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It has also become apparent that a large number of casinos could open in this country under the 1968 legislation. This has gone well beyond the numbers that Ministers originally said would be in existence. The former Minister, the right honourable Member for Sheffield Central, Mr Caborn, said on 11 January 2005, when referring to the total number of casinos that were expected following the 2005 legislation:
I recently asked the Gambling Commission and have been told that there are 144 licensed and operating casinos, including two card clubs, under the 1968 Act, with 46 casinos, including one card club, licensed but not operating. Nineteen applications have been rejected by local licensing authorities but are subject to appeal. Fourteen casino certificates of consent have been granted and are waiting for a hearing by magistrates, including three card clubs, and three casino certificates of consent are pending determination or issue by the Gambling Commission. Ten of this total of 82 are extensions to, or replacements for, existing licences.
This makes a theoretical maximum of 216, including six card clubs, which is far in excess of the 150 that the former Minister said with certainty were likely to exist, or would exist, in this country. That loophole should have been closed much more quickly than the Government chose to close it. It has now resulted in a potential proliferation of casinos. I heard that the Minister was very optimistic about those casino licences not coming into effect, but that is a very large potential number, and well above the assurance originally given by Ministers. It is extraordinary that we have spent so much time over the past years debating 16 potential new casinos, eight large and eight small, while a vast number of other potential new casinos have not been subject to such debate and scrutiny.
Apart from this, there is concern about the impact that the 16 new casinos could have on the existing casino estate. It transpires that 10 out of the 16 sites for new large and small casinos are already in permitted areas under the 1968 Act. The draft regulation specifies a new casino for Southampton, but it already has three before we add the extra one, which will be much larger than any of the existing three. Great Yarmouth has three casinos, as does Hull. Leeds already has five casinos, with one application under the 1968 Act, I believe, still pending. Middlesbrough already has three casinos. Solihull has none, but if we look at the wider Birmingham area, there are eight. In relation to smaller casinos, Torbay already has one and Swansea has two, with two additional casinos licensed but not yet open. Luton has three, with one appeal for a licence pending.
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In the debate on these draft regulations in the other place in March, the Minister, Mr Gerry Sutcliffe, said that he was carefully considering the proposals that he had received from the British Casino Association, with the aim of protecting the viability of the existing casino estate. These relate to the ability of so-called casinos established under the 1968 Act to be able to relocate, subject to the relevant consent from magistrates and local authorities. I have seen copies of some ambivalent correspondence, subsequent to that debate, passing between the BCA and the Minister. What is the position? Is he taking these proposals seriously, and what conclusion has he come to? Is his position, in reality, that he wants the number of casinos to shrink? Is he content for existing casinos to close?
We then come to another important matter. The existing casino operators are keen for the Government to conduct an immediate review of stakes and prizes for machines, because they also impact on the viability of existing casinos. The Minister, Mr Sutcliffe, was very clear in the other place on 25 March that the review of stakes and prizes would take place shortly, yet nothing at all has happened in the interim. I do not know how quickly the clocks run in Mr Sutcliffes household, but they clearly do not keep ordinary hours and minutes as we know them. Perhaps No. 10 has stopped the clock. What is the situation?
Then there is the question of contributions to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. On 26 February the Secretary of State, Mr Burnham, expressed concern that a large number of organisationsmore than 90 per cent of the operators, it seemswere making no contribution at all. He said:
Unless the industry delivers a substantial increase in contributions by the end of this year and makes contributions in a timely fashion, I will seek the approval of the House for a statutory levy, at a rate to be determined.[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/08; col. 904.]
Again, this is relevant to the viability of the existing casino estate and the new casinos coming on line. Will the Minister amplify what the Secretary of State meant by substantial increase? What would satisfy him?
To cap it all, since our debate in March 2007 the Merits Committee has issued another damning report calling into question the procedures that the Casino Advisory Panel adopted in relation to the decision to locate the 16 small and large casinos. It said that the policy objectives of the regulations may be imperfectly achieved. At this stage it is extremely unclear what the Governments policy objectives are.
If we were so minded there would be ample reason to throw out these regulations in the same way as the previous ones were. There have been some limited pluses in the interim as Liberal Democrats, and in particular my honourable friend Don Foster, acknowledged in the other place when the regulations were debated there. There is now greater clarity about
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Finally, there is the question of regeneration assistance for both Blackpool and Manchester to make up for the fact that there will be no supercasino to assist in regenerating those cities. Last year the Government set up a Blackpool regeneration task force, and this February in their response announced financial support. How much of this is new money? There are other elements and decisions which Blackpool badly needs to kick-start its regeneration where government help is being sought. What can the Minister say about that?
We heard in February, likewise, that an ad hoc group was being set up to look at regeneration alternatives for Manchester. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made a statement in March which contained a number of welcome ingredients. What will be the continuing status of that group? What additional funding is being levered in by its activities?
