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Lord Faulkner of Worcester: There are in the Chamber at this late hour five members of the joint scrutiny committee that looked at the draft gambling Bill. Noble Lords will recall that that Bill is very different from the one that we are approving today.

The committee was completely united on the need for new gambling legislation, the establishment of the Gambling Commission and new regulations to take account of the changes in technology that have occurred since the last occasion on which Parliament reviewed the law on gambling. If the price of getting that legislation is that there must be fewer casinos than the Government would have preferred, it is worth paying.

There was considerable unease in the joint scrutiny committee about the prospect of a free market applying to where the new large regional casinos should be located. One of the ironies of the free market argument was that, if there were to be a significant number of regional casinos elsewhere in the north-west, the one place where one would not finish up was Blackpool. The circle has now turned completely, and it seems very probable that the process that the Government are setting up will come to the logical conclusion that Blackpool is the right place.

10 p.m.

I do not intend to repeat the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, although I agreed with every word of it. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right to say that there is substantial opposition in the town. Certainly, the Joint Scrutiny Committee was satisfied by the strength of support that we found at all levels—from councillors and elsewhere.
 
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It is interesting that the press release put out by the Conservative Party earlier this week in the name of Mr John Whittingdale states:

I do not disagree with that. I do not expect my noble friend to comment on it, but I am sure that the team of wise people that he sets up will take account of what the Conservative Party has said, what the leader of the Liberal Democrat Peers said so forcefully earlier and what a number of other Members of this House have said in favour of giving Blackpool the opportunity to prove whether or not regeneration can be achieved through casino development.

The Government are sensible to agree, through the usual channels, to allow that to happen. It is crucial that we pass the Bill tonight. I commend the work that my noble friend Lord McIntosh has done in that respect.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I, like the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, was a member of the Joint Select Committee. I speak in that capacity, and I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said about our attitude to the Bill and the changes that have latterly occurred. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on having been the first person to select the number that the Government have now adopted. He and I have a curious idiosyncratic allegiance and alliance on a series of bits of legislation, and I am delighted to see that he has maintained his usual standard.

I am conscious that the Government have powers under Clause 173(4) for influencing the choice of where the one casino will be. I, like the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, will not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said, which was a highly coherent and eloquent observation about Blackpool. However, Blackpool was, as I recall, the first entity outside London to make an approach to the Joint Select Committee and to make it clear that it would be necessary for us to make visits outside London in order to see what was going on on the ground. Indeed, that prompted our first visit outside London.

I echo the comments referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, from Mr Whittingdale. If there is a strong motivation in the legislation for using the regional casino concept as an instrument of urban regeneration and if the Bill affords power only to have a single casino as a pilot project, there is a strong case for having that pilot project in an area where leisure provision specifically has played a singular and notable part in the past.

I say that, in particular, because it is important that the regional casino should not simply be thought of as a casino but as one that has the same comprehensive and integrated approach to leisure activity that some Members of the Committee saw on a visit to France.
 
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Since Blackpool has those specifications, it represents a potentially extremely apposite test-bed for the first pilot project to be run.

Baroness Buscombe: First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his kind words about the so-called deal that has been struck. We certainly have some sympathy on these Benches for what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has said about the wash-up. In many senses, it is not satisfactory, but the truth is that we have a Prime Minister who has chosen to go to the country after fewer than four years of this Parliament.

Right from the start, the Bill has been treated as a tail-end Charlie. Tonight is no exception. It was known this morning that this is the one Bill that is now uncontentious and widely acceptable, yet we are put on last, having seen all the contentious Bills taken first. Sometimes I question whether the Government feel that this legislation really is a priority.

We have always made it clear that we support much in the Bill, in particular the establishment of the Gambling Commission and the regulation of remote gambling. Those issues have been largely uncontentious. We also agree with noble Lords who have said tonight that it is important that these measures reach the statute book as soon as possible. To that extent, we are pleased to have reached the stage where we shall see the Bill pass.

