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Gambling: Casinos

Volume 694: debated on Monday 16 July 2007

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (James Purnell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

In response to a Question from Andy Reed on 11 July, the Prime Minister said that during the summer we would look at whether regeneration may be a better way of meeting economic and social needs than the creation of regional casinos. I know that there is a great deal of interest in this issue across both Houses and beyond, and I am making this Statement to provide further detail to enable those directly involved to plan accordingly.

The Gambling Act 2005 provides for the licensing of one regional, eight large and eight small casinos. The Government’s national policy statement on casinos, published in December 2004, sought to accommodate the desire expressed by many local authorities to explore the potential economic and regenerative benefits of new casino developments within our overriding objective of keeping crime out of gambling, keeping it fair and protecting children and vulnerable people.

In October 2005, my right honourable friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood established the independent Casino Advisory Panel to advise her on the authorities that should be given the power to issue the new casino licences. Sixty-eight local authorities applied to the panel, including 27 applications for the single regional casino. On 30 January, the panel recommended that Manchester should be permitted to issue the regional casino premises licence, and it recommended the 16 authorities that should be permitted to issue large and small casino licences.

Having carefully considered the independent panel’s report, and following consultation with colleagues in the devolved Administrations, on 28 March the Government brought before the House an order giving effect to the recommendations. That order was passed in the House of Commons by a majority of 24. It was, however, narrowly rejected by the House of Lords.

The Government have reflected on the debates in both Houses. There are a number of important conclusions to be drawn.

The first is that there was a clear consensus across all parties that the eight large and eight small casinos—the 16—should be awarded to the authorities identified by the Casino Advisory Panel.

Since Parliament debated this issue, there have been local elections in many of the areas concerned. Some have experienced a change of political control, and in the remaining authorities some of the individual councillors involved in relevant decisions may have changed.

Our reform of gambling policy has placed a great emphasis on the importance of local consultation and local accountability; we have given local people through their elected representatives a greater say in the licensing of gambling premises in their communities. This includes for the first time giving authorities the power to resolve not to license a new casino.

Against this backdrop, I have decided to write to the authorities concerned to ask them to confirm their continued desire to license a new casino. I am sure that both Houses will wish to take account of a renewed commitment from the areas concerned when the time comes to consider this matter again. If any of the authorities have had a change of heart, I will not include them in the new legislation. The Gambling Act requires only that up to eight authorities in each category are identified.

While there may have been broad agreement on the 16, it was equally clear that, as the Prime Minister made plain last week, there is no such consensus over the regional casino. Although much of the debate focused on the merits of the Casino Advisory Panel’s recommendation of Manchester as compared to Blackpool, many Members of all sides of both Houses expressed serious doubts about whether we should have a regional casino at all. We have taken heed of those concerns.

The Gambling Act, which is due to come into force on 1 September this year, introduces one of the most rigorous regulatory regimes anywhere in the world. It is why we enshrined at the heart of that legislation the three key objectives of keeping crime out of gambling, keeping it fair for the consumer and—our number-one priority—protecting children and vulnerable people.

Later in the year, the independent Gambling Commission will publish a new study into the prevalence of gambling. This will provide updated information about the rate of gambling and problem gambling in this country. The gambling industry is on notice that if, despite the very stringent safeguards we have introduced, the incidence of problem gambling increases, we have taken the powers to introduce even tougher protections. I have also decided that it is right to pause and to wait for the results of the prevalence study to be published in September before reaching a decision on how best to respond to the decision of the House of Lords to defeat the casino areas order.

The Government’s overriding priority has always been to minimise the potential for harm arising from such developments. At the same time, we have wanted to respond positively to the significant number of local authorities keen to explore the potential of a regional casino to contribute to regeneration in their communities. That is why the new casino provisions were introduced in the first place. The need for regeneration in east Manchester was a significant factor in the success of the city’s application to the Casino Advisory Panel.

In view of the very real concern surrounding the regional casino, it would be prudent to examine afresh whether deprived areas can be equally well served by other forms of regeneration. The Government are taking forward this issue.

In the mean time, we are proceeding with the urgent task of completing the implementation of the Gambling Act. Protecting children and consumers is our number-one priority. I will ensure that our new system of regulation, as it covers every aspect of casinos and other gambling premises—from advertising to checks on entry to controls on games and machines—will place public protection first.