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Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I am completely overwhelmed by the knowledge with which we have been regaled today; it goes far beyond my experience.
The Bill has certain attractions, especially for folk such as my noble friend Lord McNally who see the situation in Blackpool, the possibility of regeneration and a future that is far superior to the present time. If the Bill is adopted, local authorities will see it as an opportunity for new income and new hope.
However, there is a flip side. We have received letters from many people who are worried about the Bill. The hospice movement, for example, is concerned about how some of the new regulations will affect it. I hope the Minister will be able to set my mind at rest. The movement will have to contact its members and that means that the postage will sometimes be prohibitive. I know that Ty Hafan in Cardiff and some of the hospices in my part of north Wales hope very much that the new imposition will not reduce their income.
Far more than that, there is also the issue of the whole principle behind the Bill and the tension between freedom and responsibility. It might look attractive to reject long-standing restrictions but we know that if we value our place in society we have a duty to act responsibly. If we all lived individually on little islands we would be all right; we could do exactly what we pleased and it would not affect anybody else. But in a society, in a community, we have to relate to others and we are responsible for the way in which we relate. This means restricting our own actions if they possibly could hurt or damage other people.
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It is clear that gambling does harm. Even the Minister himself, in his evidence to the Joint Committee, admitted that the increased gambling which would follow from the Bill could lead to more problems and more problem gamblers. The amount of gambling is related, of course, to the number of people who suffer in that way. If gambling was not harmful at all, there would be no need for any regulation. The fact that there is regulation means that there is knowledge that gambling is harmful.
Last March, the Secretary of State responsible, Mrs Jowell, stated of the new Bill:
"I do not accept that it will lead to an increase in problem gambling . . . If this legislation gave rise to an increase in problem gambling then it would have failed and would be bad legislation".
That is not held out by the Minister in this House.
The Joint Parliamentary Committee stated:
"Almost all the evidence we have received points to the fact that this legislation would increase the number of people in the United Kingdom with a gambling problem".
One estimate, for instance, is that if the proposals for casinos were implemented, another quarter of a million people could become gambling-addicted. Figures from the United States show that in the state of Wisconsin an average of 5,300 additional major crimes a year can be attributed to the presence of casinos.
Moving from the high-level casinos to the more humble slot machines, the director of the Rhode Island gambling treatment programme, Mr Bob Breen, said only last week that slot players are more likely to become addictedand faster. They say, for instance, "It's only a nickel. How much can I blow?". He said that within a year they have lost their investments, they have lost their retirement, they are getting divorced and they are stealing from their employer.
The extended opportunities of the Gambling Bill could have a totally detrimental effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. When the Bill states that it will safeguard children from excessive gambling, how are we to safeguard the children of the families of gamblers? They will suffer deprivation, and all because of the Bill.
Who will benefit from the Bill? A street survey in my own part of north Wales, Llandudno, and in the university of Bangor found that only a handful of people were in favour of the proposed mega-casinos. But the Government carry on regardless of opposing voices. It seems from certain reports that the Government want positively to encourage gambling. In the Department for Culture, Media and Sport document of April 2003The Future Regulation of Remote Gamblingparagraph 133 stated:
"It will need to bear in mind the Government's desire to see Britain become a world leader in the field of online gambling".
If that is not encouraging gambling I do not know what is. The only people who will benefit are those who have already made their fortunes in similar ventures in other places.
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We are in for an interesting time debating this measure. But I would ask the Governmenta Labour Governmentwhether this is part of their socialist vision. Does it assist the poor? Does it protect the most vulnerable? Is it a Bill that shares out the wealth of the nation in a more equitable way? It is time for the Government to think. This is not a part of their vision. It is totally contradictory to anything the Labour Party has ever stood for.
It would be well if this measure was defeated, or withdrawn by the Government at this stage, and another Bill introduced, after the election, which will deal with its weaknesses but which will also make certain that the number of people who suffer from gambling will not increase.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I must start by replying to a couple of points made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. The figures he gave for the increase in problem gambling that can be expected as a result of the Bill were both scary and without foundation. I am a member of the advisory board of the Centre for the Study of Gambling at Salford University. To summarise the views of Peter Collins, the well respected professor there, if you have more casinos alone you will have more problem gambling; if you have more casinos with the measures contained in the Bill to deal with problem gambling in place, you will not have more problem gambling. He believes that an increase cannot be expected on the basis of the international evidence, so we should be very wary of the noble Lord's predictions.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, asked the interesting question of whether the Bill was a part of the vision of these Benches. My reply is this: it is not in line with the total tradition of socialist thinking in this country. In the days when it was, that vision was not getting the support of the people. In the words of my late boss, Tony Crosland, the people were not happy where total abstinence and a good filing system were the marks of a good socialist. The people wanted a bit of fun and pleasure. That pleasurewhich in the case of gambling used to be confined to the ruling classshould be extended more widely so that people could have choice and the freedom to enjoy their leisure. For me, reasonable rules on gambling are very much consistent with the socialist philosophy to which I still adhere.
