rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 26 February be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall also speak to the Gambling (Geographical Distribution of Large and Small Casinos Premises Licences) Order. The Categories of Casino Regulations define the large and small categories of casinos by reference to the minimum and maximum gambling area each type of casino must offer. A casino will be a large casino if the combined floor area of those parts of the casino used for providing gambling is not less than 1,500 square metres but does not exceed 3,500 square metres. A casino will be a small casino if the combined floor area of those parts of the casino used for providing gambling is not less than 500 square metres but does not exceed 1,500 square metres.
The principal purpose behind establishing new minimum and maximum size criteria for the new casinos is ultimately to prevent a proliferation of small casinos. Separately, the new casinos are required by mandatory premises licence conditions, approved by the House last year, to set aside minimum non-gambling areas where customers can take a break from gambling. These regulations will not apply to casinos previously licensed under the Gaming Act 1968. Many existing casinos will be below the minimum size for a large or small casino under the Gambling Act 2005. Existing casinos licensed under the 1968 Act, regardless of their size, are subject to special transitional arrangements under which they have been granted a converted casino premises licence. This will enable existing casinos to continue to trade with their current gaming entitlements. The operators of existing casinos will, of course, be free to bid for the new casino licences permitted by the Act.
The geographical distribution of casinos order specifies the 16 authority areas where the eight large and eight small casinos permitted by the Gambling Act are to be located. The 16 licensing authority areas are those that were originally recommended by the independent Casino Advisory Panel, chaired by the late Professor Stephen Crow. They were included in the first geographical distribution order, which this House rejected in March 2007. Despite that rejection, which, as the House will recall, centred on the location of the single regional casino, there was, nevertheless, a broad consensus across all parties in both Houses in last year’s debates that the eight large and eight small casino licences should be awarded to the 16 licensing authorities identified by the panel.
In the rejection of the order last year, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, adopted by this House called on the Government to incorporate the 16 areas in a fresh order, which is precisely what we are doing today. We continue to believe that the Casino Advisory Panel did a good job and that, in recommending the 16 areas, the panel exactly met its remit. The areas represented provide a good spread and different types of location, from large urban areas to town centres and seaside resorts. That is what we set out to achieve in our December 2004 national policy statement on casinos. When the time comes to carry out an assessment of the social and economic impact of the 16 new casinos, the areas will provide a good test in a broad range of different locations.
Of course, I regret that my noble friend Lord Filkin’s Merits Committee, which I hold in the highest regard, came to the conclusion that the order may imperfectly achieve its policy objectives. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport wrote to my noble friend to explain why we did not agree with the committee’s conclusion. The committee was kind enough to publish a copy of the Secretary of State’s letter in its 15th report of the current Session. It may be helpful if I deal with the two principal concerns that the committee raised. I reiterate that we take the committee’s view seriously and recognise the serious work that it does under my noble friend Lord Filkin’s distinguished chairmanship.
First, the committee argued that the Casino Advisory Panel gave insufficient emphasis in its work to the minimisation of harm from gambling. The Government maintain that this is to confuse the overarching objectives of the Gambling Act with the rather narrower objectives of this order. The main objectives of the Gambling Act are to prevent crime and to protect children and vulnerable people from harm. We are proud that the Act placed these protections at the heart of the system of regulation of gambling in this country for the first time.
We are in no way abdicating our responsibility to prioritise the minimisation of harm. Those protections are being put in place under the Gambling Act, but that is not the purpose of this order. It fulfils the narrower purpose of identifying the areas that will best facilitate a proper assessment of the social impact of the new casinos, so that the Government and, of course, Parliament can make future decisions about casino policy on a fully informed basis.
Secondly, the committee was concerned about the traceability of the impact of the new casinos in different areas. It cites in particular the difficulty of tracing impacts in seaside resorts, ports, areas with existing casinos or areas with pre-existing regeneration plans. We recognise that this process will be challenging, but these descriptions could apply to many, or perhaps all, local authorities in the country. We are currently drawing up the research specification for the first stage of the assessment of the impact of the new casinos and we will certainly wish to take into account the points that the committee raised in this context. However, we maintain that, although assessing the impacts of the casino and disaggregating these from other effects will certainly be challenging, that does not mean that the 16 areas identified in the order will not prove a good and extensive test.
I know that the House places great importance on the question of public consultation in the casino licensing process and on the primacy of local decision-making and local consultation. I reassure the House that those principles are central to our policy. In the Gambling Act we have for the first time given local authorities the power to resolve not to license a new casino in their area. That, of course, includes the authorities included in this order.
