The Gambling Act 2005 will be fully implemented from September 2007. Between now and then, my Department will consult on and make the necessary orders and regulations, and the commission will continue to consult on, and publish, guidance and codes of practice on how it will operate the new licensing regime. Local authorities have a vital role to play in the new regime, as well. I am meeting the chair of the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services on Thursday to address the concerns that it has about the timing issues.
With the British Medical Association warning only last week that one in 20 12 to 15-year-olds are showing signs of addiction to gambling, is it not time to educate and regulate? Some parts of the industry—such as, for example, internet poker—seem to be virtually untouched by any controls whatsoever. I understand that consultation and the appropriate actions have to be undertaken, but is it not now a matter of urgency?
I agree with my hon. Friend on two points. First, in terms of the role of the commission and internet gambling, that is the very reason for bringing the legislation forward—so that the Government have some controls over internet gambling. Secondly the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, which has been set up and is broadly run through GamCare, is looking at a wide education programme, as well as a prevention programme. I am meeting some of the industry tomorrow on those issues. There are concerns. To a large extent, that is why the 2005 Act was put on to the statute book: to give Government—indeed, Parliament—powers to intervene on behalf of the vulnerable in our society.
We were assured by the Secretary of State that the new regime for regulating gambling and the process for awarding the regional casino licence would be open and transparent. The reality is that they are now mired in chaos, confusion and disarray. Local authorities are warning of the kind of chaos and confusion that we witnessed with the Licensing Act 2003. In addition, we have now learned that the Government are to face a legal challenge from unsuccessful applicants. In a further development, Labour Back Benchers representing failed bidders are openly being encouraged to lobby Ministers to overturn a decision made by the supposedly independent commission. Is the Minister aware that the whole process is descending into complete disarray?
I have heard some rubbish from this Dispatch Box, but that is the biggest load of rubbish that I have heard for a long time. We have put in place the most transparent system—arm’s length from Government and my Department—to make an objective analysis of where the casinos should go. The confusion arose in the minds of Opposition Members when they decided to take the number of regional casinos from eight to one. They are now trying to get out of the issue politically and to blame the Government. That representation is totally untrue. We will stand by what we put in the 2005 Act and the process, which is transparent and fair. If people want to make a legal challenge, let them get on with it and take us to the courts.
But the Secretary of State has failed to ensure public confidence in the new regime. She will be aware, as will the Minister, that Ministers in her Department have already had to clarify four statements in relation to meetings held by her and her officials with overseas operators. Does the Minister consider it—to use the words he has just spoken at the Dispatch Box—transparent and arm’s length that senior Ministers are being entertained on the estates of American casino operators? Will he act urgently to ensure a complete and full disclosure of the facts to ensure public confidence and transparency in the process?
That is absolutely disgraceful. The Deputy Prime Minister, who the hon. Gentleman is referring to, had no role in planning or negotiations, or in the siting of casinos. When Opposition Members start making those allegations, they ought to come up with the facts. What is being said is totally untrue and unfounded. If anyone is being brought into disrepute, it is the hon. Gentleman.