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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): We have today issued a consultation letter to interested parties regarding casino opening hours, copies of which have been placed in the Library. At present casinos must close at 4 a.m. We propose an extension from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. (except Sundays) for casinos in England and Wales. Comments are requested by 31 January 2000.
The Gaming Act 1968 imposes restrictions on the hours that gaming establishments may open. Under Section 18 of the 1968 Act, casinos must close between 4 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sundays. The hours on other days are prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State in respect of casinos in England and Wales. Under the Gaming Club (Hours and Charges) Regulations 1984, the opening hours of casinos are currently from 2 p.m. until 4 a.m.
Following consultation with the Gaming Board for Great Britain, we have agreed in principle to the proposed change. Casinos are places for late night entertainment and we see no objection to a later closing time. This change would not affect the current permitted hours during which casinos may serve alcohol--3 a.m. in London and 2 a.m. elsewhere.
Gaming is a reserved subject but some powers to make secondary legislation have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, including gaming hours. The Scottish Executive is embarking on a similar exercise in respect of casinos in Scotland. We would aim to make regulations simultaneously.
The Council agreed as 'A' points: reports on the Financial Regulation for Europol; budget estimates for the Schengen Information System installation costs for 2000; and a progress report on the work of the Collective Evaluation Group (CEG) covering confidential country reports on Poland and Estonia.
The Council considered the country action plans produced by the High Level Group on Asylum and Migration. It agreed that the action plans should go forward to the General Affairs Council and the European Council at Tampere for approval.
Presidency conclusions on this subject were adopted. The text makes clear that member states are now reviewing their special temporary protection regimes for all Kosovar displaced persons and not just illegal immigrants.
The Commission presented its proposal for a Community agreement to bring Norway and Iceland into the Dublin Convention arrangements. There are some complex legal issues to resolve and the Council Legal Service will be consulted. The Presidency remitted the matter to COREPER for urgent consideration.
The Commission outlined its proposals for a cross-Pillar drugs strategy. The Commission's proposals were welcomed, but there was recognition that the strategy would need to afford sufficient flexibility for member states to deal quickly with new trends, priorities and consumption patterns, such as the spread of new synthetic drugs. One member state called for the section of the Commission's document on policy co-operation to be strengthened. Others noted the need to develop the operational aspects, drawing, as appropriate, on the strategy papers prepared under the earlier United Kingdom Presidency. The Council agreed to discuss the strategy again at the December Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council and that it should then go to the Helsinki European Council for adoption.
One member state requested that papers for discussion at JHA Councils should be distributed at least three weeks in advance to ensure adequate time for national parliamentary consideration. The Presidency noted this and remitted the matter for future discussion.
The Commission presented its communication, which was welcomed by many member states, including the United Kingdom. The Presidency concluded that consideration of these issues would continue in the light of any practical guidance on the subject which emerged from the European Council at Tampere.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: We anticipate that discussions with carriers or their representatives will commence in December. The purpose of these talks will be to esablish the means whereby information on passengers may be provided. We understand that some carriers may have concerns about the implications for them of the new passenger information provisions and we will endeavour to minimise as far as is possible the resource and administrative burden on them.
We would like to take this opportunity to clarify the scope of the power to require carriers to provide additional information. This will be capable of requiring carriers to provide information over and above what they currently collect. However, it will not be used to require carriers to provide information to which they do not have ready access. We recognise the constraints under which industry must operate and we will work closely with it to ensure that these are properly considered against operational need.
The passenger information provisions are an important element of the intelligence led approach to the operation of the immigration control. Not only will they enable the Immigration Service to make more efficient use of its resources but they will also benefit carriers, operators and the travelling public.
The Government's manifesto commitment was for a free vote on whether hunting with hounds should be banned. Such a free vote took place during proceedings in the other place in the 1997-98 Session on the Bill to outlaw hunting with dogs sponsored by the honourable Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). His Bill received a Second Reading by 411 votes to 151. We well understand the frustration of many honourable Members that no legislative conclusion followed.
My right honourable Friend the Home Secretary is therefore pleased to announce that the government will offer reasonable time, if necessary, and drafting assistance for this issue to be considered in the other place through a Private Member's Bill on a free vote. We shall consult the House authorities, as appropriate, on how this can best be taken forward.
The Government have decided that there should first be an inquiry. This will be a committee of inquiry not into whether hunting is right or wrong, which is a matter for the other place to decide. Instead, the inquiry will be put in place better to inform the debate.
The inquiry will look at the practical issues involved in hunting with dogs, how a ban could be implemented and what the consequences of a ban would be. It will provide an opportunity for the facts about hunting properly to be considered.
Also, it will enable an examination of the effect on the rural economy, agriculture and pest control, the social and cultural life of particular areas of countryside, the management and conservation of wildlife and animal welfare of hunting and if hunting were to be banned. The inquiry will take evidence from all interested parties.
The inquiry will be chaired by Lord Burns. It will be asked to report by late Spring next year. The names of the other members of the inquiry will be announced as soon as possible. The report will be put before the other place.