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Lord McNally: My Lords, perhaps it would be best if I started with a non-declaration of interests: I once worked for a public relations company, but I no longer do so. For anybody looking for ulterior motives for the speech that I am about to deliver, there is nonealthough there is a passion, which I shall come to later.
I welcome the spirit in which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, introduced the Bill and his emphasis on the three key aims: excluding crime, promoting fairness and protecting the vulnerable. About 15 years ago, I did some work for the Rank Organisation on the reform of gambling. During that work I had talks with some senior officials in the Home Office, which was then responsible for the matter, about possibly reforming the betting, gaming and lotteries Acts of the 1960s. I was told frankly that such legislation would be so large and complicated that it would be easier to deal with the matter in a piecemeal fashion under various deregulation powers. That was certainly the pattern of the 1990s.
However, underlying the piecemeal changes was a fundamental change in public policy and attitude, to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred. For successive governments there was no longer an attempt to use the law to try to make moral judgments about how people should use their leisure time and disposable income. Over time it meant, among other things, gradual changes about when people could watch sport and other forms of entertainment, when and where they could buy a drink and where and how they could gamble.
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Those changes made us a freer, more relaxeddare I say it to some of my noble friends?and more liberal society. But they have also brought social challenges in their wake. I do not underestimate the scale of those social problems. As we have seen with binge-drinking and 24-hour drinking, some of this still has to pass its way through our society. But I do not believe that we can respond to those problems by a return to the nanny state.
With this Bill, the DCMS has now gone where the Home Office angels of the 1990s feared to tread. It is, as my Home Office advisers warned over a decade ago, a large and complicated piece of legislation. Nevertheless, the Government are to be congratulated on introducing the Bill. The 1960s Acts are no longer fit for purpose, in terms of either the sociological or technological challenges of the 21st century.
The Government are also to be congratulated on the very thorough pre-legislative approach that they have adopted, with widespread consultation, a very full report from the committee under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Budd and two excellent pre-legislative scrutiny reports from the Joint Committee under the chairmanship of John Greenway.
"many parts of the Bill have a great deal of support on both sides of the House . . . for example, the provisions concerning internet gambling, tougher social responsibility requirements, and a tougher regulator in the shape of the gambling commission".[Official Report, Commons, 24/1/04; col. 130.]
He went on to say that much needed to be done in this House but concluded that the Bill was now far better than the one first introduced by the Government. We will have a chance today and in Committee to improve the Bill still further.
Given that the Bill was not opposed at Third Reading by either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat Front Benches, and comes to us with a majority in excess of the Government's overall majority in another place, I hope that our approach in this House will be to seek to improve rather than wreck or truncate the Bill.
From the lobbying that we have received on all sides of the House it is clear that we were looking at issues such as the prize value of slot machines in seaside arcades and the need for ID cards, issues relating to greyhound racing and wider issues about the protection of the vulnerable. I am pleased to hear from the Minister that we will also have the chance to discuss the size of teddy bears that can be won as prizes.
My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones will indicate our priorities in his summing up. I am also aware that a number of my noble friends will voice more fundamental objections to the Bill. Some of them do not gamble. Neither does my wife. I like the odd flutter but, as the Minister indicated, so does a very large proportion of this country and it is difficult to legislate for one's own prejudices. I hope that the Minister will listen to concerns which are real and valid but which can be met in other ways, rather than stopping this legislation becoming part of the law.
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I would like to use the remaining few minutes to make a personal plea on behalf of my home town of Blackpoolthis is where the passion comes in. I relate it to the Minister's introduction by his emphasis that this will be a local authority decision. Anyone who has seen those marvellous films unearthed in a Blackburn shop from over 100 years ago and shown in pristine condition on BBC2 will know that 100 years ago, Blackpool was already a major tourist attraction.