Where an authority wishes to license a casino, local people will be consulted at every stage of the licensing process. Authorities must issue a three-year licensing policy, which, among other things, will set out the principles that the authority intends to apply in determining to whom to issue a casino licence. In settling that policy, licensing authorities are required to consult local people. That applies to those local authorities that, thus far, have obviously achieved local support for making their applications.
On receipt of applications for a casino licence, the licensing authorities must consider representations from interested parties, including local people and local businesses, about the applications. Unless local people agree otherwise, they must hold a hearing. Where licensing authorities receive more than one application for a licence, we have required them, through a statutory code of practice, to take account of local views in deciding which benefits they want a casino to provide in their area.
This order, then, does not represent a top-down, one-size-fits-all model. Licensing authorities have the flexibility to decide what is best for their area after consulting local people. That may include specific measures, funded by the casino, to support local efforts to combat problem gambling or crime. Through the Act, we have also provided for authorities to hold operators to commitments that they make during the licensing process. Even after a casino has been licensed, local people may complain to their licensing authority, asking it to review the licence. All those measures are in addition to local people’s input into the planning process. I hope, therefore, that the House will agree that the consultation measures that we have provided are substantial and appropriate.
The order before the House does not, of course, provide for a regional casino. On 26 February this year, I repeated a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, which explained his reasoning for not proceeding with that regional casino. I will not delay the House, or even risk boring your Lordships, by repeating what the Secretary of State said on that occasion, although I was privileged to repeat his Statement. Central to his decision were the concerns expressed in both Houses of Parliament about the potential negative impact of a regional casino.
The large and small casinos that are the subject of the order will pose a lower risk, but they are still new to the British market. They will be able to offer a larger number of £4,000 jackpot gaming machines than existing casinos and they will be permitted to offer new combinations of gambling. We therefore continue to believe that it is right to take a cautious approach to their introduction and have limited the number of new casinos. We will not consider any further casinos under the Gambling Act until the assessment of the new casinos’ impact on problem gambling, to which I have referred, has been completed. We expect that to be no earlier than 2014. Even then, it will ultimately be for Parliament to approve any increase in the number of casinos permitted by the Act.
I know that there is concern about the possible proliferation of existing casinos. I would like to assure the House that that is highly unlikely to happen. When Parliament passed the Gambling Act in April 2005, there were 138 casinos operating. Now, three years on, that figure has increased marginally to 144. That, of course, does not include any of the 16 new casinos that are subject to the instruments that we are discussing.
A number of casino applications are still being processed under the now repealed legislation in the Gaming Act 1968. Those were submitted to the Gambling Commission before the end of April 2006, the date at which we stopped any further applications coming forward. If all those applications were granted and resulted in new casinos opening, that would bring the theoretical maximum of 1968 Act casinos to 216. However, that is most unlikely to happen. Indeed, some of the late applications made under the old legislation have already been rejected and within that 216 are 19 rejected applications with outstanding appeals; that is, they have been rejected but have gone to appeal. The theoretical maximum of 216 is restricted by law to the 54 permitted areas established under the 1968 Act and it is unlikely that the market in those areas will be able to support a significant increase in the number of casinos.
As I said, protecting both the public interest and the vulnerable from harm through gambling is central to the Act. That approach is reflected in the manner of our proceeding with the new casinos in these instruments and, accordingly, I commend them to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 26 February be approved. 12th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
My Lords, with yet another gambling order, there is an awful sense of déjà vu and I am sure that many of the comments that noble Lords have made on previous occasions are still relevant. These Benches are not going to oppose these instruments, but it would still be nice to know why there are different classes of casino based purely on the date of application for a licence. I am sure that there is a reason for that, although I have yet to hear a good one. With the amount of discussion and parliamentary time given to this subject, it remains a mystery why it was not possible to achieve consistency with the legislation. Seaside arcades are another form of establishment that could suffer because they were operating before the new Gambling Act.
In a previous debate, the Minister commented that he did not wish to discuss Treasury matters. Nevertheless, the tax on gambling, as my colleague in another place pointed out, is high. In an industry where the opportunity for wrongdoing is so great, there must be a question over how sensible it is to tax to a level that might create a temptation to cheat. I do not know what that level is, but the Minister might give the matter some thought.
