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Lord Greaves: My Lords, it has been fascinating to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, my noble friend Lord Falkland and other noble Lords. One thing is clear: the Bill is a good advertisement for pre-legislative scrutiny. I hope that it will also be applied to other complicated measures before they come to us.
I can declare no interests with regard to gambling. It is not something that I do much. On one occasion, about 40 years ago, my girlfriendnow my wifeand I were about the last people to leave the Liberal assembly in Scarborough. We suddenly realised that we had been relying on each other for our bus fare. We thought, "It's either hitch-hiking to Leeds, or there is one of these one-arm bandit things". We put what we had into the machine, and, when we had enough money for the bus fare, we went and got the bus. I remembered that one of my relatives, who was a gambler, had said to me, "When you're ahead, quit". I quit when I was winning, and I have never seen the need to go back and lose the moneyfour and sixpence or whatever it wasthat I had won. So, I am not a gambler.
One of the things that I find interesting about the debate is the fact that few noble Lords have felt it necessary to talk about the ethical issues. That would
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not have been the case in the 1960s, when, I am sure, a lot of people would have talked about the immorality of gambling and the fact that it was an undesirable activity that we should clamp down on. There is a difference now in attitudes towards gambling. The House of Commons Library research paper on the Bill published on 28 October said:
The Minister said that gambling was seen as seedy in the 1960s but was now socially acceptable. I am not sure that things were all that different then. My father filled in the football pools, but we were not socially ostracised as a result. My grandfather used to get all his cigarette moneyhe smoked about 40 a dayfrom the horses. Plenty of people gambled in those days.
It is not just the technology that is different now; a lot more people have a lot more money. That allows gambling to take place on a larger scale than before. It is not so much a matter of puritans against sceptics, as it was 40 years ago; the puritans have become sceptics, and the sceptics have become enthusiasts. That is the underlying ethical issue with regard to the proposal for casinos. I do not understand why the Government think it necessary to promote the idea of large new casinos in this country. I do not understand why we need them, and I do not understand why the Governmenta Labour governmentare promoting them. That is the result of the underlying ethical activity.
I do not know whether there are people who believe that gambling is an activity like any other activitylike playing tennis in the park or spending your money at the pictures. I do not think that it is an activity like any other activity. It is one of those things that, in old-fashioned terminology, would be called "vices". There is something about gambling that, if it gets out of hand, creates problems, which puts in along with all the other vices that are alleged to exist.
I am not speaking with a puritan attitude, but if some activities are allowed to get out of hand and allowed to develop on too large a scale and if we allow people to become addicted or otherwise harmed by them then harm will be caused to society in general. In those circumstances we accept that the Government have to step in and regulate. I do not believe anyone present wishes to criticise the need for the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, suggested, but most of us feel that 80 per cent of the Bill might be improved, although it is good legislation. However, some of us
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have a problem with the large new casinos. There is an ethical dimension to the Bill and a question mark to be put against that.
When I was in the sixth form, the prefects' common room in my school was a gambling den. We used to spend half our time swatting for our A-levels and half our time playing brag and poker. I have not played them since, but if anyone wants a game, who knows? One minute we would be studying Francis Bacon for A-level English and the next minute we would be playing brag and shouting at each other.
I believe that that applies generally to vices. As long as vices are spread around among us all and provided each person does not have too many vices for his or her own good, they are all right. When vices are concentrated or when individuals are harmed by them we have to start worrying about them. Underlying the debate there is an ethical dimension and I do not believe that we should avoid it.
I was lectured by my noble friend Lord McNally about who was more liberalif he wants, I could have a discussion with him for ever on thatand returning to the nanny state. The whole Bill is about the nanny state. It is about regulation. The phrase "nanny state" is a silly phrase. It is not a matter of whether we regulate, but how, what and to what degree we regulate. He also suggested that one should put one's individual prejudices aside. I am reminded of the comment that one person's prejudices are another person's principles with which he does not agree, or vice versa.
