I beg to move,
That the draft Gambling (Geographical Distribution of Casino Premises Licences) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 1st March, be approved.
On 30 January, the casino advisory panel, following extensive public engagement, published its recommendations relating to the 17 local authorities that should be permitted to issue the one regional, eight large and eight small casino licences. The panel’s recommendations on the large and small licences have, I believe, gained general acceptance within the House and outside. However, the panel’s conclusion on the location of the regional casino has proved controversial. The source of that controversy is the strength of feeling from two quarters.
First, there are those who hold a moral objection to gambling—a view that I entirely respect and is held by many on both sides of the House and beyond. It is in recognition of the many downsides of gambling that we constructed in the Gambling Act 2005 one of the most rigorous regulatory and protective regimes in the world. Secondly, there are those, led with great passion and effectiveness by my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), who believe that the regional casino should be located in Blackpool. I understand that view, too. Their constituents can be in no doubt about the power of their advocacy on behalf of the people they represent.
My right hon. Friend well knows the strength of feeling in Blackpool, and it links the two issues that she mentioned. Minimising gambling was part of Blackpool’s bid as a resort casino and yet Professor Crow admitted to the Merits Committee in the House of Lords that he did not take that into account. He made it virtually impossible to award the regional casino to a resort such as Blackpool. Perhaps the Secretary of State will comment on that.
Yes. I have had a discussion with my hon. Friend about precisely this point. Having carefully studied the Merits Committee’s conclusions, I have to say that I do not agree with them on this point. She will know that the overriding objective of the Gambling Act, which has within it the provision for the 17 new casino licences, is public protection, which involves keeping gambling crime free and ensuring that gambling is fair. In interrogating all the applicant local authorities, Professor Crow sought to ensure that each could conduct a test of social impact.
I accept the distinction that my right hon. Friend makes. However, does she not think it rather perverse when one part of the process is set up to produce a particular emphasis, while another part is set up to produce a different one? Does she not think that that inevitably undercuts one of the key principles of the Gambling Act, which was preventing harm and the expansion of problem gambling?
My hon. Friend has made that point several times. Let me make it clear that Professor Crow was asked to consider the applicant local authorities in the context of three tests on social impact, the capacity for regeneration and the willingness of the local authority to license. Hon. Members will be aware that we made specific provision in the Gambling Act for local authorities that did not wish to have any casinos—this is rather at variance with the belief that casinos are being foisted on an unwilling public who do not want them—to apply a blanket ban. During the process, several local authorities opted to take that course.
My hon. Friend has given this matter an enormous amount of thought on behalf of his constituents. The matter before the House and Ministers is one of judgment, given Professor Crow’s report, the report of the Merits Committee and the objectives of the legislation. However, he should be in absolutely no doubt that the overriding concern of Ministers when reaching conclusions is the capacity of authorities to conduct a proper test of social impact and thus express the public protection objectives of the Act.
This is a short debate and many hon. Members wish to speak. In fairness to the House, I will take a limited number of interventions, but I wish to set out the arguments as quickly as I can so that they can make their contributions.
As I have said, many local authorities wanted to explore the possible benefits of regeneration from casinos. When Professor Crow’s panel invited bids for new casinos, 27 local authorities put themselves forward for the single regional casino licence. A total of 68 authorities put themselves forward as candidates for the 17 new licences. Our policy allows for a limited number of new casinos because of our precautionary approach to gambling. Those 17 developments should essentially act as pilots—a series of test beds to judge the impact of these new casinos in the context of the public-protection measures in the Gambling Act and the three criteria I have set out.
We made it clear that we would ask an independent panel to make recommendations to Ministers, rather than have Ministers originating recommendations. Until, to everyone’s surprise, the panel recommended Manchester, not Blackpool, as the authority for the regional casino, there was broad consensus across the House on the approach. In the time since the policy was established and during the long process of developing the legislation, I do not think that any significant disagreement was expressed.
I am going to make some progress.
We approached the matter in such a way because we wanted to be sure that as we were testing the new approach, the decision was based on fact and evidence. That is why I have not simply overturned the panel’s recommendation and inserted Blackpool instead of Manchester. It would fly in the face of the evidence to do so, and such an approach would have been grossly unfair to every other local authority that took part in a published and agreed process in good faith. That is the principal reason I am presenting the order in such a form today.
Let me go through some of the other reasons behind the recommendations. Our intention is to evaluate the impact of this pilot before taking any decisions about the future number and location of any new casinos. That precautionary approach has two immediate consequences. The first is the composition of the order: the locations of the 17 new casinos have been chosen to give a mix of locations to measure impact accurately. Secondly, it means that there can be no new casino licences for at least the lifetime of this Parliament, until the clear assessment, based on rigorous evidence, is carried out.
I shall now turn to the other issues that have exercised hon. Members. There have been calls for the order to be split, with a separate order for the regional casino. The Government have resisted those calls, because—as I have set out—the package of 17 new casinos forms a package. If I had split the order from the outset, I have no doubt that the accusation would be that the Government were manipulating Parliament into substituting another area in order to pursue political or other motives. I say that because until the panel’s report was published on 30 January and the recommendations took everyone by surprise, we had daily reports about how the Government were nobbling various casino operators to ensure that the regional casino was sited at the dome. The process demonstrated the integrity of the panel’s approach.
The Secretary of State of State has said that the package is being presented to us today because it is a package, but that is a self-fulfilling argument. Surely the best approach would be for the controversial decision to be put separately from those that are not controversial in the slightest. People would then at least have an opportunity to have their say on the controversial one, which—as she says—came as a shock to everyone. On the issue of regeneration alone, Blackpool should have got it.
The hon. Gentleman and I had full exchanges on precisely that point at the Select Committee, where I made clear, beyond any doubt, the approach I would take. I have sought throughout the process of this controversial legislation to be clear and consistent at each stage. As I have explained to the House, I have sought to do the same on this decision.
Much has been made of the Merits Committee report in the other place, which expressed reservations on two grounds—on how the panel interpreted its remit and on the issue of destination casinos. Both points have been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South and for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood. I have placed on the record and in response to the Committee my view that its concerns were misplaced.
The primary consideration that we set for the casino advisory panel in making its assessment was to identify locations that would provide the best possible test of social impact. We did not ask the panel to identify a location that would reduce problem gambling as such, because our wider policy is the legislation itself, and it is the responsibility of the Gambling Commission to implement the most rigorous regulation to ensure that problem gambling is anticipated, acted on and contained.
The Merits Committee also reflected a claim made by some that it is perverse to locate the regional casino in deprived, residential east Manchester. East Manchester is deprived. On the basis of official figures, it actually ranks as more deprived than Blackpool. One of the panel’s considerations was to identify areas in need of regeneration, so it is not surprising that some of the candidate areas are very deprived. The panel’s job, however, was to recommend a local authority area rather than a specific site, and it is possible to locate a regional casino in east Manchester without putting it in the very poorest residential area. After all, that will be what the local planning system is for. The same would apply to Blackpool or anywhere else. Blackpool’s own bid placed the casino in the town centre, next to what I understand is judged to be a deprived ward.
Let me move on to the questions that have been raised about destination casinos. The argument is that the panel has failed because it did not recommend a seaside resort to host the regional casino and has ignored the Joint Scrutiny Committee’s recommendations. That is to misunderstand the concept of a destination resort. Manchester is in its own right a significant tourist destination. Apart from 2002, when it came fourth, in each of the years between 2001 and 2005—the figures bear this out—Manchester was the third most important overseas tourist destination in the UK, behind London and Edinburgh.
Such a view also fails to reflect the Joint Committee’s intentions. The Committee expected regional casinos to be large-scale entertainment complexes offering gambling alongside a wide range of non-gambling facilities. Anyone who has been to Manchester in the past 10 years can see that the city is at least as compatible with the concept of a leisure destination casino as anywhere else. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
On the evidence, the panel concluded that Manchester offered a
“good test of social impact”
for a regional casino. That was the judgment of some of the most eminent planning experts in the country, and that is why I have put forward Manchester in the order that we are debating.
I know that whatever the outcome of today’s debate, and the debate taking place in another place, hon. Members will continue to fight Blackpool’s corner, and rightly so. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South and for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and other hon. Members will welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has today announced—a fully fledged regeneration taskforce to review the totality of economic, social and environmental development plans in the Blackpool area and to make recommendations on the way forward. That is a very constructive and practical response; it is a response to the persistent advocacy of my hon. Friends, and a proper response for this Government to make.
Looking to the future, the Government intend to accept the amendment tabled in another place by my noble Friend Baroness Golding, calling for the creation of a fresh Joint Committee of both Houses to look at the casino advisory panel to see what lessons can be learned—[Interruption.] Hon. Members might like to wait so that they can understand the nature of the proposition. However, in addition to giving Members of both Houses an opportunity retrospectively to examine the panel process, while recognising that the creation of the Joint Committee and its terms of reference are a matter for the House authorities, let me state now that the Government would like the remit of any Joint Committee to be forward looking and not just retrospective.
I have been very clear with the House, and I repeat now that there will be no more new casinos in the current Parliament, because the results of the social impact studies of the current 17 pilot casinos and of the next prevalence study will not be available until 2010. Proposals for more new casinos will therefore not be initiated by this Government. As I have said before—I reiterate it today—the impetus for such proposals would have to come from Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman will have plenty of opportunity to address the House.
At the moment, there is no consensus on allowing any more new casinos, and there may never be such a consensus, but it is only right that the Joint Committee to which I referred should be allowed to examine the criteria and the conditions that could govern any possible future decision.
If the Joint Committee decided that a future Parliament might allow another regional casino, and if it recommended a specific location, I doubt that many hon. Members would be surprised if the place recommended was Blackpool. I hope that the Joint Committee will produce its first report within six months. I can assure the House that, with the agreement of my right hon. Friends the Chief Whips in both Houses, the Government would then make time available in both Chambers for any report from the Joint Committee to be debated. I know that that does not give the supporters of Blackpool an immediate gain or the reassurance that they wish for, but they will continue to have every opportunity to make their case in Parliament, and to work with the regeneration taskforce, which will engage in its work shortly after today.
The House must decide today whether it wants to accept, and support the consequences of, a policy that it voted for in 2005, and that the Opposition accepted at that time, and even welcomed. The policy recognised that in the new world, millions of people want to gamble and have increasing opportunities to do so, but that the role of government is to ensure a high and rigorous level of protection. I remind the House of the many thousands of new jobs and the millions of pounds of investment that may be put at risk across the country if the order is not approved. Our policy recognises the inalienable role of the Government in protecting the public, and specifically the vulnerable and children, but it also responds to calls from local authorities to bring forward a limited number of casinos for the regeneration and leisure investment that they will bring.
