubtedly the spin-off job creation from the super-casino proposals would have extended into constituencies such as mine?
Andy Burnham: I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes and I point him towards the work that the Department for Communities and Local Government has published today, because it considers the question of a possible displacement of jobs by a regional casino. It also questioned the extent to which jobs created would be truly additional. The task facing the ad hoc group is to identify proposals that will have a lasting benefit for the whole of the Manchester economy, and I am confident that it can come forward with such a package.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Most Members will be aware that I was never in favour of a super-casino for east Manchester, mainly because I had serious doubts that it was a suitable vehicle for regeneration. Given that the Government have now accepted that a super-casino would not deliver the regeneration that east Manchester deserves, they needed to come up with concrete proposals to create skilled local jobs for local people. The announcement today is merely a vague set of pre-election rumours or, as the Manchester Evening News described it, a piecemeal package of possibilities
Mr. Speaker: Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman, who is a newer Member, is keen to put his message across, but if we do not have short, sharp questions and responses, we cannot get through this statement.
Andy Burnham: Concrete proposals are exactly what we intend to make: that is the purpose of the group that we have established. As I said in my statement, it will produce its first report by the end of March. There was a separate process set up for Blackpool which started work ahead of this process. I do not think that anyone would question the proposals offered to Blackpool, but we want concrete proposals for east Manchester that constitute a sustainable package that will have a wider beneficial impact across the citys economy.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the Secretary of State on rowing back on these proposals. In Wolverhampton, there is already ample opportunity for gambling, with a raft of betting shops, bingo halls
Mr. Purchase: And racecourses and so on. Indeed, masses of illicit cash are already generated through prostitution and drugs. It is the ultimate insult to people in Wolverhampton to talk about regeneration on the back of a game of pitch and toss in a casino. That should be outwith the lexicon of Labour policies.
Andy Burnham: The issue is entirely a matter for local decision making. I would be shocked and amazed if my hon. Friend were not able to make his views heard as forcefully locally as he does in this House. I refer him to the detailed work done by Newham council to gauge the level of support locally for any proposed casino. I would hope that any local authority, as a matter of good practice, would involve local people before making a final decision on what are, as he rightly says, very important matters.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): I have some sympathy with the Secretary of State, who was left holding the parcel when the music stopped on this fiasco, which has been going on for far too long. It is worth pointing out that we could have got there so much more quickly had his predecessor agreed to reintroduce a single order, as we suggested about a year ago. The statement is rather ambitiously called Gambling Policy, which would be a start as far as the Government are concerned. Is it still part of the Governments policy to make Britain the online gambling capital of the world, and what work has his Department done since the Ascot summit?
Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman says that we could have got there more quickly; I have been through the process by which we arrived at the conclusion today, and while we could say many things about it, the one thing that we could not say is that it has not been deliberative and consultative. We have shown a willingness to listen, but as I said to the shadow Secretary of State, it is important that we keep everything under review and consider the effect and prevalence of online gambling when making any decisions about gambling in casinos or elsewhere. I intend to do precisely that and there will be a further prevalence study. As I say, the last one showed that while we might feel that levels of problem gambling are uncomfortably high, they are not increasing.
Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): In relation to gambling policies, could it be the case that the smaller casinos, in particular, result in further unfair competition for bingo halls and seaside arcades? As the Secretary of State knows, those businesses have already suffered drastic reductions in their incomes and also increased compliance costs. What urgent action will he take to address that problem as we approach the beginning of the season?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The bingo industry and bingo clubs play an important part in the constituencies of many people in this House, including mine, as do amusement arcades
in seaside towns. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport regularly meets the representatives of both industries. We continue to listen carefully to their views and in doing so we consider at all times the important social role played by bingo halls in particular.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Will the Secretary of State elaborate on the part of his statement where he drew a distinction between the proposal for 16 small and large casinos and the previous proposal for a regional casino? He said that he was satisfied that the proposed casinos do not pose the same level of risk to the public as a regional casino. Will he outline, then, what level of risk the present proposal poses to the public where those casinos will be situated?
Andy Burnham: I apologise if that was not clear enough in my statement. The point that I was making was that we are dealing with a known quantity: category B1 gaming machines. The difference is that the proposal for a regional casino would have introduced a large number of unlimited stake and prize gaming machinescategory A machineswhich would have been entirely new to the UK. That is the clear distinction. The regional casino would also have been a much larger entity. There are clear differences and those are the issues that I have considered. Given that there are already category B1 machines in existing casinos in this country, I am satisfied that on the balance of risks the eight small and eight large casinos can safely proceed.
Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): The statement means the loss of 3,500 jobs for Manchester, which were won in a fair and open competition, yet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in a letter to Manchester city council, said that there will be no special treatment and no immediate creation of new jobs. Why are we not trying to overturn the views of the bishops and unelected peers in the other place, who put us in this situation, or giving Manchester special treatment to replace the jobs that will be lost because of the decisions in this statement?
Andy Burnham: I feel that it would have been wrong simply to return to the House with the same order as was defeated in another place last March. However, Manchesters case for east Manchester and the need for regeneration is well made, and that is why the ad hoc group has been established. I encourage my hon. Friend to reserve judgment until that group has completed its work. At that point, he will be entitled to judge whether this proposal is an acceptable package as an alternative to a regional casino. The decision was clearly taken on the balance of evidence about a regional casino and, as I have just explained to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell), the risks that that could have posed to the public.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): When the Government changed their mind about Northern Rock, the private sector preferred bidders were compensated in full for the cost of their bids. Why are the Government not treating the public sector bidders in the same way in this instance?
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