Mr. Ellwood: I understand the Ministers frustration at being intervened on, but he must understand that we rarely get opportunities to hold the Government to account on matters relating to all forms of gambling.
If I look at the website of the national lottery, I see that anyone over the age of 16 can participate in any of the electronic internet bingo games. If I look at any other official bingo site, I see that anyone under the age of 18 is prevented from playing. Will the Minister use this opportunity to explain why there is that difference?
Mr. Sutcliffe: If we are not careful, we will be in danger of straying on to the second order and the details about bingo. The hon. Member for Bath raised the issue of similar games. The games on offer in betting shops are obviously kept under review by the Gambling Commission. I understand the hon. Gentlemans point but, as he said, the national lottery and society lotteries keep an eye on the situation, and if we feel that there are problem areas, we can do something about them.
Hon. Members have asked me to comment on problem gambling. We are concerned about getting the context right. The whole basis of the Gambling Act 2005 was to protect vulnerable people, and that was why we introduced the voluntary levy, with which we are having difficulties. Perhaps I will say more in the debate on the next order about contributions from gambling companies and the amount of money needed to deal with problem gambling. We have the Gambling Trust and GamCare, and I believe that we cater well for the small minority who have a problem with gambling.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North is right that when we take decisions, we must keep things in context. As the hon. Member for Bath said, although this may be seen as the soft end of gambling, there are still those who do not believe that we should go as far as we do in the measure. I hope that the Committee will support the order.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Gambling Act 2005 (Gaming Machines in Bingo Premises) Order 2008.
The order increases the number of category B3 gaming machines that bingo halls can offer to consumers. It is intended to help to address a severe economic downturn in the bingo industry by increasing the number of category B3 gaming machines that bingo halls can offer from four to eight. Last June, I announced my intention to increase to eight the number of category B3 machines that bingo halls are permitted to operate. Those gaming machines have a maximum stake of £1 and a maximum prize of £500. That was in response to a campaign by the Bingo Association that attracted the support of a number of hon. Members, and that widespread cross-party support was influential when I made my decision. The order is intended to help the bingo industry, which is facing difficult trading conditions. I recognise that the current economic climate is a problem for the gambling industry as a whole, but there is strong evidence to suggest that the situation in the bingo industry is particularly acute.
A number of special circumstances apply to bingo halls, and the industrys business model means that there is very high demand for such machines during relatively short periods of the day, namely between sessions of bingo play. Although gaming machine entitlements for casinos, betting shops and adult gaming centres were increased by the 2005 Act, in return for taking on enhanced social responsibilities, bingo halls retain the same gaming machine entitlement that they had under the Gaming Act 1968. Most important of all is the role of bingo halls in local communities. They fulfil an important social function and provide a softer gambling environment, and the gaming machines offered remain ancillary to bingo.
There are risks attached to increasing the number of the machines, not least with regard to being seen to promote harder forms of gambling and problem gambling in general. I hope that hon. Members realise that that is not the case. These machines are already on bingo premises. The 2005 Act put in place a comprehensive new system of regulation for gaming machines that put consumer protection at its heart. Our No. 1 priority is the protection of the public, and that is why I reject the view of the Bingo Association that the number of B3 machines should be increased to 16. That would have gone too far, but a modest increase to eight would be consistent with the precautionary approach that the Government shouldand dotake to gambling regulations.
I hope that hon. Members will also bear in mind that all categories of gaming machine must comply with strict regulations and technical standards to ensure that vulnerable and problem gamblers are protected. Stringent controls regarding entry by under-18s to areas in bingo halls offering gaming machines are already in operation under the mandatory conditions attached the premises licences.
A difficult decision has been taken in the context of gambling. However, we think that there are exceptional circumstances for bingo halls because of the social activities that take place there. I hope that hon. Members will accept the order.
Mr. Ellwood: We have had the warm-up and now come to the main focus of this debate on gambling. I thank the Minister for his opening remarks. There is little there for me to agree with. However, the hon. Member for Bath and I will cover the fact that our discussion informs only one slice of what the gambling industry is up to or is allowed to do. The measure is being taken in isolation, without looking at the bigger picture of what is happening with gambling as a whole.
About 20 statutory instrumentsa huge amounthave been made to the 2005 Act. About 15 of them came in before the Act was implemented. Todays SI allows category B3 machines in bingo halls to be increased from four to eight. It is worth reminding ourselves of the objectives of the 2005 Act. They are to prevent gambling from being a source of crime and disorder, to ensure that gambling is conducted in a fair and open way, and to protect children and vulnerable people from being harmed or exploited. I shall come back to how the order fits in with those points later.
The first concern with the 2005 Act is that it has transformed the gambling world. We are quibbling over the number of slot machines that can go into bingo halls, but there is no debate whatsoever about the role of FOBTs, where, instead of being able to put in 10p, 20p or 30p, one can now put in £100 at a time. Where is the discussion about that? How does it fit in with the movement of characters from one type of gambling locationsay bingo or the arcadesto another, such as the bookies? Specifically, section 172 of the 2005 Act says that four category B machines can be put in place, along with unlimited numbers of category C and D machines. The Minister is therefore misleading us when he says that this SI will increase the number of slot machines in bingo halls because it is increasing only the number of B3 machines.
It is also misleading to take the matter in isolation. Will the Minister bring us up to date on the number of consultations taking place on the various forms of gambling currently available? Some of the information coming out of the consultation is quite startling. There have been suggestions that the amount one can put into category D machines will increase to 70p per machine. Is the Minister going to invent a 70p piece for that purpose? The manufacturing industry will suffer unless it gets proper guidance and is listened to. I do not understand how we can debate moving from four to eight machines when the consultation is not yet over.