The issue of problem gambling remains cloudy. I have read a great deal on the subject and the things that appear to be lacking are a clear direction and a set of criteria to deal with it. There has been much talk, with many sensible ideas, but there does not seem to be the concentrated focus that will be needed if the figure of 250,000 problem gamblers is not to grow significantly as the number of casinos increases. Her Majesty’s Government talk much about regeneration, but there is a danger that what will actually be achieved is degeneration. Perhaps the Minister will comment on advertising in the United Kingdom by overseas-registered companies that are not subject to British safeguards and regulation. I look forward to hearing what he has to say, but there is no opposition to these instruments.
My Lords, I must apologise for my late arrival. I hope that I did not miss too many of the Minister’s words, and I thank him for those that I did hear. I suspect that we may have heard some of them before, but I would not wish to predict that, and I hope that the questions I ask the Minister have not already been answered in his introduction. As elsewhere, we are in difficult territory for the Government. I would sum it up by saying, in the words of the old joke about the man who is asked directions, “I wouldn’t start from here, guv”.
All of us in this Chamber are only too well aware of the history of the Government’s supercasino proposals that have led, in the space of three years, for proposals for an unlimited number, then eight, then one and now zero. Over a year ago, the Liberal Democrats succeeded in persuading this House to adopt the proposition that a review of the decision to site a supercasino in east Manchester should be undertaken and that there should be a separate order enabling the eight large and eight small casinos identified by the Casino Advisory Panel, under the late Professor Crow, to go ahead. It is incomprehensible that the Government have delayed for over a year in considering the implications of that vote and coming to a decision. That is dither and delay brought to a fine art.
The climate in the casino world has changed dramatically during those 12 months. There have been drastic changes in gaming duty. The abolition of the bottom bands at no notice has forced the casino operators to pay millions more in duty. The Government have decided that so-called Section 21 terminals, which were permitted in the 1968 Act casinos, should be categorised as machines, which has substantially reduced the gaming that existing casinos can offer, and it must be admitted that the smoking ban has led to a reduction in income for existing casinos. As a result, a number of casinos are closing, including establishments in Glasgow, Nottingham, Scarborough, Liverpool and Manchester, with many staff redundancies. One key operator, Ladbrokes, has indicated that it will not be applying for new licences.
It has also become apparent that a large number of casinos could open in this country under the 1968 legislation. This has gone well beyond the numbers that Ministers originally said would be in existence. The former Minister, the right honourable Member for Sheffield Central, Mr Caborn, said on 11 January 2005, when referring to the total number of casinos that were expected following the 2005 legislation:
“We can say with certainty that there will be no more than 150 casinos”.—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee B, 11/1/05; col. 718.]
I recently asked the Gambling Commission and have been told that there are 144 licensed and operating casinos, including two card clubs, under the 1968 Act, with 46 casinos, including one card club, licensed but not operating. Nineteen applications have been rejected by local licensing authorities but are subject to appeal. Fourteen casino certificates of consent have been granted and are waiting for a hearing by magistrates, including three card clubs, and three casino certificates of consent are pending determination or issue by the Gambling Commission. Ten of this total of 82 are extensions to, or replacements for, existing licences.
This makes a theoretical maximum of 216, including six card clubs, which is far in excess of the 150 that the former Minister said with certainty were likely to exist, or would exist, in this country. That loophole should have been closed much more quickly than the Government chose to close it. It has now resulted in a potential proliferation of casinos. I heard that the Minister was very optimistic about those casino licences not coming into effect, but that is a very large potential number, and well above the assurance originally given by Ministers. It is extraordinary that we have spent so much time over the past years debating 16 potential new casinos, eight large and eight small, while a vast number of other potential new casinos have not been subject to such debate and scrutiny.
Apart from this, there is concern about the impact that the 16 new casinos could have on the existing casino estate. It transpires that 10 out of the 16 sites for new large and small casinos are already in permitted areas under the 1968 Act. The draft regulation specifies a new casino for Southampton, but it already has three before we add the extra one, which will be much larger than any of the existing three. Great Yarmouth has three casinos, as does Hull. Leeds already has five casinos, with one application under the 1968 Act, I believe, still pending. Middlesbrough already has three casinos. Solihull has none, but if we look at the wider Birmingham area, there are eight. In relation to smaller casinos, Torbay already has one and Swansea has two, with two additional casinos licensed but not yet open. Luton has three, with one appeal for a licence pending. Wolverhampton has two operating, with an additional casino licensed but not yet open. Scarborough has one, plus one that recently closed. In all those cases, as a result of this order, we are proposing to add another casino that could well have an impact on the viability of the existing casinos in those areas.