On regional casinos, we have felt strongly about this from the start. I said at Second Reading words to the effect that the question of the number of regional casinos was almost irrelevant because it is to be a complete shot in the dark. We are talking about a huge cultural step change in considering regional casinos in the form of resorts or leisure facilities—whatever they may be called. This is a very different cultural concept from anything we have experienced hitherto in this country. So, after much thought and consideration and taking into account all that has been said in both Houses in the brief time we have had to debate the matter, along with the extensive input from beyond your Lordships' House, we feel that this precautionary measure should be taken. I use the words of the Minister in agreeing that we should begin with the cautionary measure of having one test case. We are grateful that the Government have conceded and accepted that approach. The deal will allow this Bill to go through.

I want to add my support to all noble Lords who have referred to Blackpool. I was keen to echo the words of my honourable friend Mr John Whittingdale, who I see is here with us, but that has already been done for me by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, to whom I am extremely grateful. Of course it is not for us to dictate which town or city should be lucky enough to have this opportunity, if they deem it right. But I have to say that Blackpool has made an extraordinarily strong case. We have always said, as have the Government, that the priority must be regeneration. The case for locating a casino in an established leisure resort away from the doorstep seems entirely sensible.
 
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I want to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who suggested that perhaps people would be dancing in the streets of Blackpool tonight. I have to say to the noble Lord that only a short while ago I spoke to the chief executive of Blackpool Council who made it absolutely clear that whatever is said tonight in your Lordships' House, the people of Blackpool are not complacent. There is no question about that. They know that this is not in the bag and that a job has to be done. But it is clear that Blackpool representatives have worked hard to persuade noble Lords and others that the resort has a strong case. Indeed, that case has been strengthened by my noble friends Lord Blaker and Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville.

I want to put one question to the Minister. He said that under the affirmative order, it would be possible to introduce more regional casinos. I believe he said that it would not be ruled out at a later stage to provide for additional casinos by affirmative order. On what basis would those additional casinos be introduced? Is it a question of demand, in which case what kind of tests will be used to assess it? Can the Minister reassure us that they will not be introduced as the result of pressure put on the Government by commercial companies or local authorities? Given the speed with which this Bill is passing through all its stages, we want to feel comfortable that all the necessary considerations and consultations will be taken carefully into account to ensure that the test case has proved successful and that the impact has not been derogatory.

At this point I am looking straight at the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who I know feels as strongly as I do about child protection. I strongly support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell in relation to the need to consider the issues of child protection and problem gambling. The social impact is of crucial importance. It was the priority of our debates on the first day in Committee and I wish to question the Minister briefly on that point.

That is all I have to say in relation to regional casinos. However, I wish to respond briefly to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in regard to identification for entry into gaming areas. The noble Baroness knows that I felt strongly enough about this issue to bring forward an amendment on the first day in Committee and to press it to a vote. That was not easy because the Minister was seeking to reassure me in Committee that the amendment was not necessary. However, I felt that it was necessary—I do not regret it—and I am grateful that the amendment was passed.

That said, however, since then the Minister has persuaded me that we should accept Amendment No. 243A in lieu of our amendment. I hope the Committee will support me in that. I have considered the amendment with care and I have heard what the noble Baroness has said. Her concern perhaps is that what the Minister has said in relation to the amendment does not add up to what is stated in the amendment itself.

After much thought, I have decided that we should accept the amendment because, in a sense, it is rather more flexible in regard to supervision and what may be introduced in the years to come. The test case regional
 
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casino will not be established for some years, by which time it is hoped and assumed that technology will have developed such that the wording of our amendment perhaps might be otiose or anachronistic. Methods of testing individual identification in order to check age will have improved, and I have decided that we should be sensible and leave it to the Gambling Commission to "watch that space". It is mandatory that it should consider and issue one or more codes of practice in regard to access to casino premises for children and young persons. I hope that begins to clarify the point.

That is all I have to say. We are grateful for the concessions that the Government have made. However, when we are in government—which will be following the election—I can reassure the Committee here and now that we will proceed with care with this legislation when it is put in place.


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