Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Ninth Report




Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: Column 1262

... I want to make one further remark with regard to what the committee refers to as the "salami slicing approach" to the deregulation of proposals affecting casinos. The statement by the Home Office which accompanies this order refers somewhat opaquely to paragraphs 17 to 22, and to paragraph 7 as follows:

    "The Home Office has noted the Committee's comments on the future use of the deregulation power to amend the gaming laws and the need for a review of the legislation".

In fact, the committee raises some serious questions about how and when future reform should take place. At paragraph 19 of the report, the committee asks whether this will be the last in a series of deregulation proposals affecting casinos and observes that there is every indication from the Government that it will not be the last. The committee points out that the response of London Clubs International, which was submitted to the latest consultation paper, urged the Government,

    "to move quickly to allowing the introduction of at least 20 machines and a proper casino slot machine regime".

Can the Minister say whether this change could be made in the future under existing law?

The committee concludes its consideration of the problems of salami slicing by pointing out that one consequence of such an approach is,

    "that it becomes unclear as to when the principles governing the legislation are being fundamentally undermined". The committee continues to say that it does not believe that that point has yet been reached, but concludes that the piecemeal relaxation of the gaming laws by way of deregulation is clearly unsatisfactory and that it is its strong view that the legislation is now due for review.

In the past, I have sat as a magistrate on a local betting and gaming committee. Like other noble Lords, I am perfectly well aware that reforming such a body of legislation is no easy matter; indeed, it would be a very complex task. However, if the Government are not able to undertake such a review in the short term, can the Minister say whether they have any plans in the medium term to carry out such work? In the meantime, I support the making of the order.

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Lord Elton: My Lords, my eyes were drawn to this order because I was a member of the Select Committee on delegated powers when the first of these orders came in and the first slice of the salami was taken off the sausage. It seems to me to be a rather regrettable way of treating statute law to lower it gently, gently, gently until the toes touch the water, as it were. I do not think that this is how we should proceed. When responding to my noble friend on the Front Bench, it would be very helpful if the Minister could give an undertaking that the Government will review this piece of legislation and either bring it up to date or keep it in its present state. It should not come to us for a fourth time by way of another slice; indeed, at some time, someone holding the sausage will get his fingers cut off.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I can understand the concern about the salami approach to the issue. I am sure that this is not the first occasion that the issue has been raised in relation to gambling as a whole. The Government do not accept that the changes here would encourage excessive gambling. These are comparatively modest changes, which remove some of the irksome restrictions that are no longer necessary in this day and age. They have been the subject of very public consultation and have been very carefully considered by the deregulation committees. It should be borne in mind that casinos are very strictly regulated in this country. The noble Baroness mentioned the age limit of 18 and that is something that I should certainly wish to be maintained.

The House of Lords committee commented in its report that it was concerned that amendments to the gambling legislation were being made on a piecemeal basis by deregulation order and that the gambling law should be reviewed. Although this is the first under this administration, in the past there have been seven others. The committee was, however, content with this order. Proposals would be laid only if they had been fully consulted on and were consistent with the general principles of gambling regulation. There are a number of concerns in this area; namely, keeping gambling crime free; ensuring that gaming is honest and fairly conducted; that players know what to expect and that the vulnerable are protected.

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Changes could not be made under the existing law to the extent that the industry would like, but we are considering this issue. A review would be a large task involving three major Acts of Parliament on betting, gaming and lotteries. The legislation still achieves its primary objective of keeping gambling crime free. As regards further use of the power, we do not want to rule out judicious use of appropriate changes which are in the public interest.

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