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Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the Minister. I said that we should have a more equitable arrangement. I am not looking for parity between existing casino estate and new entrants, but I would like to see a significant increase in the number of machines. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred to a significant increase, but not for category A, only for category B.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am very resistant to that. A simple calculation tells you that if you have 137 casinos, with a limit of 80 for small casinos, you would have more than 10,000 more machines in 137 locations. That is not what I call approaching the matter extremely gingerly or the precautionary principle. But let us talk about whether there is anything between those that we can do.
Fundamentally, I have every confidence that the British casino industry cannot only take advantage of the changes proposed for existing casinosthe abolition of the 24-hour membership rule and the abolition of the ban on advertising, which will be enormously advantageous to existing casinosbut also will have at least as good a chance as anyone else and, in my view, a much better chance, of obtaining the licences for the "8, 8 and 8" new casinos.
For example, if an area is designated for a new small casino, and there is already an existing casino that is capable of becoming a small casino, the local authority would have to take that into account and accept an application from that small casino. It would have to be considered alongside any application from a new location in the area. It is a perfectly level playing field.
The British casino industry has the money, if it wants it. It has the investment potential. It has the understanding of the UK market. It has all of the advantages that, in my view, give it at least a level playing field, if not a tilted playing field in favour of existing operators. It would be insulting to say anything other than that.
The final and perhaps most important point is why we do not drop the casino section in order to save the Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, the noble Lords, Lord Jopling, Lord Roberts and Lord Greaves, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry have
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advanced that view. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made a wise comment when he said that if there is no demand, they will not be built, which I am sure is correct. If, of their own volition, people in this country should not want them, we would not have any new casinos.
But there are five reasons why it is necessary and desirable for the casino section to be in the Bill. First, there has been much agreement today about regeneration. Many local authorities want the inward investment. They want the new jobs and visitors that casinos will bring. They want the range of gambling facilities and the other facilities that will be available as a result of new casinos.
The second reason is ethical and philosophical; I make that point to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. People enjoy gambling as a mainstream leisure activity. We want to ensure that they are protected, particularly the small minority for whom gambling becomes a problem, but we think it is right to ensure choice for everyone.
I was challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, as if he were the socialist and I were something different. I will be glad to welcome him to the Labour Party, but he should look behind him to his noble friend Lord Greaves, who is throwing him out, as far as I can see.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are many of us who are proud to call ourselves socialists, and always have been. However, I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, of the wise saying of his countryman, Aneurin Bevan, "Nothing's too good for the working class". If it is acceptable for the sons and daughters of gentlepersons to gamble in high-priced members' clubsin streets that I had better not name, as the Gallery is full of casino representatives; I certainly will not name any streets where Stanley Leisure is representedthen it is good enough for the working class, and I do not apologise for that.
Thirdly, the casino industry has proved itself worthy since the reforms of the late 1960s. New technology, the new games and changes in society mean the industry is different from how it was in 1968, but it is capable of developing. If we were to refuse to amend the law so that the industry can continue to develop, we would be doing something against nature. It is right that we should recognise the changes in society and technology, and allow them to occur.
Fourthly, there is a fundamental point, which the official Opposition are constantly making, about unnecessary regulation. Outdated regulation is unnecessary and undesirable, and that is just what the casino industry has had, along with large parts of the gambling industry. I agree with anyone who says that the Gambling Commission should abide by the tenets
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of the Better Regulation Task Forcealthough that does not need to be on the face of the Bill, as it will have no choice. It will have to do so because that is what the law says. We have to ensure that regulation, along with interference with people's lives and their businesses, is kept to the minimum. That is as applicable to a socialist as it is to anyone else.
Finally, let us consider what the alternative would be. If we took out the casino section from the Bill, we would be left with an industry whose regulatory regime was created for a different industry at a different time. Development would be permitted only in an arbitrary number of urban areas. The membership and 24-hour rules, I can assure the House, would have to remain; we cannot pick and choose. There would also be strict limits on the number and type of machines casinos could have. I would not urge anyone to pursue the issue of removing casinos from the Bill.
On the way forward, we have a provisional Committee date of 10 March. There will be plenty of opportunities to discuss all these issues informally, in private or in public as noble Lords wish. I have written to the Front Benches to describe the nature of the government amendments that we have agreed to put forward so far and I will copy those letters to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. My door will be open between now and 10 March. I have every hope that the issues we have been discussing tonight will be capable of resolution and that we shall end this process with a Bill we can all be proud of.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, I wish to make a personal statement. Earlier today I inadvertently stated that the murder of Robert McCartney in Belfast was the murder of a young IRA man. What I had intended to say was that it was the IRA murder of a young man. I apologise to the House. I was of course talking about the IRA and the murders it has committed of innocent people.
House adjourned at three minutes before ten o'clock.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill): Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, perhaps I may remind your Lordships of two points of procedure. Noble Lords will speak standing, and the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in a Grand Committee. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.
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