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Volume 264: debated on Thursday 19 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the 48-hour rule for casinos. [36511]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)

We have received representations from the casino industry and a number of hon. Members. We are currently reviewing the present controls on casinos as part of the Government's deregulation initiative.

May I be the first to welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and to wish him every success in his new post? He will be well aware of the fact that the British casino industry is a substantial earner of foreign income for the country, but is subject to regulation that is outdated and outmoded. It would be very much in the country's interests if he were able to announce very soon the end of the Government's consultation period on the basis of the consultations that they have already had, and make proposals for the deregulation of that important industry.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I commend him for the work that he does on behalf of the tourism industry in the United Kingdom and in his constituency. We are very close to reaching conclusions, having received representations. We are looking not only at the 48-hour rule for casinos, but at the issue of the permitted areas where they may operate. I hope that when we come to our conclusions we will balance the needs of deregulation with the needs for continued protection for the public, about which I know many hon. Members are also concerned.

I also welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities.

There is considerable concern among groups such as the bingo industry, the pools industry and betting shops about the unfair competition that they have experienced as a result of the introduction of the national lottery. We are prepared to hold talks with the Minister and any of his ministerial colleagues to look at ways in which those anomalies can be put right so that the industries and, more importantly, the jobs that depend on them, exist on a level playing field and face fair, not unfair, competition.

We are well aware of that and have already made some progress in deregulation. If it helps the hon. Gentleman I can say that I am certainly willing, as always, to meet any delegations on that basis. Our considerations at present include not only casinos, but bingo and bingo halls.

I also welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and much appreciate what he has just said. Does he agree that towns, particularly conference towns such as Harrogate in my constituency, which he knows well, should be able to qualify for casino licences to save business visitors the necessity of travelling to Leeds for their entertainment?

As the Member for Leeds, North-East, I have a slightly mixed view. My hon. Friend is right; our considerations, as I said before, include permitted areas. We shall certainly look at representations from towns such as Harrogate and, of course, Swindon.