rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 1 March be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, on 30 January the Casino Advisory Panel, following extensive public engagement, published its recommendations of the 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 casino licences have, I believe, gained general acceptance in both Houses. However, its conclusion on the regional casino licence has proved a little more controversial.
The source of this controversy is the strength of feeling from two quarters. First, there are those who hold moral objections to gambling. I understand and respect that view; it is held by many across both Houses and beyond. It is in recognition of the many downsides of gambling that we have constructed in the Gambling Act one of the most rigorous regulatory regimes in the world. Secondly, there is the pro-Blackpool group, which is strongly represented in the other House and has one or two representatives in this House. I do not seek to dissuade the former group from their well held beliefs, but let me set out for the pro-Blackpool group and the whole House the rationale behind the order.
Many local authorities wanted to explore the potential regeneration benefits of new casinos when bids were invited. If it is contended that the vast majority of the British people are loath to see any extension to gambling, I would respond that their local representatives and local authorities made those applications. Twenty-seven local authorities put themselves forward for the single, regional casino licence and 68 authorities bid for the 17 licences as a whole. Because of our precautionary approach on gambling, our policy allowed for a limited number of new casinos to act as a pilot. We made clear that we would ask an independent panel—not Ministers—to recommend the locations for that pilot. Until the panel recommended Manchester, and not Blackpool, there was probably broad consensus in Parliament on that approach.
Why did we adopt this approach? We wanted to make sure that the decision was based on the facts and evidence and not on politics, which is why the Secretary of State has not simply overturned the panel’s recommendation and put forward Blackpool instead of Manchester. That would fly in the face of the accumulated evidence and it would be unfair to every local authority that took part in a published and agreed process in good faith. That principle is one reason why the order is presented in this form today.
There are other reasons. The intention is to evaluate the impact of this pilot before taking any decisions about the future number and location of any new casinos. That approach has two immediate consequences. The first is the composition of this order. The locations of the 17 new casinos have been chosen to give the evaluation the right 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; that is, until there is a clear understanding based on rigorous evidence.
Let me turn to other issues that I know have exercised noble Lords. There have been calls for the order to be split, with a separate order for the regional casino. The Government have resisted those calls. As I have said, the 17 casinos form the pilot. If the Secretary of State had split the order from the outset, accusations could certainly have been made that the Government were cynically manipulating Parliament into voting Manchester down for their own electoral purposes. In that respect, the Government were bound to lose either way, but they are standing firm on the principle that an independent panel reached its conclusions, and we are working on that basis.
Much has been made of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee report. It expressed reservations on two significant grounds: how the panel interpreted its remit and on destination casinos. We do not think that, on mature reflection, the House will feel that the committee’s concerns are well established. The primary consideration 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. That was the acid test of each bid’s merits. We did not ask the panel to identify a location that would reduce problem gambling. Our wider policy, the most rigorous regulation in the world, is addressing that issue and was the basis for passing the Gambling Act and the basis on which it received considerable support in both Houses.
The Merits Committee also reflected a claim by some that it is perverse to locate the regional casino in deprived residential east Manchester. East Manchester is certainly deprived. I declare a minor interest in that I have a great affection for the eastern part of Manchester, but even more for the north-east borough of Oldham. East Manchester is 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. But the panel’s job was to recommend an authority, not a site. It is the authority that applies for the licence. It is possible to locate a regional casino in east Manchester without putting it in the very poorest area. That is what the local planning system is for. The same would apply to Blackpool; indeed, its own bid placed the casino in the town centre, next to the town’s most deprived ward.
The other aspect which exercised the Merits Committee was the so-called destination casinos. The argument is that the independent panel has failed because it did not recommend designating a seaside resort to host the regional casino and it therefore ignored the joint scrutiny committee’s recommendations. That is to misunderstand the concept of “destination”. Manchester is, in its own right, an important destination. The noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, who is in his place, will testify that Manchester was the third most important overseas tourist destination in the UK behind London and Edinburgh for every year between 2001 and 2005, with the sole exception of 2002, when it came fourth. It 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 any seaside town.
On the evidence, a panel concluded that Manchester offered a good test of the social impact of a regional casino; at the same time it expressed its reasons why the Blackpool proposal would not. That was the judgment of that independent panel, which included some of the most eminent planning experts in the country. It is on the basis of their judgment that the order recommends Manchester as the site for that casino.
I will observe the courtesies of the House by listening to the arguments in favour of the amendments tabled today, before briefly, I hope, explaining my attitude towards them. The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is very significant, as it would repudiate and negative the order. That has happened only twice since 1975: once on a Rhodesia order—I do not think many of us would reflect on those times with too much enthusiasm—and then on electoral arrangements for the GLA in 2000. Substantial arguments would be needed to persuade unwhipped Members of this House to support the noble Lord’s amendment.
The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Golding calls for the creation of a fresh Joint Committee to look at the Casino Advisory Panel to see what lessons can be learnt for the future. While recognising that the creation and the terms of reference for Joint Committees would be matters for the House authorities if this amendment were passed, the Government are prepared to accept this amendment but would like the committee, in addition to giving Members of both Houses an opportunity retrospectively to examine the panel process, to be forward-looking in its remit.
I have been clear with the House, and I repeat now, that there will be no more new casinos in the current Parliament because the result of the social impact studies of the 17 pilot casinos, and the result of the next prevalence study, will not be available until 2010. It is not possible to think of additional locations during this Parliament. Proposals for more new casinos will not be initiated by this Government in this Parliament. As I have said, the impetus would come from Parliament itself, if it came at all, in the work of the Joint Committee and any subsequent legislative proposals that emerge from it.
There is no consensus for allowing any more new casinos now and there may never be. We are all too well aware that noble Lords and honourable Members in the other place will express caution about the number of casinos, but it is only right that if a Joint Committee is established, it should be allowed to examine the criteria and conditions that could govern any possible future decision. If the Joint Committee were to decide that a future Parliament might allow another regional casino and recommend a specific location, I do not think that anyone in government would be surprised if that turned out to be Blackpool.
I hope that the Joint Committee can produce its first report within six months. The Secretary of State will seek to persuade the Chief Whips in both Houses that the Government should make time available in both Chambers for any such report to be debated. I recognise that that does not provide the immediate gain or reassurance that the supporters of Blackpool wish for, and I have no doubt that its case will continue to be made.
My Lords, what the Minister is saying sounds most welcome. In saying that he will accept the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, can he be crystal clear? I understood him to say that the Secretary of State now accepts that there should be a new Joint Committee and that it can, as the noble Baroness’s amendment asks, look in detail at the panel’s report before any decision is arrived at or the super-casino recommendation is implemented. That is what the amendment says and what I understand the Minister to accept. If so, the noble Lord is to be congratulated on his customary sense. If it is a help to him and to the House, I take this opportunity to indicate that we too will support the noble Baroness’s amendment.
My Lords, the Government have moved a considerable way in proposing to accept my noble friend’s amendment. It will aid the development of policy. The Joint Committee can reach any conclusions its members consider justifiable, and those may or may not be endorsed by both Houses of Parliament. However, its recommendations will not be in time for any addition to the pilot which the order promotes. We are at a point of decision with this order. If the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is carried and the order rejected, the pilot study is finished with and cannot be continued.
It will be recognised that, given the process of getting licences established and of the licence winner constructing the casino and all the facilities necessary, there will be a considerable time lapse before any casino is likely to appear if the order is accepted today. The amendment, which delays the order, could set back that timetable extensively. Noble Lords might accept that the vast majority of their fellow countrymen support the extension of casinos, and their representatives appear to do so. In fact, the only representatives that I can see who are not so sure about a casino where it is being contended that they are very enthusiastic are Liberal Democrat representatives in Blackpool, who have placed advertisements in at least one newspaper today to say that they do not want a casino in Blackpool. So there can be dissent—
My Lords, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Blackpool, councillor Robert Wynne, and the Liberal group on Blackpool council have consistently supported the proposal. There are one or two councillors who do not, but I can tell the Minister that in all parties that is a problem. Perhaps the Minister can really cut through the verbiage. If he accepts the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, will it stop by a single minute the granting of the casino licence to Manchester? I will give him his answer—it is no. The rest is just verbiage.
My Lords, if the noble Lord is asking this House to consider a position in which the only issue is the substitution of Blackpool for Manchester, he must make his case. But I am making the case for the order and pilot study to those who, like himself, so strongly support Blackpool—and of course I respect his opinion on this. I did not doubt for one moment that he would make out the case for Blackpool as strongly as he could. However, he will recognise that when I contend this extraordinary response by local authorities positively to welcome the opportunity for casinos in their areas, I have the right to emphasise that there is considerable public support for this position. Therefore, the reason for any delay would be the cost to the nation.
I remind the House that many thousands of new jobs and millions of pounds of investment, which are engaged in this very important development, may be put at risk across the country by this exercise.
My Lords, may I just clarify the position of Blackpool council? It is very much in favour of a regional casino; it has been working on this idea for years—and, in addition, a petition has been signed by 11,500 people in Blackpool for this purpose.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the noble Lord is knowledgeable about Blackpool and I accept his representation. I was not seeking to suggest that there was no case for Blackpool at all; I was merely indicating that the case for Blackpool is not necessarily that much stronger than the cases of the other authorities that have put in for a casino. In doing so, they are representing their localities in the same way.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be as delighted as I am at the tremendous growth in tourism in Manchester in recent years. There is no dispute in that. But does he not recognise the very clear difference between tourism as an industry in Manchester alongside many others and tourism in Blackpool, which is the dominant industry in that town?
