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What kind of world do Ministers live in? Have they ever been in a betting shop? I recently drove through Hoddeston, one of the poorest parts of London, on a Saturday night. Every betting shop was open, not for horseracing, but because under this legislation those shops can install four gaming machines each and stay open until 9.30 pm. So while the Prime Minister has been agonising over 1,250 machines in a single, strictly controlled and well policed super-casino, literally thousands are now available around the country. On another front, have Ministers seen the Economic and Social Research Council report, Britain in 2008? It says that there are now 2,300 gambling websites and that the internet is one of the fastest growing forms of betting. Three hundred casinos, tens of thousands of betting office terminals and 2,300 gambling websitesbut never fear, Blackpool has been saved by the Prime Minister from the moral degradation of a super-casino.
Is the Minister aware that what has been saved for Blackpool is Coral Islanda gambling shed on the Golden Mile owned by the Noble Organisation, a Gateshead company which funded much of the anti-super-casino campaign? Perhaps I may quote what one commentator said about the Noble Organisation:
The Liberal Democrats asked six months ago to separate the super-casino issue from the order now envisaged, and with good reason. We welcome that
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The Minister mentioned local decision-making. What guidance do the Government intend to give to local authorities to deal with what, for many of them, will be an entirely new problem? I note that the Minister announced a £300 million package of assistance for Blackpool, but is he aware that the Government have a long record of double accounting and of recycling old announcements and supplying candy floss promises in lieu of hard cash? So while Blackpool has never rested on its laurels and has been doing a tremendous amount of work through its task force, will he excuse any plaudits from me until it has had a chance to read the small print of this offer? However, I am sure that Blackpool has the energy and initiative to create a 21st century resort.
Finally, is the Minister aware that the Gaming Act 1968 was a response to a clear and present danger of Mafia infiltration into our gambling industry? That legislation stood for 40 years as a byword and guarantor of probity and an example of sound legislation. In attempting to replace it, the Government have shown a degree of vacillation, ignorance, incompetence and cowardice that will make this an exercise which PhD students use in coming years for dissertations on how not to legislate.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I struggle to respond to the imbalance of the two contributions from the Front Benches opposite. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, was short, snappy and spoke with precision, whereas the noble Lord, Lord McNally, indulged in considerable rhetoric and asked a plethora of questions, to which I shall do my very best to respond, although my response may seem a little imbalanced.
It will be appreciated across the House that the Statement represents the Government listening to informed opinion on the regional casino expressed in wider society and in both Houses of Parliament. That is why that issue is being dropped. The regional casino is vastly different from the small and large casinos referred to in the Statement. The regional casino was on a very significant scale, with more than 1,000 gaming machines permitted, whereas the restriction on the small and large casinos allows for less than a tenth of that. It will be appreciated, therefore, that we are talking about different scales of opportunities for casinos once the regional casino proposal has been withdrawn.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that there were no restrictions on people having a bet and asked
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A function of increased disposable income will be that increased numbers of people will feel that they are prepared to wager. It is quite clear from the dimmest days of the 1930s that there was not much wagering going on when people did not have enough money to keep the bare necessities going. It is bound to be different in the year of grace 2008 and beyond, when there are greater resources.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I notice that there is an element of dissent over that proposition. I ask noble Lords to consider that, in a society of greater resources, betting is a leisure pursuit that is likely to increase. What is important is that betting should be controlled so that the young and the vulnerable are not subject to the blandishments of the industry. Of course, we made it quite clear that we intend to follow that rubric. This Statement is a clear indication of how careful we intend to be on that matter.
I have the greatest difficulty in recognising the size of the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about the position under the 1968 Act. He will recognise that, while there may be applications, the realisation of casinos is somewhat different. There have been only a very small number of new casinos under the 1968 Act. There are a significant number of casinosmore than 130but the number has increased only by a small amount and that was before the Government ever approached this legislation. It is not related to this legislation at all. The applications must be considered by local authorities and then translated into reality. The rate at which new casinos, under the 1968 Act, are growing at present is very low indeed. The noble Lord used the word applications; what is important is how many are actually created.
The noble Lord also talked about the development of gaming machines in betting shops. He will recognise, first, that this is subject to restrictions on numbers and, secondly, that shops hours are restricted. Betting in betting shops is the subject of stringent legislation. As I maintain, betting shops have sought to diversify beyond the rather primitive services that they offered in the past. The important thing, which we should be secure about, is that they are regulated and that they do not promote addiction to gambling. That is also why, with regard to the casinos, my noble friend is contemplating the necessary breaks so that people do not stay within the casino for a full 24 hours.