Before going any further I should declare an interest or two. One is the small investment I have made in my bitch, Tooting Becky, in the 8.15 at Wimbledon tonightbut, judging from the trainer's remarks, I would not recommend that all noble Lords rush from the Chamber, bookmakers' cards in hand, to join me in that investment. More importantly, I am chair of the Shadow Racing Trust which, under the legislation passed by this House, is to transfer the Tote to the ownership of racing, and chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board. So the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, will understand why I feel strongly about these matters.
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I want to talk a little about procedure on this Bill. For a long time I thought that the procedure was an absolute model of how the country should handle legislation. The Budd committee produced a remarkable and balanced report. A White Paper was produced entitled A Safe Bet for Success. There was the draft legislation and the admirable work of the Joint Committee, from many of whose members we have heard this afternoonthat committee was superbly chaired by John Greenway from another placethe Government's response and some reworking. But then things went awry. They went awry because the Daily Mail in its characteristic fashion launched what I thought was a rather scurrilous campaign against the Bill, but that is a matter for that paper. I sometimes wonder whether we in this country are still a democracy or a "Dacrocracy".
I considered that the result of that was extraordinary and unparalleled in my longish experience of politics. It was not so much that the Government and the Opposition made an immediate U-turn, but it was like one of those fireworks where streamers go off in every direction. The crackle could be heard round the land as the Government and the Opposition tried to find their bearings because the Daily Mail did not like the situation.
There followed a Committee stage and further proceedings in the Commons that cannot be regarded as satisfactory. As I say, the Daily Mail has every right to campaign if it holds certain views, but as a result of its campaign the Government focused too exclusively on the casino question, which is not the sole question of importance in this Bill. Wearing my British Greyhound Racing Board hat I refer to the proposals in the Bill on the future of the track's present monopoly of pool betting. In the opinion of those who know the industry best, the proposals would snuff out the nascent recovery in greyhound racing. I could not recognise the proposals in the Bill very easily from the description given by my noble friend the Minister. However, I do not think that I shall attract his attention to enlighten him even now.
What discussion was there of the proposals in the Commons? It amounted to half a column of Hansard. They were raised quite properly by Richard Page MP. The Minister gave an extremely sympathetic reply; we cheered "Hoorah", but when he got back to the department his officials evidently persuaded him that he was wrong to be sympathetic to the proposals, and that was the last we heard of them. Some 3.5 million people per year attend greyhound racing. Thirty-one tracks and tens of thousands of jobs are about to be torpedoed by a consideration that incidentally runs quite contrary to that in the Budd report. That is just one example. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, and others for raising the greyhound racing question.
Many of these issues arise in the Bill. We have heard about seaside arcades and society lotteries. Normally in this House we would allocate five or six days to this Bill in Committee, three days on Report and we would stand a very good chance of putting the matter right. However,
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the trouble is I do not think that we have that amount of time. There is something coming along called an election. I hope that my noble friend Lord McIntosh will persuade the Prime Minister to postpone that election so that the Gambling Bill can have proper consideration, but I suspect that that would stretch even his powers of oratory. That leaves the House in a very difficult dilemma. We do not want to lose this Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, said, it is terribly important to the regulation of gambling. To be honest, I do not think there is any certainty that it will come back after an election given the Daily Mail's reaction to this Bill. I pity the poor Minister who tries to convince the legislation Cabinet committee that this should be the priority in a new government's first term, whatever that government's political disposition. The Bill may not come back and therefore we want to get it through. But equally we cannot shirk our functions. We cannot let seaside arcades or greyhound racing go under just because an election comes along and things get wrapped up in it. We must address these matters; we cannot just accept the Minister's say-so and the DCMS's views on all these issues.
Where does that leave us? It is now down to the Minister. I am glad that we have such an understanding Minister on this Bill. Ministers are trained to the adage, "If in doubt, resistresist amendment". One understands the reasons why that is so, which include the belief of all governments and their advisers that they have a monopoly of wisdom. However, if that approach is taken on this Bill, we must resist the resistance. We cannot let the Bill go through without serious changes to address not the fundamental thrust of the Bill but the kind of issues that have been raised. I say to the Minister that, sticking as he must with the fundamental principles of the Bill, he must also exercise a much greater flexibility on the important details of the Bill in order to get it through this House. I believe that there is the will on all sides to reach a fair agreement on what truly represents consensus because in the run-up to an election consensus Bills only can be allowed through. It is necessary to win the support of the noble Baroness and of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. It is also necessary to gain the support of the great broad mass of Peers who with a few exceptions sympathise with the general thrust of the Bill but have concerns about the details.
I trust my noble friend the Minister to get this right. I hope that his seniors in government will not attempt to stand rigid in the face of the necessary questions that this House will raise. On the basis of the consensus that I believe to exist but also mindful of the changes that need to be made, I believe that if the Bill is lost it will be the fault of Ministers.
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