My Lords, I recognise that important point. It is also why the Secretary of State has already announced that significant regeneration resources are being released for Blackpool. We are aware that Blackpool, like a number of our other seaside towns, has had a decline in its local economy in recent years, to which we need to pay attention. But the—
My Lords, I know that we are becoming rather like the House at the other end, continually interrupting the Minister, but will he make it absolutely clear whether he does or does not accept the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, as it is printed on the Order Paper? If he does, please will he say, “Yes, I accept the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding”?
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend but further to this very important point, which is absolutely critical to the way a number of us will vote at the end of the debate, can my noble friend clarify two things which arise out of the question from the Conservative Front Bench, and from the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Glentoran? First, if we pass the amendment of my noble friend Lady Golding, is my noble friend saying that the casino licence for Manchester will still go ahead regardless of what the deliberations of the Joint Committee may be some time down the track? Is that the position? Secondly, will he also confirm that if the order is thrown out this evening, there is nothing to stop the Government bringing back a new order for the 16 licences over which there is much less controversy and then giving more time for deliberation on the regional casino licence?
My Lords, the latter would be a strange action for the Government to take. An independent panel recommended a pilot of 17, of which the regional casino is a very important feature. Therefore, of course we could not easily go ahead with a pilot which contradicted what the independent committee recommended to the Government. On the other aspect, as I indicated, it is clear that the Joint Committee, which we accept would have extremely useful work to do and might be the forum in which imperfections in the existing process could be noted and improvements to it effected, may very much strengthen the case for Blackpool. But what is before the House today is the order which gives effect to the pilot study of 17. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 1 March be approved. 12th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 13th and 16th Reports from the Merits Committee.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after “that” and insert “this House, taking account of the 13th Report from the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, declines to approve the draft order; considers it desirable that Lords be appointed to join with a committee of the Commons as a Joint Committee to consider the process by which a decision was reached on which licensing authority should issue the regional casino premises licence and to report by 1 June 2007; and calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to take account of the recommendations of any such Joint Committee and to lay regulations including the licensing authorities as set out in the draft order whose responsibility it is to issue the eight large and eight small casino premises licences”.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for introducing the order. He laid out the Government’s case as well as he could, but today I believe that he has been put in an invidious position by the Secretary of State failing to separate out the order into two elements—one dealing with the 16 small and large casinos and the other dealing with the so-called super-casino. I do not believe that he is well served either by the vagueness of what he is offering to his own Back Benches.
Secondly, I pay tribute to the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee—its members and in particular its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, whom I am pleased to see in his place—which did such an effective job in scrutinising the process whereby east Manchester was selected by the Casino Advisory Panel, which is the subject of the draft order before us today.
Why have I tabled my amendment to vary the Government’s Motion approving the regulation with the active support of my colleagues? This is very straightforward. First, it has become apparent that there are great problems with the Casino Advisory Panel’s remit as laid down in August 2005 after Royal Assent had been given to the Gambling Bill. The Merits Committee’s report has done us all a great service in this regard. Secondly, also thanks to the Merits Committee, it has become abundantly clear that there are real problems with how the Casino Advisory Panel interpreted and carried out its remit in producing its report published on 30 January 2007.
A third reason to be particularly cautious is the fact that the policy context has changed since the Government first introduced the draft Gambling Bill back in 2003, since they issued their statement of national policy in December 2004 and above all since the wash-up on the Gambling Bill prior to the previous general election.
Perhaps I may take each reason in turn. Each alone gives a reason to remit the regional casino aspect of this regulation to a Joint Committee of both Houses. We would—and I must emphasise this—have preferred the 16 large and small casinos to be the subject of a separate order which we could have supported.
First, let us take the issue of the terms of reference. These were referred to in the 2004 statement of national policy as follows:
“the Advisory Panel will be asked to identify areas for the new casinos which will provide: a good range of types of areas, and a good geographical spread of areas across Britain. The Panel will also want to ensure that those areas selected are willing to license a new casino. Subject to these criteria, the Panel will be asked to choose areas in need of economic development and regeneration (as measured by employment and other social deprivation factors) and likely to benefit in regeneration terms from a casino”.
Later, the terms of reference changed. Neither the new terms of reference nor the previous terms were debated on the Floor of either House, although my honourable friends did attempt to put the regeneration objective in the Bill as it went the through the other place. By the time the terms were fixed, in August 2005, they were as follows:
“The primary consideration will be to ensure that locations provide the best possible test of social impact. Subject to this, the criteria will also be: to include areas in need of regeneration”—
and so forth, and—
“to ensure that those areas selected are willing to license a new casino”.
So in each case the issue of regeneration was to play a subsidiary role. However, as the Merits Committee made clear, the key change made was to make the overriding aim of the panel to choose the site which constituted the,
“best … test of social impact”.
It was not the site where harm was to be minimised, as the Government had seemed to promise in their statement of national policy. Nor, as the Merits Committee pointed out, do the terms seem to square with the objectives of the Gambling Act as set out in Section 1 of that Act.
Secondly, the situation was compounded by the way in which the Casino Advisory Panel interpreted its remit. As the Merits Committee uncovered in its brief but very effective inquiry, the social impact test was actually used to exclude destination casinos. The test was highly imperfect, and the concept was clearly immeasurable at that point, but nevertheless it was used to exclude destination casinos. These, it will be recalled, were considered by the Joint Committee and many experts as giving rise to less casual problem gambling. Professor Crow, the chairman of the panel, admitted as much in his evidence to the Merits Committee. As the key was to be able to measure the social impact, the panel presumably had to choose the toughest, most deprived, disadvantaged and crime-ridden area to achieve this. It is no wonder the Merits Committee said that the CAP had treated its task like a “research exercise”.
It is true that an air of almost academic naivety runs through the CAP report. Blackpool was excluded because the social impact would be “exported”. Yet destinations casinos had clearly been preferred by the Joint Committee and experts on problem gambling in terms of least social harm. Indeed, it appears that the panel did not consult the leading expert, Professor Collins of Salford University, on the social impact of gambling at all. It is hardly surprising that the Merits Committee concluded that the order,
“may imperfectly achieve its objective”.
It sounds like an understatement but it is strong language for this committee.
This is an important decision we are making today, and I recognise that the Motion I have laid before the House is a strong one. But we need to be particularly cautious in taking the decision about the location of the super-casino. There is rising concern about the growth of gambling and the issue of problem gambling. The number of casinos in total is growing rapidly. We were assured by the Minister, Mr Caborn, during the passage of the Bill, that there would be no more than 150 casinos in the UK in total. There are now some 90 new casinos in the pipeline under the 1968 Act alone. The figure of 150 will be comfortably exceeded, and 250 now looks more likely.
Advertising of gambling facilities is now being permitted by the new regulations. Gambling on the internet has exploded, little of it regulated here in the UK. Despite promises, services to combat problem gambling have not yet been funded adequately. Above all, since the terms of reference for the CAP were originally mooted, just before the general election in 2005, the number of initial regional casinos has been reduced to one. It looks as though that one casino will not be a pilot but will be the only super-casino, certainly for the next 10 years. The fact is that despite the terms of reference for the one location, which are couched as a test or a pilot, this may not be a pilot at all. In fact, it is highly likely that this one super-casino will be the only super-casino, so the process by which we choose it is absolutely crucial. This is no laboratory test; nor can we leave problem gambling to the planning process. There is no room for error.
Finally, why remit the regulation to a Joint Committee, and why must the Joint Committee report by 1 June? When it came to scrutinising the draft Gambling Bill, by common consent the Joint Committee did a superb job. We have seen what is possible in just a short space of time from the Merits Committee. We need a new Joint Committee to advise us on whether the process for the selection of east Manchester was correct and, if necessary, to make recommendations for a new process. The order was due to come into effect—perhaps is due to come into effect—on 1 June. If the committee is asked to report by 1 June on whether the process by which the super-casino was chosen was properly conducted, no time will have been lost if it makes no recommendation for change.
If we could, we would be dealing today with two orders, one dealing with the recommendations on the locations of small and large casinos and one with the super-casino. The Secretary of State, faced with the prospect of today’s amendment passing and having received serious advice from constructive Back-Bench Labour Peers, set her face against that, hoping that it would drive us to support the order. My motives in tabling the amendment are not to provide a consolation prize for any town or city; explicitly, this is not “Blackpool or bust”, nor is it designed to do down Manchester. It arises out of concern about a process which, for a variety of reasons, has clearly gone very wrong. My amendment suggests a way forward. It is not reliant on vague assurances about the setting up and the remit of a committee, and it is a non-binding Motion. I very much hope that, in due course, noble Lords will support the amendment. I will deal with the other amendments in my winding-up speech. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after “that” and insert “this House, taking account of the 13th Report from the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, declines to approve the draft order; considers it desirable that Lords be appointed to join with a committee of the Commons as a Joint Committee to consider the process by which a decision was reached on which licensing authority should issue the regional casino premises licence and to report by 1 June 2007; and calls upon Her Majesty’s Government to take account of the recommendations of any such Joint Committee and to lay regulations including the licensing authorities as set out in the draft order whose responsibility it is to issue the eight large and eight small casino premises licences”. —(Lord Clement-Jones.)
