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The Lord Bishop of Southwell: I am very grateful, as I am sure others are, to the Minister as, after the first day in Committee, he kindly sent very fulsome explanatory notes to us all on some of the technicalities of the Bill.

I refer particularly to Amendment No. 234A. I too would like to add my support to the measure which would reduce the number of regional casinos to just one. These new casinos will house some of the most addictive forms of gambling and if they are to be introduced into the United Kingdom at all, it is better to do so very slowly to minimise any potential explosion in the number of problem gamblers.

I also pay tribute to some of the organisations that have consistently argued for better protection for children and vulnerable people in the Gambling Bill, including those from the faith communities, especially the Salvation Army and the Methodist Church.

Of course, there are parts of the Bill that still disappoint. I am still deeply saddened that the Bill will leave the UK the only country in the developed world which allows children to gamble. That is all the more disappointing when one learns that more than 50,000 people signed a petition in the last few weeks of the Bill's progress calling on children to be prohibited from playing on fruit machines.

I hope that the Government and the new Gambling Commission will continue to look at this issue—the Minister has already hinted at that—as it is one that has generated wide public interest and concern. Having said that, the Bill is in an infinitely better state than when it was first introduced to Parliament last October. On balance it is now better to have it than not. If nothing else, the whole process has shone the spotlight on the hidden addiction of problem gambling. I hope that children and vulnerable people will always be put first in social legislation of this kind in the future.

Will the Minister correct a misunderstanding of mine? I believe that under the powers of the Bill he has the ability to make orders. If that is the case, will the Minister give an undertaking to the House not to use order-making powers without a proper pilot period, without an independent impact assessment and without publishing it first in Parliament? If I am misguided on that, I am sure that the Minister will correct me.

Lord Blaker: Like the right reverend Prelate, I too wish to speak to Amendment No. 234A. I declare an interest in that for 28 years I was a Member of Parliament for Blackpool and, therefore, I have been deeply interested in the entertainment industry. It is very sensible to start with one licence as opposed to eight. If there are lessons to be learnt from the experience, which is a new one, they will apply to only one as opposed to eight.

Blackpool knows the entertainment industry inside out. It grew up with the entertainment industry and was a creature of the railways which were built to the Lancashire coast in the mid-19th century. It is also used
 
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to making innovations. We all know of the Blackpool Tower and the Tower Ballroom. Blackpool was the first town in Britain to have trams; the illuminations were invented in Blackpool; and we still have the Pleasure Beach which every year moves forward with terrifying rides on which I used to be obliged to ride to launch them when I was a Member of Parliament for that constituency. So Blackpool is doing much to remedy the tourism deficit that we suffer as a country. I believe that a casino in Blackpool will help the town to strengthen that role. Blackpool needs regeneration. The days of the Wakes Weeks disappeared some time ago. Foreign travel has provided very serious competition to all our tourist towns.

The mobility of the British people, because they now almost all have motor cars, has adversely affected our traditional holiday resorts. So the pattern in Blackpool, as in other seaside towns, is now very much the day visitor as opposed to the two weeks' stay of the Wakes Weeks tourist. It has meant a decline in investment in Blackpool, which has been suffering for the past couple of decades. A casino would enormously help the regeneration of Blackpool.

My last point is that the people of Blackpool are very keen to have a casino. This is the view of all three parties in the town. The Labour Party is the largest party, but the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties agree on the importance of a casino for Blackpool. That is also the view of businesses in the town and of most of the residents, with a very few exceptions. There will always be some opposition in whatever place the casino is.

I conclude by saying that I believe that Blackpool has all the qualities necessary to make a success of the first casino.

Baroness Thornton: I refer to Amendment No. 243A. I realise at this stage in the Bill that comments and questions are not very welcome. I start by congratulating my noble friend the Minister on the way he has conducted the discussions on the Bill by paper. I think that he has created new methods for grouping and discussing things on a Bill, from which perhaps we could learn something for the future.

