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26 Feb 2008 : Column 915

Andy Burnham: As I said to the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), it was entirely for local authorities to decide whether or not to pursue an application for any of the three categories of casino authorised under the 2005 Act. As part of the process, the independent panels went back to the local authorities that bid to say that they could extend their range of applications at any time. At least one local authority that bid for a regional casino got a large casino in the end because it put in a bid for a large casino, too. The decisions about what to bid for were made locally and local authorities have to live with the consequences of those decisions.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the success of London’s O2 arena shows that it is perfectly possible for the private sector, working with the public sector, to help regenerate large areas by means of leisure complexes? They can do that without having to resort to super-casinos, whose machines offering unlimited stakes and prizes are highly addictive and could have raised our rate of problem gambling.

Andy Burnham: That is a good point, although from my days many years ago as an adviser to this Department, I seem to recall that some public money was involved in the creation of what is now called the O2 arena. My hon. Friend is right to say that sport, leisure and culture can be a powerful catalyst for wider regeneration. There is evidence for that up and down the country, and I want to encourage exactly those public-private partnerships that he seems to be referring to.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): The Secretary of State has made the right decision today about super-casinos, but I must pick him up on what he said about compensation. The Government have cancelled a competition that the city of Manchester thought that it had won. Surely he ought to accept that Manchester should be compensated for the costs that it incurred.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): It’s called gambling.

Andy Burnham: I welcome the welcome for the decision expressed by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), although I shall resist the temptation to respond to the sedentary comment from the Opposition Benches. However, I repeat that an ad hoc group is looking at all the issues that the decision raises, and I hope that it can conclude its work swiftly.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Following the Secretary of State’s non-answer to the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne), does he accept that another major flaw of the Gambling Act 2005 was the requirement to remove gaming machines with a £2 stake from bingo halls, adult gaming centres and seaside arcades? That has caused a catastrophic fall in business on such premises, and will he do something about it?

Andy Burnham: I understand that the same issues were raised in an Adjournment debate last week, to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State
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responded. He is in discussions with the industry about the questions that have been raised, but we will keep all such matters under review.

Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): My right hon. Friend said that his instinct was to proceed with caution at all times and that he would take into consideration measures to protect young and vulnerable people. Will he confirm that admittance to casinos will be limited to people aged 21 and over, and will he expand a little further on his instincts in this area?

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Act provides that 18 is the minimum age for entry to a casino, but my instinct is that 21 would be the right age. However, that is not a firm view and I am willing to listen to the views expressed by hon. Members of all parties before reaching a firm view. I have looked at the international evidence, though, and it seems that 21 is the age at which people around the world are admitted into casinos. I shall be interested to find out whether there is an appetite in the House for adopting a similar provision here.

Mr. Moss: Setting aside the illogicality of dishing up what I calculate to be more than half a billion pounds as a sop to Manchester and Blackpool, when the Secretary of State looks at the figures promised for Blackpool, will he not see that two thirds of that £300 million has been committed already by other Departments?

Andy Burnham: I think that people in Blackpool will be interested in what the hon. Gentleman has said. At the beginning of my statement, I said that we had listened carefully to the views expressed in this House and another place. It has been impossible not to be aware of the strength of feeling about Blackpool, and it is clear that people want a sustainable regeneration package for the area. That package will draw on a range of sources, and I set out a moment ago the further support that may be available from my Department. Taken together, that represents a substantial investment in improving Blackpool.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I spent many hours on the Bill that became the Gambling Act 2005, when the Government’s policy often seemed to change not every day, but every hour. My right hon. Friend’s announcement today has made me wonder whether all that effort was worth it—and, frankly, I do not think that it was. However, may I urge him to meet representatives of the British Casino Association before he introduces any more restrictions on casinos’ operations? The 1968 Act has been criticised, but this country’s casino industry has been largely well run and free of crime. Does he agree that the real problem is internet gambling?