My Lords, I agree with almost every word that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has said. However, if he had been with me and with many other noble Lords in the past few weeks trying to negotiate something and get something out of the order, he would not be so certain that his amendment would achieve anything.
I have always been a strong supporter of Blackpool. I can see no good reason why Blackpool should not have been the destination casino. If I thought that supporting the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would achieve anything for Blackpool, I would more than consider supporting it. However, I do not believe that that is possible. Many of us have gone through negotiations that have seemed to produce something for Blackpool and have then not been accepted. We have gone back again and again, and things have altered right up until today at 1.30 pm, when we finally got an agreement that we could consider that would give some hope to Blackpool and to other areas that felt that they had been done down by the agreement.
I am not critical of the Government for wanting to bring the legislation on gambling up to date. Indeed, I would be critical if they had ignored the real problems of internet and telephone betting, as well as the growth in other forms of gambling. Many in this House are against all forms of gambling; I understand that, but the Government have to live in the real world, as do we. We have to strike a balance between gambling as a legitimate leisure pursuit while mitigating any potential negative consequences of people’s desire to gamble.
I recognise that the Government made some positive moves in the Gambling Act. In addition to the National Lottery Commission and the Financial Services Authority, the Government have established the Gambling Commission to regulate gambling. The financing by the industry of such charities as GamCare, which look after problem gamblers, is also very much welcome, and the increase in money that has lately been guaranteed by the gambling industry is more than welcome. The Government recognise—I agree—that sweeping under the carpet the desire of people to gamble is not in anyone’s interests. We have to face up to our responsibilities towards people as things are today, not as we wish they were and wishing they would not gamble.
Having said all that, I have great criticism of how the Government have arrived at their decision to accept the report of the panel and Professor Crow, and especially of its decision to propose Manchester rather than Blackpool as the one regional casino. I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for stating so clearly why the panel got it wrong. It demonstrates clearly to me the danger of putting legislation in the hands of people who have little understanding of or responsibility in the outcome of their recommendations. I could go through Professor Crow’s report page by page and criticise paragraph by paragraph, but I will not do so, as I am sure that other noble Lords will have much to say on the subject, as did the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, in his Merits Committee’s outstanding report to this House.
I have asked for a Joint Committee to be set up to consider the report of Lord Crow before any decision is arrived at. I am sorry; I meant Professor Crow—he has not yet been made a Lord. The Minister has put forward an interpretation of that request and I am minded to accept it, but we have not quite got there yet. I will certainly recommend people to vote against the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, because I fear that if it is carried, it will do Blackpool down and give no satisfaction to anyone, other than the fact that an order that should never have been put forward in this way has been defeated.
The process was wrong. The Government must recognise that it is for Parliament to make decisions that affect people’s lives. The House should have considered the report before it was accepted, and I hope that the Government will learn that lesson. I intend to say no more as I have agreed with my noble friend Lord Lipsey, who has worked on this so effectively with me for many hours over the past weeks, that he will voice our concerns about the process. He was unable to add his name to my amendment because of the rules of the House, but without his help and that of many Members across the House there would have been no hope of getting where we are today.
The Government have compromised at the last hour, and I am prepared to accept that. However, when the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, encourages the House to vote for his amendment, he does no good to anybody, especially Blackpool.
My Lords, I have tabled my amendment, which is the third on the list, alongside those of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, and the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, to demonstrate that the concerns about this order are not party political and are shared by all those who have been involved with the Gambling Act since its inception, and in particular by those of us who were members of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee.
That committee sat for a long time, took an enormous amount of evidence and produced two reports, the bulk of whose recommendations were accepted by the Government and incorporated into the Bill. Much of the evidence conflicted, as evidence often does, or was not as clear as it might have been. But in one area, in relation to the siting of what are now called “regional casinos”, but are more accurately called “resort destination casinos”, the evidence was unequivocal in relation to the two key criteria—the likelihood of causing adverse social problems, such as excessive gambling and possible crime, and the potential for regeneration.
It is in relation to those criteria that there is real concern regarding the Casino Advisory Panel’s choice of Manchester, which has led to the furore that has surrounded this order. These issues, as the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, said, have been more than adequately dealt with in the excellent report of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, so I shall not examine them now.
There is no advantage in repeating the conclusions in that report, but two points are crucial. The first relates to Professor Crow’s admission that the choice of Manchester was made on the basis that customers to the casino would largely come from the local residential population, and thus the social impact on it was far easier to measure; whereas if the casino was situated in a place such as Blackpool, Great Yarmouth or Bournemouth, where 90 per cent of customers would be tourists or people coming for the primary purpose of gambling, it would be far more difficult to measure the social impact. So the CAP’s decision was based on the requirements for academic research, rather than identifying the most appropriate place for a casino. That is an obvious and fundamental flaw.
In relation to regeneration, the decision creates a further problem. Regeneration is predicated not just on the ability to attract new capital investment to a project but on attracting new income in the future. But if the new casino is sited in an area where it is dependent mainly on customers resident in the locality, rather than on visitors, there will not be any new money; it will simply be a case of recycling existing money—which in the case of east Manchester is not very much, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, pointed out. You do not have to be an expert on casinos or regeneration to realise that that is crazy stuff.
I must make it clear that for me, unlike other speakers, this is not a debate about the merits of Blackpool over Manchester. I hold no remit for Blackpool, nor do I have anything against Manchester. The great Mark Twain wrote that he would like to die in Manchester, because the transition between Manchester and death would be so small as to be hardly noticeable. That is rather unkind but, whatever we have heard today and for all its many merits, it would stretch my imagination a little to describe Manchester as a “destination resort”. However many people go through Manchester airport and increase the visitor figures, I have never heard of anyone sunbathing at Old Trafford.
The evidence submitted to the scrutiny committee, which was apparently accepted by the Government at that time, was that a casino development of this type should never be sited in a city near a residential population, as that would be bound to lead to social problems. It said that it should be sited in a destination resort where the bulk of customers would be tourists. What the CAP has recommended goes completely against that advice. I do not lay the blame for that at Professor Crow’s door, but it is pretty clear that the DCMS’s terms of reference for that committee and presumably the ongoing communications between the committee and the department were at best careless and at worst downright incompetent.
Furthermore, the Secretary of State’s determination to combine the relatively uncontroversial decisions in relation to siting the eight large and eight small casinos with the decision on the single regional casino was a blatant attempt to bulldoze the order through Parliament. The ensuing row is a consequence of that crass mistake, the responsibility for which lies with the Secretary of State. The idea that there had to be eight, eight and one casinos in the same order is a complete fantasy; that had nothing to do with it at all.
Following so closely on the shambles of the Olympics funding, the resulting raid on lottery funds and the mess surrounding the sale of the Tote, one can now only conclude that, like the Home Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is simply not fit for purpose, and the sooner it is placed under new management, the better.
The Casino Advisory Panel’s advice was just that: advice. The Secretary of State could quite reasonably have rejected it or, far better, all those weeks ago she could have referred it to an ad hoc Select Committee to resolve the matter. Instead, she has chosen to blunder on, which is why the Government now find themselves in this ridiculous and unnecessary position. This is not an issue of principle, nor is it even a great political issue in the overall scheme of things, but it is an issue of the competence of government.
On balance, of the three non-fatal amendments, I believe that that of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is best—it is rather better than mine—because it compels the Government to set up the committee that they should have agreed, and had the opportunity, to set up some weeks ago. If the House decides to proceed with this matter, it is likely that I will not press my own amendment but will vote for that in the name of the noble Baroness.
The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is of course fatal and, as such, it pushes the conventions of your Lordships’ House to, and possibly beyond, its limits. Indeed, it may well remind the Government and another place exactly what would happen on a regular basis if this House were to flex the muscles given to it by democratic election. My inclination, as a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee and, unlike some of my noble friends, as a fan of an elected House, is to support the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, but I shall make my decision when I hear the Minister’s response—in particular, to three questions.
First, will he confirm that the order can be reintroduced—I think that that is set out in Sections 175 and 355 of the Act—and, indeed, must be reintroduced if this House rejects it? Secondly, the offer that he made in accepting the noble Baroness’s amendment implies that a certain amount of activity will take place in the future in terms of Governments accepting committee reports, which are prepared over several months. Bearing in mind that this matter will probably continue beyond the summer and into the autumn, will he confirm that the Secretary of State’s offer to the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, has been rubber-stamped by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will play a rather more significant role in these matters as the year progresses? Thirdly, will he confirm that everyone is absolutely clear about the last line of the noble Baroness’s amendment, which says that,
“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”,
and that his offer to accept the amendment means that no casino premises licences will be issued until the committee, which will be set up under the terms of the amendment, is agreed to?