The noble Lord spoke about Blackpool and mentioned the wonderful black and white films shown a few weeks ago on BBC2 made by Mitchell and Kenyon from Blackburn. One of the most amazing scenes in those films was one of the mills in Colne, which is the largest mill in Waterside, the ward I represent on the local council, showing the mill losing, as they said, or the mill workers clocking off. From the way they were dressed, it looked as though they were off on their summer holidays to Blackpool. Summer holidays had just been brought in. One had a week off work without pay and they all had to go to Blackpool by train. It is absolutely right that that source of economy and wealth in that town has gone. No one goes to Blackpool now other than for a day trip or on a coach one evening to see the lightsthat is all.
However, Blackpool needs urgent and fundamental change. It desperately needs investment and something doing to it. If that depends on Blackpool becoming north-west England's answer to Las Vegas, there is something very wrong with this country and very wrong with our society.
Generally, I associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry and my noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno, so I shall not repeat what they have said.
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The fundamental question that can be asked without affecting the rest of the Bill is: do we need 24 new large casinos and eight regional casinosor super-casinos as they used to be known? Is there an urgent need in this country for these? Or is there an opportunity to think again and ask why we need these and what effect they will have?
Parts of the new Labour Government who we do not see in this House seem to be obsessed and besotted with certain aspects of big business, the glitzier, richer and more powerful the betterand casino operators fit into that pattern. I do not believe that the people of this country are crying out for these. If the Government were to withdraw those parts of the Bill that refer to those new casinos, I do not believe that they would suddenly lose the general election. It might even do them some good.
The Minister said that local authorities will have the final say and that Ministers will not be allowed to override them. That may be the case. But that is not how the real world of local government works. I know that only too well as a member of a local authority in Lancashire that is in the middle of difficult negotiations and discussions over housing market renewal at the moment. That is a very different issue. Millions of pounds are being promised to our authority so long as we toe the line and knock down enough houses, a suggestion that we blanch at.
Regeneration money very often comes with bullying, blackmail and bribery. If a resort like Blackpool refuses to have a casino, will the answer be, "Well, you had your chance for all this opportunity and investment. You do not want a casino. So you are now at the bottom of the list"? That is how it worksand how it will workin the real world, I am sorry to say.
There are a lot of questions to be asked if these large casinos are to go ahead. We need to be clear what the Government intend to do to make sure that the presence of a large casino in a town such as Blackpool, Weston-super-Mare or Margate boosts the resort's economy and tourist trade and does not either have no effect at all on it or, worse, drain trade and resources from it. It should bring more business to the existing businesses there.
My noble friend waxed lyrical about how people in Blackpool are dancing in the streets at the prospect. There are a lot of traditional boarding house keepers and private hotel owners in Blackpool who are beginning to realise that they may get none of this trade whatever. There may be problems there. That is a matter we will want to probe.
We need to be clear that such a new large casino in such a resort is aimed at bringing in visitors and that local people are discouraged from going there. When the new casinos were first envisaged it was thought that there might be some in large population centres such as Manchester, Salford or Leeds. People said that the problem in such places was that they would get a lot of trade from local residents who could walk in and get addicted. Alternatively, they might just spend too much of their brass which they should spend in the local pub or on their wife or whoever.
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There are at least 100,000 people living in the immediate vicinity of Blackpool. Those peoplealthough not as many as in Greater Manchesterwill be at similar risk. We need to be clear that the Government are taking action to prevent casinos in such places from doing their best to get trade locally. We also want a number of other locally based guarantees of that kind, though I doubt that the Government will be able to provide them.
Why is it that the Government want this country to become internationally famous for having the biggest and best casinos, for having the best online gambling and for being the best place to attract people to that kind of trade? Surely, that is not the image, leadership or position that we want in the world. If it is, I am ashamed to be a citizen of this country.
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