In the debate on these draft regulations in the other place in March, the Minister, Mr Gerry Sutcliffe, said that he was carefully considering the proposals that he had received from the British Casino Association, with the aim of protecting the viability of the existing casino estate. These relate to the ability of so-called casinos established under the 1968 Act to be able to relocate, subject to the relevant consent from magistrates and local authorities. I have seen copies of some ambivalent correspondence, subsequent to that debate, passing between the BCA and the Minister. What is the position? Is he taking these proposals seriously, and what conclusion has he come to? Is his position, in reality, that he wants the number of casinos to shrink? Is he content for existing casinos to close?
We then come to another important matter. The existing casino operators are keen for the Government to conduct an immediate review of stakes and prizes for machines, because they also impact on the viability of existing casinos. The Minister, Mr Sutcliffe, was very clear in the other place on 25 March that the review of stakes and prizes would take place shortly, yet nothing at all has happened in the interim. I do not know how quickly the clocks run in Mr Sutcliffe’s household, but they clearly do not keep ordinary hours and minutes as we know them. Perhaps No. 10 has stopped the clock. What is the situation?
Then there is the question of contributions to the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. On 26 February the Secretary of State, Mr Burnham, expressed concern that a large number of organisations—more than 90 per cent of the operators, it seems—were making no contribution at all. He said:
“Unless the industry delivers a substantial increase in contributions by the end of this year and makes contributions in a timely fashion, I will seek the approval of the House for a statutory levy, at a rate to be determined”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/08; col. 904.]
Again, this is relevant to the viability of the existing casino estate and the new casinos coming on line. Will the Minister amplify what the Secretary of State meant by “substantial increase”? What would satisfy him?
To cap it all, since our debate in March 2007 the Merits Committee has issued another damning report calling into question the procedures that the Casino Advisory Panel adopted in relation to the decision to locate the 16 small and large casinos. It said that the policy objectives of the regulations may be imperfectly achieved. At this stage it is extremely unclear what the Government’s policy objectives are.
If we were so minded there would be ample reason to throw out these regulations in the same way as the previous ones were. There have been some limited pluses in the interim as Liberal Democrats, and in particular my honourable friend Don Foster, acknowledged in the other place when the regulations were debated there. There is now greater clarity about consultation. On these Benches we made it very clear, on a number of occasions, that before an additional large or small casino opens for business in any of the 16 areas there should be maximum opportunity for wide consultation at all stages of the process. That was confirmed by the Secretary of State on 26 February and so those who live close enough to the premises and are likely to be affected by the new casino, or those with business interests that might be affected, will be able to make representations. We welcome that.
The Government have also clarified their approach on changing the age limit for casinos and the time limitation on the so-called ban on 24-hour gambling.
Finally, there is the question of regeneration assistance for both Blackpool and Manchester to make up for the fact that there will be no supercasino to assist in regenerating those cities. Last year the Government set up a Blackpool regeneration task force, and this February in their response announced financial support. How much of this is new money? There are other elements and decisions which Blackpool badly needs to kick-start its regeneration where government help is being sought. What can the Minister say about that?
We heard in February, likewise, that an ad hoc group was being set up to look at regeneration alternatives for Manchester. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government made a statement in March which contained a number of welcome ingredients. What will be the continuing status of that group? What additional funding is being levered in by its activities?
On these Benches we do not intend to divide the House. We advocated the separation of the 16 casinos a year ago and we stick to that position. Of course we are unwilling to delay the hopes and expectations of the locations for small and large casinos any further than they already have been. But there is absolutely no doubt that the Government have made a complete mess of their whole gambling strategy. The least they can do is acknowledge that.
My Lords, it is good note in these draft regulations and in the report the seriousness with which the Government intend to monitor and review the social and economic impact of large and small casinos. The regulations imposed by the Government have already ensured that the casinos demonstrate a high degree of social responsibility, especially towards those vulnerable to addiction and to the young.
The Government have been sensitive to the public mood in at least deferring the decision on supercasinos until a proper evaluation can be carried out on the impact, especially in areas of high deprivation. Some of the authorities which may issue large casino premises licences include places of multiple deprivation and areas of consolidated poverty such as Kingston-upon-Hull. Before going to Liverpool I was the Bishop of Hull. It is a city for which I continue to have a great deal of affection. If I were still its bishop I would, from a pastoral point of view, express great concern at the prospect of another casino full of 150 machines, some offering the prospect of prize money of £4,000 at the press of a button costing £2 a go. To use the words of the Explanatory Memorandum, such casino gambling in places of poverty,
“does carry some risks of personal and social harm”.