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to get to my feet here rather than going to meetings in practically every meeting room in the Palace of Westminster and outside, as I have done over the past two weeks. I was the Cross-Bench member of the pre-legislative scrutiny committee on the Gaming Bill. I felt very strongly that all of us—three party members and the independent member—should put our names down. Of course, I have only one vote and I have to try to persuade my colleagues here that they should follow me in the same direction. I do not know whether I shall succeed in that but I shall try.
I declare my interest in gambling. I was a justice of the peace for Great Yarmouth, where a lot of things happen: there is a casino, or probably two now; various amusement arcades; a very nice racecourse, if anyone wants to go there; and, of course, the dogs.
When on the committee, I learnt an enormous amount about gambling and realised how totally ignorant I was. The committee held two very special events. One was a visit to GamCare. As the number of casinos and the possibility of gambling increase, the number of people who require help will increase substantially. The cost to the National Health Service and other services will be great. The committee heard first hand from former compulsive gamblers how, with great difficulty, they gave it up. Even worse, we heard from the partner of a gambler who had to get to the post before he did, because yet more credit cards would come pouring through the letterbox. The problems are unbelievable and they will get worse.
I do not say that they will be worse in Manchester than in Blackpool. I am not a fan of Blackpool; I am a fan of Yarmouth. I like Blackpool and, on occasions, have enjoyed myself there. We learnt a great deal about GamCare and the problems that will occur.
We visited France, where we had the extreme good fortune to meet a very nice, smart, young—younger than I am—French police officer who was in charge of all gambling in France. Before she started, she said, “I am going to speak to you in French because then I shall be absolutely clear about what I am saying to you”. She said, “You are on the wrong track; you must have destination casinos only, for the big ones”.
There is no gambling in Paris. For those in Paris who wish to gamble I believe that Aix-les-Bains is the nearest place. It is definitely a resort—not a seaside resort. It is designed extremely well for gambling, for going to the theatre or the cinema, or for just sheer enjoyment. As a result of something that happened to me there, I felt slightly relieved. When two or three of us left the casino where we had dined that evening, we were followed by security officers until we got back to our hotel. Unfortunately, we did not win anything, but we might have done.
We also went to Trouville, where again we learnt what a genuine seaside resort—it is virtually seaside—was like. I have been through the list of all 17 sites. I did not know that Milton Keynes was a resort, but it is a rather fun place to go to. You can get lost there so easily, especially with the new signposting around it.
I have come to the firm conclusion that, although I like the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, I shall vote for the one in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. I ask those Cross-Benchers who have listened to the arguments to follow me through the same Lobby.
My Lords, I have four different interests to declare. None of them prevents me from speaking, but the House will be pleased to know that at least two of them restrict what I can say. First, I am a part-time member of the Gambling Commission. The commission is not responsible for the location of casinos or any other gambling premises, but it is responsible for the regulation of those premises—or that part of the regulation that relates to operators and individual employees. Premises licensing, of course, is a matter for local authorities. The Gambling Commission has never taken a view on where gambling premises should be, but it takes the view that it will provide a proper regulatory framework, wherever Parliament or local authorities decide gambling should take place. I shall therefore not express any views on the location of either the regional casino or any of the others.
My second interest is as president of GamCare, which, I am glad to say, has been referred to twice in the debate. It is the leading charity responsible for treatment and assistance of people with gambling problems and the largest recipient of funding from the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, a charity set up voluntarily by gambling industries. I am happy to tell the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that the Responsibility in Gambling Trust has assured GamCare of funding for the next three years, in response to GamCare’s business plan. GamCare’s activities are currently not restricted by lack of funding. I am not saying that we would not look for more funding if we could get it, but the noble Lords’ assertion that it is under financial pressure is none the less incorrect. Again, GamCare is not concerned with the location of gambling premises. It undertakes to help people with gambling problems, wherever they may be. Therefore, I shall not be commenting on the location of gambling premises in that capacity.
My third interest is that I was, for the two years in which the Gambling Bill went through Parliament, the Minister responsible for that legislation, under the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The last six months of that period, October 2004 until just before the 2005 election, in which there was a huge reaction to the Bill and casinos in particular, are burnt deeply in my psyche. I hate to bring the Daily Mail into debates in this House, but it was outstanding in its opposition to all aspects of the then Gambling Bill. It was followed by a large body of opinion across all parts of the House and the public.
The Government’s position then, which I believe this House would now take, was that there are three public-policy options on gambling. The first is to suppress it: prohibition. Nobody has advocated that; it is obvious, as has been shown in many jurisdictions worldwide, that prohibition simply drives gambling underground rather than enabling it to be regulated. The second is to let it rip, with no regulation at all. Again, I do not think that position has had any support in Parliament or among the public. The third option—the Government’s option after seven years of debate, including the independent report by a committee under Sir Alan Budd—was that gambling should be strictly regulated; that you should not say that it is not a legitimate leisure pastime for many people, the vast majority of whom do not suffer in any way from their gambling activities; and that the key to public policy on gambling is the effectiveness of regulation.
I come to my fourth declaration of interest, as a social researcher in business for nearly 40 years. The important point is that casinos are a very small part of the possible dangers of gambling and problem gambling. Three per cent of people in this country go to casinos. If the prevalence study being carried out shows that that goes up to 4, 5 or 6 per cent, the number of problem gamblers whose problems arise from casinos will be well under 1 per cent, almost certainly well under 0.5 per cent. The real dangers in gambling do not come from casinos; they come from accessible gambling—machines in betting offices, pubs and clubs, and online and telephone gambling. The Gambling Act has put severe restrictions on machines in pubs, clubs and betting offices to avoid what would otherwise have been the position: gambling problems like those in New South Wales, Queensland or Victoria in Australia. Online gambling is much more difficult because participants do not have to go to sites based and regulated in the United Kingdom. We still have a long way to go on that. The issue—I know this point has not been raised yet, but I got to my feet early—ought not to be problem gambling from casinos because they are not the significant element.
As the Minister who was responsible for the Gambling Bill, I want to speak about the process by which we arrived at today’s position. Because of the adverse reaction to the Bill when it was published in October 2004, the Government compromised. Instead of saying that the number of casinos of any kind should be restricted by size limits—in other words, saying that casinos should be so big that no business decision would be taken to have more than 20, 25 or perhaps 30 large casinos—we were obliged to say to the House of Commons that there would be an arbitrary number: eight, eight and eight. That is what we did. It is not rational in policy terms, because eight cannot be defended any more than seven or nine or any other number; it was the number acceptable to the House of Commons at the time. The condition on which that compromise was reached was that the decision would be taken not politically by the Government but by an independent panel. None of the debate that took place in either House went against that idea or suggested that Ministers or Parliament should take the decision rather than an independent panel. Of course, in the end, an order has to be made and has to go through Parliament, but objection to the order is surely justified only if Ministers go against the independent advice that they were offered rather than accepting it as they have done.
It does not seem to me that a case has been made out from any point of view for rejecting these orders. The Government have fulfilled the commitment they made to Parliament in the run-up to the last general election. Whatever doubts there may be about the detail of the independent panel’s work, it fulfilled its remit. On that basis, this House should not overturn the order before it today.
My Lords, I speak because I, together with my noble friend Lady Golding, wrote to a number of Peers on our side of the House to suggest that unless the Government had a change of heart over the order before us tonight, they should vote against it. I am here this afternoon to explain that they have had a significant change of heart. I hope, therefore, that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will be rejected and that the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Golding will be accepted on the basis of the assurance given to us.
There is a threefold alliance, as the Minister said, of people inclined to oppose this order. I cannot call it an “unholy alliance” since the Bishops’ Benches are in favour of the alliance, but it is a strange alliance, at least. There are those who are against gambling and casinos; those who do not like the choice of Manchester, and most of them would like the choice to be Blackpool; and there are those, among whom I include myself, who have doubts about the procedure that has been followed. I want briefly to address all three matters.
I address most briefly of all the case of those against gambling. I am not very good at making the case for it; I have lost the argument every morning over the breakfast table with my wife for the past six months, and I do not expect that I shall win it in your Lordships’ House. Anyway, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I am strongly in favour of casinos because of the regeneration benefits they bring and because they prevent under-the-counter gambling on the internet. On Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays I worry about their effect on problem gamblers and the danger of taking money off the poor. So I am not a desperate fan of having any casinos. On Sunday I get a day of rest.
But, the time for the anti-gamblers to make their case was when this Bill was before Parliament and they were trying to convince the Government not to go ahead with it. What is not acceptable is that when an order under it comes forward—as it was always envisaged one would come forward to name the casinos—the issue of principle is re-opened. That is against the conventions of this House. That has been, as has been pointed out, broken on only two occasions since the 1970s, and it is not the right way to carry forward that argument.
Secondly, there are those who think that the casino should be in Blackpool rather than Manchester. I am sympathetic to having one in Blackpool, although I listened hard and long to the case for Manchester. In some of the pro-Blackpool propaganda put about—and I relate to a lot of it—the case against Manchester has been hugely overstated so that people think that some uncontrolled den of iniquity is to be erected in east Manchester, to which the poor people of Manchester will go and lose all their money. I think that that is most unlikely.