On these Benches we do not intend to divide the House. We advocated the separation of the 16 casinos a year ago and we stick to that position. Of course we are unwilling to delay the hopes and expectations of the locations for small and large casinos any further than they already have been. But there is absolutely no doubt that the Government have made a complete mess of their whole gambling strategy. The least they can do is acknowledge that.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, it is good note in these draft regulations and in the report the seriousness with which the Government intend to monitor and review the social and economic impact of large and small casinos. The regulations imposed by the Government have already ensured that the casinos demonstrate a high degree of social responsibility, especially towards those vulnerable to addiction and to the young.
The Government have been sensitive to the public mood in at least deferring the decision on supercasinos until a proper evaluation can be carried out on the impact, especially in areas of high deprivation. Some of the authorities which may issue large casino premises licences include places of multiple deprivation and areas of consolidated poverty such as Kingston-upon-Hull. Before going to Liverpool I was the Bishop of Hull. It is a city for which I continue to have a great deal of affection. If I were still its bishop I would, from a pastoral point of view, express great concern at the prospect of another casino full of 150 machines, some offering the prospect of prize money of £4,000 at the press of a button costing £2 a go. To use the words of the Explanatory Memorandum, such casino gambling in places of poverty,
I recall an earlier debate which was introduced by a Minister with the words, The people want to gamble. That is of course true of some people but differentiating what the people want from what the people need and from what the people ought to have is the high calling and heavy responsibility of those called to govern.
I wish to put down a marker of hope in this debate. If the assessment of the social and economic impact proves that casino gambling is detrimental in areas of deprivation, I hope the Government will act swiftly to remove them from the area and to rule them out of their strategy of regeneration.
We live in a time of unprecedented personal debtover £1 trillion. Future historians may well say that we made the indebted poor even more vulnerable by putting gambling within easier reach. I know that local authorities have invested considerable time, money and energy into mounting the case for casinos in their areas as part of their strategy for regeneration. I know, too, that they, like the Government, take seriously the need to minimise harm and to protect the vulnerable. I know that some boroughs have engaged local people in local consultation.
However, the earlier debate and consultation and the earlier preparatory work took place in a very different economic climate. We have not only higher degrees of debt but increasing negative equity in the housing market, with more people at risk financially. This sets a rather different mood and a rather different social context for todays debate. In an earlier debate, my friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury voiced his concerns about our social well-being. We on these Benches urge the Government to proceed with caution, with prudence and with a due sense of responsibility for the weaker members of our society.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the right reverend Prelate. He reminded us of the social dimension that is contained within not only the regulations but all the provisions of the Gambling Act. Thanks are also due to my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham for introducing the regulations. He is getting a rather easier ride with this order than he did in March last year with the order that contained the very controversial proposal for the one regional casino, as well as the 16. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, could have been a little more gracious in acknowledging that the Government have done what he and the majority of this House voted for in that debate last year.
I do not take the view that the implementation of the 2005 Act is going nearly as badly as other noble Lords suggest. The role of regulation and the work of the Gambling Commission have been exemplary so far. They have tackled the task with vigour and, to begin with, with fairly low resources. The indications I get from talking to people in the industryI have a number of interests which are on the register related to what they dois that they are tackling it well and that the quality of the regulation is now substantially greater than it was before the Act came in.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard, was right to refer to some of the problems of offshore advertising. I have referred in this House on more than one occasion to the difficulties that are caused by the poor standards of regulation in Gibraltar and its reluctance to adopt the same standards as the Gambling Commission and the white-listed authorities. Putting that aside, however, the work on the regulation of online gambling and the other aspects of the industry are working well.
I do not underestimate the scale of problem gambling. The prevalent study indicated to the surprise of many that it had not grown markedly over the past few years. It will be very interesting to see whether those figures are sustained in the next prevalent study after the expansion in gambling can be measured.
I will share with the House details of a visit I paid a couple of weeks ago to Gordon House, the only residential centre for problem gamblers in the West Midlands. The residents of Gordon House are men at probably the very bottom of their lives. I spoke to between a dozen and 15 of them and discussed their problems and addictions. What impressed me was the willingness of the authorities at Gordon House to help these men through their addiction, remove them from gambling altogether and get them back into society. It was also interesting to learn where the men saw the origins of their problem starting. Many first became addicted to gambling in the seaside arcades which they went to as children. I was attracted by the recommendations by the Budd committee which effectively proposed the elimination of gambling by children. I think we are the only country in Europe that allows youngsters to go into arcades and spend money. They are not spending money on the same scale as people do in the adult arcades, but there is considerable evidence that problem gambling starts in childhood and then continues.
By far the worst manifestations of the problems of the residents of Gordon House lay in the fixed-odds betting machines; almost without exception, they admitted that they had become addicted to them. I hope very much that my noble friend will be able to say something about the Government review of the FOBTs, which have effectively created electronic casinos in so many betting shops.
