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The regulatory framework implemented by the Gambling Act recognises that gambling is not a homogenous activity. Rather, it covers a range of experiences. As a result, the cornerstone of the Government's gambling policy is to regulate gambling premises based on the levels of risk that they pose to the licensing objectives of the Act. Bingo is, of course, a low-risk gambling activity. Indeed, the Committee will appreciate the important social functions that bingo clubs perform within their areas and many other local communities. The bingo industry continues to face significant economic pressures. Given the valuable role that bingo clubs play in many people's lives, the Government believe it is right for them to benefit from a similar increase in prize gaming limits to those which other types of premises benefited from in June last year. I commend these regulations to the Committee and I beg to move.

Lord Howard of Rising: My Lords, given that this order merely brings into line the limits between one establishment and another of similar nature, and that these regulations have been debated in relation to establishments that already have these limits, I see no point in objection.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full introduction, which was a bit of a contrast to the response of the noble Lord, Lord Howard. Just to add to the Minister's regulatory pleasures, I shall be fairly brief, but perhaps not as brief as the noble Lord, Lord Howard.

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The key question on the issues faced by the bingo industry is: what has taken the Government so long to come up with these regulations? Between 2003 and 2009 some 115 bingo premises closed, with a loss of 4,000 jobs. Since April last year, it is estimated that a further 24 have closed. The Explanatory Notes explain that an affirmative resolution such as that which we are debating is needed to approve an increase in participation fees for prize gaming in bingo premises-but the opportunity was there last March, when stakes and prizes for category C and D machines were increased, as the Minister said. Why could not this consultation-he called it a "discussion", which was interesting-have taken place at the same time as that for category C and D machines? That is rather strange and does not appear to be the action of a Government who are concerned to nurture a valued form of gambling which is enjoyed by more than 3 million people in this country.

The Government have done some good things in this area. They have removed VAT on participation fees and they have permitted the doubling of the number of category B machines allowed on bingo premises. However, they then proceeded to fiddle with GPT, which cost the industry some £1.5 million. They do not have a completely blameless record in that respect. The Minister should answer the question about the uplift in stakes and prizes for category B machines. This is of great significance to the bingo industry and to the seaside arcades that he mentioned.

The wait for this review has been agonising. The commitment to it was made 18 months ago. What is the situation? What is the hold-up? Where is it coming from? However, we support the regulations and, in fact, we strongly welcome them. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

6.30 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their contributions. If I am slightly more grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will understand why. Brevity being the soul of legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, was succinct enough for me to limit my response to him to expressing my gratitude for his support for these benign and constructive regulations.

I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, says about the regulations; would that they had been introduced earlier. The bingo industry has benefited from actions taken by the Government over the past few years. The increase in stake and prize levels for category C gaming machines that we introduced in June last year has benefited the industry, and in February 2008 we doubled to eight the number of B3 gaming machines that bingo clubs could offer.

We have the interests of the bingo industry very much in our minds and we recognise the pressures on it. However, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, with his usual standards of fairness, will recognise that most industries are under pressure in a period of recession, and certainly those industries that cater for leisure time and somewhat limited surplus funds are bound to feel the impact more than others.

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The consultation that we held last year led to improvements for the industry. I accept the noble Lord's point that Governments can always act more rapidly on consultations, but we have to be assured about the issues. The whole construct of the Gambling Act-on the preparation of which he and I spent many happy hours in distant years gone by-contained very clear principles, particularly in relation to gambling where children are present; and when introducing actions to liberalise and extend limits in the industry, we have to go back to the first principles that govern the Act.

Bingo halls are an important part of the social fabric of many areas. We want to see them flourish and sustained but, by the same token, we do not want their social ethos to change and we certainly do not want them, in any way, shape or form, to represent any conceivable risk to social life, either in terms of gambling or its effect on children. That is why we are so careful with this industry.

I accept the noble Lord's criticism. It is always easier in opposition to suggest that the Government could do things more adroitly if only they followed the principles of the opposition parties, which have good ideas every second day and then discover that they take rather longer to implement. In government, the responsibilities are such that we have to measure matters with some care. However, given that noble Lords are prepared to give a fair wind to these regulations, we have reached our major objective of parliamentary consent to beneficial orders.

Lord Clement-Jones: Does the Minister have any comfort for me on category B machines?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as regards category B machines, I know that the noble Lord is concerned about undue delay. However, the review of these machines is bound to be controversial. The key issue for many stakeholders will be the high street bookmakers and their concern to protect a significant revenue stream. Parity with bookmakers is a serious issue.

The casino sector is also seeking government intervention in relation to stake and prize levels for category B machines in existing casinos. Its chief concern is the impact of the current economic climate on its position. Unlike in the 2008 review of C and D machines, with its focus on seaside arcades, there is not the same economic case to justify our intervention to increase stake and prize levels for category B machines. Industry opinion is not uniform on this. Earlier, I freely acknowledged the strength of the bingo industry's case, but that is not the case with regard to category B machines. Of course, that reflects the fact that the different sectors of the industry have different concerns. Community groups express anxieties in these areas, but not with regard to bingo halls.

I hear what the noble Lord says on the matter. We are concerned about all sections of the industry that are going through difficult times. No doubt some in the industry can express the obvious case that it would improve their business position if we altered our position on category B machines, but there is not the same unity of position as is represented by the bingo halls. That is why I concentrated on bingo halls today.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 6.37 pm.

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