My concern—and I am happy to have this answered in writing—is that if the amendment we passed in Committee is carried through and proof of identity works properly, it seems to me that this amendment—and I am always in favour of protecting children and young people—is not necessary. If, however, this amendment is being proposed by the Government because of a deal they have made with the Opposition to drop or somehow change the amendment agreed earlier in Committee, I am puzzled and dismayed by that.

My second brief point is that those of us who are concerned with protecting children will want to look at the matter very carefully, because I am not sure that this amendment affords protection. I heard the words my noble friend said and then I looked at the words here. I am not absolutely sure that this is as robust a
 
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protection as one would desire for children. Certainly later on when we are looking at codes of practice we will wish to look at that more carefully.

Lord Greaves: I wish to speak particularly to Amendments Nos. 234A and 235. It would be churlish of me not to congratulate the Government on accepting the amendment which I tabled as Amendment No. 235 to reduce the number of regional casinos to one. I am not sure that they have not been dragged kicking and screaming to that position by the other parties. Nevertheless, I congratulate them on it.

I also congratulate the Government—it would be churlish of me not to—on their superior grammar. The Minister referred to the fact that the Government had discovered that singular nouns in English normally do not take an "s", which was something that had escaped me. But then I thought, "Well, the Government have parliamentary draftsmen, haven't they, and this is the kind of thing they must be good at". So I think that is a good move.

In fact, I would congratulate both Opposition Front Benches generally on the changes which they have achieved to the Bill during the wash-up. I say that to the Conservative Front Bench as well as to my own. I do not agree with all the changes; I think that some of them are wrong. Nevertheless, overall the Bill is a better Bill, or perhaps a less bad Bill in some respects—there are huge parts of this Bill which are good—than it was when it first came to this House.

The wash-up process is not very desirable, with deals done not so much in smoke-filled rooms nowadays but certainly behind "closed doors" rather than on the Floor of the House, where they ought to be seen to be done. Nevertheless, I suspect that the Bill, when it is enacted, will be better than it would have been had we done things the proper, democratic way. That might have resulted in lots of ping-pong, with messages delivered up and down the corridors every two hours and eventually your Lordships having to give in to the elected House, as happens so often. The wash-up is perhaps an opportunity for the opposition parties to exercise a bit more power, which is a good thing. For those of us who were not part of that process, it is all a bit confusing and bewildering.

I tabled an amendment to reduce the number of casino premises licences to one on the basis that, although it should be possible to have an experiment, there ought to be just one on something as big as this. The noble Lord spoke about Blackpool, although the Bill does not state where the one regional casino will be. That decision is subject to the processes laid down in the Bill; the Government must decide. Bids and offers must be made. The newspapers are full of suggestions that the location will be Blackpool, but it may be somewhere else. If it is Blackpool, I hope that caution will be exercised.

The noble Lord suggested that people in Blackpool were dancing in the streets at the prospect of a regional casino, but I am not sure that that is entirely the case. Blackpool Council was almost unanimously in favour of a casino—some Liberal Democrat councillors
 
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oppose it. The council and the main organisations in the town have united to mount an extremely effective presentation and campaign in favour of a casino in Blackpool.

I do not know whether people in Blackpool generally would favour a casino when all the implications and arguments for and against one had been put forward. I am told by friends in Blackpool that it is by no means clear that people in the town are in favour of a casino; they believe that people are not. I challenge Blackpool Council or any other council wishing to submit a proposal for a regional casino, particularly somewhere such as Blackpool, where it would dominate the town, unlike in Manchester or Birmingham, to hold a referendum. Edinburgh City Council held a referendum on its controversial congestion charging scheme. Some said that it was foolish to hold a referendum; it had the guts to do so, but it did not get its own way. If Blackpool councillors want a regional casino, they should hold a referendum among their people; otherwise, they cannot prove that people in Blackpool really want one.

Having said that, it would be churlish of me not to welcome the Government's acceptance, by some means or other, of my amendment in all but its grammar.


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