Before I answer the questions, I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering Lord Monro—Hector Monro—who, sadly, died on 30 August. He held many ministerial posts, but the one that he held with the greatest pleasure was the one that I now hold, as the Minister with responsibility for sport. He and I have something in common: we were both brought back from Australia, where we were watching rugby. He was brought back in the 1970s when he was manager of the Scottish team, and I was brought back in 2003 when I wanted to watch England win the World cup. The great game of rugby union binds us together.
The independent casino advisory panel is continuing with its work, and remains on track to make its recommendations at the turn of the year.
I associate myself with the Minister’s remarks about Hector Monro.
Can the Minister confirm that it is alleged that people are being recruited and trained as croupiers in the area around Greenwich to work in the former millennium dome? If that is the case, does it not suggest that the entire selection process may be a farce? Can he state categorically that some deal was not cooked up on a dude ranch somewhere in America, and that that is not a means of getting rid of that white elephant, the dome, which has remained an embarrassment to the Government?
Can I say very clearly that the panel that is now looking into the siting of these casinos is independent? What the hon. Gentleman has just said is very serious. We have brought together an independent panel under Professor Crow, and what the hon. Gentleman says brings Professor Crow’s integrity into disrepute. That is very serious. Professor Crow will make the decision, and that decision will come back to the House, and if the hon. Gentleman—or, indeed, any other Member—wants to question that decision of the panel led by Professor Crow when it comes back to the House, they have the right to do so. There will be an affirmative vote of this House to determine where those sites will be. Members ought to remember this: we have brought in an independent person of the integrity of Professor Crow to head this panel, and to impugn his integrity in this House is unacceptable.
I noticed that the Minister made a slip of the tongue about sites. Stephen Crow, head of the panel, said:
“How are we going to make up our minds? I don’t know.”
Given that we might have more than one site brought back, will the Minister select just one of those sites, or will the House have a chance to vote on all of them?
There will be a recommendation to the House on one regional site, eight large sites and eight small. As for how that decision is brought about, the hon. Lady might wish to look at the Gambling Act 2005, as she will find guidance in it. The panel has been set up under it, and there will be a recommendation—and the final decision will be taken by this House.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that the whole process for selecting a site for a regional casino has to be seen to be transparent and fair. Is it his understanding of the process that the casino advisory panel will listen to representations from local authorities and will then make a recommendation to this House about which local authorities should be chosen, and that the local authority should then decide, through a proper and open process, who the operator for that site will be? Does he therefore understand that it is slightly against at least the spirit of that process for local authorities to come forward with what are effectively joint proposals and joint bids from an operator who has already been selected in advance of the whole process being started?
I advise local authorities not to go down that course. There are three stages. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) would listen—and, indeed, read the Act—he would not make comments as stupid as those he made to the Conservative party conference, but that is an aside, Mr. Speaker. I see you have a smile on your face, so you obviously appreciated the joke.
The Gambling Commission will find out whether those applying to run a casino in our country are fit and proper to do so. It is then up to local authorities to site casinos in their area—anybody would think that we were haranguing local authorities, but we are not. They will come forward on two matters: premises licenses and planning under planning regulation 106. It is up to them to get the best possible deal. I advise any local authority not to pre-commit themselves. They have a fantastic negotiating position—if they get an offer from Professor Crow’s committee in respect of siting.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a key element in the deliberations of the panel should be the strength of local support and interest in a regional casino bid? If he does, will he note the comments of Professor Crow at the Blackpool examination that there were more people at that examination than at any of the others all together? Will he underline to Professor Crow and his associates the need to take into account the groundswell of public opinion when reaching their decision?
My hon. Friend is a great advocate for Blackpool. I will not go down the route that he wishes me to go down, other than to say that clear terms of reference have been set out. I think that what he mentions will be factored into that, because the terms of reference under which Professor Crow and his colleagues are operating would allow that. So the answer to the point he makes is yes, but equally that goes for every other local authority—and, indeed, lobbying group—as well.
In Scotland, there are an estimated 30,000 people with gambling problems. Does the Minister think that that figure is likely to increase or decrease if the one regional casino is sited in Glasgow?
In commissioning the Budd report, the issue was not casinos but online and internet gambling, which is the big growth area. The 2005 Act for the first time protects children and the vulnerable through an Act of Parliament, which the Gaming Act 1968 does not. I am absolutely confident that the Gambling Commission and the actions that we will take under the 2005 Act will protect the vulnerable and probably provide more protection than any other country in the world provides. Many countries are looking at the Gambling Commission, which we put on to the statute book, to see whether they can use the same model.
I suppose that the Minister’s having paid so much attention to what I said at last week’s highly successful Conservative party conference is a form of progress. However, it is astonishing that, just weeks away from the decision on the super-casino licence, we still do not know the criteria by which the pilot scheme will be judged a success or failure. Is not the reason that the Minister and his Department have already decided that they want more super-casinos, and will use any excuse to increase the number? The Minister said in an earlier answer that this matter would be brought before Parliament by the casino advisory panel, but he should be aware that, under clause 175 of the 2005 Act, the Secretary of State has the right to increase the number. Will the Minister take this opportunity to rule out increasing the number of super-casinos, even if the panel fails to recommend just one? A simple yes or no will suffice.
The hon. Gentleman’s definition of “success” differs from mine, to be honest. If he thinks that the Conservative party conference was a success, he will have to go a long, long way before he occupies the seat occupied by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If that conference was a success, he needs to keep on going. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government proposed eight regional casinos and the proposal was in the wash-up before the last general election. The Conservatives decided to come back with the proposal of one regional casino, which we accepted because we wanted to get the Bill on to the statute book in order to protect the vulnerable in our society. That is where it now stops—at one regional casino—unless the hon. Gentleman says to the Government that the Conservatives want to change the proposal. The proposal is very clear: one regional casino, and eight large and eight small. That is what we agreed before the election, and that is the basis on which the 2005 Act went through. [Interruption.] Absolutely no: there will be one regional casino, and eight large and eight small—unless the Opposition propose an alternative that is acceptable to us, up to a figure of eight.