Andy Burnham: My hon. Friend is right to say that casinos are, on the whole, well run and crime-free. Long may that remain the case. He says that the time has been wasted, but I do not think that he should conclude that. The Gambling Act 2005 is a much stronger framework for the consideration of such matters. The House used to have no control over the extension of the number of casinos; the Act, as well as introducing tougher new measures, gave us the ability
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to do so. I will meet the British Casino Association before considering any further restrictions in that area.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Secretary of State has repeated his noble aim of requiring casinos, like bookmakers, to have policies to identify problem gamblers. I used to be a bookmaker, and I can say in all honesty that I never had any understanding of the detail of my customers’ bank accounts, and so never knew whether they were betting more than they could afford to lose. Can he share his experience and tell us how operators are supposed to identify problem gamblers? Would that not put staff—often young or low-paid people—in the difficult circumstance of having to tell people that they cannot place a bet because they have a problem?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman’s experience is far more extensive than mine, and I will listen carefully to him on such matters. I hope that operators would work with the organisation chaired by his hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) to develop good policies enabling them to identify problem gamblers. I suspect that most people who work in betting shops, casinos and similar places know their regular visitors and whether they have a potential problem needing further help and support. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a good and fair point. That is exactly why the trust needs more resource: to help improve the quality of the policies that will be developed.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on putting the final nail in the coffin of the ridiculous and dangerous super-casino concept, and on recognising that investment in the creative industries, information technology, sustainable construction, skills and higher education represents the best future for young people in the Greater Manchester sub-region. Will he tell us more about his approach to gambling addiction and, particularly in view of the Australian experience, about how he will monitor any increase in gambling addiction as a result of the commission of 16 new casinos?

Andy Burnham: The main mechanism is the Gambling Commission’s prevalence study. As I mentioned earlier, we want it to focus particularly on online gambling. That is how we will measure. We will keep the matter under review at all times. I welcome my hon. Friend’s welcome for the decision that we announced today, and I agree that there is the potential to do something with the site available in east Manchester that is far more innovative and brings longer-lasting benefits to the north-west economy for many years to come.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Does the Government’s alleged gambling policy recognise the link between alcohol and drugs and problem gambling? If so, is the Secretary of State concerned about the lack of screening of problem gamblers in alcohol and drug treatment centres in the probation and prison services, and will he make representations to those presenting the alcohol and drugs strategy that problem gambling should be included?

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Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The Responsibility in Gambling Trust could look at that issue too, so I will consider it further. It is a good point.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give a more convincing reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) and others about the plight of the seaside holiday resorts with amusement arcades, which have been badly hit by the consequences of the Gambling Act? Such resorts are in great competition with overseas holidays. The matter is urgent and serious, and it deserves a better response than his reply that he was keeping it under review. As he is in a mood of contrition, will he agree that mistakes have been made and that they must be corrected?

Andy Burnham: No, we do not accept that. As I said earlier, we pay close attention to the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raised, which are important to many hon. Members. Of the casinos authorised today, only a small number are in seaside resorts, so it is not in seaside resorts that the order’s impact will mainly be felt, but he makes an important point. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is in regular discussion with representatives of the arcade industry, and we will continue to keep the matter under close review.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I warmly thank the Government for dithering on the issue, because during all the dithering, Conservative-controlled Scarborough borough council has taken decisive action and has successfully persuaded Merlin Entertainments to build the new Legoland on the site for which the casino was in pole position. However, we will have a casino somewhere. In how many of the 16 cases will the opening of a new casino result in the closure of an existing casino that is unable to compete on equal terms?

Andy Burnham: The hon. Gentleman has illustrated very well the point that I sought to make in my statement: these are matters for local decision making. The new Legoland development sounds very enticing. It will be for his local council to decide where, how and if it uses the authority that we seek to give it through the order. However, let me make it clear once again that the decisions are local at all times. I do not seek to interfere further in them, although I should say that the process by which licences are awarded must follow the guidelines that accompany the order laid down today.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): The Secretary of State’s statement will be warmly welcomed by many, including myself and organisations such as the Evangelical Alliance, which has campaigned long and hard against regional casinos. However, the Government’s unbelievable dithering on the issue will have cost the people of Manchester and Blackpool dearly. I am still not clear on why the Secretary of State changed his mind. Was it because he believes, as I do, that the so-called economic benefits are far outweighed by the social and economic costs?

Andy Burnham: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s welcome for the statement. Let me say again that it is less than a year since the Lords rejected the original
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order. It surely was right and proper to have a period of reflection before bringing any new order before the House. Indeed, if I remember correctly, lots of newspapers called for a period of reflection at the time. We have provided precisely that. It was right to consult local councils, and to give them time after local elections to decide whether they wished to proceed. All of that took until the back end of last year; it was only at the end of last year that we were able to get confirmation from all 16. Having held a consultative process in Government, we are coming forward with the order today, so I reject the hon. Lady’s accusation that the process has been subject to delay and dither.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Further to the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), does the Secretary of State really understand the grave crisis facing the amusement arcade industry? There are amusement arcades in King’s Lynn and Hunstanton that are losing customers by the day. Surely he can now reverse the damaging changes to the £50 jackpot machines. That would go some way towards solving the problem.

