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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, but if we look at the Companion to the Standing Orders it is recommended that speeches should be kept to 15 minutes.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I am sorry. I did not look up at the clock. Anyway, children represent a very large problem in regard to gambling. Whether it is possible to stop children gambling in amusement arcades, I do not know. I honestly think that the culture is too deeply ingrained. Children ought, however, to be taught about gambling and its dangers. Having said that, I shall take the advice of the noble Lord and sit down.
Lord Walpole: My Lords, I declare, as did the Minister, an interest: I was a sitting magistrate for 20 years, including six years at Great Yarmouth. I am not sure whether it is the Blackpool of the east coast or whether Blackpool is the Great Yarmouth of the west coast. I am not sure. I am also vice-president of the East Anglian Tourist Board, and still keep up with tourism interests. It is from that background that I worked as one your Lordships' members on the pre-legislative committee. I was the only Cross-Bencher. I
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was not, as a noble Lord referred to me a moment or two ago, a "non-party member"; I am a Cross-Bencher. I think I was the only person on that committee who did not own at least one part of a horse.
The objects of the Bill are extremely good: the protection of children, the prevention of gambling becoming a source of crime and disorder and ensuring that gambling is fair and open. It is an ambitious Bill, because it repeals most of the existing legislation and starts with an absolutely clean sheet.
When I started to write my speech, I decided to try and choose a few points that no other noble Lord had said. As they have made most points, I should, with luck, be able to finish my speech by about 7.10 p.m.
I certainly welcome the increased powers of the Gambling Commission and the appeal tribunal. Quite honestly, however, I am concerned that the commission will not cover the National Lottery at the moment, and feel that, after the next round of operator appointments, it really should. The commission should include spread betting, which, for the moment, will stay with the Financial Services Authority. The full integration of all three, with the close co-operation of the sports ruling bodies, is an ideal we should be striving for. I look forward to secondary legislation, which will achieve this in the long run.
I still prefer the phrase "destination casino" to "regional casino", which keeps being used. Great Yarmouth wants them, as does Blackpool. Both places would be absolutely suitable, because they want them for exactly the same reasons. The Commons amendments keeping the numbers down are a very good idea. The Australian experience shows that if you let people have things, you cannot take them away from them afterwards. If we are going to have regional casinosbig casinos or little casinoseight at a time, all over the place, for heaven's sake do not go beyond that. It is almost too high a number until we are absolutely clear what we mean.
The Minister and I are different. I am a mere scientist, and he is an economist. What I do not understandno doubt he will able to explain it to meis where the enormous amount of extra money for all this increased gambling is coming from. I fear that it will come from other sections of the tourism industry, leaving aside the problem gamblers. I share the unions' concern that all these extra jobs that will be created will be lost elsewhere, especially in the tourism industry. The Government, of course, are going to collect more money, but a very nice report from the National Audit OfficeHC188, Session 200405, published on 14 Januarysuggests that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise has great difficulties collecting all gambling duties. From what I understand, that is not from the very nice casino operators. Their chances of not being accurate are less than some other areas of betting.
I also notice that local authorities will have many more duties under the Bill. I hope they will be able to cope. My experience is that I hold a justice's restaurant licence, and have done for some 20 years. As noble
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Lords will know, administration of this has now been transferred to our local authority. Last Friday, we received a letter from our local authority, inviting us to a seminar on how to fill in our form for an application for renewal. Whether the forms are appallingly badly designed, or we are incredibly stupid, or the local authorities cannot cope, I am not clear.
I have been encouraged, however. What am I encouraged about? I scribbled it down, so I cannot read it. I know it was Christmas Day, for one thing. There was an encouragement about teddy bears as well. I did not think teddy bears were anything to do with gambling. It was only when I got on to the committee that I discovered they were. I like penny falls as well.
Baroness Golding: My Lords, the British gambling industry is well respected and well regulated. Our 136 casinos have given little or no trouble, and neither have our betting shops, bingo halls, seaside arcades or adult gaming centres. But times change; gambling has changed, in part driven by technology. With the advent of remote betting, online gambling, betting exchanges and new machines, the industry has moved with the times, and the Government need to as well.
The Government urgently need to bring our laws up to date. This is not the 1960s; it is 2005. Technology will not stand still while we dither and try to put every little and dot and comma on the face of the Bill.
The pre-legislative committee on which I sat had the advantage of being able to look at the industry in some detail and talk to the people who work in it and are affected by it, whether they are trade unions, Churches, gamblers, bookmakers, casino operators or local authorities. Whoever we spoke to recognised that gambling had changed and that we needed laws to deal with that change.
Many people have failed to grasp how out of date the law is. How, for example, can a law passed in the 1960s be expected to cover the opportunities that unregulated Internet gambling offers for unrestricted gambling in your own home? Gambling is fairly easy to regulate in casinos and bookmakers' shops where people are seen, but if we do nothing, the big growth in problem gambling will be behind closed doors in front of computer screens.
People who criticise the need for the Bill should realise that it is overwhelmingly about regulation and not deregulation. It is about supplying a coherent framework that will give confidence to the consumer and the industry while allowing people to spend their leisure time in a variety of ways. Very importantly, it will help to protect people from addiction and put a coherent framework in place to help those who slip through the net.
That is not to say that there are not issues to be resolved. I know that there are. The Gambling Commissionthe tough new independent regulatorhas yet to be set up. How long will it take? Will it delay
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the implementation of the Bill? Can places such as Blackpool afford to wait? Given that local authorities have only just taken over power under the Licensing Act 2003, how long will they need to be ready to take over the additional powers of licensing gambling premises?
The bookmakers are concerned about licensing, or the lack of licensing, on the exchanges. They say that a bookmaker who has been refused a permit to operate can still lay bets on the exchanges, even though he has been deemed to be not a "fit and proper person". The question they reasonably ask is at what point does a layer begin to act as laying in the course of business, and should he or she then come under the same fiscal and licensing regime as bookmakers? Perhaps the Treasury should be looking at the question and showing an urgent interest in it.
Some people have expressed concerns about children continuing to be allowed in seaside arcades because of addiction. The pre-legislative committee found no evidence to support that point of view. If it were true, we would have more problem gamblers in this country. We do not have any more problem gamblers than other countriesindeed, we have far fewer. I hope that the Government's amendments will give the seaside arcades the reassurance for which they have asked.
In conclusion, after a lot of hot air, the Government have got the Bill almost right. I hope that your Lordships will allow it to proceed without too much delay. The question we should be asking is not "Should we pass the Bill?" but "Can we afford not to?".
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