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deferred divisions

Volume 458: debated on Wednesday 28 March 2007

I now have to announce the result of the deferred Divisions.

On the motion on immigration, the Ayes were 342, the Noes were 49, so the motion was agreed to.

On the motion on immigration and nationality, the Ayes were 366, the Noes were 54, so the motion was agreed to.

[The Division Lists will be published at the end of today’s debates.]

This has been at times a passionate debate, with heartfelt contributions from both sides of the House. I am sure that over the past few weeks many hon. Members—like me—will have been bombarded by letters, reports and e-mails from Manchester, Blackpool and a whole host of organisations that are lobbying for and against different locations. However, the debate tonight is not about one location or the other; it is about getting the right decision. It is about Parliament getting the right decision and having the opportunity for full and proper scrutiny of the casino advisory panel’s recommendations.

There is one sentence in the Lords Committee report that resonates not only around the House, but among the many organisations that have concerns about gambling. The report states:

“Adding maximisation of profit into the consideration…seemed to have a greater weight on the Panel’s recommendations than minimisation of harm.”

The Government cannot feel comfortable reading those words when reducing harm and protecting the vulnerable were a crucial element of the Gambling Act 2005 and central to their aims.

We heard a number of contributions. In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) raised the interpretation of the casino advisory panel remit, the concerns of the Church, the uncertainty of the outcome of the regional casino in terms of regeneration and social impact, the casino advisory panel methodology and the changing and shifting of the criteria as the process went on.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) raised issues about the Secretary of State’s last minute offers to her Back Benchers. Those offers do nothing to address the issues relating to the scrutiny of the order. He also spelled out the fact that, despite the Government’s intentions to try to do something about the huge concerns over remote and internet gambling—I have heard Ministers address this matter before—clearly we still have no progress on that. Indeed, it is going to be difficult for any Government to do anything about remote or internet gambling.

We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who has spent a considerable amount of time on the issue. He pointed out that the Government’s problems began some years ago. There is a sense that, because the issue has gone on for years, the Government simply want the decision over and done with, thus denying Parliament the opportunity for proper scrutiny.

The hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) spoke highly of the pre-legislative scrutiny process but said, with some sorrow, that he could not support his Government tonight. He was joined by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who added their considerable insight to the debate. My hon. Friend pointed out the important difference between a destination casino and a casino that relies on ambient gambling, and the important difference in the impact that they have on local people and on the harm that gambling can do. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) pointed out early on that the Secretary of State had a choice tonight: she could have split the order.

The hon. Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) delivered particularly passionate speeches, endorsing the message that we have heard from both sides of the House, which is “stop and look again”. The comments made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood were particularly fair and measured, bearing in mind her interest in a casino for Blackpool. She asked only for proper scrutiny, as she went to some lengths to explain. I am not quite sure what the Government Whips were promising her during the debate, but good for her for sticking to her guns, not just for her local constituents, but for Parliament. In contrast, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) persisted in telling us about Manchester’s needs. The debate this afternoon is not about the needs of the people of Manchester; it is about—I say it again—proper parliamentary scrutiny.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) rightly pointed out that there is some uncertainty—[Interruption.]

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but the sedentary comments that are being made across the House are not helpful.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green pointed out that there is no certainty about the regenerative benefits. Indeed, that is why we are having a pilot—if we knew the answer, we would not have the pilot. My right hon. Friend has done a considerable amount of work on the impact of gambling on debt and family breakdown. It would be wise for hon. Members on both sides of the House to take note of the fact that there is a paucity of evidence about the regenerative benefits of casinos.

A charge has been made that we are taking opportunistic action tonight. Many Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members might well be voting against an order that would give them a casino in their constituencies, but surely that is not opportunistic at all.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is easy for Ministers to point the finger and say that we are being politically opportunistic. That does not hold any water, given what their Back Benchers are saying. Ministers should listen to what their Back Benchers are saying; they are simply asking for proper parliamentary scrutiny.

To dispel once and for all the charge of opportunism, will the hon. Lady tell the House why the shadow Chancellor recommended Manchester as being the right bid, yet the shadow Cabinet changed its mind?

I am not aware of the shadow Chancellor recommending anything. None of us is recommending anything. We are simply asking the Government to stop. What on earth is the rush? The Government have spent so long considering this issue that I fail to understand why they need to rush ahead now. If they were intent on listening to Parliament, they would listen to what they have heard tonight and in the previous few weeks: Parliament wants more time. There is no reason at all why they should not give Parliament more time. The Secretary of State and her Ministers could then be satisfied that Parliament had scrutinised the matter and that the decision was robust. Hon. Members, not least Labour Back Benchers, would then be a great deal happier.