On the debate that will follow my speech, when hon. Members consider how to vote tonight and think about voting with the Opposition, I want them to ask themselves two questions. First, are they really prepared to be associated with an Opposition who are so unprincipled and inconsistent? Who said:
“I add my congratulations to Manchester on its success in securing the proposed regional casino.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 89.]?
It was the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire). The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), who seems to have disappeared, said that he was delighted that Manchester won the competition. Secondly, I would ask Members whether they really are prepared to throw away the chance of seeing regeneration benefits for 17 local authorities across the country. I hope that, having considered those two questions, they will join me in commending the order to the House.
The first word that springs to mind is “astonishment”. It must be almost unprecedented for a Secretary of State to come to the House and admit that there has been a climbdown in the other place, having given the Opposition absolutely no prior notification of what she intends to do in the debate. We learned that she wrote to a number of her party’s Back Benchers to try to buy them off, but did not share with us the critical change in policy that she just articulated. It is absolutely astonishing.
The Secretary of State needs to clarify matters at the outset of the debate; that is absolutely crucial to the debate. It is crucial, too, I suspect, to the way in which many people will vote at the end of what the Order Paper says is a debate, although she is not encouraging debate because she did not allow people to intervene on her.
No, I will take my lead from the Secretary of State. If the hon. Gentleman will just allow me to complete a paragraph, I will give way to him in due course.
Will the right hon. Lady say whether the Joint Scrutiny Committee can scrutinise the decision that we have been asked to support? If, given the remit that she outlined, the Committee concludes that it was a mistake, or that there was something wrong with the process of awarding the licence to Manchester and that perhaps it should go elsewhere, will its recommendations carry any weight at all? Can the Committee recommend the withdrawal of the licence from Manchester if we vote for the order this evening? Will she confirm that she will not issue the Manchester licence unless and until the Joint Scrutiny Committee agrees to it? If she cannot do that, the Committee, as she outlined it, is nothing more than an exercise to get her out of a hole, and it will not do any of the things that we would expect such a Committee to do.
The Secretary of State is right to say that there has been much recent discussion about those casinos, and about gambling in general—and not just by Members of Parliament. In the past week alone, we have heard the strong reservations of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who warned of the impact on
“the youngest, the poorest and the most vulnerable”.
Those are the very people whom the Government’s Gambling Act 2005 is supposed to protect.
The Secretary of State was understandably brief at the outset of her statement, but it is important to remind the House of why we are here today. My party agreed, largely thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), to a pilot scheme of one regional casino, and eight large and eight small casinos. We reached that position after the right hon. Lady initially proposed an unlimited number of regional casinos. Our top priority throughout the passage of the Act, and ever since, has been to minimise problem gambling, and we have been entirely consistent in that aim.
The Government always say that the Act is about protecting the vulnerable, yet they are pushing the order through without adequate scrutiny of the risks of problem gambling associated with siting the regional casino in a city centre. The casino advisory panel has made a recommendation to Parliament, which Parliament is free to accept or reject after debate. That is why we are here.
If we had more time, perhaps we could go back over the legislation. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should allow me to speak; at least I have accepted an intervention. The hon. Gentleman would do well to remember that initially his Government wanted an unlimited number of regional casinos with unlimited jackpots. It was because of the official Opposition, and because of support from other Opposition parties, that we managed to get it down to one pilot regional casino, which we are discussing this afternoon. We are here to reconsider the panel’s recommendation, not simply to rubber-stamp it. If the order is passed today, we will finalise at a stroke the single biggest change to gambling law in the UK, which is why it is important that Parliament be given adequate opportunity to scrutinise the recommendation of the casino advisory panel before the final decision is made.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have quite a long speech to make. He can intervene, but if he will allow me to make progress, he may find that I will answer some of his questions.
The right hon. Lady claims that the future of all 17 casinos is at risk if the order is defeated this afternoon. That is clearly not the case. Let me remind the House that we need not be considering one order this afternoon. We offered the Secretary of State the opportunity to put forward one order covering the 16 large and small casinos, which we would support. She rejected that offer. Her approach remains “all or nothing”, and it is designed solely to put pressure on her Back Benchers and to steamroller the decision through without proper scrutiny.
Let me make it clear to the House that no Member who votes against the order today need worry that those 16 large and small casinos are under threat, regardless of the scare stories that the right hon. Lady is putting around. If she re-tabled the order with just the 16 locations, we would support it. We are voting against the order, but it is not a vote against the casino advisory panel or a vote against Manchester. It is a vote for further parliamentary scrutiny.
I turn to the substance of the matter before us—whether the Opposition are willing to accept the casino advisory panel’s recommendation to site the regional casino in Manchester. The right hon. Lady referred to the congratulations that my colleagues and I offered to Manchester and the 16 other locations in the hours after the advisory panel made its announcement. Those congratulations were genuine. We had no intrinsic opposition to Manchester or any other individual location, but given the surprise choice of Manchester—the right hon. Lady conceded that, even for her, it was a surprise choice, not least, I suspect, as it had risen from the bottom of the casino advisory panel’s ranking table to the top—it is right for us to have used the time since then to look in greater detail at the report and to listen to the concerns that are now in the public domain.
The right hon. Lady will also remember that in the same statement I said that we intended to
“hold the Government to account on the many promises they have given to protect the most vulnerable and those most at risk from their legislation.”
That is the right approach, and it is exactly what we seek to do today.
The House of Lords Statutory Instruments Committee found that the panel did not take proper account of or give a high priority to the impact of the casinos on the community and their harmful effect. Does my hon. Friend consider that a reasonable reason why the House should reject the CAP’s recommendation?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is being nice—but only after a time. When he said to the House on 30 January,
“I add my congratulations to Manchester . . . I and my party hope that that will bring the promised regeneration to that great city in the north-west”—[Official Report, 30 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 89-9.]
was there any ambiguity in that statement? I can see none. With reference to his remarks this afternoon, can he tell me exactly what doubts have been cast on Manchester’s ability to deal with both regeneration and problem gambling?
I am about to tell the hon. Gentleman all my doubts. If he had allowed me to proceed, our exchange might have been more interesting. I congratulated Manchester that day, as did my hon. Friends. The city won a competition. One hopes that the regenerative benefits will be as envisaged, although there are all kinds of reports, such as the Hall Aitkin report and another report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which suggest that the regenerative benefits of the regional casinos are not all they are cracked up to be. If the hon. Gentleman read the exchange between the Chairman of the House of Lords Merits Committee and Sir Stephen Crow, he would see that there are serious doubts about the regenerative benefits of some of the regional casinos.
I must make some progress. I have given way far more—in fact, 100 per cent. more—than the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State has tried to turn this into an issue of party politics, yet she cannot deny that a clear coalition of concern has emerged in both Houses and across all parties in the weeks since the casino advisory panel published its report. Before the strong arm of the Government Whips swung into action, 83 of her Back-Bench colleagues signed an early-day motion questioning the panel’s decision and calling for the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Gambling Bill to be reconstituted. That is the clearest evidence that there can be of the concern that exists on both sides of the House.
Were that not enough to make the Secretary of State think again, last week the House of Lords Merits Committee raised some crucial questions. It stated that the order might
“imperfectly achieve its policy objective”.
One of the three core objectives of the Gambling Act 2005 is
“protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling”.
Yet the Committee found that the casino advisory panel’s interpretation of its criteria
“did not give high priority to the prevention of harmful effects to the community from gambling”.
It said that the panel
“veered towards their terms of reference with their emphasis on the research testing of impacts rather than the minimisation of harm”.
The Joint Committee, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who is in his place, concluded that regional casinos should be located in a resort destination rather than in a city centre where there is greater risk of “ambient”, or casual, gambling from people living nearby.
I must make some progress.
Not only was that the view of the Committee, but it was backed by the study of international research which was commissioned by the casino advisory panel, but which for some reason
“was not used in the Panel’s selection process”,
according to the Merits Committee. The Secretary of State will remember that one of her former Ministers, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, formerly the Minister with responsibility for gambling, told the Joint Committee:
“we have taken the view that in what I call destination gambling—in other words where you have to make a positive decision to go into a location where gambling takes place”—
Not only that, but it is not a very good point, because I happen to know that although the casino is destined to go to east Manchester, under the legislation it is within Manchester’s rights to relocate it anywhere within the area, as the Minister for Sport confirmed to the Merits Committee. I can happily refer hon. Members to the relevant Hansard.
Lord McIntosh told the Joint Committee:
“we have taken the view that in what I call destination gambling—in other words where you have to make a positive decision to go into a location where gambling takes place, rather than casual gambling which is thrust at you at the street corner—there is likely to be less increase in problem gambling than there is from casual gambling.”
As Professor Peter Collins, an expert in gambling who is himself based in Salford, which is not in east Manchester, said:
“convenience is the single greatest spur to increase problem gambling”.
Yet when Lord Filkin asked Professor Crow, the chairman of the casino advisory panel, to confirm whether
“Their interpretation of their terms of reference made it virtually impossible for them to recommend that there should be a destination casino?”,
Professor Crow replied, “Yes.”
Are we not right in wanting to scrutinise further why such a diametrically opposed approach was taken by the casino advisory panel? Why is the Secretary of State content to push this order through without proper consideration of that fundamental discrepancy? Why are the Government so intent on forcing their Back Benchers to rubber-stamp this decision without allowing proper scrutiny?
It is also not sufficient to say that the casino advisory panel simply followed its terms of reference. Is the Secretary of State content that, as the Merits Committee makes clear,
“the panel had added some elements to the selection criteria, for example their own assumptions about relative profitability”.
Or is she happy that, according to the Committee, the panel’s analysis of the ability of local authorities to manage the process
“was not in the terms of reference”?
What is clear is that many of the problems arose from the panel’s interpretation of the terms of reference. I quote the Lords Committee again:
“Adding maximisation of profit into the consideration…seemed to have a greater weight on the Panel’s recommendations than minimisation of harm”.
Does not the Secretary of State find it amazing and worrying that maximisation of profit was such a priority for the panel, ahead of reducing social harm? Indeed, the casino advisory panel’s report states explicitly:
“Problem gambling is more of a town planning consideration than one for us”.
How does that square with the Secretary of State’s claim that her legislation will protect the vulnerable?
The Secretary of State’s explanations of the casino advisory panel’s terms of reference are simply not sufficient. We have no confidence that the rationale of the casino advisory panel was the same rationale as this House had in mind when it agreed to a pilot scheme of new casinos—[Interruption.] It is not enough for the Secretary of State and Ministers to say that the Gambling Commission will tackle problem gambling. This pilot must not be some sort of social experiment. The new legislation clearly states that it should be about minimising harm, which must include the decision about where to locate the regional casino.
In the light of all the expert advice gathered by the Lords Committee and its conclusions, we believe that the panel’s recommendation on the regional casinos should be subject to further scrutiny by a properly reconstituted Committee of both Houses. That is necessary to ensure that Parliament is confident that the final decision is the right one, and that the importance of minimising problem gambling is fully taken into account.