The way to get a casino in Blackpool is to have one in Manchester also because they test different properties of casinos. The one in Manchester will test whether an inner city casino has the ill effects some people fear—although I do not believe it will—and the one in Blackpool will test the power of a destination casino to revive a very deprived area.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, who is a very old friend and close colleague at times, is a great lover of Blackpool. I love both places, but he has chosen that loving Blackpool means hating Manchester. If his Front Bench gets its way this afternoon—and it is sad to see him on the Back Benches, but we know why he is there for now—and in 10 years’ time he is walking down the promenade of Blackpool as it will be if it does not get a casino, perhaps he will remember that it was his vote this afternoon that stopped, as I will demonstrate, a process that in my view will inevitably lead in quite short order to a second super-casino in Blackpool. He must weigh that in his conscience.
I turn finally to the procedure, which caused me to join my noble friend Lady Golding in opposing this issue. I thought that it was pretty poor that the Secretary of State received this report at nine in the morning and at three o’clock in the afternoon said that she would lay an order before Parliament enforcing it. She said subsequently that she studied it in the four weeks that followed. I am reminded of Lewis Carroll, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”. That was poor, and was one of the reasons why we wanted a Joint Committee to be set up. I do not defend that bit of the process. However, this is where I come to the agreement that has emerged over the past weeks, days and nights of negotiation. I am afraid that my noble friend Lord Davies, who had been speaking for some time and who was trying to get to the end of his remarks for the benefit of the House, did not fully set out for the House where the Government have given way.
The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, which condemns that haste and which was resisted by the Government, is now accepted by the Government. We were told that there was no way that we could have a Joint Committee because, “We know what it will conclude”. The idea was resisted by the Government but is now accepted by the Government. A review of the way in which the decision was taken and put before the House was rejected by the Government but is today accepted by the Government. The idea that such a review should pave the way for the next stage of the legislation and should look towards the possibility of further casinos was resisted by the Government—my God, to the last trench. Since last night, it has been accepted by the Government. A Minister gave a statement that contemplated consensus in this Parliament for a second casino in Blackpool, although not one that would take effect—rightly, I think—until the next Parliament, and that would lead to regulations in the next Parliament. Again, there is ministerial blood feet deep over that retreat, but retreat they have.
In my considered view, which I give to the House knowing that it will offend those who are against casinos in principle, if this afternoon the House rejects the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and if as a consequence, with the Government’s full agreement, the House accepts the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Golding, for which she has worked so hard, it will set in train an inexorable process that will lead to this House and the other place having the chance early in the next Session to create a second super-casino in Blackpool, if that is the will of the House. I was in government once upon a time, and I remember how reluctant Governments are to change their mind. I pay tribute to the fact that the Government, in accepting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, have admitted that they mishandled it and got it wrong, and have accepted all these changes, which make for a most formidable package.
If the House votes tonight in favour of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, we will get an order for the 16 casinos but we will not move forward on the super-casino in short order or in long order. Indeed, it is very likely that we will never move forward on it. Some quarters of the House will welcome that, others will not; but that is the reality. If the House rejects the noble Lord’s amendment, we will have started an inexorable process whereby, unless public opinion or some other great outside factor changes against casinos, it is very likely that the House will get the chance to decide whether it wants a second casino in Blackpool in the light of all the evidence that is available at the time. Given that process, it is very likely that it will get it. For that reason, I hope that the House will reject the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, accept the agreement that has been reached with the Government, and vote enthusiastically to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Golding.
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the remarks made by the Minister and others about the procedural gravity of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones; but I feel the need to speak to the reasons that have made me deeply sympathetic to that amendment and to the concerns underlying it. They are both particular and general. The particular reasons have already been detailed by a number of other noble Lords. We have already heard how the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee of your Lordships’ House has exposed some of the confusions and inconsistencies in the terms of reference of the Casino Advisory Panel, especially as those have related to criteria of social impact. The oscillation between discussing these in negative and in positive terms does not encourage the casual reader.
To take one example from the proceedings of the Merits Committee, I note that the question is left open of how benefits can be secured to local people rather than large investors. That question, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, was answered simply in terms of that being, so to speak, referred to the responsibility of local government to resolve. I find that an inadequate and worrying response.
Sadly, the general impression that has been given is of a piece of inadequately monitored social experimentation. The very language of “test of social impact” fails to take seriously enough the fact that social impact is not something which comes and goes within 24 hours or which can be written out of the record by another piece of research. It also gives the unfortunate impression of business being somewhat unduly hustled in the parliamentary procedure, on which other noble Lords have spoken more eloquently and extensively than I can.
My general grounds for unease do not rest primarily on a principled opposition to all forms of gambling in any shape in any place. Belonging to a church which has a mixed record on these matters, I can hardly take the moral ground with too much confidence. My objection is rather to the sleight of hand by which the whole business of the gambling industry has become coupled with the regeneration theme in ways which—I have to be candid—I find quite baffling. We have been reminded already by several noble Lords that terms such as problem gambling conceal a rather more unpalatable and extreme reality, of which some have spoken, in terms of addictive behaviour. While it is undoubtedly true statistically that casino gambling represents a relatively small segment of the overall problem of addictive gambling, none the less it represents a significant part and a social factor whose impact on its immediate environment is not restricted to addictive gambling.
But how would we react if we were discussing not this particular form of addiction but other forms of addiction? Surely, we should be extremely anxious about monitoring effects, so designing policies that they would be secure in advance, not subjecting them simply to an impact test. We should be very concerned about the resources to be made available for potential victims of this development. We recognise in other contexts that addiction is a nursery of crime as well as of poverty. In our discussion, that should be at the forefront of our minds. Why, if we raise these questions in relation to other forms of addictive behaviour, do we not raise them clearly here?
In conclusion, I should like to go back to regeneration. I have said that I find it a puzzling word to use in connection with this theme. I wonder whether the undoubted enthusiasm of some local authorities for the presence of casinos in their midst has something to do with the absence of other viable forms of regeneration policy proposed to them. Institutions that can encourage criminality and intensify irresponsibility are poor allies of social and civic regeneration. It may be—I believe that it is—that we cannot simply turn our eyes away from the social reality of gambling and the desire of people to gamble. I should be the last to wish this brushed under the carpet, to use a phrase that has already been used today in your Lordships’ House. None the less, I am left with these questions about the procedure by which this order has been brought before us and the advice on which it is based. I hold no great brief for Blackpool, but one thing that might be observed about these criteria is that they lack that through-and-through consistency which is one of the better known aspects of one of the better known products of Blackpool.
I am left then with asking who in the community at large actively initiates and wants these proposals, as opposed to selecting them as the least bad alternatives in situations where regeneration is an urgent and serious priority. My belief is that that urgent priority is not best met by going down the road that is before us in the order proposed.
My Lords, for 28 years I represented Blackpool South in the other place, and I shall refer to regeneration in a moment. As my long-term friend on the Liberal Democrat Benches has mentioned, the business of Blackpool is entertainment and tourism. Those activities form by far the biggest industries in the town. It is the result of the railways. In the middle of the 19th century the town of Blackpool was created by the railways. Before then, Blackpool had been just a little fishing village. People could come by train from the whole of the north of England and, indeed, from further away. Especially at the weekend, between April and October, people came in their crowds. I recall seeing the three railway stations full of trains, and the trains full of people. That growth was the result of generation. It was generation by very intelligent and brave people who developed the new industry of tourism, which did not exist before the trains came. They built the Tower, the Winter Gardens and various other important attractions in the town. The other feature of the town has been entertainment. In the past entertainers like Les Dawson and others came every summer to perform on Blackpool Pier and were an enormous attraction. That no longer takes place.
What has been happening to Blackpool? The town needs regeneration projects for a number of reasons which go beyond the scope of its powers. The most important is the development in the 1970s of tourism in warmer and sunnier climates. That was not the fault of Blackpool. Equally important was the increasing mobility of the British public. When I first went there in the 1960s, I suppose a minority of British people had motor cars. Now they almost all have them, so they do not have to go to Blackpool for two weeks at a time, reserving their place six months ahead. If on a Thursday evening the weather forecast for Blackpool is good, visitors can call their favourite guest house to reserve a room for the weekend. Those are two of the reasons why there has been a decline in the fortunes of the town. Another factor is the growth of television, because people now watch television far more than they used to. It takes them away from Blackpool. Average earnings in Blackpool are £100 a week less than the national average, which is another factor illustrating the important need for regeneration.
All this means that Blackpool is very keen on having a resort casino, and it has been working on the project for quite a long time. A resort casino is important because it creates less human hardship. Indeed, the general view across the board and every source on the subject suggests that such casinos are less harmful than urban casinos. That is certainly the view of both the Merits Committee and the Casino Advisory Panel. The resort casino is characterised by the fact that people have to come from a long distance to visit it. They need to make preparations for their visit to the casino and thus they think about what they are going to spend. That is in contrast with the urban casino situated in the middle of a town. People can then drop in for a flutter on impulse. That is why in the United States the successful casinos have been resort casinos.
The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee quotes Professor Collins from Salford University, an expert on tourism, as saying,
“destination resort casinos, with a very wide catchment area, are more likely to bring greater benefits with less costs to local communities than are urban casinos whose customers come mostly from within the jurisdiction”.
That confirms the point I am making.
In that same report, the chairman of the committee asked Professor Crow, the chairman of the panel:
“If I recollect, you thought, for example, that it was easier to test the social impact in Manchester than it would be for Blackpool because Blackpool’s population going to the casino would come from a wider area …
Professor Crow: Yes.