I urge right hon. and hon. Members, especially those who signed the early-day motion calling for more scrutiny, to vote against the order. Nothing that has been said in the debate has given any Member who signed the early-day motion a reason to change their mind.

I reiterate that this is not about Blackpool or Manchester. It is not about the Secretary of State, or about voting with or against the Government. This is about Parliament. It is through us that Parliament can make the right decision that is based on proper scrutiny. We are in uncharted territory in which we face massive changes to gambling legislation, as the Government would admit. We will not and cannot support the order. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially Labour Members, to join us in doing what is, without doubt, the right thing and give us proper parliamentary scrutiny.

I thank my hon. Friends and Opposition Members for their contributions. Many of my hon. Friends at least addressed the order that we are considering. My hon. Friends the Members for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) and for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), who served on the Joint Scrutiny Committee, made valid contributions, as did the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who ably chaired that Committee. Indeed, he guided much of our debate in the Standing Committee. Opposition Members’ speeches sounded more like those delivered on Second Reading of the Gambling Bill—tomorrow’s Hansard will certainly show that to be true of the speech by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).

I should point out to the hon. Member for North Devon—[Hon. Members: “East Devon.”] I am sorry, I did not mean to inflict anyone on North Devon. I should remind the hon. Member for East Devon that the Gambling Bill reached the statute book in April 2005—[Interruption.] Well, I did not know from his contribution whether the hon. Gentleman understood that the Bill had reached the statute book in 2005. It will become fully operational on 1 September this year, which is why the Executive will have the powers to intervene in internet gambling, which we did not have—[Interruption.] No, that is not the subject of the debate, but at the heart of the Gambling Act was the need to protect the vulnerable—[Interruption.] I am answering the claims made by the hon. Gentleman. The aims were to keep gambling crime free and allow fair betting. For the first time, those aims were on the face of a Bill on gambling.

Why did we set up the casino advisory panel? Some Members have very short memories. I remember Opposition Members accusing the Deputy Prime Minister of fixing the decision and claiming that the dome would be the super-casino. I remember the hon. Member for East Devon saying in the House that the Deputy Prime Minister, following his visit to the United States, was fixing the decision. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) was accused of fixing, as was I, and my hon. Friend and I never met the panel so that we could never be accused of influencing it. The panel was given clear terms of reference.

When members of the public are called on to serve in public office, to attack their integrity is—

I think it is outrageous to attack their integrity. Professor Crow’s integrity has been attacked this afternoon, and I think that is disgraceful. The panel took evidence around the country for 16 months, in every area in which there was to be a casino, whereas the Committee in the other place took 16 hours. The arguments against the order have been predicated on a report of a Committee that interviewed two witnesses for 16 hours. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the 150 pages of written evidence to the Committee, because he would find that different views were expressed.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier that this had been a transparent and open process delivered by a panel of professionals. When she made a statement to the House some eight weeks ago on the issue, the hon. Member for East Devon said

“I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me advance sight of her statement, and I add my congratulations to Manchester on its success in securing the proposed regional casino. I and my party hope that that will bring the promised regeneration to that great city in the north-west. We also congratulate all the other successful bidding authorities.”—[Official Report, 30 January 2007; Vol. 456, c. 87.]

No, I will not.

The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, chimed in:

“It was the right decision that it went to the north and actually is going to have a regeneration impact. I’ve nothing against Greenwich at all, but, after all London did get the Olympics, and so I think that Manchester or Blackpool probably made more sense.”

[Hon. Members: “Or Blackpool.”] Well, at least I give the full quotations: some people do not.

On the podcast from the Greater Manchester chamber of commerce, we come to the crème de la crème: the shadow Minister for Manchester. [Hon. Members: “Who is that?] It is the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said:

“There is clear evidence that it would bring in revenues and so on and could along with other things”

regenerate the east end of Manchester. He went on to say:

“I am delighted that Manchester won the competition.”

Several weeks ago, three senior Opposition Members welcomed everything in the report. What do they then do? They come back and predicate an argument on a Committee that met in the House of Lords for 16 hours.

Does the Minister accept that some of us in this Chamber expressed concern about the decision that was made and the report given by the Secretary of State? Some of us oppose the Government not on the grounds of opportunism, but because we think that a casino in a residential area is inappropriate.