The Secretary of State’s argument that this is putting 7,000 jobs at risk, which I have seen rehearsed in some of today’s and yesterday’s newspapers, simply does not hold water. We are calling for a four to six-week delay while this recommendation is given proper scrutiny. Given that the casino will not be built for three years or so, and that the legislation has in any case been on the cards since 2001, why would a delay of six weeks make any material difference whatever? Is it because, as many believe—and in line with her concession in the other place—the Secretary of State has already realised that the whole process was flawed?
Yes, we supported the establishment of an independent panel to advise the Secretary of State on the locations of the new casinos, but the right hon. Lady should not abdicate her responsibility and hide behind what is ultimately advice—I repeat, advice—without giving the recommendations adequate parliamentary scrutiny. So far, her only concession has been to extend the length of this debate to three hours and to offer up a Committee that, on closer inspection, is likely to be powerless. That is simply not good enough.
On 28 February, I received a letter from the Secretary of State saying that there was no need to have any type of panel reconvened, or otherwise to examine the decision. Does my hon. Friend agree that we now seeing a U-turn when she stands before the House and says that we can have one?
I think that there have been more U-turns than a driving instructor encounters in a lifetime. It is certainly extraordinary to try to reconcile that statement with what we have heard today. My hon. Friend would do well to examine what the Secretary of State has actually said about this reconstituted Committee. I think that it is effectively a dog without teeth, but we will come on to that in a minute.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that she could have saved her legislation in its entirety by splitting the order, as we and many others have asked her to do, so that the 16 large and small locations could be voted on while the regional casino recommendation was examined by a proper reconstituted Joint Scrutiny Committee? The Government are asking us today to make a leap of faith based on the recommendations of the casino advisory panel, but the Secretary of State’s attack on the Opposition would have carried more weight if the Government’s own stance had been clearer. We are voting this afternoon on the biggest change to gambling law in memory, yet only a week ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was imposing a new 50 per cent. tax rate on these casinos, because, we are told, of his personal distaste for gambling.
The Chancellor—or should I say the Prime Minister in waiting?—has apparently ruled out any increase in regional casinos under his premiership. At the same time, the Deputy Prime Minister, who, as we all know, takes an active personal interest in those wanting to build regional casinos, has been telling anyone who will listen—I understand that there are still one or two such people—that Blackpool should have been chosen. If the Secretary of State does not have the support of her own Cabinet colleagues, how can she expect to have the support of Parliament? Why is she so determined to charge ahead despite all these objections?
In a desperate last-minute attempt to buy off those who are set to vote against her this afternoon, the Secretary of State has suggested that she will accept the amendment tabled in the other place by Baroness Golding. I urge Members to get a copy of that amendment, which clearly states that it is
“desirable that Lords be appointed to join with a Committee of the Commons as a Joint Committee to consider the Panel’s report in detail before any decision is arrived at with regard to the issuing of casino premises licences.”
Will the Secretary of State confirm, as I asked her to do at the outset, that not a single licence will be issued until the reconvened Joint Scrutiny Committee has sat and judged whether the casino should be in Manchester or somewhere else? If the Secretary of State is using the reconvened Joint Scrutiny Committee only as camouflage, or as a device to get her out of the hole that she finds herself in, it simply will not wash on either side of the House.
The Secretary of State’s slightly chaotic, eleventh-hour approach typifies her attitude towards gambling. She dismisses with equal scorn the critical, the questioning, the concerned and the cautious. This afternoon we are simply asking, “What’s the rush?” She has already conceded defeat in the other place. It is because she is still refusing to grant the measures additional proper parliamentary scrutiny that we shall still vote against the order today. That is not a vote against Manchester, or against any of the other proposed locations. It is a vote for caution and for further scrutiny, so that Parliament can assure itself that the final decision is the right one, not only for the Government and for this beleaguered Secretary of State, but for the community in which the casino will be placed.
I say to the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) that if it looks like opportunism and smells like opportunism, it almost certainly is opportunism. I also say to him and to the Liberal Democrats that a vote against the order will be interpreted as a vote against Manchester, and it is important that we establish that. Those Opposition Members who intend to vote against the order must recognise that there can be no other interpretation of their action, which is being taken for reasons not of principle but of opportunism. As such, it can only be interpreted as a vote against the city of Manchester.
Does the hon. Gentleman concede that we could vote against the order today, the panel could be reconvened and the evidence could be tested and examined in detail, and if the panel came back and recommended Manchester, Liberal Democrats or anyone else in the House would no doubt support that panel’s finding? This is not a vote against Manchester.
I am confident that the hon. Gentleman will join others in voting for Manchester at some stage but not, unfortunately, when it matters tonight. If Parliament passes the order tonight, the expectations for regeneration in my constituency, where the casino will be located, will be met.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) tried to intervene on the hon. Member for East Devon to point out his misunderstanding of Manchester. I invite him to visit my constituency so that I can disabuse him of the view that it is a city centre location. It simply is not.
We need to disabuse the House of the myth that Manchester somehow sneaked through on the question of regeneration. It is sad for me to record that my city and my constituency are still among the poorest parts of the country. Unemployment in my constituency is the fifth highest in Britain. Child poverty in my constituency is the highest in Britain. According to the Government’s index of deprivation, which takes account of a basket of factors, from housing to education to health, Manchester is still the third most deprived local authority. Every ward bar one in my constituency is massively more deprived—I do not use this against Blackpool—than any ward in Blackpool, with one exception. That is the level of deprivation in modern Manchester.
Opposition Members—and one or two of my hon. Friends—who were fooled by the illusion of the glitzy city centre into thinking that the regeneration of Manchester is somehow finished, fail to recognise the reality of the poverty and the need for regeneration in that city.
If, as appears to be the wish of the Conservative party, the order is not passed, and the panel’s consideration of Manchester and Blackpool is re-examined, there is no reason for the debate not to be reopened on all the other disappointed candidates for the regional, large and small casinos. Clearly, that is a concern to my constituents and the council in Milton Keynes, who are pleased that they have been successful, and would not want that decision reopened.
My hon. Friend raises a real issue. It is almost beyond belief that other disappointed local authorities would not seek judicial review to alter the balance of a decision on the range of regional, large and small casinos.
The casino advisory panel recognised that Manchester has the advantage, despite the hon. Member for East Devon’s attempt to rubbish it, of an enviable reputation for being able to use regeneration moneys effectively and efficiently. We do have that good reputation. I repeat to the House, however, that Manchester still has enormous need. Opposition Members should consider that Manchester is still suffering from the 100,000 manufacturing jobs that it lost when the Thatcher Government were in power and did so much damage. Recently, Barclaycard has decided to move 600 jobs away from Manchester, and Ciba-Geigy has closed down a plant that has been there for 100 years, taking away another 400 jobs. Therefore, perhaps Opposition Members—who even now do not understand much about the economic geography of the north of England—will understand that a city such as Manchester constantly needs to replace the jobs that it loses. That is why we need these hospitality industry jobs. As the Secretary of State has told the House previously—this was met with guffaws—Manchester is the third most popular tourist venue for day visitors in the country. That might astonish Members, but it is a matter of basic fact.
I do not dispute the poverty figures that my hon. Friend mentions for his constituency, but Manchester has one of the most thriving economies in the north-west—it is the fastest-growing in the north-west—and visitors to the city such as me like to enjoy the shopping opportunities there, while others like to enjoy the football.
People come to the Manchester tourist destination for many reasons. Of course they come for the football and cricket—Manchester does both very well, and football better than anywhere else in the country. The city also does theatre and music very well, and nightclubs. Sports City has 5 million visitors every year, and they do not come for the shopping. My hon. Friend should be cautious about trying to rubbish Manchester’s claim to be a serious tourist destination.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take some advice from a fellow north-west MP, who knows the area’s economic geography and who also lives there. I understand his genuine concern about the deprivation and poverty in the centre of Manchester, so will he join me in expressing deep concern that Professor Crow admitted in his evidence to the Lords Committee that those factors were not taken into account when the location of the casino was decided?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is wrong on most counts and on this one as well. His intervention allows me to say that Professor Crow wrote to Lord Filkin, saying:
“The Panel is very concerned that your Committee”—
the Lords Merits Committee—
“…concludes that we did not give high priority to the minimisation of harmful effects to the community. This is just not so. At paragraph 12 of our Final Report we made it clear that social impact considerations, both positive and negative, were implicit in our…criteria…Not only did we accord much weight to this consideration, one Panel Member was appointed particularly for his expertise in matters of social impact”.
Professor Crow goes on to talk about the evidence taken from the Salvation Army, the Quakers, the Christian Institute, NHS primary trusts, faith groups and so on. He concluded:
“It was as a result of hearing such evidence that we became very confident of the ability of agencies in Manchester, more than anywhere else”—
and I emphasise that “more than anywhere else”—
“to manage the minimisation of harm from gambling effectively.”
I hope that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) and others will accept that the allegation of the Merits Committee was simply wrong, that the casino advisory panel considered in detail the concept of harm minimisation and that it accorded Manchester very high marks in that regard.
I have visited the area in question on numerous occasions to go to Sports City and the velodrome, so I am familiar with it. However, I genuinely do not know how to vote tonight. I am concerned about the social impact of casinos and not very enamoured with the idea of huge regional casinos. Nor am I convinced of the regenerational capacity of such ventures compared with other investment possibilities in the area. What would my hon. Friend say to convince me to vote for the order?
I suppose that it depends on the exact nature of my hon. Friend’s difficulty. Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I have genuine respect for those who are opposed to gambling—full stop. That is a perfectly legitimate and intelligible position, but what is not intelligible is to play politics about whether the casino should be located in Manchester, Yarmouth, Milton Keynes or somewhere else. That is not a reputable argument.
However, we can argue about how we maximise regeneration. I believe that regeneration could be done very successfully in Manchester, which has a good record for making it work. We can also argue about how harm minimisation could be carried out, and Manchester—uniquely among those areas that bid for the casino—put forward a comprehensive plan in that regard.
In any case, and irrespective of the decision reached this evening, Manchester city council accepts that problem gambling already exists in my city, as a result of the internet and all the other ways that people can access gambling in our society. The town hall’s responsible gambling unit will carry on its work anyway, because we feel that we have a duty to take a responsible approach to the gambling that already goes on. Manchester’s commitment to responsible gambling must underwrite the bids for regional casinos, and the whole approach to gambling in modern Britain.
Gambling is better done in a casino regulated by law than in those that exist in hyperspace, which allow people to operate on credit and incur considerable debt without proper recourse. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) will at least acknowledge what Manchester tries to do about problem gambling and to ensure that the 2,700 jobs we believe that we can create through the casino turn into more by using it as a lever for the hospitality industry. Despite hollow laughter from Conservative Members, that is an important part of the Manchester economy.