Chairman: … does that not mean that in practice you tended to knock out any consideration of a destination casino on that ground?
Professor Crow: If by ‘destination casino’ we mean one where most of the customers come from a long distance … Yes.
Chairman: So your interpretation of the meaning of the terms of reference that you were given was effectively that the best possible test for methodological reasons made it virtually impossible for you to recommend to the Government that there should be a destination casino?
Professor Crow: Yes”—
thus eliminating Blackpool in a sentence.
If the chairman of the panel was misguided in that context, he seems to have regarded the choice of Manchester as a guinea pig that would be testing the effects of an urban casino on the human people in that city. But if there is going to be a guinea pig, there should be something to test that guinea pig against. The point about the resort casino is that if there is only one, there is no comparison you can make. It would be much better, if there is going to be a resort casino, for there to be another one as well so that proper conclusions could be drawn. One can test the merits of resort casinos as opposed to urban casinos with regard to the smaller towns, because they are two different types and you can compare one with the other; seven resort casinos and nine urban casinos.
In rejecting Blackpool, the panel was also rejecting the views of the Northwest Regional Development Agency, the Regional Assembly and the regional economic strategy, all of which regarded Blackpool as the most important place for a regional casino.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blaker. Many of the things he touched on are in the Report on Coastal Towns, which I recommend for Easter reading. I freely accept that some of the issues we talk about do not just apply to Blackpool; indeed, the bulk of what I want to say is not a plea for Blackpool but to address the issue before us—this order.
As the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, said, Blackpool has a unique place in our social history. A combination of the electric tramway, the illuminations, the tower and the pleasure beach made Blackpool take a quantum leap in providing leisure for working people at the end of the 19th and most of the 20th centuries. But since the 1950s, Blackpool has been in decline. One consequence of the drop in visitor numbers, which is mirrored in the coastal towns report, is that the price of hotels and boarding houses goes down, as does the investment in them and the price they charge. The normal visitors stop coming and these places are populated by people on social security benefits. That distorts the figures for central Blackpool. The DSS residents of rundown boarding houses are quite a different problem from that found in east Manchester.
The problem found by all seaside resorts is how to kick-start regeneration. Nine years ago, well before the Government got their hands on this, a man called Marc Etches, who was employed in Blackpool, came forward with the idea of a Las Vegas-style destination casino. Tessa Jowell said very proudly in the House that she does not want a Las Vegas in the UK. Well, I do, and for this reason. A couple of weeks ago Tim Henman was playing in the Las Vegas tennis tournament and it will not be long before Tiger Woods and his colleagues go there for a golf tournament. Las Vegas today is one of the biggest sports centres in the United States and the centre of its entertainment industry; it is the biggest centre for conferences and exhibitions and is becoming one of the growth centres for corporate headquarters. Gambling is a minority occupation in Las Vegas.
Those of us who backed regeneration through a super-casino saw it in terms of a much broader-based regeneration. It annoys me that everybody thinks we are talking about a single building. We are talking about redeveloping something like two square miles of central Blackpool, with conference centres, restaurants and hotels. To the question, “How can that happen?”, the answer is that it has happened in other places in the world. Casinos are a catalyst—that has been proved. I went to Niagara, which showed many of the same signs of declining from its high point in the 1950s when it was the favourite destination for honeymoons in the United States. A casino has given it a new life and new occupation. Money has also been spent on a 30-mile environmental park, broadening the context. The idea that we are talking about packing zombies into closed centres is just not true.
We were talking about the expertise of the casino panel. The Blackpool master plan was backed by Sir Peter Hall, one of our great town planners. The idea has always been not to have a gambling centre but to regenerate Blackpool and get its back to its heyday as a world-class holiday destination.
We are supposed to accept the findings of the Casino Advisory Panel as holy writ, but it is worth remembering that the Royal Commission on Gambling and the Joint Select Committee produced reports which Ministers picked at but did not accept as a whole. Only this advisory panel has suddenly taken on this new role. Yet, as it says on the tin, it is only an advisory panel.
As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, emphasised not once but three times when he introduced the order on 30 January:
“My Lords, as I have indicated, the final decision will rest with the other place and this House”.—[Official Report, 30/1/07; col. 174.]
It has never been in any doubt that that has been the case.
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, and what she has tried to do, and to Gordon Marsden and Joan Humble, Labour MPs in the other place. They have worked hard and long to try to get some sense out of the Government; but they know the difference between a fatal Motion and what the noble Baroness has put down and that is why they accept it. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, never uses one word when 10 will do but he knows and I know that when the noble Baroness’s resolution goes through the Government can implement the licence for Manchester. If I am wrong, let him say it, preferably in a few words, and that the Government are going to wait for it—but he and I know that that is not the case.
I know that Conservative and Cross-Bench Members will be nervous about whether we are breaking conventions. When we passed the recent measure on conventions, we retained the right to say no. One time when we have the right to say no is when a committee of our House, which is a whistle-blowing committee and is supposed to look at these issues for us, actually blows the whistle. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and his colleagues. It is not the most thrilling or exciting of committees, but boy did it do its job this time—and I pay tribute to it for that. We set up a committee like that and ask it go through the painstaking task of going through piece after piece of secondary legislation, then it suddenly brings forward a stunner such as the report that the committee has made. To say that the conventions of this House mean that we cannot do anything about it would make me think hard about the worth of the merits committee. It is there to do a job and, by gum, it has done it.
As the committee pointed out, what it winkled out of the professor was that he changed the rules as he went along. As was clear by the time he had given his evidence, what the Crow review should have said was that Blackpool should not have applied—because it was working to a different context.
I do not want to detain the House too long, but I shall take up the point about the activity of Councillor Bate, a Liberal councillor in Blackpool, who seems to have got very active in recent days. I ask noble Lords to look at the list of people supporting him and particularly at the name, “Noble Organisation”, which is a company based in Gateshead. If you want to see a gambling shed, go to Coral Island on the Blackpool Golden Mile, owned by the Noble Organisation. Almost every television company that wants to show how tacky Blackpool has become starts off with Coral Island. I went there recently and saw it packed to the gunnels with gaming machines, sucking in the vulnerable and sucking out money from the town and making no contribution at all. I contrast that with what a super-casino would have brought in—massive new investment and the kind of training that is already taking place at Fylde FE College for young people to work in the new industries.
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the question of the Noble Organisation, can he confirm that it was actually very keen on the notion of a super-casino in the middle of Blackpool on its own site, but lost interest when it was pointed out to the company that that was not the ideal position for it?
My Lords, that is true, but it is also true that the company has a planning application in under the 1968 Act.
I love the town of Blackpool, but what I can see for the future is organisations such as the Noble Organisation bringing in their tacky gambling sheds. That is what Blackpool will become—forevermore vulnerable—and it will not address any of the social problems.
The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, asked whether I hated Manchester. I refer to my record on Manchester. I was the first consultant for the Trafford Park Development Corporation; I backed Manchester for the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games and the BBC’s relocation. Manchester has within its grasp the capacity to be one of the great regional capitals of Europe to compare with Barcelona, Milan and Frankfurt. It does not need to be diverted into something which will give it a social problem rather than what it should be doing—showing real regional leadership.
I think that the House knows where I stand on most of these things—
Therefore, I shall say a few words on how we shall vote. We are talking to a very wise old House. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, that if the amendment of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones is carried, of course the Government Whips will say, “Apocalypse now; it’s all over. There is nothing else we can do. You’ve destroyed it all”. That is what Government Whips do. I was a member of a Government who were regularly defeated in the 1970s. However, we dusted ourselves down, looked at the new situation and came forward with a new proposal.
We need to be clear about two issues. First, does this House approve of the decision in favour of Manchester? If noble Lords do not, they should vote for the amendment of my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. Secondly, if not Manchester, where? That is not a matter to be decided tonight but could be put before a Select Committee. That is the opportunity that the House has, and it should take it.
My Lords, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester is unable to be in his place today, but I am very much aware of the strong views that he and Manchester’s faith community leaders have on this matter. Their position is very clear and has been publicly expressed. They are utterly opposed, on moral grounds and on the grounds of social harm, to the siting of a super-casino anywhere in the country.
Arguing about the suitability of one place rather than another for building a regional casino misses the point. That is why Manchester’s religious leaders do not wish to collude with those who would prefer the proposed casino to be in another town or city. That would simply export somewhere else what they regard as a wholly unwelcome problem anywhere.
If, however, the proposal to build a regional casino in Manchester were to go ahead, after the most careful consideration the faith community leaders there believe that they would have a moral duty to protect the poor and vulnerable who are the most likely to be adversely affected by such gambling provision. Accordingly, they would do their utmost to ensure that adequate measures for harm reduction were put in place.
In recent years the links between the city council and the faith community leaders have been strengthened as a result of consultations and co-operation on a number of issues, including regeneration policy. Manchester is still the third most deprived authority in the country and the faith community leaders have welcomed many of the efforts made by the city council to improve the situation and to involve the faith communities. Indeed, some time before the announcement of Manchester as the preferred site for a super-casino, official consultations took place between them on the issues raised by the increase in gambling through the arrival of casinos in the city.
