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That prompts the question raised by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner; that is, that if all 16 are not taken up, is there enough flexibility in this legislation, or can the Government use enough common sense, to reallocate those licences to areas that come forward? Secondly, as my noble friend asked, what is the scope for the Government responding with flexibility to the requests by the British Casino Association that, where there is a willing transfer of licences, 1968 licences could be transferred from one area to another?

I believe that some of the benefits, which would have come from a resort casino, could still be won by Blackpool, by attracting willing casino investors who would operate not just a stand-alone casino operation, as they would in many of the towns that are mentioned, but a resort casino, which, as I have seen operating in other parts of the world, would operate as the nucleus of an entertainment centre, a retail centre, a leisure centre and a restaurant centre. That is why there was such a strong argument for resort casinos. If we could have some action on those requests for regeneration and flexibility in licensing policy, Blackpool would be on the way to getting the help that it deserves.

In a previous debate, the Minister suggested that there was a difference of opinion between me and the two Members of Parliament for Blackpool. Perhaps I can put on record that I strongly support and admire the way in which Joan Humble and Gordon Marsden have fought for their constituencies. I pay tribute to their courage and determination—I know how government Whips operate at the other end of the building—in serving the best interests of the town.

Of course, there are problems with problem gambling. However, I am worried that this is a typical piece of legislation which has been drawn up by civil servants and Ministers who operate in a world a million miles away from the reality of casinos and how they operate. Most people’s only idea of a casino is seeing George Raft in an ancient B movie. As a result, this House and the other place have nodded through relaxations of our gambling law which need closely to be studied. As I said in the previous debate, you can drive through some of the poorest parts of our towns and cities, and pass betting shops that are now open until 9.30 pm and contain four gaming machines. They are there not to collect money for betting on horses, but because they take money out of the poorest areas of the country. They pose a far greater threat of problem gambling than the well regulated, closely watched ambience in which casinos operate.

I hope that we put these matters in proper perspective. One hundred years ago, Blackpool had the imagination and vision to establish the most successful seaside resort in Europe. It now needs a little help from its friends and it can do so again.



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4.15 pm

Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I reiterate what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for the manner in which he has brought forward these instruments. It is so nice to see him at the Dispatch Box with a proper brief. If noble Lords throw their minds back to the previous occasion when we threw out these instruments, they will remember that he had to work off a letter, most of which we had all seen before the House sat, and cobble together a deal to try to salvage the Government’s casino policy.

It gives me great pleasure to be able to say that, for the first time in my parliamentary career, I completely agree with everything that the two speakers from the Liberal Democrat Benches said. That is an unusual comment from an old Tory dog like me. When I came into the House, I thought that the debate would take about five minutes as I had forgotten your Lordships’ capacity to dig up and chew an old bone. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, pointed out, this is a classic example of a policy of the Government being in complete tatters: this is the end of the Government’s casino policy. If noble Lords take the trouble to look at the instruments in detail, they will see that they are confirmed by Section 175(4) of the Gambling Act, which carefully lists the one regional and the eight-and-eight casinos. That one regional casino, which, as noble Lords have said, was originally the flagship of the Government’ policy, no longer exists. What is left is a rump which, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, quite rightly told the House, has been immensely damaging to Blackpool. I hold no brief for Blackpool, but I remember visiting it as a member of the scrutiny committee, as did the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. I hold no brief to condemn Manchester for its bid. But they have both been treated appallingly by this Government. They were encouraged to bid for the regional casinos. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, in being rejected for the one regional casino, they have had no ability to bid for either the eight or the eight. So they have been doubly damned for doing an extremely good job—which is what happens in practically every area of this Government’s policy. It is pretty unpleasant and unsatisfactory.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, there has already been a significant growth in the number of casinos under 1968 Act. He gave quite a lot of figures; I am sure that they are very accurate and better than mine—I had worked out that it had been about a 30 per cent increase. One should put that in the context of what the Minister said in opening the debate. One of the primary purposes of the Act was to prevent the “proliferation of small casinos”—the Minister used those words—but that is precisely what we are seeing. It is therefore a complete and utter failure of government policy.