The civic leadership and individual entrepreneurs who showed such amazing enterprise fully lived up to the town's motto, "progress". The building of the tower, the building and expansion of the Pleasure Beach by the Thomson family, the construction of an electric tramway, the introduction of the illuminations and the building of over 20 theatres and cinemas along with three piers to accompany seven miles of golden sand made Blackpool Europe's most successful resort.
Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, a new leap of the imagination is needed to enable Blackpool to revitalise and regenerate itself. I believe that the resort or destination casinos provided for in this Bill provide just such an opportunity. And it is this regeneration argument which is the tipping point in favour of this Bill.
For Blackpool, casino development is not what it might be for a major cityan attractive cherry on the cake of regeneration. For Blackpool, casino development, along with the hotel and other leisure facilities it would bring with it, would transform the whole nature of the town's tourism offer. No town has done its homework better or more thoroughly than Blackpool in preparation for this legislation. Neither is casino development seen as a one-shot solution. An ambitious redevelopment master plan has been produced to improve the town centre, the airport, the tramway, the sea defences and seafront amenities. Blackpool and Fylde College is already embarking on courses which will provide enhanced career opportunities and enhanced quality of service throughout the leisure industries.
There has been widespread consultation with the local community and all-party support on the local council. Local police and other bodies are involved in addressing the social and other possible downsides to casino operations. The whole regeneration master plan adopted by the council benefits from the guidance of Professor Peter Hall, one of our greatest town planners.
Blackpool has also completed a market testing exercise and established that international and UK-based casino industries look upon the resort as an attractive investment opportunity: 22 companies have registered interest and indicated that they would make multi-million pound investments in Blackpool as long
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as there is a limited development across the UK and a genuine UK commitment to regeneration, tourism and destination casinos.
I make it clear that in no way do I wish to anticipate the judgment of the advisory board. If this Bill does pass it will be a great opportunity for Britain to provide a resort experience which will attract visitors from far and wide. Blackpool has spent five years looking in detail at the social and economic condition and has concluded that the level of regeneration required has to be transformational. The creation of a self-sustaining resort economy in Blackpool will only arise if there is urgent and fundamental change.
About 110 years ago Alderman Bickerstaff went to the Great Exhibition in Paris where he saw the Eiffel Tower and said, "We'll have one of them". I believe it is that spirit that exists today in Blackpool. Film buffs among us will know that great Kevin Costner film, "Field of Dreams". The message in the film is "If you build it, they will come". I passionately believe that if Blackpool builds it, they will come and we will have in the 21st century a resort to match the leadership Blackpool gave in the 20th century.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, I will come to the issue of Blackpool in a few minutes. However, I remember as a boy my father once taking me to Blackpool and going to a show in which Charlie Chester was addressing the audience. He was talking about the neighbouring town of St Anne's. He said, "St Anne'syes, it is beautifully laid out. I don't know how long it has been dead, but it is beautifully laid out."
I dislike this Bill very much. However, I am not opposed to its tightening up and cleaning up of regulations. Anything that improves the regulation of gambling has my support. My dislike of the Bill comes principally from my dislike of gambling as an activity. That is due partly to the fact that I detest using my resources where I know that the odds are that I shall be the loser at the end of the day. However, I dislike it much more because I hate seeing the devastation that an addiction to gambling can create. Such devastation can affect the richI could, but I will not, name large estates that have had to be sold as a result of addiction to gamblingor occur on a more modest scale.
I remember an old farm worker from my own village who used to frequent the village pub. He was a pensioner with little money. He used to trot off continually to the fruit machine and put huge sums into it. I used to say to him, "George, for goodness' sake don't waste all your money on that damnable machine. You cannot win. It is there only for the benefit of the landlord". But still the old boy went on. He was unstoppable. He paid a huge price in his own life and the way that he had to support himself because of his addiction to gambling.