It is important to hold a parliamentary debate on the matter. There is little opposition in Manchester, other than from the occasional opportunistic politician, to siting the casino in the city. The north-east Manchester Advertiser, the Manchester Evening News and the local media have all run campaigns in favour of locating the regional casino there. We want the casino to be based there—the general public in my city are overwhelmingly in favour of it. That is an important endorsement. Frankly, that cannot be claimed by all those who promote different casino sites throughout the country. I do not criticise people for that; I accept that the subject is controversial in some areas. However, it is not controversial in the poorest part of the city of Manchester, which I represent.
I respect the hon. Gentleman’s point, but does he accept that when people are bombarded by those in authority almost guaranteeing that huge numbers of jobs and massive redevelopment of an area will flow from such a decision, they will vote for it? However, nowhere have those results been demonstrated. If, in two or three years, expectations have not been realised, will the hon. Gentleman come to the House to demand that the casino be closed down?
Let me go this far with the right hon. Gentleman: it is important to use the Manchester experiment as a template for the rest of the country. The Government have made that commitment. If we discover that the impact is as negative as he suggests, we would not want casinos in Blackpool, Manchester, Milton Keynes or anywhere. However, I emphasise that gambling and its problems exist in our society and that it is better for them to be regulated. I guarantee that the regional casino in Manchester will be examined more often and more closely than any casino that currently exists. We will know in a short time whether we can make the casino work for regeneration and job creation and whether we can minimise the impact of problem gambling in a way that should reassure those who argue, however speciously, that they support an experiment and nothing more.
I hope that the plea to recognise the needs of a city such as Manchester will not, once again, fall on deaf ears on the Opposition Benches. If it does, that would be interpreted only as a vote against Manchester.
Like the hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) and his colleagues, we will vote against the order. I want to make it clear, especially to the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd), that our decision has nothing to do with a specific casino bid or a particular location. I hope that he will acknowledge that my speech demonstrates that.
Also like the hon. Member for East Devon, I am disappointed that the Secretary of State did not make available to me or the hon. Gentleman the contents of the letter that she wrote to hon. Members who represent Blackpool. I have now had an opportunity to read it, but the Committee that she proposes to establish, through an amendment tabled in another place by Baroness Golding, will do nothing to tackle our anxieties. The letter describes the creation of a fresh Joint Committee of both Houses to consider the casino advisory panel and ascertain what lessons can be learned for the future. Clearly, such a Committee will have no impact and give no help to those of us who believe that we need to establish a Committee to examine the recommendations before a vote is taken on them.
The Secretary of State knows that this is extremely controversial legislation. She said so herself in her speech. She has many times argued for a cautious approach. That is why I wrote to her on two separate occasions requesting that she reconvene the Joint Scrutiny Committee of both Houses of Parliament, which was ably chaired by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and gave us excellent advice, before we set off on the road that led to the Gambling Act 2005. We believe that it should be reconvened and that we should not go ahead with a vote on the CAP’s recommendations without the Joint Committee's views on two specific issues. First, it should consider the impact on the CAP’s recommendations of the recent and significant changes in gambling ecology in this country. Secondly, it should consider the concerns that have been expressed not least by the Merits Committee in another place about the remit given to the CAP and the way in which it met that remit. The Secretary of State's toothless Committee will offer none of those things.
Since the CAP was established, there have been some significant changes in gambling in this country, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Manchester, Central. Surely those changes have to be considered alongside the recommendations of the panel. In particular, as he said, there has been a huge growth in internet gambling.
It was a year ago that the Secretary of State herself expressed concern. She told the "Today" programme that there had been
“an explosion in online gambling…an explosion over which we have very little control”.
Her Department and the Gambling Commission have both admitted that the online gambling market has more than doubled in the past five years and that there are now 1 million online gamblers in this country. It is surely worrying that when I asked the Minister of Sport, in a parliamentary question, what research he had commissioned into the relationship between internet gambling and problem gambling, he told me that he had commissioned no such research.
It is equally worrying that the Government's efforts to bring online gambling companies onshore and under our proposed regulatory regime, which we spent so much time in Committee discussing, have so far completely failed. Frankly, the Chancellor's recent Budget means there is now no chance of success. The online operators have made it clear that they will not seek a UK licence because of the 15 per cent. remote gaming duty outlined in the Budget. It is no wonder that the chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association, Mr. Clive Hawkswood, said that the Government
“has missed a real opportunity to lead the way in terms of international regulatory standards”.
To make matters worse, while everyone knows that problem gambling is on the rise, efforts to help those who suffer from gambling addictions remain woefully inadequate. Although, belatedly, the gambling industry has now contributed £3 million voluntarily to support the work of the excellent Responsibility in Gambling Trust and has promised more, we are still way behind other countries. We spend approximately £10 per head on problem gambling support, but it is significantly less than the amount spent in New Zealand, Canada and Australia, where it is £44, £40 and £26 respectively per problem gambler. Failures to address problem gambling should be factored into our thinking about the panel's recommendations.
We should also be considering the Government's complete failure to be clear about how many casinos we are likely to have at the end of the process. The Secretary of State said that there will be no more casinos until the next parliamentary Session, but in the Gambling Bill Committee it took many weeks even to get clear information about how many existing casinos we have—139 at the time, as it turned out. Then the Minister confidently stated:
“we can say with certainty that there will be no more than 150 casinos.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 11 January 2005; c. 718.]
Clearly, he totally failed to take account of the possibility of more casinos opening under the existing gambling legislation. He knows that that is the case because, from the figures that he sent to me last night—for which I am extremely grateful—in the worst case scenario there will be 249 licensed casinos. Even if we take a more conservative estimate and assume that only half the licence applications are successful, the Minister's cap of 150 will be far exceeded.
We also need to take account of the possible impact of the claim for judicial review being brought by the British Casino Association, which has so far not been mentioned. That association believes that grandfathering arrangements for existing casinos introduced by the Gambling Act are unfair and place existing casinos at a substantial competitive disadvantage to the proposed new casinos. If that judicial review goes ahead and is successful, it would significantly change the climate in which the new casino trial is due to take place.
One final change in the gambling ecology that we should be considering also comes from the Chancellor’s Budget. By imposing a new high 50 per cent. top rate of tax, the new super-casino’s profit margins will be reduced and its ability to contribute to regeneration, wherever it is located—Manchester or anywhere else—will be diminished. Surely concerns about the explosion of internet gambling, the failure to provide adequate support for problem gamblers, the likely higher than expected number of casinos, the impact of a possible judicial review and the higher than expected super-casino tax are all matters that a reconvened Joint Scrutiny Committee would want to, and I believe should, consider.
The second fundamental reason for my decision to vote against the order today is based on my concerns about the remit given to the CAP and the way that it has executed it. Frankly, the panel was dealt an unfair hand, and the process by which it came to its conclusions has led to a range of criticisms, not least, as we have heard, by the Merits Committee. In its report, the CAP declared that the central tenet of its assessment of the bids was its quest to find the best test of social impact. Last week, as we have heard, the Secretary of State wrote to Lord Filkin in response to the damning findings of the Merits Committee. In it she said:
“the criteria by which the Panel would assess submissions were set out in the national policy statement”.
However, the Secretary of State must know that the best test of social impact was not included in the statement of national policy. In fact, the remit on which the panel based its decision changed significantly from the one outlined in the national policy statement—something that the House had the opportunity to debate—to the one outlined in the terms of reference issued much later by her and not subjected to parliamentary scrutiny. Despite placing the best test of social impact as the panel’s guiding principle, the Government never defined it. The panel was left to determine it for itself. It is not surprising that it admitted that seeking the best test of social impact was “a peculiar problem”. It certainly is. One of the UK’s leading experts on gambling, Peter Collins, has vehemently argued that the very idea of finding a best test of social impact is an impossible task, not least because there are numerous interpretations of such an ambiguous term.
What is more, the CAP concluded:
“After considering all the evidence”—
I hope that the hon. Member for Manchester, Central is listening—
“no single regional casino proposal emerged as the self evident favourite in presenting the best test of social impact. All had one or another point in its favour”.
No one bid stood out for the panel in terms of testing social impact, and yet the panel continued to use it as their guiding principle. It seems odd that it spent so much time pursuing the elusive and undefined social impact, rather than considering the Government’s other guiding principle of minimising the harmful effects of gambling, a principle that was supposed at least to be implicit in the panel’s terms of reference. So it was not surprising that the Merits Committee said:
“when the objectives were in tension, the Panel veered towards their terms of reference with their emphasis on the research testing of impacts rather than the minimisation of harm”.
What is more, the panel made its decision based upon testing the effects of the new regional casino assuming it to be a pilot, whereas it seems increasingly likely—if the Chancellor has his way—that there will only ever be one regional casino.
There are many other concerns—for example, the British Casino Association highlights the panel’s failure to consider the existing gambling landscape during its decision-making process. The association argues that
“the location and proximity of existing casinos will dilute the likely impact of the new casinos and render any social impact test more complex and less certain”.
Many people find it somewhat bizarre that the casino advisory panel recommended the location of proposed new casinos in areas where in many cases there is already a large number of casinos—for instance, Manchester already plays host to 10 casinos and there are 19 existing casinos near 10 of the proposed new small and large casinos.
I am not in favour of any of these things, but the hon. Gentleman touches on an important point about the number of existing casinos in Manchester. How much regeneration has there been around those casinos? How much has it contributed to the state of Manchester today?
I shall certainly give the matter some thought. Like the hon. Member for East Devon, I am well aware of the many reports that suggest that some of the regeneration benefits claimed may be somewhat bogus and may simply lead to a movement of staff from one institution to another in terms of the wider entertainment ecology of a location.
Given that the panel put so much emphasis on social impact, it is certainly odd that the location of existing casinos did not seem significantly to inform its reasoning. As the Merits Committee heard, there have been many other criticisms: inconsistency, a relentless shifting of the goal posts by the panel, chaos in the appeals process and constant changes to the all-important examination in public sessions, which changed from one candidate to the next, with varying amounts of preparation time for the sessions and presentation time within them. Sadly, the Merits Committee was unable to explore the last issue fully as the transcripts of those sessions have not yet been published. If the Secretary of State agrees to reconvene the Select Committee, I hope that it can have access to them.
Concerns have already been expressed about the regeneration aspects of the panel’s work. The panel said that the job creation proposals used to assess the regeneration potential of the bids were for the most part
“prepared at a time when there was a belief that there would be more than one regional casino”.
If that is the case, how could their estimates have been much help in assessing the bids for what will be a single super-casino? In relation to the choice of Manchester, what assurances do we have that the council will stick to east Manchester? That point was raised by the hon. Member for East Devon. After all, the Secretary of State’s letter, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, makes it clear that the council has the choice
“to issue the licence to any site within the authority area”.
