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Volume 463: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

2. If he will make a statement on the Government’s policy on the casinos proposed under the Gambling Act 2005. (151096)

I set out my next steps in the written statement that I gave on Monday 16 July. I have written to the 16 local authorities recommended to license a large or small casino to confirm their continued desire to do so.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. In September 2004, the Government stated that their approach to casinos would secure protection of the vulnerable and ensure that new, regionally significant casino developments delivered optimum tourism and regeneration benefits. What has changed since that statement, and why was that new-found prudence not mentioned by the Prime Minister and other Ministers when they voted for up to 40 new regional casinos?

I am slightly confused, because I thought that the Liberal Democrats opposed that policy. Perhaps there is a split between the Liberal Democrat spokesman for London and the Front-Bench spokesman on this issue. Our policy is clear: we have listened to the concerns expressed in the House and in the other place and, as the Prime Minister said, the right thing to do is to see whether there are better forms of regeneration than a regional casino. We will be looking at that over the summer and will report afterwards. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman to reconcile with his Front Benchers, with whom he obviously disagrees.

My right hon. Friend will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) and I have both read his written statement very carefully. It is important to put it in the context of the Prime Minister’s remarks at Prime Minister’s questions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why the super-casino has been such a major issue in my constituency has been the need for a major and significant economic regenerator that sustains instead of just building new infrastructure? Will he give me an assurance that the issue of a sustained economic regenerator will be central to his considerations this summer?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I gather that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has responsibility for sport and licensing will meet him later this week to discuss that point. Regeneration will be at the heart of those considerations. As my hon. Friend knows, the taskforce looking at his constituency and council area has already met and is due to report shortly. It has been looking at exactly that issue.

Can the Secretary of State enlighten the House as to why, only a week or so ago and from that Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister changed the Government’s policy on casinos at a stroke? Was not the Prime Minister present at Cabinet meetings that endorsed the 888 principle?

It is sensible to listen to what Parliament says. Concerns were expressed in this House and in the other place: we listened to those concerns. I know that the hon. Gentleman was a great supporter of the policy, so he must be very disappointed, but the policy that we have announced is right. We will listen to the concerns that are expressed.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his position. He has a personal interest in the arts and culture, although I fear that with him behind the roulette table, the country may learn that it is unwise to gamble everything on red.

Was the Cabinet consulted on the decision to cancel the super-casino or was it taken from the comfort of a large, soft No. 10 sofa?

There was a proper process of consultation around Government. The Prime Minister and I took the decision together after discussions with colleagues in the Cabinet. It was exactly the right process for taking that decision.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position on the Front Bench, as part of his meteoric rise. I also pay tribute to my predecessor. I am looking forward greatly to working with her in her new role and I could not have greater respect for her. I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, for whom I also have great respect. He made the one cardinal mistake in today’s Tory party of actually having a policy. I am sure that that is not a mistake that the hon. Gentleman will repeat.

I think that the answer is that the Cabinet was not consulted on the decision to cancel the super-casino. Is not the confusion that many local authorities now feel about the policy partly caused by the fact that on the one hand we have No. 10 briefing that the Prime Minister is against casinos in principle, but on the other we have the Secretary of State’s statement on 16 July that his Department wishes to support local authorities who want to use casinos as a regeneration tool? What is his policy on casinos, or is it the case that the Government’s left one-armed bandit does not know what its right one-armed bandit is doing?

The hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer, because I gave him an exact answer, which was that Cabinet colleagues were consulted, and the decision was taken in absolutely the proper way. However, the interesting question is, “What is his policy?”. I have been listening to him for the past few weeks and I have absolutely no idea. Does he agree with his shadow Chancellor, his leader and his predecessor, all of whom said that it was the right decision that the casino should to go to Manchester? Is his party in favour of regional casinos or not?