Andy Burnham: I understand that the British Amusement Catering Trade Association, the representative body, has made a series of requests to the Department, which are being considered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. He informs me that he will write to those concerned and respond to the requests by the end of the week. Again, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that we are not insensitive to the important issues facing seaside towns. The Department will come forward soon with a serious, substantial initiative to get further investment for seaside towns, so that we protect their heritage and improve their facilities.


Copyright in Sound Recordings and Performers’ Rights (Term Extension)

Pete Wishart, supported by Mr. Ian Cawsey, Mr. Mark Field, Sandra Gidley, John Robertson, Rosemary McKenna, Adam Price, Mr. Greg Knight, John Hemming, Stewart Hosie, Kelvin Hopkins and Janet Anderson, presented a Bill to extend the duration of copyright in sound recordings and of performers’ rights; and for connected purposes.: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 March, and to be printed. [Bill 78].

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Small Print

4.29 pm

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I beg to move,

The Bill’s objective is simple: it is not to impose any additional regulations on the content of terms and conditions in advertisements or contracts, but to ensure that customers are reasonably able to read what they say. It is easy to say “Let the buyer beware”, but if the buyer cannot read the contract, how is he or she supposed to beware?

I shall give an example that happened to me personally just last week. It is not a particularly severe example compared with some of the others that I shall cite, but it illustrates the point. People who make an online purchase, as I did last week, may be offered a voucher if they make another purchase from the same firm—in this case, Expedia. If they click on that offer, they find that they have signed up to pay £8 a month for ever, until they cancel it, for a package of discount vouchers that they will get in the future. The website does not spell out what the vouchers are or their value. More to the point, the deal is in small print and people have to look for it to see that that is what they are signing up for.

I noticed the offer because a constituent raised the matter with me a few weeks ago, after he had ordered some flowers online. He accepted the offer and, as a result, a couple of months later he noticed he had been paying £8 a month to a company that he had never heard of. He inquired why and found out that he had been fooled by the small print.

Much more serious examples have come up in my discussions with non-governmental organisations, in relation to matters such as the redemption payment to be made when a mortgage is redeemed, which may be much more substantial than the mortgage holder expects. In a lease, the fine print relating to rental arrangements governs when the deposit is to be returned. Often the deposit is never seen again because of something deep down in the contract, especially if a person is a relatively vulnerable renter who is not used to the formalities of legal contracts and who has difficulty burrowing into small print deep in the contract. In the case of insurance policies, insurance companies are happy to take people’s money no matter how old they are, but when policyholders come to claim, they find that in the small print there is an exclusion based on their age.

The Bill has widespread support. The phrase “in the small print” has become a standard metaphor for evasive and devious modification of what appears to be on offer. I am grateful for the help of the Royal National Institute of the Blind and the Plain English Campaign in preparing the Bill. I welcome the support of Age Concern, Help the Aged and the Trading Standards Institute, which was helpfully brought in by my co-sponsor, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell).

I thank the other co-sponsors present—my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac), and the hon. Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and
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for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer). If I have missed anyone, I apologise. I am grateful for the all-party support and for the support of my local newspaper, the Nottingham Evening Post.

In fairness, amid the orgy of congratulation, I have had a critical note from the Advertising Standards Authority, which has reservations about the Bill and does not believe there is a problem. It says that it already has the power to regulate the area adequately. With all due respect to the Advertising Standards Authority, that does not seem in practice to prevent widespread use of small print with the objective of obscuring unwelcome terms and conditions.

As we all know, ten-minute Bills tend to have a sad fate in the eternal grey waiting room of the pending section of the Order Paper, but I am glad to say that in this case a Minister from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has agreed to take the matter up, and I will meet him next week to see whether the issue can be addressed as part of the new EU directive on consumer protection. There might be those who have their doubts about the EU but I hope that on this issue at least we are of one mind in saying that the consumer deserves protection against manipulation in the small print. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Nick Palmer, Mr. Graham Allen, Norman Baker, Michael Jabez Foster, Mr. Fabian Hamilton, John Hemming, Susan Kramer, Dr. Julian Lewis, Shona McIsaac and Mr. Paul Truswell.

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