Manchester is bound by the legislation; it was not Manchester’s choice. The leader and the chief executive of the city council made it absolutely clear that they could only reconsider the Eastlands site on the basis of a bid that demonstrably proved that it would do everything covered by the present bid but better, so that there would be more jobs, more regeneration and a better framework for social responsibility. The council is bound to accept bids elsewhere—it cannot do otherwise—but Eastlands is where Manchester wants the casino located.
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is not entirely correct. Although I accept the integrity of the chief executive and members of the council, and would never call it into question, I hope that he will accept that the letter was specific—Manchester could choose any location in the city. He also knows that under the requirements of the legislation there must be a competition for the new casino. During that competition, it would be perfectly possible for other areas to make claims about regeneration and the prevention of social harm, so he cannot say with such certainty that the casino is bound to be in an east Manchester location. The CAP made it clear when it said:
“It would not be easy to trace the city-wide social impact of the proposal…this would be less true, however, of East Manchester, where it would be relatively easy to adduce impacts.”
So, the casino advisory panel was clear that it meant east Manchester, but we have no assurances that that is where the super-casino will end up.
Like many Members of the House, I welcome the Joint Scrutiny Committee’s recommendation that favoured destination casinos. I had hoped that those views would have been taken into account by the panel in its remit and final decisions. During the passage of the Bill, I asked the Minister for Sport whether he would
“tell the Committee whether the concept of destination will inform the location of the regional casinos”.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 16 December 2004; c. 672.]
He replied: “The answer is yes.” Despite that answer, it did not. The leader of the panel told the Merits Committee that it was impossible for the panel to recommend a destination location, because the very notion of a destination, by definition, made it harder to test social impact. That shows yet again that one part of the remit usurped the other. Destination casinos had clearly been preferred by the Joint Committee and experts on problem gambling, but the panel had to rule them out. The dice were loaded before they were rolled.
Even the Secretary of State seems confused in what she had told the House today and in her letter. The panel tells us that it discounted certain bids because they were destination locations, but in her letter to Lord Filkin, the Secretary of State now claims that the chosen location of the regional casino is a destination. There is clearly something awry with the Secretary of State’s understanding of the meaning of a destination casino.
We need to be cautious. The gambling ecology has changed dramatically since the panel was proposed. It is apparent that there are problems with the panel’s remit, as laid down without parliamentary scrutiny in August 2005. Thanks not least to the Merits Committee, it is clear that there are problems with how the panel interpreted and carried out its remit. In short, there is confusion, chaos and contradiction. The Joint Scrutiny Committee should be reconvened to consider all these matters and to advise both Houses. If the Secretary of State cannot agree to that, we will vote against the order tonight.
We cannot underestimate the shock, anger and disappointment in Blackpool when the casino advisory panel made its announcement. That anger has not dissipated since the announcement was made—just the opposite. The people of Blackpool are determined to fight for their future, and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and I are determined to fight within this Chamber for their future. On Monday, we accompanied the editor of our evening paper, The Gazette, to bring down and present to No. 10 a petition signed by more than 11,500 people. That shows the strength of feeling.
That strength of feeling has existed for a long time. Blackpoolers have been involved in this debate for seven years. This was our future. This was the new 21st century Blackpool. The people of Blackpool are wonderfully innovative. We put the tower up in the 19th century and developed the pleasure beach and lots of other attractions in the 20th century. Let us remember that what we are talking about is a huge entertainment complex including a conference centre, hotels, restaurants, theatres—everything. This was the big idea for the 21st century and I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we are not giving up on it—and we are certainly not giving up easily. We are going to argue the case until the end of this debate and beyond, as she well knows.
I want to set the record straight about what we, as Blackpool MPs, have been asking for. My right hon. Friend said at the beginning of her address that it would have been wrong for her to present an order in which she had taken out “Manchester” and inserted “Blackpool”. We have never asked for that. We asked for two orders so that the eight large and eight small casinos could be considered separately from the other casino. I say to colleagues in the Chamber whose constituencies have been allocated a large or a small casino, I want them to get them. It is not my fault that we are voting for the whole lot—I am in the position that I am in. I want Great Yarmouth to get its large casino, which I am sure will be hugely successful for the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), and I do not want to vote down Manchester. I want the debate on the regional casino to be properly considered. I tabled my early-day motion, which was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South and Opposition Members representing neighbouring seats on the Fylde coast, because this affects not only Blackpool but all of us, given the regeneration potential of the super-casino. I have to say that it seems absurd to talk about a regional casino when there is to be only one. If the Secretary of State will forgive me, I will call it a super-casino, because that is what it is.
I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill that became the Gambling Act 2005. I can see no relationship between the casino advisory panel’s report and what we debated in Committee. I must acknowledge the excellent work of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport on that Committee. When we debated the new casinos, we expressed concern about the proliferation of gambling and the problems that that might bring. However, we also discussed the regeneration potential of casinos. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House backed the Bill only because of its regeneration potential for disadvantaged communities. I will put it even more strongly: they backed the Bill only because a debate had started on the regeneration of our seaside resorts, which, as we all know, have suffered over the past 20 years due to changing patterns of holidaymaking.
When we considered setting up the casino advisory panel during our consideration of the Bill, I supported it—I can say that quite honestly. However, I supported it in the context of the criteria we were considering: eight regional casinos, eight large casinos and eight small casinos. Things changed when the number of regional casinos went down to one. The panel should have been given further guidance on how to examine that new super-casino. It was not the panel’s fault that it had to examine a range of criteria as part of its task. How could it determine what was Parliament’s priority if the Government did not state what the priority was? When we debated the spread of casinos that would allow the impact of gambling to be properly assessed, we talked about having a spread of geographical locations for each of the categories. However, as soon as there was to be only one regional casino, we could not say, “We’ll have part of it in a city, part in a resort and part in the middle of the countryside.” Professor Crow had to try to make sense of the complex remit that he was given, so I cannot blame him for coming up with what he thought was the right answer. However, I can question whether, even within the rules that were set—by and large he set them for himself—he came up with the right answer.
My early-day motion, which was supported by many colleagues, highlighted the fact that we needed a proper investigation before we made a decision on the single regional casino. That did not happen. I congratulate the Merits Committee in the other place because, in a short time, it has highlighted serious deficiencies in the casino advisory panel’s report. If we in this House had had the opportunity to set up a Committee to consider the report, we could have highlighted other matters that could and should have been properly discussed. Nevertheless, I have to accept that that scrutiny was not performed, except by the Merits Committee, and we should address some of the points that it made.
I make no apologies for repeating some of the points that other hon. Members have made, because they are very important. How did the panel address the need to minimise harm? It said that
“maximising beneficial social impact…whilst minimising adverse social impact”
was implicit in its criteria, but it should have been explicit, because that was the concern of so many hon. Members. If it had been explicit, the panel would have looked much closer at destination casinos.
In various international analyses, destination casinos have been found to minimise social impact and maximise the benefits. When I go away on holiday, I take some money to spend, I spend it and I come home. If someone goes to Las Vegas to gamble, they will take spending money for that purpose. They will lose the money, but then they will come home and get on with their lives. All the evidence shows that the system would work best with a proper destination casino.
Sadly, Professor Crow, in his evidence to the Merits Committee, said that it was virtually impossible for a resort to be allocated the regional casino because of the criteria within which he was operating. He ruled it out without ever properly considering our case.
In this debate I have tried to avoid any direct competition between Manchester and Blackpool, and I have a lot of sympathy for Blackpool. But does my hon. Friend accept that Professor Crow wrote to the Merits Committee explaining that the panel was fully aware of destination casinos? He gave the example of Dortmund, which was in the middle of a forest and had zero regeneration benefits. One of his criteria was to achieve as much regeneration as possible from the casino, and that could not be done at the extreme end—such as with the casino in Dortmund.
My hon. Friend highlights how difficult it is for us, in the brief time available, to try to analyse in detail the casino advisory panel’s report. He and I should not be comparing the respective bids of our constituencies; that should have been done in the context of a Committee set up for that purpose, which could have taken evidence and questioned Professor Crow about his assertions. The report was full of assertions, with language such as “I believe that” or “We feel that”. On an issue as important as this, I want more than that. We need an assessment of evidence and as firm a conclusion as possible. We did not have that in the report.
I disagreed with Professor Crow’s conclusions, but he could have had better advice. The Merits Committee pointed out that he addressed the issue of profitability, which did not fall within his remit, although the Committee accepted that it was a matter of common sense for him to consider it. In Professor Crow’s assessment of Blackpool, he says that the
“regeneration benefits of the proposal before us are unproven”.
But that is true of all the bidders for the super-casino, because we have never seen one. No locality could prove its claims, but why did he say that about Blackpool? From my recollection, he did not say it of any of the others. He appears to have marked down Blackpool on all his subheadings, including methodology and location.
The most condescending and indeed hurtful remark in Professor Crow’s report, however, was about the economy of Blackpool. He said that he did not accept that our economy was declining, in spite of the overwhelming evidence given to him by the very large numbers of people who appeared in the public evidence session. He said that he believed that there would be
“stabilisation at a lower level”.
He went on to say that
“this may well include the management of contraction. If so, this situation should be resolutely faced by the authorities and local businesses alike without visions of external intervention to cure all ills.”
How dare he say that? What we were bidding for was absolutely the most appropriate external intervention in Blackpool. We have an economy that is built on leisure and tourism. Where else should there be a super-casino but by the seaside in Blackpool? Yet Professor Crow says that we should not look for external intervention, but that Manchester was already regenerated.
One of the odd things about this debate is that the vast majority of MPs have been to Manchester and to Blackpool, and they will have made their own assessments about regeneration in both places. What struck me about the criteria was that the Government set one set of criteria, but it seems that Professor Crow and his committee acted on a different set of criteria. Had Blackpool known about that separate set of criteria, perhaps the presentation would have been somewhat different or Professor Crow would indeed have started his research by saying “Blackpool needn’t apply.”
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly valid point. What depressed me about the report was that on what we saw as the strong points of Blackpool’s bid—it was a destination that people came to and then left—it was marked down. What nonsense. If we are trying to minimise problem gambling, we should celebrate that here we are pleading for a super-casino in a resort.
Time is passing, Madam Deputy Speaker. Professor Crow did not allow Members of Parliament to speak in the public evidence sessions, and this is the only opportunity that I have to speak on this issue. Although I thank the Secretary of State for extending the time, it is not long enough. We were denied the opportunity in Blackpool by Professor Crow’s decision, and we are now being denied the opportunity here because of the limited time.