I have no doubt that the casino and other elements of the Bill will increase the amount of gambling opportunities and therefore the volume of gambling in the United Kingdom. It will therefore inevitably increase the number of people addicted to gambling. I
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have seen a current estimate of the number of those addicted to gambling in this country which puts the figure at 300,000. I also have a note from a report by Professor Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent University. When the Bill was first introduced, he estimated that its effectI know that the Bill has been changedwould be to increase that figure by between two and four times. I ask the Government, "Do you really want that? Do you really want to increase dramatically the number of people in this country who are addicted to gambling?".
What is the evidence that there is any demand for such an extension of opportunities to gamble? I have here a note that came to me from a Dr Raabe. I do not know him, but he sent me a note in which he quotes the Guardian of 19 October last year. He says that a recent NOP poll done for the Salvation Army showed that 93 per cent of the British public thought that there were already enough opportunities to gamble. I agree. To my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord McNallyI should declare an interest in that I worked for him in the public relations business many years agoI say that it is no part of the nanny state to oppose the extension of gambling when there is little demand for that extension.
I am also alarmed about what the 24 new casinos will look like. I have visited casinos. I am glad to tell your Lordships that I do not think that I have ever walked out of a casino more than £20 out of pocket, so it has not affected me much. However, I have seen some of the huge operations in Las Vegas.
I recall visiting, not terribly long ago, an exceptionally beautiful casino in St James's Street here in London. However, I was president of the organising body for the TT races on the Isle of Man, and I used to go to the races more or less every year. One year, many years ago, I visited a casino on the promenade in Douglas. That casino may have changed; I do not know. Having gone once, I never wanted to go again. I can describe it only as a squalid hell-hole, where one needed a pair of stout shoes to stop one's feet getting wet from all the beer swilling about on the floor. I shall need a great deal of convincing that a casino in, say, Blackpool, would not turn out much more like the one in Douglas than the one in St James's Street. I cannot conceive that it would be different from what one would find today in a place such as Douglas. I remain to be convinced.
If we are to be saddled with such developments, I am opposed to the terms on which they would happen and the effects that they would have on the existing operators. I cringe at the thought of the big, Las Vegas-type operators moving into the United Kingdom. I have a note from the same Dr Raabe in which he names some of the big organisations that, he tells me, are poised to come here from places such as Las Vegas. They include MGM Mirage, Caesar's Entertainments, Las Vegas Sands, Isle of Caprianother Las Vegas-based casino operationand the owners of Sun City in South Africa. All I can say about that is that, when I was a member of the government many years ago, we were all instructed to have nothing to do with Sun City
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as members of the government. I cringe at the thought of some of those big, American-style casino operations moving into this country.
I cannot understand why there appears to be a freeze on existing operators in the United Kingdomwith regard, for instance, to the number of machines that they may haveand limits on bets and prizes. How can that be fair, if the newcomers in the eight largest new casinos are allowed to have, say, 1,250 machines with unlimited bets and prizes? It is no good the Minister telling me, if that is what he is of a mind to do, that not all the 1,250 machines in the biggest casinos will have no limits in practice. The point is that they can have limits in practice, although the market will, of course, cause the size of bets and prizes to find their own level. While that is going on, the existing operators are limited to £1 stakes and a maximum £2,000 prize. Why not impose on the newcomers the limits that exist for casino operators already here? That would be the only way of creating a level playing field.
I suppose that the Minister will say, "If you put the same limits on the newcomers as exist on those already here, they may not come". I can only say, "So what?". Do we really need them? I hear no demand for such an extension of organised, big-money betting.
The Government's proposals seem to me to be a reincarnation of what I would describe as the worst sort of cheap Harold Wilson gimmickry. I do not want to see the Bill being used as a first step back to the gambling cult in this country that so ruined parts of our society at all levels. I do not know how many Members of your Lordships' House have read that extraordinary book Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, by Amanda Foreman. It relates the activities of that lady and all her gambling friends and shows how there was widespread misery and bankruptcy at that time. We do not want to go back down that path. That is why I feel so hugely uncomfortable about the Bill.
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