The noble Lord referred to Blackpool and Coral Island. The House will recall that the noble Lord was vocal in his advocacy that Blackpool should be four-square with Manchester in the provision of any large casino. Now he is lamenting the consequence that Blackpool does not have one, but he is also bound to realise that there is an issue about the failure of the Manchester position. That is why the Government are concerned to meet Manchesters regeneration costs and are prepared to put resources in.
The noble Lord was somewhat ungenerous when he suggested that the fact that the Government are prepared to allocate £300 million to Blackpool for regeneration should readily be criticised. Why so? Every seaside town in Britain has lamented the fact that, due to changing social patterns over the past 20 to 30 years, they have experienced a substantial decline as more British holidaymakers go abroad or elsewhere. Here is tangible, real money to support the regeneration of Blackpool. It is much needed support, which the local authority has campaigned for. I know that the noble Lord prides himself on his Blackpool commitments. Does he think that Members of Parliament in the other place for Blackpool and areas close to it will take the same view of these increased resources as he has done and suggest that they are of relatively little value? Far from it.
Finally, the noble Lord suggested that people who put in bids ought to be compensated by the Government because of government incompetence. Let us be clear about the position. Even when the number of casinos was clearly identified as being limited, local authorities were concerned to put in those bids. Of course, I respect opinion in this House and I respect the view of this House, but we should also respect the fact that local authorities are elected and have the right to make decisions in their communities. That is what they did when they submitted their bids.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, some of us place the proposal for a super-casino in the same category as the Governments 24-hour alcohol licensing, where there was a rather naive belief that you can set the people free and ignore the social problems that will follow. One thing is as certain as night follows day: the number of problem gamblers and addicts will increase. In fairness, we must welcome the rethink on the super-casinos. We know from the Australian experience how the increased availability of super-casinos would lead to increased addiction.
My noble friend said that the Government will consider the proposal for some levy on those who benefit from gambling and that, if nothing or an insufficient amount is done by the end of the year, that levy may be compulsory. Given that only 360 of the 3,800that is one-tenthwho benefit now pay the voluntary levy to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, by the end of the year what proportion will be deemed to be sufficient for the industry to avoid compulsory legislation? Is it not unfair that some of them will be allowed to be freeloaders? Is it not fairer to ensure that all who cause misery and create addicts have to pay their proper share?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his opening, supportive remarks. I say in response to his question that the contribution by the industry falls dramatically short of the expectation. The costs for the commission are £4 million. At present, we are raising a tiny fraction of those costs, which we expect the industry to bear. We expected that its voluntary contributions would have reached the £4 million target. They are not remotely near that and we will therefore take effective action unless there is a dramatic improvement in the contributions.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, while I wholeheartedly applaud the decision of the Government to turn their face against the regional casinos, may I urge them to consider yet again whether they may be wrong in planning for sub-regional casinos? At the moment, British households spend something like £9.5 billion per annum on the gaming industry. The effect of that on many households is wholly devastating. In many cases, people who gamble can, of course, well afford it; as far as I am concerned, they have a right in law and a moral right to do exactly that. But what of the hundreds of thousands of households where the basic necessities of life are surrendered in the interests of gambling?
I will speak for a moment as one who has been a judge in both the criminal and family jurisdictions. I am utterly convinced that one of the most evil and awful destructors of family life is gambling. My appeal is therefore not to a 21st-century Puritanism in any way, but to a sense of both responsibility and humanity on the part of the Government, who, after all, net something like £1.5 billion per annum from this industry.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Minister in the other place made it quite clear that he would keep a close eye on the statistics regarding problem gambling. However, the incidence of problem gambling is very low in the United Kingdom in comparison with other advanced countries. At 0.6 per cent, it has not moved upward since 1999. As with any other distressing social factor, we would all wish that it did not exist at all. However, it is not always clear that, in order to eradicate a relatively minor social problem, one should restrict the opportunities of those who can pursue such pursuits responsibly.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I declare a past interest as a former director of the parent company of William Hill and a current interest as one who occasionally goes to the races for the day. Does the noble Lord agree that a policy has to have an objective? What was the objective in the minds of Ministers when they conceived this policy? Was it to increase the amount of gambling in this country or to decrease it? It must have been one or the other; they are not so laissez-faire that they do not care.