I shall make two further points. For Blackpool, this issue is the single catalyst for regeneration. Manchester is a glorious, thriving city. I acknowledge everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd)—he is my friend—says about his constituency, but I visit Manchester and I see all the new developments there. The excellent report on coastal towns published by the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, which all of us should read, features evidence presented from the north-west. Councillor John Joyce, the then chair of the North West regional assembly, and Keith Barnes, regional director of the Government office for the north-west, gave evidence. Councillor Joyce said that
“we believe that now we have changed the North West Regional Assembly and gone into what I call a trinity with the Government North West and also the Regional Development Agency, we are now of the same mind to target those areas where we need to perform better.”
They went on to say in all the regional documents that Blackpool should have had the regional casino. Mr. Barnes, on behalf of the Government office for the north-west, said:
“If this hearing were in Manchester or Liverpool, you would be able to see outside the number of cranes and transformation of those cities.”
As somebody who lives in the north-west, I see that development and celebrate it. However, we have in front of us a combined order that I did not want to see; no scrutiny of the casino advisory panel; a disregard for regional planning guidelines; and no opportunity for us to separate out the order or say to the large and small casinos that we back them and want them to proceed, but want a more detailed examination of a unique opportunity, through the super-casino, to regenerate whatever area it is in.
That decision should have been taken with much more care and consideration, so with huge sadness I have to tell the Secretary of State that I cannot support the order in its current form. It is wrong to present it in that form, and I hope, even at this late stage, that she will withdraw it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), who made a powerful speech. She referred to the early-day motion that she tabled, which was in the Order Paper, and to the fact that a number of north-western Members on both sides of the House had signed it. I represent a coastal town, too, but I suspect that it is as far away from Blackpool as it is possible to be. However, I was happy to sign her early-day motion, because she presents a persuasive case.
I begin by expressing some sympathy for the Secretary of State. Those of us who were involved in the debates during the passage of the Gambling Act 2005 always suspected that she was never that enthusiastic about the legislation. Certainly, the passage of the Bill was dogged by disaster throughout. Almost weekly, the Minister for Sport had to make an announcement of Government policy to the Standing Committee that was almost in direct contradiction to what he had argued the previous week. Then in the Bill’s final stages in Parliament, the Secretary of State was forced to reduce the number of proposed regional casinos from eight to just one. That cannot have been easy for her, but I suspect that she must have sighed with relief when the Bill finally received Royal Assent. She could not have anticipated that not so long afterwards, she would be back in the House of Commons having to defend this order, and facing possible defeat.
I currently chair the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, but during the passage of the Bill I was the shadow spokesman, and it is in that capacity that I want to speak. I want to reflect on some of the arguments that I presented at the time, and to say why I believe that the position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) is entirely consistent with all the points that we made during the Bill’s passage.
There was much in the Bill that we always supported. We believed that there was a strong case for introducing a regime to regulate online gambling, and we supported the abolition of the 24-hour rule and the removal of the ban on advertising. The problem with the Bill was always regional casinos. They represented an entirely new form of gambling that had never before been seen in this country. They would introduce category A gaming machines, too; the proposal was, and is, that each of the regional casinos should have 1,250 of them. There was a real fear that that would lead to an increase in problem gambling. The Government’s problems on that score began when they ignored the recommendation in the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who chaired the Joint Scrutiny Committee.
Initially, the Government had proposed no real limit on the number of regional casinos, but my hon. Friend’s Committee came up with a sensible scheme, under which we would use an economic mechanism that would limit the number. The Government did not accept that recommendation, but instead, halfway through the passage of the Bill, they had to come up with a cap of eight casinos, which flew in the face of what they had previously argued. It was never entirely clear to us why the number should be eight. It was even less clear why, just a few weeks later, they came back with further caps of eight on the number of large casinos, and on the number of new small casinos. Certainly, in the case of regional casinos, we felt that the figure was too large and should be reduced. In the end, we argued that there should be just one, and the Secretary of State was forced to accept that position.
In arguing about where that one regional casino should be located, we were entirely happy to accept the Secretary of State’s decision that the decision should be given to an advisory panel. However, we have always made it clear that we share the Joint Scrutiny Committee’s view that the impact on problem gambling would be minimised if the location were a destination resort. We strongly supported the Committee’s recommendation that the regional casino should not be located in close proximity to residential properties. At the time, we said that that should be the overriding consideration, and while we certainly were not in a position to say that it necessarily should go to Blackpool, we recognise the strength of the case that Blackpool made.
The Secretary of State said that no one objected to the panel’s terms of reference, which is correct. However, they were extremely brief:
“The criteria against which the panel will assess these submissions were set out in the government’s national policy statement on casinos…The primary consideration will be to ensure that locations provide the best possible test of social impact.”
As previous speakers have said, it was extremely unclear precisely what that meant, and the panel clearly had great difficulty interpreting what was meant by social impact. It was clear to us, however, that the national policy statement, which was issued when it was proposed that there should be eight regional casinos, rather than one, nevertheless set out at the very outset that the Government’s first objective was to protect children and other vulnerable people from harm. It was not unreasonable to believe that that would be one of the guiding principles of the advisory panel’s work.
We were therefore astonished—at least, I was certainly astonished—when the Secretary of State announced a few weeks ago that the panel had decided that the regional casino should be located in Manchester, as that plainly was an area in close proximity to residential properties. As I said at the time, I was even more astonished to find that the panel’s report stated that
“problem gambling is more a town planning consideration rather than one for us”.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) has sought to argue that Professor Crow has since said that he did accord importance to social impact and problem gambling when making his decision. However, the panel plainly states that it did not consider that that was a matter for it. Its interpretation of the test of social impact appears to have been to look at the various applications and decide which one was most likely to lead to an increase in problem gambling, and choose it, because it would offer the best test, which is an entirely perverse interpretation of the way in which most people thought that it would undertake its task.
When the Secretary of State wrote to Lord Filkin after the publication of the advisory panel’s report, she stated that minimising harm from gambling was not “the primary consideration” that she set for the panel. That leads us to believe that the panel conducted its own inquiry in the light of its terms of reference, but that the Government set it terms of reference that excluded from consideration what we always believed to be the most important issue. On that basis, the panel’s report is flawed, as the Government misled the panel about the issues and criteria that it should have used to make a judgment by excluding what we in the House had always considered to be the most important issue when determining the future location of any regional casino.
It is on that basis that I continue to believe that the recommendation is flawed. My hon. Friend the Member for East Devon has argued that we do not have a problem with the recommendation for the locations of the eight large casinos, or, indeed, for the eight small casinos. Certainly, it would have been preferable had the Secretary of State separated the two issues and put before the House two orders, so that the 16 locations that are likely to benefit from large or small casinos could proceed without being delayed while the matter was re-examined.
The location of a regional casino is extremely important. There is a real risk that if we get it wrong, that will lead to a significant increase in problem gambling, which is what we have always sought to avoid throughout the consideration of the legislation. If that risks exists, it is worth pausing, as my hon. Friend said, and referring the matter back to a Committee which can take account of the concern about problem gambling, rather than to the advisory panel, which seems to have excluded that issue from its consideration.
For that reason, I hope the House will vote not against Manchester, as some have suggested, but in line with the recommendation in the House of Lords that the matter should be referred back to a Scrutiny Committee. Whereas in the House of Lords it appears that the Government’s belated acceptance of Baroness Golding’s amendment will change nothing, the proposal should be considered by a Scrutiny Committee, and the order should be laid and permission given only after that Committee has had a chance to report.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this important debate. Like every other speaker so far, I shall focus on the most controversial aspect of the order—the choice of Manchester before Blackpool in the Crow report. I was one of the serving members of the pre-legislative Joint Scrutiny Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I found that a very positive experience. We should look to more pre-legislative Committees to pave a smooth way for Bills through the House. The Government should take heed of that.
The pre-legislative Scrutiny Committee went on a couple of site visits. One of the most interesting visits that we undertook was to Blackpool, and another was to Great Yarmouth, of course. In Blackpool we could see the commitment of the council and the people to a super-casino. As a member of the Education and Skills Committee, I was impressed by the range of vocational courses being provided by Blackpool further education college ahead of the possibility that the super-casino might be located in Blackpool. There were not only good catering courses, but courses to train croupiers and so on. That was extremely positive and I hope that that facility will be used anyway, no matter what the final location of the super-casino.
As well as examining the evidence, the Joint Scrutiny Committee considered the term “destination casino”. Then we moved to “resort casino”. I was quite happy with those definitions, but when we got to the definition of a “regional casino”, I was less happy. I prefer the term “super-casino”, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) suggested, to the title “regional casino”. Many, if not all, Members of the Joint Committee supported the principle of a super-casino on the basis that it was a way of regenerating a town on the periphery of a region that had few alternative strategic options available to it from a regional perspective. In that regard, Blackpool would have been an ideal choice. Many, if not all, members of the Scrutiny Committee would agree.
Such a location would have the added bonus of potentially reducing significantly the possible social impact of problem gambling, because most people would have to travel some distance to visit the casino, rather than having it on their doorstep. The spin-off, in regeneration terms, would be the overnight stays that would result, providing a big multiplier effect in regeneration terms.
As a former leader of Barnsley council before I entered the House, I take a keen interest in regeneration. Barnsley and Doncaster—the other town that I serve—are examples of the city regions model that is being developed in all the regions, with the aim of successful regeneration. Barnsley, for example, is on the periphery of the Sheffield city region and the Leeds city region. It is always more difficult for towns in such peripheral locations—the Barnsleys and Blackpools of this world—to be regenerated as successfully as big city centres such as Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester.
In settling on Manchester, the Crow report placed too much emphasis on the need to be able to test the social impact of a super-casino, and not enough emphasis on regeneration factors and the multiplier effect that comes from choosing a location such as Blackpool. Paragraph 116 acknowledges that factor in relation to the Blackpool bid:
“The fact that most customers would come from outside Blackpool and have to travel would be a deterrent to ambient problem gambling. The proposed central location for the regional casino appears to us to be a good one for it, and conducive to local regeneration”.
The super-casino represents a possible flagship regeneration project for a region. I would have thought that two of the major players in terms of regenerating a region would be its regional assembly and its development agency. Indeed, the report considers the opinions of those two main drivers of regeneration. Paragraph 110 says:
“The North West Regional Assembly supports the development of regional casinos in Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool, with their preferred location for the single regional pilot being Blackpool.”
Paragraph 111 states:
“The North West Regional Development Agency ‘strongly supports’ the Blackpool proposal on the basis that it ‘would help to restructure a much less diversified and weaker economy than its nearest rival in consideration, Manchester’.”
The Secretary of State said that we have to accept these recommendations en bloc. As a member of the Education and Skills Committee, I remember a guy called Sir Michael Tomlinson producing an excellent report on the future structures of the education system. The Government did not accept all the recommendations of that independent report, but cherry-picked. I would say to Ministers that we must be consistent as regards recommendations from the independent panels that we set up and ask for reports. We must accept their recommendations en bloc or cherry-pick—one or the other. We are not doing that at the moment.