On the casino regulations, I and a number of colleagues who I can see in the Chamber were members of a joint scrutiny committee. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is right that the original proposition was for a free market, which was then slimmed down to eight plus eight plus eight, and then, in the dying days of the previous Session, the eight became one. It was the view of all the members of the joint scrutiny committee that if there were to be only one, the logical and best location for it would be Blackpool. When we visited Blackpool, we were impressed by the strength of support that we found among the local community, the local council and businesses. The only exceptions were a self-seeking organisation that already runs a gambling operation on the seafront which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, knows very well, and, I am afraid, one Liberal Democrat councillor who was fighting a lone crusade.
The joint scrutiny committee took the view that Blackpool had argued the case and had thought through very carefully the way in which regeneration of that very depressed town centre and the surrounding area could be assistednot createdby the establishment of a regional casino or a resort casino, as we originally called it. That was supported by the evidence from Professor Peter Collins; there was also evidence from Australia that the one place where you avoid having large casinos with attractive machines is in deprived urban areas. It is much better to have an area to which people have to travel as a day trip or for a weekend holiday, such as a seaside resort, not in a city centre. So it was with utter astonishment that I read the report of Professor Crows inquiry, which turned down Blackpool and went instead for east Manchester. It seemed almost that he had turned the argument of the joint scrutiny committee completely on its head. He argued that a resort should not be chosen as it would not be possible to measure the social impact because the people going there would be visitors. Those are exactly the sort of whom that one would want in order to avoid the social problems. A consequence was the report of the Merits Committee, to which other speakers have referred, which contributed to the defeat of the order that we debated in this House in March last year.
As is well known, I was one of those who voted against the order with 12 of my noble friends. I have to say that I have not lost a moments sleep since. The judgment that we exercised on that day was vindicated very quickly by the announcement by the new Prime Minister that the plans for the regional casino would, first, be put on ice and then, latterly, were killed altogether.
The outcome is the statutory instrument before us. I still regret that Blackpool is not being given the opportunity to demonstrate whether regeneration can flow from the activity that a regional casino can create. It is unfortunate that the local authority is not one of those named in the order; perhaps it was short-sightedness on its part notas a sort of each-way betto apply for one of the 16 as well. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will say have more to say about this, but I hope my noble friend is able to say more about the package of regeneration which is in prospect for Blackpool. A number of promises have been made to that town and it is important that they are fulfilled.
If there is a decline in interest in the number of large and small casinos under this order, the Government could also give an undertaking that, if a local authority does not want to take one of these, an authority such as Blackpool should be able to come forward and take their place. I suspect that may be difficult; perhaps my noble friend can clarify that situation.
I certainly do not intend to vote against the regulations. It would be extraordinarily perverse of me to do so, having voted the way that I did in March last year. I wish the regulations well but hope that my noble friend will take on board some of the concerns expressed from all parts of the House.
Lord McNally: My Lords, my view has not changed since the regulations were introduced. The Minister was unduly provocative when he announced that the Casino Advisory Panel did a good job. As the noble
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Taking the lead from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who analysed very well how the Government have handled this, we will not divide the House. I assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool that this is not because, on the last occasion, I had the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury here on our side. I do not count replacing Canterbury with Liverpool as any kind of demotion, but we are not going to divide this evening.
I remain convinced that PhDs will be earned by studying this process as a way not to legislate. Frankly, it has been a shamblesI will turn to that in a moment. I want to make two points. First, the Government have a moral duty to Blackpool. Had Blackpool been allowed to do what it requested eight years ago, and had tested the idea of a resort casino as a means of regeneration for a seaside resort, we would now be able to see the first outcomes of such a pilot project. Instead, Blackpool is faced with real problems. As the Governments own regeneration task force said,
The town has not sat quiet, waiting for something to happen. The task force has put forward a five-point plan for regeneration, but requires help and support from the Government. I will not delay the House by going into detail on the five-point plan but I want to highlight the idea of upgrading Blackpool and Fylde Further Education College, in co-operation with Lancaster University, into a university of the leisure industries. It makes a perfect fit for Blackpool and has no better endorsement than the Prime Minister himself. When he mentioned that he was no longer enthused by the idea of supercasinos, he referred to higher and further education as possible alternatives in a place such as Blackpool. I hope that the Government look seriously at that.
I hope the Minister has in his brief some indication of when Blackpool can expect action, not just words, on some of the proposals that have been put forward; for example, we are waiting for a decision on whether the theatre museum can be moved from the V&A, so that the funding can help to connect the Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens complex with the seafront development. Those practical decisions need government action.
Secondly, there are regulations. In the previous debate, I made a guess, not with a great deal of expertise, that we would end up with about 300 casinos. That provoked the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg, from these Bencheshe knows a thing or two about casinosto see me afterwards and say, No, you are completely wrong. I shall tell you why: casino operators do not operate casinos where they will not work and there are not 300 places in the country where they will work. I shall tell you something else: one of the results
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