I recall an earlier debate which was introduced by a Minister with the words, “The people want to gamble”. That is of course true of some people but differentiating what the people want from what the people need and from what the people ought to have is the high calling and heavy responsibility of those called to govern.
I wish to put down a marker of hope in this debate. If the assessment of the social and economic impact proves that casino gambling is detrimental in areas of deprivation, I hope the Government will act swiftly to remove them from the area and to rule them out of their strategy of regeneration.
We live in a time of unprecedented personal debt—over £1 trillion. Future historians may well say that we made the indebted poor even more vulnerable by putting gambling within easier reach. I know that local authorities have invested considerable time, money and energy into mounting the case for casinos in their areas as part of their strategy for regeneration. I know, too, that they, like the Government, take seriously the need to minimise harm and to protect the vulnerable. I know that some boroughs have engaged local people in local consultation.
However, the earlier debate and consultation and the earlier preparatory work took place in a very different economic climate. We have not only higher degrees of debt but increasing negative equity in the housing market, with more people at risk financially. This sets a rather different mood and a rather different social context for today’s debate. In an earlier debate, my friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury voiced his concerns about our social well-being. We on these Benches urge the Government to proceed with caution, with prudence and with a due sense of responsibility for the weaker members of our society.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the right reverend Prelate. He reminded us of the social dimension that is contained within not only the regulations but all the provisions of the Gambling Act. Thanks are also due to my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham for introducing the regulations. He is getting a rather easier ride with this order than he did in March last year with the order that contained the very controversial proposal for the one regional casino, as well as the 16. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, could have been a little more gracious in acknowledging that the Government have done what he and the majority of this House voted for in that debate last year.
I do not take the view that the implementation of the 2005 Act is going nearly as badly as other noble Lords suggest. The role of regulation and the work of the Gambling Commission have been exemplary so far. They have tackled the task with vigour and, to begin with, with fairly low resources. The indications I get from talking to people in the industry—I have a number of interests which are on the register related to what they do—is that they are tackling it well and that the quality of the regulation is now substantially greater than it was before the Act came in.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard, was right to refer to some of the problems of offshore advertising. I have referred in this House on more than one occasion to the difficulties that are caused by the poor standards of regulation in Gibraltar and its reluctance to adopt the same standards as the Gambling Commission and the white-listed authorities. Putting that aside, however, the work on the regulation of online gambling and the other aspects of the industry are working well.
I do not underestimate the scale of problem gambling. The prevalent study indicated to the surprise of many that it had not grown markedly over the past few years. It will be very interesting to see whether those figures are sustained in the next prevalent study after the expansion in gambling can be measured.
I will share with the House details of a visit I paid a couple of weeks ago to Gordon House, the only residential centre for problem gamblers in the West Midlands. The residents of Gordon House are men at probably the very bottom of their lives. I spoke to between a dozen and 15 of them and discussed their problems and addictions. What impressed me was the willingness of the authorities at Gordon House to help these men through their addiction, remove them from gambling altogether and get them back into society. It was also interesting to learn where the men saw the origins of their problem starting. Many first became addicted to gambling in the seaside arcades which they went to as children. I was attracted by the recommendations by the Budd committee which effectively proposed the elimination of gambling by children. I think we are the only country in Europe that allows youngsters to go into arcades and spend money. They are not spending money on the same scale as people do in the adult arcades, but there is considerable evidence that problem gambling starts in childhood and then continues.
By far the worst manifestations of the problems of the residents of Gordon House lay in the fixed-odds betting machines; almost without exception, they admitted that they had become addicted to them. I hope very much that my noble friend will be able to say something about the Government review of the FOBTs, which have effectively created electronic casinos in so many betting shops.
On the casino regulations, I and a number of colleagues who I can see in the Chamber were members of a joint scrutiny committee. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is right that the original proposition was for a free market, which was then slimmed down to eight plus eight plus eight, and then, in the dying days of the previous Session, the eight became one. It was the view of all the members of the joint scrutiny committee that if there were to be only one, the logical and best location for it would be Blackpool. When we visited Blackpool, we were impressed by the strength of support that we found among the local community, the local council and businesses. The only exceptions were a self-seeking organisation that already runs a gambling operation on the seafront which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, knows very well, and, I am afraid, one Liberal Democrat councillor who was fighting a lone crusade.