The hon. Gentleman simply does not understand what the casino panel was doing. Contrary to what the hon. Member for East Devon has been saying, in paragraph 84 of its report the panel said of its remit:

“Moreover, we note that the 2005 Act”,

which does not seem to have been referred to tonight,

“sets out ‘licensing objectives’ related to preventing crime and disorder and the protection of children and young persons from harm. Not only are these considerations implicit therefore in providing the best test of social impact, but are also essential considerations regarding regeneration as we see it.”

That is what the Crow report clearly stated about its terms of reference. The panel, as it was asked, reflected the fact that the body that will police the 2005 Act, in which those basic principles are implicit, is the Gambling Commission. It is the commission that will take that responsibility.

No, I will not.

Let me go back to what happened eight weeks ago, when we heard three of the most senior Opposition Members welcome the report. Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who happened to be working in New York, got a telephone call from the hon. Member for East Devon, in which he said “We have changed our minds. Why have we done that? Because the boss has told me to change my mind.” The shadow Chancellor is running around and telling Manchester, “I’m very sorry indeed; I’ve got to change my mind.” I have never seen such inconsistency, and these people are asking to be elected to government. They cannot even sort anything out in eight weeks.

Quite honestly, I think that the hon. Member for East Devon has spent 50 per cent. of his time trying to dig himself out of a hole that he dug in his comments on 30 January. Does he want me to give way? I am offering to do so. I think that he has been trying to justify his actions.

If we are revealing conversations between a Minister and a shadow Minister, I think that it is only fair that I should reveal that in a previous conversation, the Secretary of State was all for letting her right hon. Friend the Minister conduct this entire debate, because she was so terrified that she was being hung out to dry by her Back Benchers.

There are many things that the hon. Gentleman can accuse my right hon. Friend of, but running away from the Dispatch Box is not one of them. I can tell him that anybody who has got to work with my right hon. Friend knows that she does not run away from problems—far from it. In fact, she has created a few problems for me from time to time, if I may say so.

Let me return to some of the questions that were raised. On destination casinos, I remind the hon. Member for Ryedale of what he said in his report:

“The Committee is minded to suggest that the term leisure destination casino more suitably describes the Government’s proposals and reflects the Committee’s thinking.”

That is important, because there has been an argument about destination casinos. We worked in conjunction with the Joint Scrutiny Committee. I believe that we worked in concert, and that is why we got ourselves to this position. Nobody can deny that Manchester is a destination. It is the third most popular destination for inward-bound traffic in the United Kingdom, behind London and Edinburgh. In that sense, we worked with the Committee, and we were right to do so.

I say to my hon. Friends that I have seen some political opportunism in my years in the House, but going into the No Lobby tonight would underline the position of a not only opportunistic, but unprincipled and tarnished Opposition who have used one of the best manoeuvres that I have seen in the House in many years. I ask my hon. Friends not to give that lot credibility by going into the No Lobby tonight, as the Opposition will do so out of nothing more than political opportunism. I ask my hon. Friends please to think again. We should remember what three of the most senior members of the Opposition said several weeks ago. They have reversed that opinion and have produced a piece of political opportunism. I say one word to my hon. Friends: principles. I ask them to vote for the order.

Question put:—

The House proceeded to a Division.


That the draft Gambling (Geographical Distribution of Casino Premises Licences) Order 2007, which was laid before this House on 1st March, be approved.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have just had news from the other place that the Lib Dem amendment has been voted for, so the Government do not have the confirmation that they need in both Houses. Would it be appropriate for the Secretary of State now to make an announcement about what she intends to do?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The order has been carried in this elected House, but we understand that it has been lost by a small majority on a fatal amendment tabled by the Opposition in the other place. Obviously Ministers will want to reflect on the outcome of that vote and to come back to this elected House in due course with proposals for taking this policy forward and ensuring that the important objectives of this legislation are delivered.

Order. We cannot have a debate on a matter that has just been debated in this House. This House has made its decision; the other place has made a decision that has nothing directly to do with us. The Secretary of State has responded to a point of order in a way that I would hope is helpful to the House.

I will allow a point of order from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) as he has some connection with this, but we will not have a general debate.

I am extremely grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The amendment that was successful in another place was in the name of my hon. Friend Lord Clement-Jones. It required the separation of the order that was before us into two halves so that some of it could go forward—

Order. I was trying to give the hon. Gentleman some latitude, but I am afraid that he has abused it. That is not a point of order.

Order. I do not believe that there can be any further debate on this matter. It is not now a matter for this House—it is for the Government to reflect on what has happened. The House must await an announcement, which the Secretary of Secretary has undertaken to give. I believe that a line has to be drawn under the matter at this stage.