In his capacity as chairman of the faith community leaders, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, in a letter to Manchester City Council, spelt out some of the issues that would need to be addressed were plans for a super-casino to go ahead. These include: first, the design of the casino, particularly with regard to the placing of entrances, to counter problems of proximity and inappropriate accessibility; secondly, the provision of education programmes, both in school and generally, to raise public awareness of the nature of problem gambling; thirdly, prevention measures, to minimise continuous and repetitive play; fourthly, adequate and effective resources for the support and counselling of those who become addicted; and, finally, realistic regeneration plans that genuinely enhance the local area. Faith community leaders are acutely aware that regeneration through the building of a super-casino cannot be taken for granted. My friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has referred to that.
It is fair to say that Manchester City Council has consistently expressed its respect for, and recognition of, the many concerns of the faith community leaders, and it does have a proven commitment to careful consultation with them as active partners in social responsibility and in issues of the regeneration process. Furthermore, it has repeatedly given assurances about taking seriously the matters of planning, education, prevention and treatment raised by the faith community leaders as well as the funding, resourcing and partnerships that will be required. Nevertheless, I have to say that the faith community leaders remain sceptical about how much regeneration is realistically achievable through the building of a super-casino, and they remain utterly opposed to a super-casino in any place in this country. But, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester has stated publicly, the faith community leaders now face a moral dilemma. Let me outline it simply. If a super-casino arrives and they do not do all in their power to make sure that the moral issues and social consequences are addressed, then, in their view, they would be failing in their calling from Almighty God to protect the weak and the vulnerable. However, if as a result of co-operation between the faith community leaders and the city council there is significant ameliorating of the effects of gambling, then Manchester is likely to become a model leading to further super-casinos in other parts of the country and, as the religious leaders, they will have been seen to collude in that.
This is not an issue about whether the super-casino should be sited in Manchester. This issue, as my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester was quoted in the Sunday Times, is that gambling has,
“few winners but many losers”.
The loss that many of us desire is the plan for a super-casino anywhere.
My Lords, the gaming Bill was passed in the wash-up at the end of a Parliament and was never subjected to the full scrutiny of your Lordships’ House. Many may now be saying, “Would that it had been”, among them, no doubt, the Secretary of State, Mrs Jowell. After the 24-hour drinking fiasco, the Olympics budget fiasco and the lottery smash-and-grab raid, there is now this desperate, incomprehensible struggle to promote more gambling, even in deprived areas and irrespective of the social effects—merely, it would seem from the Budget, so that the Chancellor can tax the gains that a wealthy casino owner will make from the losses of the often vulnerable consumer. To many of us on all sides of the House, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport seems a shambles, and I regret to say that the shambles runs from the top.
All the amendments agree on one thing: so far as the process of making a decision on the super-casino is concerned, this order simply will not do. It should be reconsidered by a Joint Committee, and Parliament should then make a decision in the light of that review. These are things that a sensible Government in this predicament would have done without having been dragged at the 11th hour so to do. But now, it seems, they have, and it is to the credit of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, that, despite all the briefing by the Secretary of State that she would ignore any vote in your Lordships’ House, he has persuaded her to think again.
The whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord for his commitment that the Government will reconvene the Joint Committee to look at the super-casino decision and will pay proper heed to the amendment, and so to the findings of that committee, before making any final decision. I would like the Minister to confirm in terms that no casino licence will be issued until the Joint Committee has reported and its conclusions properly considered by the Government. If he does, it will have been a remarkable success for this House, united across all Benches in persuading a Government to listen. It is a tribute, too, to the report of the Merits Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. We are all grateful to him and to the other noble Lords who served on that committee.
On this side of the House we are more interested in the integrity of the process than in the choice of location. Of course, in respect of the regional casino, in practical terms, nothing can or will be done until the Joint Committee we have today agreed to support has reported. It is essential that the Government and the local authorities concerned take that fully into account. It would be unwise for anyone to invest in building a super-casino if it were possible that the process, the social effects and the siting might be criticised—and criticised severely—by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament.
We accept every word of the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, and accept that we are bound by it. It states that the Joint Committee must be able,
“to consider the Panel’s report in detail before any decision is arrived at with regard to the issuing of casino premises licences”.
That can be both forward-looking and retrospective and must, in practical terms, include the regional casino licence. Given that it will take time, I ask the Minister to assure the House unequivocally that the Government will give full weight to the recommendation of the Joint Committee before deciding how, whether and where to proceed, or to assist and encourage any local authority in beginning work on a super-casino. His answer on this will, I think, affect the way that many noble Lords will vote. It would have been a travesty of the purposes of the Merits Committee if the Government had ignored its report pointing out difficulties to them.
There now seems to be general agreement that this order in respect of a super-casino must be reconsidered. It was nonsense to claim that reconsidering the regional aspect pulled down the Government’s whole gambling policy. As the most reverend Primate reminded us, a key objective must be to protect the young and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling and that this is more important than regeneration. The panel did not give due weight to that, and the Merits Committee had many other pertinent criticisms that a Joint Committee can now consider.
Though there will be a free vote on this side of the House, I join the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and urge my noble friends to support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, who has played a remarkable role in pressing this change of heart. It enables this House to give a lead to another place in holding the Secretary of State to account. It does not break the normal conventions of this House, as the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would have. With another place due to vote on the issue shortly, and in the light of what the Minister has said, I do not think it appropriate that your Lordships should overturn the order outright. That would pre-empt the other place and allow a decision on the issue to be clouded by questions about the legitimacy of this House’s actions.
The force of the Merits Committee’s arguments should be listened to, rather than allowing a diversion into a constitutional sideshow as the noble Lord’s amendment would do. Everything that is asked for in that amendment will be secured by the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, given the Minister’s firm assurances. I will not support the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, but I support the noble Baroness. The Cunningham committee said that all Governments should pay more heed to non-fatal Motions passed by your Lordships. If, as I hope, the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness is passed, it will be a test case to see whether the Government will have regard to the Cunningham committee, the Merits Committee and your Lordships’ House. In the weeks ahead, we must all hold the Government to account and ensure that they do so.
My Lords, as ever on these occasions, a judgment has to be made on when is a sensible time for the winding-up speeches from the three Front Benches. We have gone on for over two hours, and winding-up speeches and Divisions could take another hour. I get the sense in the House that this is a sensible time to conclude the argument.
My Lords, as I was saying, this extensive debate has covered all the issues on the order more than adequately. I will address shortly the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and that of my noble friend Lady Golding. I want to respond to one or two other contributions, particularly as I was asked some direct questions. There was no more direct question than the one asked by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, on whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had signed up to this government policy. This is government policy; therefore all members of the Government subscribe wholeheartedly and enthusiastically to it.
I was grateful to the noble Lord and his noble friend who has just spoken from the Front Bench for reminding us that this House has its proper responsibilities as a revising Chamber. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Filkin and his committee for identifying issues relating to the order and process, which, as I indicated, the Government have appreciated. That is why we are looking forward to an additional stage with regard to certain aspects of policy process in this area, but we must be careful not to override the conventions of this House. We must recognise that the other House is debating the order, and while it is right and proper that the Government are subject to scrutiny, it would be unfortunate if it were suggested that the order should be repudiated.
I was grateful to my noble friend Lord McIntosh, who as a Minister took great responsibility for piloting the gambling legislation through the House and therefore is extremely well equipped to comment on subsequent developments with the Act. I was grateful to him for indicating that we should not overdramatise the impact of casinos. I recognise that the extension of gambling facilities requires proper regulation. That was the whole basis of the Bill, which was supported in this House and in the other place by significant majorities.
The Government recognised that the expansion of gambling in this country, which has increased in recent years, is not related to casinos at all. We have not got the order in place yet, so no new casinos have been built. We have had some small extension of casinos under the old legislation, but the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, sought to strike fear into the House. The number of casinos has gone up from 138 to 139. Casinos must be put in a proper framework. It is because we foresaw the expansion of online gambling and various other gambling outlets that we were so concerned to put in place a regulatory structure for gambling, to minimise crime attached to gambling and to provide safeguards for the vulnerable, particularly children.
I have been challenged on why the Government did not respond to the fact that the choice of Manchester over Blackpool was not universally popular. Is it not strange that politics are such that, because we were not taking a political decision, no one has mentioned the Dome? The word has not crossed anyone’s lips; I scarcely thought that I would be the first to mention it. If we had been involved in a political decision, if the Government had called in the independent panel and said, “We have second thoughts on all this”, I have not the slightest doubt that every political current that obtained before the panel reported would have become vigorous and vibrant again. We would not have been locked into a two-way controversy between Blackpool and Manchester; the Dome would certainly have featured strongly. There are others with considerable claims as well.
That is why it should be respected that the Government gave an independent panel a job with specific reference in the context of the Gambling Act, and the panel fulfilled its obligation. I recognise, in particular with the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Blaker, that there are old affinities and loyalties regarding Blackpool. I also recognise the problems of other seaside resorts that applied for casinos, but we know that Blackpool has particular difficulties. As I said, the issue as far as the Government are concerned is what we can do to help Blackpool. The Secretary of State has indicated today that fresh resources are to be directed towards Blackpool. The answer is not to overturn the recommendation of the independent panel and play politics with the process.
