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Casinos

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

On 28 November 2004, I was in Sydney on official business to discuss the legacy of the Olympic games and the regeneration of the former Olympic sites. I visited the Star City casino, which is part of a major waterfront regeneration scheme in the city that I discussed with the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr. I was accompanied by a number of officials, including my permanent secretary and the chief executive of English Partnerships. I have not visited any other casinos.

By giving such privileged access to one of the bidders, has not the Deputy Prime Minister seriously compromised the whole process of bidding for Britain’s only regional casino?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has been reading too many press cuttings. Let us be clear, as I have been: I was not associated in any way with the planning or sale of the dome. The decisions were made in the Department by other Ministers, and I informed the House about them. As for my meeting with Mr. Anschutz, I promised when I first met him that we would meet regularly to ensure that he was fulfilling the obligations involved in the development of the dome—which meant 10,000 new homes, 24,000 jobs and £5 billion of private investment. I am quite prepared to meet people who provide jobs and investment of that kind, and it was quite right.

The Deputy Prime Minister rightly says that he had no influence in relation to the dome and the establishment of a casino there, but may I ask him to use his influence in relation to the one casino for this country? May I ask him to support the siting of the casino in Lancashire, where it will regenerate the area and bring many thousands of jobs? Such an establishment is greatly needed in Lancashire.

I understand why my hon. Friend advocates placing a casino in Lancashire, but I assure him that I am not involved in any such decisions. The House decided that there would be an independent commission to decide how many casinos there should be and where they should be placed. The commission will report to the Secretary of State, who will come here and present recommendations to the House. Every Member will then be able to make his or her own decision on which recommendation to support. That is what the House decided, and every one of us will be involved in the subsequent decision.

During his various discussions with Mr. Anschutz and the Attorney-General, was the Deputy Prime Minister aware that the potential value of a dome casino licence was about £250 million? In view of the large sums involved, was his primary duty to avoid discussing the matter because of conflicts of interest, or to discuss it in order to secure a better deal on the dome site?

I was not involved in any discussions with Mr. Anschutz about the casino. As for the amount and the value, I saw in Australia that there are major regeneration benefits—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) has referred—but I have not been involved in any decisions on the casino, and I think that my action was right and proper.

2. What role he has in the effective development of Government policy on planning in relation to gambling facilities. (86190)

As a Minister, I have no specific role in relation to gambling or planning, but as a parliamentarian I have exactly the same say as Opposition Members, because—as I have explained—in this House Members will have the final say on the location of any casinos. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for gambling policy, and the Department for Communities and Local Government is responsible for planning policy.

Given the responsibilities that the Deputy Prime Minister used to exercise in the office of Deputy Prime Minister, will he take legal advice on whether he is in breach of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1916 and report back to the House, in the light of that Act’s provisions, on how Government lawyers view his receipt of gifts and hospitality from Mr. Philip Anschutz?

That is typical of the wild charges that the hon. Gentleman used to make when he wrote his articles in The Times. Let me make it clear that I do not believe that any act of corruption has been committed. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence he should provide it, rather than just making the allegations here.

The Deputy Prime Minister is a man of influence within Government. Will he take it from me that there is deep concern about the impact of gambling on indebtedness, which is increasing in this country? Will he ensure that all individuals and organisations making a bid for regional gambling centres are organisations and individuals of the very highest integrity?

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that in discussions on the Gambling Bill—there was also pre-legislative scrutiny—a lot of consultation and debate took place, as the legislation was controversial. All views were expressed in the House, which finally came to a decision. I think that that decision was right and we must wait and see how it develops.

I am not an enthusiast for gambling, grand casinos or anything of that kind, as I have made clear previously, but is my right hon. Friend aware that Labour Members totally reject all the innuendos to the effect that he is somehow corrupt or dishonest? Whatever mistakes may have been made here or there, we know about the great contribution that he has made to the Government and to the Labour party and movement over many years.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support, though I do not expect it from Conservative Members. However, when it comes to accusations of corruption, Members must make a serious judgment. There is no corruption here and those charges should not be thrown around lightly in the House—however easily done in the press. I totally reject that and I hope that people will take my contribution over 35 years in Parliament into account, whether or not they agree with what I have done. I might add that over those 35 years I have never been employed in any other job; I have never received any payment from other bodies; I have simply carried out my job as a Member of Parliament. Can they say that on the other side of the Chamber?