The Chairman: Order. I am trying to be flexible, but the debate is not about consultation; it is about the instrument before us. It is acceptable to bring in the wider Act, but I do not think we can spend too long on consultation.
Mr. Ellwood: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Caton. Perhaps I wandered because I have been denied the ability to debate these issues in general in the House. I take your guidance and will ensure that I stick to the statutory instrument that we are debating.
As has been pointed out, bingo is considered a soft form of gambling, which is very popular in every constituency. For many people, it is their one night out, their opportunity to meet friends, participate in an easy form of gambling and bring the community together. The threats to bingo halls from the recession, the smoking ban and other issues have put pressure on them to make ends meet. That is why we had early-day motion 132I think that the Minister referred to it, and it is mentioned in the explanatory notesand early-day motion 840, which is specifically about arcades. Adult gaming centres is a horrible name with a sleazy context, so I will call them arcades.
I do not understand why we are debating the move from four to eight machines. Early-day motion 132, which is about bingo, did not call for that. Instead, it called for the removal of VAT. But we not debating that; we are debating machines. The Bingo Association was not aware of the issue and it did not come on to its horizon until we contacted it. We were preparing a press statement in support of adult gaming centresarcadessaying that the number of B3 machines should increase from four to eight and asked whether the association would like its views to be included in the statement, as we thought it appropriate. Initially it paused and said no, that it was focusing on the VAT debate and was not so worried about the B3 machines. Yet here we are, after a lot of consultation, talking about B3 machines, not VAT at all.
The explanatory notes provide more intelligence on Government thinking on gambling than any other information or answer to parliamentary questions that I have seen for a long time. Paragraph 7.8 states that
the situation facing the bingo industry was sufficiently grave...to justify a smaller increase in the number of Category B3 gaming machines.
Paragraph 7.10 states that this
would only apply to bingo halls which operated a strict over 18s entry policy.
The same paragraph then concedes that bingo licences already have stringent controls regarding over-18s by virtue of
the mandatory conditions attached to premises licenses.
The Government want to bring in these machines because they are bigger, harder forms of gambling. They are concerned that under-18s might use them but are not aware that bingo hall licences already state that you must be over 18 to get in. That suggests that the Government are not aware of what is involved in putting together a licence or how things work on the front line.
Paragraph 8.4 is interesting, as it admits that the bingo industry has not been calling for B3 machines but for the removal of VAT. As I mentioned, the increase in B3 machines was a Tory initiative which the bingo industry picked up. The paragraph says:
This is a matter for Treasury but DCMS continues to put the case for this reform.
I am pleased to read that and will press the Minister on whether the Department for Culture, Media and Sport would like to see the removal of VAT in relation to gross profits tax for bingo halls. Is he working to convince his Treasury of that, and is the only thing preventing it the Treasury itself? I would be grateful if he put that on record as I am surprised, although pleased, to see it.
The Minister wants to increase the number of B3 machines, which will mean that bingo halls gain more revenue. If that opens the eyes of the Treasury to the possibility of increased revenue, will it say, Ah ha, we can increase the amusement machine licence duty because there are more B3 machines? Can the Minister guarantee that there will be no change in the amusement machine licence duty, or are there plans to increase it?
This is a case of adult gaming centresarcadesversus bingo halls. I still do not understand why the Minister has not included arcades in the order, when there has been a 21 per cent. decrease in takings according to the British Amusement Catering Trade Association, and 186 closures since September 2007. Our arcade industry is changing. We are talking about arcades on the seafront and in our town centres. They are an important part of the spectrum in the tapestry of gambling. If we remove arcades, as well as bingo halls, those wanting to gamble will wander elsewhere. Where will they go? There is huge concern that they are migrating to harder forms of gambling: the internet and the FOBTs found in bookies that I mentioned. The big question is why arcades are not included.
I know, because I have had the same information, that the Minister has been deluged with evidence and information from up and down the country about arcades that are suffering since the implementation of the 2005 Act. They do not understand why they were hit so hard. The British gambling prevalence survey 2007, which is the main yardstick used to decide the prevalence of problem gambling, gives a summary of all forms of gambling.
Mr. Ellwood: I am being pre-empted. The FOBTs statistics are well into the 14 per cent. range and those for bingo are down, at 3.1 per cent. We can see that bingo and arcades are not a huge part of problem gambling, whereas the internet, particularly with the advent of advertising on television and the growth of FOBTs, are a problem. I have made it clear to the industry that a Conservative Government would not legislate immediately, but we would go to the bookies and say, Please can you have a go at sorting this out yourselves and bring the numbers down?
Mr. Ellwood: Let me finish this point. The first port of call for any Government should not be legislation. Instead, they should ask the industry to look at the figures. There are serious problems with gambling, therefore the industry should try to rectify them itself before the Government step in. Does the Minister still wish to intervene? Perhaps he is happy with my reply and, no doubt, agrees fully with what I am saying.
Will the Minister please update the House on the various consultations? Again, I am baffled about why they are not taken into consideration. Categories C, B, B3, B3A, B4 and the split premises are all part of gambling and, therefore, should be considered together. One cannot take something in isolation and then expect to have an answer, without affecting something else and then influencing the first thing.
The Conservative party believes that there should be the right level of regulation, regardless of the type of gambling. Gambling should be seen as a form of entertainment in which one is likely to lose, rather than a form of investment in which one might win. I have asked the Minister a number of questions, and I hope that he will take advantage of this rare opportunity to debate the issues because we need more clarity about where gambling is going.
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