We passed the Gambling Act in 2005. Here we are implementing it three years later, or trying to implement it in a rather shambolic way. However, since 2005, the economy has turned significantly. Quite a few casinos have closed because the economic climate has changed. The smoking ban has led to a reduction in income of between 10 and 15 per cent. These are difficult times

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for any industry without it having a Government climbing all over it at the same time.

I, too, draw your Lordships’ attention and the Minister’s attention to the debate in the House of Commons on 25 March. My honourable friend Mr Malcolm Moss and Mr Don Foster from the Liberal Democrats both pushed the Minister, Mr Gerry Sutcliffe, very hard. It is clear from reading the debate—and I commend it to the House—that the Minister appeared to give an undertaking to work with the British Casino Association on its proposals to correct this. I hope that in winding up the noble Lord, Lord Davies, will confirm to the House that the Minister is going to do that. We have heard from all sides of the House—from this side, from the Liberal Democrats, from the government Benches and from the spiritual Benches—that this is a muddle, and a muddle of the Government’s making. They have an obligation to go a bit further to sort it out, which means talking to the industry that they have damaged.

The Gambling Act 2005 is now a fact—we have got it. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, to whose judgment I bow, talked about the quality of regulations. There is no doubt that we have quality in our regulations. But I ask your Lordships to think back to the rich origins of this policy, in Sir Alan Budd’s report. He made it perfectly clear that we had, at that time, an extremely well regulated industry in this country. We still have one—the quality is there, but, my God, the quantity is there too. The amount of regulation that we have! The old Gaming Board did a very good job with 46 employees; I wonder how good a job the current Gambling Commission is doing with 200 or 250 employees. And at what cost! Who is paying for it? The industry is getting the same quality of regulation but at what an increase in cost. The consultation is now out from the commission on those costs, which are considerable. The industry is hurting from that, and I hope that the Government will take that into account.

While we are here, we may as well talk about the other primary purpose of this legislation, which was to regulate the most dangerous part of gambling, about which we knew little at that stage—internet gambling. The right reverend Prelate talked about the social damage that can be done when gambling gets out of hand. There is no more difficult area to regulate than internet gambling, and one of the singular purposes of this Act was to do that. However, thanks to old “Prudence”, our current Prime Minister, racking the tax rate up, not one single company has come from offshore to onshore to be regulated. That is another complete area of failure in this Act—a policy failure almost without parallel.

Again, we need to think about this in the context of what is going on at the moment. We have witnessed in the past 18 months a very significant collapse in the bingo industry, for a variety of reasons—one of which is smoking and one of which is the way in which the Government have treated slot machines. It is an important industry in lots of ways, especially social ways. A lot of old people spend their afternoons there, which they will not do any more because a lot of the clubs are closing. A lot of them have closed and more will close.

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Some of your Lordships may not like the slot machine industry in pubs, but slot machines paid the rent—and one reason why pubs are closing at the rate of 25 a week is because of the way in which the Government have handled slot machines. They need to look at that.

So we should not look only at casinos in this debate. We should look at these instruments as part of an entire policy—and one that is in complete tatters. It is another example of poor old Britain with a third world regulation system. That is pretty embarrassing for all of us—a major industry so damaged by this Government’s policy. We cannot do anything about that today, but we can help casinos. The Minister has the opportunity in winding up the debate to put at rest some of the concerns raised on all sides of the House today. I hope that he will do that.

Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I was prompted to take part in this debate by a brief remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. He remarked that Luton had three casinos. In 1968, when there was legislation on casinos, I was the Member of Parliament for Luton, at which time we had one casino—which was called, rather grandly, Caesars Palace. I think that that was perhaps overdoing it, but I used to go there on a Friday night, though to the cabaret, not the casino. I can say that because I am not really a gambling man. My parents were great race goers and would go to the races throughout the Scottish circuit, to half a dozen or so races. When I became a teenager and likely to follow my father in his footsteps he said, “Look Willie, don’t go to the races”. I said, “Why not, you go?” He said, “You may have noticed that it’s the bookie’s wife who has the fur coat, and not your mother”. So I am a reformed non-gambler. I buy a lottery ticket now and again in the hope of being able to join the opposition Benches, but that is another matter.