For my part, I am going to be consistent. I have major problems with the way in which the order has been handled, and therefore with supporting it as it goes through the House.
I want to keep my comments brief. Over the past few years, I have found myself coming down firmly against any further extension of gambling in this country. I set up an organisation called the Centre for Social Justice and I am now engaged with the social justice policy group, which has been taking evidence on this issue. We have commissioned an inquiry into gambling, which will report in May, but some of the early findings make very worrying reading, suggesting that problem gambling is to get worse and will be worsened by the current process.
I have great sympathy for those who have put in a bid, but speaking as a London MP, I can honestly say on record that I am extremely happy that London did not get any regional casino. Watching various Members legitimately trading comments about which was the better city, one could begin to see how divisive the process has become.
One of the biggest and most worrying issues raised by our sub-group is the connection between debt and family break-up. I did not used to be so aware of it, but I am now, as the report shows that debt is the single biggest cause of family break-up. Family break-up in the United Kingdom is at record levels and when compared with every other country. We know that many of the problems in inner-city areas result from dysfunctional and broken homes and that one of the main drivers of debt is gambling, particularly among the lower socio-economic groups. I shall come back to that in a minute.
Putting aside my objections to the increase in gambling that this order will continue, I would have to say with respect to Members representing Manchester that if we had to locate a super-casino anywhere I cannot think of a worse place than Manchester. There are already a number of casinos—10, I believe—and I am not aware that they have contributed massively to regeneration in that city. Let me go through some of the relevant figures.
We know that Manchester has the highest number of robberies and the second highest level of vehicle crime among the four towns in the top 10 in that region. The same four make up one of the highest-crime cities. We know that 50 per cent. of the population are economically inactive and totally dependent on the state; that life expectancy for men is seven years less than the national average and four years less for women; that unemployment in the area where the casino is to be sited is 5.6 per cent. of the working age group compared with 2.8 per cent. in the country as a whole; and that 13.3 per cent. of the population of working age are on incapacity benefit compared to 4.5 per cent. in England and Wales as a whole.
I make those points because our findings have shown an intriguing and worrying feature: problem gambling and socio-economic disadvantage are hugely linked. The figures boil down to the following characteristics of a typical profile of a problem gambler: someone who is male; who has a parent who is or has been a problem gambler; who is separated, divorced or a product of a broken home; who is likely to be unemployed, in poor health and poor housing; and who has low educational qualifications. The order’s objective is to place a super-casino right smack bang into an area inhabited by people with all those serious problems.
I simply cannot understand what this so-called independent committee was doing when it looked into the matter. It clearly failed to take into consideration any of those points. If we had spent a little longer and asked the many people who are now really worried about the increase in problem gambling in Britain, we might just have begun to realise the difficulties that are going to erupt as a result of the process.
We also know from the report that we are working on that there is a close correlation between problem gambling and other addictive activities such as drug and serious alcohol abuse. I remind the House that, right now, the UK is in the grip of an alcohol epidemic. We have a very high number of alcohol abusers and it is rising. We know that the connection between children who imbibe serious levels of alcohol—last year about 5 per cent. of children under 13 admitted to binge drinking once a month—and drug addiction is almost certain. We know that gambling, alcohol abuse and drug abuse are closely correlated.
I am particularly concerned about the sort of organisations that get involved in this level of gambling, and I must say to colleagues on both sides of the House that I cannot conceive of why we would want to get too close to many of them. The reality is, as we have seen from the behaviour of members of the Government, how insidiously corrupting so many of the people involved in this process ultimately become to those who are legitimately trying to seek some form of regeneration. We have seen that in relation to the proposals for the dome, and I guess that we shall see more of it as time goes on.
The connection between problem gambling and other addictions is deeply worrying. More worrying in regard to the report that we have produced is the way in which the most vulnerable, including the very young, are affected. The recent BMA report suggested that age is now a determining factor in this addiction. The group most likely to experience problems with casino-based gambling consists of single unemployed males under the age of 30. Adolescent gambling in the UK is also a grave issue for concern. We have not begun to tackle the problems surrounding internet gambling, even as we begin to expand the whole idea of gaming through these centres. The BMA report mentions a number of studies that identify a figure of between 5 and 6 per cent. of pathological gamblers among adolescent fruit machine gamblers, and states that that figure is three times higher than that identified elsewhere in the adult population.
I am now more opposed to this headlong rush into expanding gambling than ever before; I am very worried about it. Many decent, reasonable colleagues in the House are grasping at the idea of regeneration and at the huge promises that have been made, yet there is absolutely no evidence that these casinos will add anything constructive to the lives that people should and could be living, particularly in areas such as Manchester, which have serious levels of deprivation. Such a casino would be a disaster for that area. I wonder what has happened to us if we are genuinely considering regenerating and rebuilding our cities by placing this kind of nonsense in their midst to attract people into the most destructive behaviour in the most destructive areas. I shall vote against the order tonight because I now genuinely believe that this expansion is wrong in any cause.
I want to return to the order before us today. This is not just about Manchester and Blackpool; it is also about the other 16 casinos—eight large and eight small. Great Yarmouth is to have one of the large ones, and I will certainly support the order.
Like many of my colleagues, I was a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, and I endorse the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) that it was a good experience of looking at legislation. I want to put on record that my concerns related to the fact that the Committee was looking at resort casinos. The view was held universally across the Committee that we expected that to be the case. Contrary to the opinions expressed by Opposition Members, it was the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee that came forward with the proposal for the eight regional casinos, determined on a regional basis, that was put to the Government.
I want to talk about the positive aspects of the order, and about the opportunities that I envisage for constituencies such as Great Yarmouth. Regeneration is already taking place there on the basis that we have received the go-ahead for the casino and for a new harbour scheme. Other people are now investing in the town, and we can already see a great renaissance there, compared with 10 years ago. Huge amounts of regeneration money from the Government is supporting the private sector money that is coming into the town. We see the casino as an opportunity in that regard, but the bids that are coming in illustrate that this is not just about the casino; it is about the other facilities that will be added to those attractions.
On the Blackpool and Manchester issue, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden). I understand their concerns and reservations about the order. I, too, would feel pretty aggrieved and I would certainly have wished the casino to have been in Blackpool. What I get annoyed about, however, is the political opportunism of the Opposition—certainly the official Opposition. They see an opportunity to give the Government a bloody nose. What they will actually do, however, is delay at best, and scupper at worst, the chances of others towns such as Great Yarmouth.
It is great that the Opposition have had yet another change of heart. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) has indicated his opposition to gambling as a whole. I would therefore question the Conservative party’s acceptance in 2001 of £5 million from Stuart Wheeler of IG Index. Given the Conservatives’ new view, perhaps they will donate that £5 million to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, run and chaired by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). Once again, double standards are being seen in the Chamber. I would like to think that Members would support the order, and accept the proposals considered by the other place to set up an independent committee to consider such matters in future.
I reiterate that if the order is voted down, there is no surety that it will come back to the House. If we consider the previous initial evaluation, and the points awarded, we see that Great Yarmouth was awarded 54 points, Manchester 57 points and Blackpool 65 points. In the final evaluation, however, Great Yarmouth was pushed to the side to top the large casino ratings, while Blackpool was overtaken by Manchester. A number of other towns and cities up and down the country also had a different initial evaluation. Canterbury, for instance, initially received 51 points in the large and small casino ratings, but got nothing in the second evaluation. What would stop those towns and cities challenging the premise that towns such as Great Yarmouth were above them in the ratings? That question suggests to me that rejecting the order at this stage would set a dangerous precedent.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood that I support the view that Blackpool would have been the best choice. Perhaps I say that because I also represent a seaside resort, but the evidence taken by the Joint Committee of which I was a member also supported that view. Although she will understand the reasons why I cannot vote with her tonight, I am sure that Blackpool will come back from this and still be one of the top holiday destinations in the UK.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), who was a distinguished member of the Joint Committee. As Great Yarmouth has been allocated a large casino, I can understand that he wants to see that development go ahead. I remember the visit to his constituency.
I must confess, however, that I am disappointed and somewhat dismayed at the direction that policy on casinos has taken. It was my wish that the publication of two unanimous reports by the Joint Committee, on both the Bill and casinos, would enable both Houses to proceed with the implementation of the Gambling Act 2005 by consensus. If we are to have a policy that will last for 40 years, as the previous one has done, genuine cross-party agreement is critical.
It is also important to understand that today’s vote is not a rerun of the vote for or against the Act, but simply a vote on the order, and on whether we yet have sufficient information on which to make a judgment about the panel’s selection. Some of us have been dealing with this matter for more than five years. The Minister for Sport and I probably agree about the need for closure: this issue has gone on long enough, and it is time for us to draw a line under it. I have spent most of the past five or six weeks suggesting that that is what we should do.
However, I must make some criticism of my party. It was a huge mistake to insist on having just one pilot regional casino. I do not see how a research project, as recommended by the panel, can have only one pilot. The tensions that exist now stem from that judgment. There was an opportunity to have more than one regional casino, but the House seems to lack the necessary courage.
I hear what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) says, and there are clear objections to expanding gambling in any way. However, resort-type destination casinos have been developed in other jurisdictions, and it is clear that we have missed a golden opportunity to regenerate places such as Blackpool, Cardiff and Glasgow, all of which were big bidders for the one available licence.
I accept that problem gambling is an issue, and I shall say a little more about it later in my speech. The Minister and I get on extremely well, having worked together on many matters involving gambling and sport, but alarm bells rang loudly in my mind when I read the Merits Committee report. There is an obvious tension between ensuring that the statutory objective to protect children and the vulnerable was paramount in the panel’s recommendations, and the panel members’ apparent belief that they had to recommend a location that would provide a strong test of social impact. They interpreted that to mean that they could measure the problem gambling that resulted from establishing the casino. That complete contradiction flies in the face of what we have tried to do in promoting the Gambling Act 2005.
That was of real concern to the Joint Scrutiny Committee, which recommended that the super-casino should be a resort destination casino drawing its clientele from an extremely wide area and providing a national—or, indeed, international—attraction. As a result, in our casino report published in July 2004, we recommended that the generic term of reference “regional casino” should be dropped and that the casinos should be called “destination resort casinos”.
At the time, that suggestion was dismissed perfunctorily by an official of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I am not even sure the extent to which Ministers considered it but, given that the Crow panel has said that a destination casino could not provide a social impact test, it seems to me that by calling them “destination resort casinos” from the start we could have avoided the problem that we have now.
I make no judgment about the competing claims of all the possible locations for the regional casino. I am not looking for more work, but I am pleased and relieved that the Secretary of State has said that she is willing to reconvene a Committee. I may not be invited to be a member, but there needs to be a bit more clarity about what the Committee would be asked to do. What are the terms of reference? How will they be determined? Tony Banks, who died, and Richard Page, who retired, were members of the previous Committee. I am sure that we could fill those vacancies—the enthusiasm that the debate has revealed for the topic suggests that there would be several volunteers. However, if we reconsider the matter, I cannot believe that we would expect to settle the issue by simply having one regional casino.
