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Gambling Act

Volume 447: debated on Monday 5 June 2006

The Gambling Act will introduce one of the strictest regulatory regimes anywhere in the world. The Gambling Commission is conducting a study into the prevalence of gambling and will report next year. That study will provide the baseline against which we can measure future trends.

I remember Jim Callaghan saying that the Labour party owed more to Methodism than to Marxism. Should not reducing the level of gambling be a perfectly proper objective of Government policy?

Jim Callaghan was also a realist and he faced up to the responsibilities of government. That is indeed what this Government have done, which is why we had the Budd report, the playing for success initiative and the 2005 Act. The Act brought in the new regulatory authority, the Gambling Commission, and if we had not introduced that, we would have exposed a lot of this country’s population to online gambling and remote gambling over which the Government had no control at all. The Budd report and the 2005 Act were instigated to give the Government—and, indeed, Parliament—the ability to intervene when necessary. If we had not done that, we would have been irresponsible, and even Jim Callaghan would not have thanked us for that.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most hon. Members have confidence in his and the Department’s ability to bring the proper regulation of gambling into operation? Is he further aware that the provisional shortlist from the casino advisory panel has caused dismay throughout the midlands because there is a yawning gap in the proposals for the super-casino? I declare an interest as a shareholder in, and director of, Coventry City football club. It is clear that Coventry’s bid stands pre-eminent among those from the midlands, especially the west midlands. Will my right hon. Friend give us an early opportunity to make representations to him and the advisory panel so that we can stress the great benefits that such a development could bring?

I thank my hon. Friend for the vote of confidence that he gave my Department and me in being able to implement the Gambling Act 2005. The decisions on the casinos were made against the background of the Opposition forcing the number of regional casinos down from eight to one. I stress that an independent panel sat and made the judgments that have come back to the Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State and I will meet my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) so that Coventry can put its case to us.

Is it not a fact that, in yet another example of what we have come to recognise so well as a lack of joined-up government, the Minister’s Department is still using a different estimate of the number of problem gamblers from officials in what was the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister? Is it not also the case that the Gambling Commission has not even commenced work on a prevalence study on problem gamblers, which, in any case, will now report only after the green light for the casino pilot and the massive growth in online gambling? Given that we have no firm criteria for judging results, will the Minister tell us what will constitute the success or failure of the regional casino?

I do not accept that the point on which the hon. Gentleman predicates his question is a fact. As I told the House, the prevalence study is under way and will report. Pilot schemes are being instigated, so we will learn from them. We take the baseline seriously, which is why the prevalence study is wide and detailed and will give sound information with which we can measure future trends. The hon. Gentleman asks about success, but this country has the lowest levels of problem gambling and, as I have said, we embodied the principles of the Gaming Act 1968 into the 2005 Act, along with establishing the regulator, the Gambling Commission, which probably has more powers to intervene than any other regulatory authority in this country. Indeed, many people abroad are examining the way in which the commission will be operating.

I am somewhat surprised by the Minister’s complacency. Last week, the Secretary of State candidly admitted that she had presided over an “explosion in online gambling” and said:

“as things stand it’s an explosion over which we have very little control”.

She went on to say:

“we will be persuading those UK operators who currently operate offshore to come onshore to be properly recognised”.

Can the Minister tell us how many such companies are trading in the United Kingdom? Will he provide examples of what he has in mind to induce those companies to come onshore? What action will he and the rest of his Department take if the companies do not do so?

We put the 2005 Act, which will come into operation between now and September 2007, on to the statute book for that very reason. We do not have powers to intervene on online gambling and E Line’s operations.

Obviously, she did so, but that is why we put the Act on the statute book and why we will intervene through the Gambling Commission. Yes, we want companies to come back onshore: we have the best regulatory authority in the world, so we can protect both the vulnerable and the punter. We can keep crime out of gambling—that is what the Act is about, and it provides Government with the ability to intervene to protect citizens. The hon. Gentleman ought to look at the Act again to find out the real reason why we put it on the statute book.