When the 1968 legislation was going through Parliament, the proprietor of Caesars Palace—who was not a Roman—came to me for assistance. He explained all the good things that his casino did. It was rather like drawing in the argument—quite a relevant one—about regeneration. Regeneration had not been invented in 1968, but he would have used it had it been so. Casinos did good work for old age pensioners and that kind of thing. His name was Ivor. I said, “Look here, Ivor. I'm on your side. The vast majority of my constituents in Luton like gambling and they like going to casinos. This is an enjoyment of theirs with which we should not interfere”.

Caesars Palace was at that time threatened with the hatchet. As noble Lords will remember, because of threats from the Malta Mafia who were thought to be overwhelming the casino and gambling operations in this country, the number of casinos was to be reduced. I managed to persuade Jim Callaghan, who was the Home Secretary and who I knew quite well at the time—my old friend the noble Lord, Lord McNally, did too. He was persuaded that good work should be allowed to continue—not the good work of quasi-regeneration, but of allowing my constituents the enjoyment they wished for, which was to gamble and have a lot of fun. The British people have been doing that since time immemorial. Why should they not?



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The gambling business has been tightly regulated. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, drew attention to the small group who suffer from gambling, but the great majority do not. It is a public enjoyment that should be allowed to be publicly enjoyed. The less regulation there is the better. I think that about many other aspects of our society as well, but let us not get into that.

I make only one further observation, which is irrelevant and nobody should really listen to it. The Minister will recall the late John Maynard Keynes. Does it rhyme with cleans or canes?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Canes.

Lord Howie of Troon: Milton Keynes rhymes with cleans and John Maynard Keynes rhymes with canes. Anyway, he described the Stock Exchange as a casino, and he was right. I know that I am a little wide of the regulations, but describing the Stock Exchange as a casino affects the entire finance industry where people bet on things. It is now described as betting on things, but it did not used to be. Would it not be more sensible to apply casino-type regulations to the Stock Exchange and the finance industry than to casinos and gambling?

4.30 pm

Lord Bradley: My Lords, I first apologise for my late arrival to the Chamber. I often wonder at the consequences of massive investment in the west coast main line. I wish to make a brief contribution on behalf of the city of Manchester, because if an overwhelming case has been made for Blackpool, the case for Manchester is absolutely overwhelming.

The right to license a regional casino was the subject of one of the most intensive national competitions for many years. The recommendation that Manchester should be awarded the right to license a casino followed an independent review, which was fully endorsed by the Government. All the bidders for the regional casino licence promoted their proposals on the basis of the significant economic benefit that would be generated by the proposals. Manchester indicated that the total employment benefit would be between 2,700 and 3,500 jobs, with the vast majority being made available to local people. This level of economic impact was also validated through the independent process.

The decision to change policy where the regional casino is concerned has been, to say the very least, a major disappointment in the city of Manchester. Two issues have caused particular concern. First, the report produced by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which is often quoted by Ministers as the reason why the regional casino will not go ahead, did not consider the specific impacts of a regional casino in Manchester. It also did not conclude that other means of regeneration would be a better way of meeting economic and social need. Most of the evidence base quoted in that report was available to the Government and others before the Gambling Act was enacted. In my view the report does not provide any justification for the regional casino decision.



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Secondly, it has also been stated that the regional casino decision is what Parliament called for in March 2007. In my view, that is not the case. The Commons agreed the recommendations and, while by a small margin the Lords did not, the resolution that was passed criticised the terms of reference of the Casino Advisory Panel and its concerns applied with equal force to the large and small casinos, given that the same terms of reference applied to all the casinos.

The House of Lords Merits Committee drew the particular attention of the House to the grounds on which it may imperfectly achieve its policy objectives. The reason for the report is that the Merits Committee was concerned in 2007 about the process for arriving at a recommendation in relation to all 17 authorities, and no new process was conducted to arrive at this list of 16 authorities. The report draws special attention to two factors in particular: whether the Casino Advisory Panel’s interpretation of its terms of reference and the list of authorities it recommended as a result sufficiently reflected the 2005 Act licensing objectives, and the fact that the locations chosen in the 2008 order may not necessarily provide the,

The House of Lords demanded a review of the process, not the abandonment of a regional casino. That review should apply to all casinos, large and small, as well as the regional casino, and we have heard supporting comments for that today. Not to do so would be to say that large and small casinos are acceptable but regional casinos are not, without any evidence to support that position. I hope the Minister will reflect on that in his closing statement.