If the order is approved as it stands, we should realise that we would approve a location in Manchester, where, according to the panel’s admission, there is a risk—some would say a serious risk—of problem gambling. My concern is that that is the opposite of the statutory objective to protect children and the vulnerable.
The tax rate of 50 per cent. that the Chancellor announced last week calls the regeneration opportunity into question. The Joint Committee constantly asked what the tax rate was likely to be. It is critical in the equation for whether such projects make sense. The tax rate is bound to have an impact on what can be done in some of the small and large casino locations.
A couple of colleagues referred to the fact that I chair the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. One of the issues that weighs heavily on colleagues’ minds when considering whether to support the order is the potential for increased problem gambling. The trust has made huge strides in the past year since I became chairman in commissioning education, public awareness, research and treatment projects relating to gambling addiction. Time does not allow me to say much more about it, but I promise hon. Members that they need have no concern about the provision of help through counselling services, public information and education for the people who patronise the new casinos. We have achieved £3 million funding in the current year and we have been promised £4 million and £5 million from the industry for the next two years as a result of a seminar that the Minister kindly addressed. I am optimistic about the future, although I am sure that the tax rates that the Chancellor announced will create some difficulty in our funding.
With a heavy heart, I believe that we need to examine the panel’s comments more closely before we can conclude the matter. I hope that the reconvened Committee, which the Secretary of State announced, will enable us to do that and devise the right recommendation. If there is to be only one regional casino for the whole of the time that most of us are in Parliament—that is a considerable time for most hon. Members present; I have been here for 20 years and will probably not stand next time—we must make the right decision. What is wrong with taking a little longer to ensure that we get it right?
If any colleagues put any constituents whom they know to have gambling problems in touch with the trust, we will do our best to help them.
When I was a child in the 1960s, my parents used to take me to Blackpool, where trains arrived at the old central station every three or four minutes and when Blackpool could still attract the cream of stage, screen, TV and radio at the north pier shows and throughout the constituency. That was the golden age—if there was ever one—of the British seaside. However, like so many other seaside towns, Blackpool—perhaps more than others because we were always the biggest and, we argued, the best—suffered from slow decline and the gradual change in the structure of holidays.
Dean Acheson once said of Britain after Suez that it had lost an empire and not yet found a role. Much of that truth is embodied in the predicament of British seaside towns today. The report that the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, which my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) chairs, recently produced on coastal and seaside towns provides eloquent testimony to that. It also eloquently outlines some of the resolutions that I and other hon. Members who represent seaside towns, including my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), who spoke so valiantly earlier, urged on the Government.
That is why, for the past six or seven years, Blackpool has put all its feelings and every sinew behind the proposal for a resort casino. We did that not because we believed the insulting words of Professor Crow that it was a hand-out or a cure-all that would be dropped into our laps, but because we saw it as a catalyst. The mayor of Blackpool wrote only this week
“Blackpool’s proposals for its regional Casino would bring an estimated 2500-3400 jobs and £200-450m of capital investment associated conference/exhibition; leisure…and hotel uses in a small economy.”
With all due respect to my hon. Friends from Manchester, I have to repeat what the mayor went on to say:
“Manchester’s bid anticipates only 2,700 jobs…in a much larger economy with many alternative drivers for regeneration.”
That is the key. The regeneration and job-creation boost in Blackpool would be proportionately much greater than in Manchester. That was one of the factors about which the House of Lords Merits Committee specifically talked about. There we have it. That was our pitch. Of course, any panel was bound to disappoint someone. Of course, as Blackpool MPs, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood and I spoke up for our constituencies. How could we not have spoken up for the people of Blackpool who have given such tremendous support to the bid over the past six to seven years?
There were 11,500 signatures on the petition. Those were from people not just in Blackpool, but across the north-west. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Graham Stringer) is entering the Chamber. May I say that 400 people from Manchester signed it? The reason was that they saw the Blackpool bid as a bid for the whole of the north-west. Obviously, we were going to be disappointed whatever happened. However, what has fuelled the anger, the sheer determination and the dogged persistence since 30 January in this House, in Blackpool and in the north-west, has been the lack of coherence and accountability that went with the process and with Professor Crow's report. From the moment it was announced, there was criticism that the various elements of it did not add up. Crow failed to make himself available to a press conference. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood has already referred to his sneering remarks about managed decline. I sometimes wonder whether there may not be an afterlife for Professor Crow as a motivational speaker somewhere. I do not think that Churchill in 1940 or Mrs. Thatcher in the Falklands in 1982 would have thanked him for his observations.
We hoped that we could turn to the Department for a review, but we could not. Why not? Because there had been no detailed scrutiny of the measure. The Secretary of State brought the measure and the panel's recommendations to the House six and a half hours after that report was received and said that she was minded to accept it. In a subsequent meeting, Members of both Houses, including members of the Joint Scrutiny Committee, who did such an excellent and eloquent job, asked her to review the situation before laying the order. She did not. It was left to the Merits Committee to drag a reluctant Professor Crow to the House of Lords, where the Committee echoed all the misgivings that had been put to it already.
In a letter to their colleagues about the matter, Baroness Golding and Lord Lipsey said that it was a case of “sentence first, verdict afterwards”. Indeed, the Merits Committee brought out strongly how that had happened. It said about Professor Crow and the regional casino that a number of respondents said that
“to minimise the opportunity for ‘casual’ problem gambling the regional casino should not be located in close proximity to residential properties.”
That was supported by Professor Collins’ memorandum, which stated:
“an increase in problem gambling is likely to be inhibited…if casinos are located where they are unlikely to encourage people to gamble on impulse.”
The Merits Committee pointed out the lack of experience of members of the panel in the effects of social impact and regeneration. It said that in essence the panel was selecting candidates for research projects, and then said:
“The House may wish to assess whether the…needs of the…process may have over-dominated the Panel’s recommendations to the exclusion of more common sense issues of where there would be least harm or where the regenerative power of a regional casino might matter most.”
Finally, it said:
“The Panel’s interpretation of their sift criteria did not give high priority to the prevention of harmful effects to the community from gambling.”
In effect, the Merits Committee shredded Professor Crow’s report, but with an elegant turn of phrase, as is the case in the House of Lords. It said at the end that it drew the order to special attention of the House on the ground that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House and
“may imperfectly achieve its policy objectives.”
When I read that I was reminded of the famous remarks of Emperor Hirohito when he had to go on radio at the end of the second world war to announce the defeat of Japan and said that the turn of events had not necessarily turned out to Japan’s advantage. That was the basis on which the House of Lords talked about Professor Crow’s report.
We hoped that there would be scrutiny in the form of discussion between the Department and the panel during this period, but in all the written questions that I have put to the Department on the issue I have seen no evidence of that. Indeed, the written responses glorify in the fact that there was very little communication between the Department and Professor Crow’s panel, either before or after. Yesterday, in reply to a question asking how the panel reached its definition of social impact and what discussion there had been, I was told that there had been no discussion between the Department and the chairman of the CAP since the publication of the panel’s report on 30 January. Does that mean that the DCMS was entirely satisfied with the process that the House of Lords Committee had said was narrow and flawed, or does it mean that it was so entirely hands-off that it abdicated all responsibility for the process?
Professor Crow’s report rejected all the advice of regional planners, all the implications, all the matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood referred to from the regional assembly and the regional development agency. This was at a time when the regional spatial strategy had been a key part of the DCMS’s original strategy. It was one of the matters that dictated the timetable for this.
This is not just a Blackpool matter; it is a north-west matter. We in the north-west have all worked together on this. It is not an anti-Manchester matter at all. I rejoiced when Manchester got the Commonwealth games and did such a fantastic job with them. My hon. Friend and I, as secretaries of a departmental Committee, wrote a strong letter to the chief executive of the BBC urging that it should move to Manchester and Salford, so let it not be said that this is an anti-Manchester thing. We did not see this as a parochial decision. But if, on the basis of this precedent, independent planners are allowed to drive a coach and horses through the planning recommendations in regions, what does that do for the process of regeneration and for regional strategies?
All along, I believe that those of us who have been concerned about the order have tried to put forward alternatives. I have no desire to block large and small casinos and they would have to be reconsidered, as has already been said, in any order that came back. We suggested splitting the order. None of this has been properly taken on board. I have better reason than most in the House to know that the Secretary of State has worked hard over a long time to try to accommodate all the various elements of the twists and turns of the process. However, I say to her very gently this evening, as was said in the House about a Minister on another occasion in 1940, that she must not allow herself to be turned into an air raid shelter to shield the bad advice and incoherence of officials, advisers and unelected planners.
That brings us to the heart of things. The reason why the debate has taken off is not just the fair play issues and affection for Blackpool, but that the matter goes to the heart of Government and parliamentary process, and is a key question for us as Members and Ministers. We have always had advisory panels—good and bad—and the Government do not have to accept their recommendations, as we saw only last week with the recommendations in the Lyons report on the bed tax. The debate has generated such concern because it taps into a vein of feeling across the House—that we are in danger of acting as technocrats and not as politicians or representatives. It gives me no pleasure this evening to point that out to the Secretary of State and to Ministers—nevertheless, it has to be said. I and many of my colleagues who have grave doubts about the process do not believe that the order or the recommendations of Professor Crow represent either our party policy or Government policy on the issue.
A few days after the decision was made Steve Richards wrote about its implications in The Independent. He did not talk about the rights and wrongs of the Blackpool case, but about the process. He said:
“My concern is with the way decisions are made and who is held to account. Here was a classic example of an increasingly common phenomenon in which politicians are accountable despite having given their powers away to an anonymous panel.”
That is deeply and grossly unfair to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is her Department and her Ministers who have been receiving the anger of my constituents—not Professor Crow, who has gone back to the anonymity from which some of us thought he originally came. In those circumstances, it is right for me to say that I am genuinely grateful to my right hon. Friend for everything she has tried to do to accommodate the concerns of Blackpool and of people who are anxious about the process.
I welcome the fact that there will be some form of scrutiny process, which was one of our central demands. However, as we have heard, that is something for tomorrow. I am talking about something for today—something that reflects on what has brought us to today. Ministers are not in this place simply to be messengers or rubber stamps, nor are we. I am grateful to the Secretary of State and to our Chief Whip for giving us time to debate the order properly, albeit not as lengthily as we wanted, but I am in no doubt about where my duty to my Blackpool constituents lies—it is to continue to stress my strong concern about the way in which the order was tabled.
Parliament will decide. The Secretary of State has said that. Let us take her at her word and send back the order, and in doing so exert the power and reputation of the House to do the job for which we were sent here.