My Lords, my noble friend keeps referring to the panel and that it did the job. Yet Professor Crow’s report points out that, because of his interpretation of his terms of reference, it would be virtually impossible for him to recommend a destination casino. How could the panel fulfil its duty?
My Lords, Professor Crow identified that Manchester fulfilled the criteria better, which is why he recommended it. There was sound, substantiating evidence for that.
My noble friend Lord Lipsey claimed that I had been reluctant to indicate a change of mind by the Government, but it is not so. I pay tribute to him and to my noble friend Lady Golding for their assiduous work. In terms of the acceptability of their amendment, the Government will ensure that it is supported so far as we are able. I accept it in spirit, but not every word.
My Lords, before noble Lords say that those are more weasel words, I should say that of course I will not accept the phrase,
“regrets the haste with which the Government accepted the Panel’s report and laid the draft Order”.
We maintain, quite properly, that we acted entirely correctly, within a proper time limit and after full consideration. Therefore I accept what my noble friends seek to achieve with their amendment, but I cannot be expected to accept every phrase. That is why I will seek to identify what that means in terms of the Motions before us.
I understand entirely the reservations of the right reverend Prelate and the most reverend Primate. We are grateful to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for his contribution today, and wish he was able to be with us rather more often. As he will recognise, the case has also been articulated by his colleagues. I pay tribute in particular to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, who has not just spoken effectively on the issue today but worked through the long hours to play his full part in the gambling legislation. I understand why there is scepticism about certain aspects of regeneration, but I must say something to both of them and to the whole House. We must respect opinion when it is articulated in such a careful, considered and constructive way, but the application for a regional casino came from the local authority of Manchester. It will take the responsibility if the process of allocating the licence goes further.
In parts of east Manchester, the casino may be adjacent to residential housing, but there are other parts where that is not so at all. That is for the planning authority to decide. Of course we can reach different judgments from others about best interests, but this process is above all a local one. If local authorities and the people whom they represent do not think that a casino of any size or description is in the interests of those people, they do not apply. However, we have evidence of conspicuous levels of interest and application. Manchester not only enthused about its own application but is more than overjoyed, as the House would expect, that it has been selected as the location for the regional casino. Noble Lords have their own views about process, of course; I recognise their validity, but when we judge what is in the best interests of local people, we do have some regard for what we consider. Here, we are considering the decisions of local authorities to make the applications. It will be their responsibility to see them through for the benefit of their people.
Let me come to the two amendments that have been the focal points of most contributions this evening. As I have already said to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, there are problems with his amendment with regard to conventions and the fact that the Liberal Democrats, who often seek to pride themselves on being the forces of democracy, are extraordinarily prone at times to ride roughshod over the conventions of democracy in the relationship between the two Houses, which is what is intended today. His amendment does not advance the cause of Blackpool one jot. If anyone in this House thinks that a large number of Liberal Members will vote in line with the amendment without having Blackpool somewhat to the fore, they underestimate the force and personality of their leader, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, who showed no hesitation in emphasising how important he thinks that it is for Blackpool. But to vitiate the order does not advance Blackpool at all; it just stops the process. The noble Lord suggests that it would surely be easy to substitute Blackpool for Manchester. Would it be as easy as substituting Manchester for the Dome, for example, or as easy as saying to Manchester, “We’ve had second thoughts, because powerful people in the House of Lords who have close associations with Blackpool have persuaded the House that Blackpool should be substituted”? What kind of decision-taking would that be? The House cannot support the position of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. I am grateful for the support that we received from the opposition Front Bench.
We come to the crucial point of to what extent the Government are able to respond to the will of this House, and in what form. We are eager to do so. We are all too well aware that the controversy of the past few weeks has not advanced the cause of the benefits that we think we bring to our people, benefits attested to by all those who supported the legislation, including a majority in both Houses and—I repeat—of the representatives of local authorities that seek to use the legislation. What can the Government do to address the anxiety expressed and the respect for the work that my noble friend Lord Filkin did with his committee, and the work of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and my noble friend Lady Golding, who has tabled her amendment?
I am not bound to accept every word of the amendment, but the Government accept it in spirit. It would authorise pilot local authorities to license casinos in their areas. From this Dispatch Box, I cannot say that we can instruct local authorities how long they should take to make their individual decisions. They are the arbiters of their fortunes in those terms. That is the consequence of the legislation that we passed and the position that we adopted. However, I can state with considerable confidence that the process is such that it is inconceivable that licences will be issued before the end of this year. The local authorities have a great deal of work to do in setting up the licence position, and then all those interested in making bids have to marshal those bids; therefore, there will be no question of licences being granted before the end of the year.
The Joint Committee envisaged in my noble friend’s amendment ought to be able to report within a six-month period. I recognise that there is the long Recess, but there will be a number of parliamentary months before we reach that stage. The local authorities will want to keep the committee informed about their progress. They are bound to be watching closely. They have seen the difficulties that the Government have been in over this order, and rightly so; in some respects local authorities watch this House almost as closely as I am enjoining this House to watch local authorities. Local authorities will want to inform the committee about their progress and they are bound to do so, if they have any sense at all. We ought to respect the good sense of local authorities, particularly when they are engaged on this novel and, some would say, hazardous exercise of establishing licences for casinos. It is certainly a challenging exercise for which they know they will be answerable to their communities if things go wrong. They are bound to take into account any recommendations that the committee may make.
That is the basis on which we can proceed if my noble friend’s amendment is accepted. For the Government, that would be a considerable shift from the position that we adopted. That is bound to be so; Governments must act, take decisions and set up structures and we are proud of the way that we approached the whole issue through legislation and presented it to the independent panel. However, we recognise that there have been concerns about the outcome. There were bound to be such concerns, because there will be only one winner out of a large number of aspirants; but a listening Government are prepared to accept the amendment as a constructive way forward to improve the position. Accordingly, I urge the House to reject all other amendments, except that in the name of my noble friend Lady Golding and to pass the Motion, duly amended.
My Lords, this has been a very good debate and I thank all noble Lords who spoke in favour of my Amendment No. 1. Clearly, a number of issues need to be answered so that noble Lords can go quietly, so to speak, into the Lobbies in favour of Amendment No. 1. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that that would overturn the deliberations of an independent panel; but do we have to agree that the process was fair, simply because the panel was independent? What about having the right terms of reference? What about interpreting those terms of reference properly?
Nor has this debate turned the issue into a political football. It is about Parliament making sure that the right decision is taken on probably the only super-casino that we will ever have. There is a remarkable degree of consensus around this House that the process was not fair and not carried out properly.
What is the essence of the Government’s deal? It is certainly not in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding. It is the “spirit” that he accepts, not the little words in the amendment. It is all in the correspondence, which I have read—and, I suspect, many noble Lords have not—and is extremely insubstantial. The noble Baroness, Lady Golding, called that a concession; the Minister called it a change of position; the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Rising, called it a change of heart; and the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, called it a formidable package—many people would say that about the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. What does this mean? The Government will set up a Joint Committee and in the correspondence they say “Yes, the committee will be free to examine the issues”. What real concession is that? If my amendment is passed, you get the Joint Committee, anyway. Its conclusions will not be binding on the next Parliament. They will certainly not be implemented before the next election and they might possibly be implemented only after the next election. Social impact studies will not be available for years. The east Manchester casino would still go through.
This is the original pig in a poke, bird in the bush and jam tomorrow, I submit. I say to the Conservative Front Bench that, strangely enough, the whole deal put forward by the Government seems to rely on the return of a Labour Government next time around. So it is very insubstantial.
Secondly—and here I speak directly to noble Lords on the Conservative Benches—many have said that it is not legitimate for this House to vote on a fatal Motion against an order. This is an unusual situation that calls for an unusual solution. The essence of my amendment is not so much to disagree with the order as with the CAP report that underpins that order. Both Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State, and the Minister on 30 January said that Parliament, rightly, would determine the outcome of this process. Does that apply only as long as we agree with the Government?
To set noble Lords’ minds at rest, I have looked at what the Joint Committee on Conventions said. The final paragraph in its chapter on secondary legislation said:
“The Lords SI Merits Committee considers that powers and conventions in this area are adequately codified in each SI's parent Act and in the Companion, and that nothing further is called for. Parliamentary scrutiny of SIs is a growth area; the power to reject SIs gives Parliament “leverage”, and should if anything be exercised more, not less”.
Noble Lords may well remember that the original Motion of Lord Simon of Glaisdale included in the Companion stated that this House’s ability to make decisions on orders is unfettered. Only recently, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, who I greatly respect, moved a fatal Motion to the equality regulations; 122 Peers voted with her and no one mentioned the convention in the debate. What a smokescreen is being erected here.
Can we stand by and simply let the order go through without the kind of proper scrutiny that the CAP’s recommendations deserve? We need carefully to re-examine the basis and the principles on which we want a decision on the location of the one super-casino to be founded. We need to return to the concept of minimisation of harm, not treat the issue like some glorified laboratory experiment on social impact. The fact is that we have all, step by step, been taken on a path which leads to entirely the wrong conclusion. This is not something that we should tolerate and I wish to seek the opinion of the House.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.