The Government have endorsed legislation to implement small and large casinos and a regional casino. However, they are trying to pick and choose which parts of the legislation they are willing to implement. For the people of Manchester, that is not acceptable. As a result, Manchester is being denied the opportunity to create up to 3,500 jobs for some of the most deprived communities in England. We have always accepted that if the regional casino was to be dropped, there was an obligation on the Government to put back the jobs they had taken away. As we have heard, a ministerial task force is in place to work with the city council to evaluate the opportunities, but it must come forward quickly with concrete proposals for investment and the jobs that go with it as a matter of urgency.

If the case has been made for Blackpool, as I understand it has, then it equally applies to Manchester, particularly because Manchester actually won the competition to have a regional casino. If the Government do not follow that route, they will be reneging on their commitment to the people of Manchester. I assure the Minister that unless the task force comes forward with proposals in the near future, this matter will not be left but will be vigorously pursued in both Houses.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to chew—for the last time, I hope—on what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, called “this old bone”? Those of us on the Joint Scrutiny Committee have been chewing away on this bone and there is not much meat left.



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If I may take a subjective view, I was on the Front Bench, now ably replaced by my noble friend, who has spoken so well today, I was on the Joint Committee, and I have done a bit of gambling in my life. I have rather grown out of it now. It is more a young person’s affair. I think that you can grow out of it, as long as you do not go completely bankrupt. On a sad note, two days ago I went to the funeral of a friend who had committed suicide. Gambling was a large component of his despair. It was compounded by drink and matrimonial problems, but gambling was definitely an important part of that tragedy.

Gambling has always been with me. When I was a boy at school, I had a penchant for gambling. That continued to my boarding school days, where I enjoyed the only profitable time in my gambling career, as the school bookmaker. In those days, it was a risky path, because public policy—this is very much relevant to what is before us today—came from the Victorian period and probably before, and decreed that gambling was a fact of life, but one that had to be watched carefully and indeed discouraged. That was public policy and it has now completely changed without anybody realising.

One piece of evidence for that is that gambling is now controlled by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, rather than by the Home Office. When the department took on the weighty role of deciding what to do with gambling, it had to get some ideas. One idea was that gambling should be looked at in a modern way, because new Labour has always told us how modern it is—we have a somewhat jaundiced view of that now. We were told that gambling was a pleasant recreational activity; that a few people got damaged, but not very many; and that a committee under Sir Alan Budd would be given the task of guiding us forward.

Sir Alan Budd, without knowing a great deal about gambling, I gather, had the very good idea that what we should do, if we were going to encourage gambling, was at least get some regeneration out of it. One problem of the Government’s abject failure on this gambling legislation is that they have not managed to get precision on any idea. I could go through a list of aspects of the legislation where there is no precision, but I will take just two that struck me, and which have been mentioned today in the House.

One concerns harm to the vulnerable and the young. The young are particularly vulnerable. I have mentioned this outside the Chamber to the Minister and he listened very attentively. It has always been the Government’s contention that statistics show that the incidence of gambling harm in this country is one of the lowest in Europe. I asked him how they knew that. They know that because they have looked at some statistics. However, my friend who committed suicide was not a statistic—he had a gambling problem. By “problem”, I mean that you conceal things from your family, you spend money that you do not have and you lie to people—all aspects of addiction. Most people’s gambling problems are not recorded. I reckon that in this country we have a serious problem with the young and gambling. This can be seen in betting shops with what are actually gaming machines. They are called

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“fixed odds betting terminals”. What a British thing that is—to disguise a gaming machine with a completely unintelligible term. They are gaming machines.

There is so much to tempt young people. As was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, we are now reaching the stage where people—particularly those on low incomes—will have to budget very carefully for their normal costs. They will not have a surplus with which to gamble. The problem is that once you gamble and lose, you get caught up in a terrible vortex—I know; I have been through it. The Government have not been precise about that. I would not go so far as to say that they have tried to deceive anyone; I just think that they have been gullible. The worst legislation is that which goes on to the statute book as a result of the Government being gullible and uninformed, and I am afraid that that is the case with this measure.


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