Lord Davies of Oldham: Well, my Lords, a fair number of social developments take place in any society without them being necessarily engineered by its Government, unless one lives in a totalitarian
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Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, is not the Minister trying to defend the indefensible? Is not the Governments job to show a moral lead to the community that they serve? The effect of casinos was mentioned. In Wisconsin it has been found out that some 5,300 serious crimes a year are committed because of casinos. Crime does increase, whatever the Minister may say. He said that these days more money is available for individuals to gamble with, but by allowing gambling in these casinos, he is reducing that amount of money. He is creating poverty. He said that children can be protected from the effects of gamblingbut not the children in gamblers houses, or children who have perhaps lost their homes and the upkeep that they were used to. Children in those sorts of homes naturally will be affected by gambling.
I was surprised some time ago when I asked the Minister about online gambling. I have the reply here. He said that he wanted Britain to become the world leader in online gambling. The Government are at every step encouraging gambling. The Joint Parliamentary Committee that discussed this stated:
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there is no proof. It is all right for the noble Lord to make the contention, but in fact there is no proof that problem gambling is increasing. I quoted the benchmark figure that shows no increase over the past eight years. We have given a pledge that if we do see that figure moving up, and problem gambling increases, we will act. That was the burden of the Secretary of States remarks today.
The Government sought to take a strong position on online gambling and the noble Lord must consider the alternative. We have the strictest gambling legislation among developed countries. If online gambling goes to small political societies with very limited controls, that gambling becomes free of any restriction and law. We were arguing that we should set out as far as possible to make sure that online gambling was located in the United Kingdom where we could protect the vulnerable and the young and we could have some control of it. Of course, the House will recognise our limited success in that respectbut that was the objective.
On the question of the Government giving a moral lead, I am not sure that Governments are always equipped to give moral leads in any case, but the noble Lord will recognise that with regard to gambling the Government are creating legislation to make sure that the vulnerable and the young are protected. It is not the Governments business to tell a sophisticated society just how much it should gamble.
Lord Acton: My Lords, my noble friend mentioned a current figure of 130 casinos. Can he say how much money each year is gambled in those casinos and how much the Government estimate would be gambled per year in the 16 casinos he mentioned today?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a tough question. I do not have the statistics on that. A lot of the casinos established under the 1968 Act have been operating for a long time. They are small operations with very limited facilities and so produce very limited amounts of resources. Local authorities regarded the eight large and eight small casinos as opportunities for regeneration because they would provide larger facilities than the majority of those set up under the previous legislation. The problem with those set up under the previous legislation is that they are not subject to the degree of control that the 16 new casinos will be subject to. That is why the development of these casinos is a result of our legislation to tighten up the necessary controls to restrict the development of problem gambling.
Lord Steinberg: My Lords, I declare no interest other than having been in the gambling business for 50 years. It is not very often that I agree with the Minister but I do agree with him that the number of casinos mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is way beyond the scale of anything I understand. I want to commend the Minister on not allowing casinos to remain open 24 hours a day. I also wish to commend him in relation to free alcohol not being served at the tables, which is something I opposed for many years.
However, in Manchester more than 3,000 jobs have been lost as a result of this legislation. How much money does the Minister think might have been lost in levy and in taxation? Perhaps I may also saythe Minister mentioned it and I agree with himthat the incidence of problem gambling is lower in Britain than in any other developed country and lower than in any other gambling country anywhere in the world. Has the Minister considered the loss of employment?
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Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful for that last point. We have faith that having, clearly revealed the figures, the industry will shape up. We are also quite clear that if it does not, we will take appropriate action. The noble Lord referred to making sure that people are not in the casino 24 hours a day with free drinks at the table. There is work to be done in that respect. The Minister was indicating today that these were areas in which he was contemplating action. We will require developments on that.
The Minister also announced today that Ministers were addressing themselves to Manchester. Anyone familiar with that great city will know that a substantial part of east Manchester, not too far from the city centre, is a completely blighted wasteland following the destruction of the vast largely engineering works which were the glory of Manchester for a century and a half. That area needs redevelopment. Although Manchester has a proud record of very significant redevelopment in parts of the city, the east Manchester project did involve the regional casino. That is a loss of investment for Manchester and a loss of development and jobs, as the noble Lord rightly identified. That is why Ministers are going to Manchester to address themselves to the issue.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, as one of those who took part in the passage of the Gambling Bill and spent a number of hours arguing against a lot of the proposalscertainly against supercasinoswill the Minister please guarantee to your Lordships House that there will be no more talk of supercasinos during the Governments term of office; in other words, that there is no question of having supercasinos? That is my first request.
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