The joint scrutiny committee took the view that Blackpool had argued the case and had thought through very carefully the way in which regeneration of that very depressed town centre and the surrounding area could be assisted—not created—by the establishment of a regional casino or a resort casino, as we originally called it. That was supported by the evidence from Professor Peter Collins; there was also evidence from Australia that the one place where you avoid having large casinos with attractive machines is in deprived urban areas. It is much better to have an area to which people have to travel as a day trip or for a weekend holiday, such as a seaside resort, not in a city centre. So it was with utter astonishment that I read the report of Professor Crow’s inquiry, which turned down Blackpool and went instead for east Manchester. It seemed almost that he had turned the argument of the joint scrutiny committee completely on its head. He argued that a resort should not be chosen as it would not be possible to measure the social impact because the people going there would be visitors. Those are exactly the sort of whom that one would want in order to avoid the social problems. A consequence was the report of the Merits Committee, to which other speakers have referred, which contributed to the defeat of the order that we debated in this House in March last year.
As is well known, I was one of those who voted against the order with 12 of my noble friends. I have to say that I have not lost a moment’s sleep since. The judgment that we exercised on that day was vindicated very quickly by the announcement by the new Prime Minister that the plans for the regional casino would, first, be put on ice and then, latterly, were killed altogether.
The outcome is the statutory instrument before us. I still regret that Blackpool is not being given the opportunity to demonstrate whether regeneration can flow from the activity that a regional casino can create. It is unfortunate that the local authority is not one of those named in the order; perhaps it was short-sightedness on its part not—as a sort of each-way bet—to apply for one of the 16 as well. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will say have more to say about this, but I hope my noble friend is able to say more about the package of regeneration which is in prospect for Blackpool. A number of promises have been made to that town and it is important that they are fulfilled.
If there is a decline in interest in the number of large and small casinos under this order, the Government could also give an undertaking that, if a local authority does not want to take one of these, an authority such as Blackpool should be able to come forward and take their place. I suspect that may be difficult; perhaps my noble friend can clarify that situation.
I certainly do not intend to vote against the regulations. It would be extraordinarily perverse of me to do so, having voted the way that I did in March last year. I wish the regulations well but hope that my noble friend will take on board some of the concerns expressed from all parts of the House.
My Lords, my view has not changed since the regulations were introduced. The Minister was unduly provocative when he announced that the Casino Advisory Panel did a good job. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, indicated, for many of us it was a bizarre outcome—almost as bizarre for the Ministers who opened the envelope as for the rest of us. As the noble Lord pointed out, this process was looked at not by just one committee but three: the Royal Commission, the Joint Committee of both Houses and by Casino Advisory Panel. As the noble Lord indicated, there was much conflicting evidence against what that panel did.
Taking the lead from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who analysed very well how the Government have handled this, we will not divide the House. I assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool that this is not because, on the last occasion, I had the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury here on our side. I do not count replacing Canterbury with Liverpool as any kind of demotion, but we are not going to divide this evening.
I remain convinced that PhDs will be earned by studying this process as a way not to legislate. Frankly, it has been a shambles—I will turn to that in a moment. I want to make two points. First, the Government have a moral duty to Blackpool. Had Blackpool been allowed to do what it requested eight years ago, and had tested the idea of a resort casino as a means of regeneration for a seaside resort, we would now be able to see the first outcomes of such a pilot project. Instead, Blackpool is faced with real problems. As the Government’s own regeneration task force said,
“Blackpool is in urgent need of comprehensive regeneration”.
The town has not sat quiet, waiting for something to happen. The task force has put forward a five-point plan for regeneration, but requires help and support from the Government. I will not delay the House by going into detail on the five-point plan but I want to highlight the idea of upgrading Blackpool and Fylde Further Education College, in co-operation with Lancaster University, into a university of the leisure industries. It makes a perfect fit for Blackpool and has no better endorsement than the Prime Minister himself. When he mentioned that he was no longer enthused by the idea of supercasinos, he referred to higher and further education as possible alternatives in a place such as Blackpool. I hope that the Government look seriously at that.
I hope the Minister has in his brief some indication of when Blackpool can expect action, not just words, on some of the proposals that have been put forward; for example, we are waiting for a decision on whether the theatre museum can be moved from the V&A, so that the funding can help to connect the Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens complex with the seafront development. Those practical decisions need government action.
Secondly, there are regulations. In the previous debate, I made a guess, not with a great deal of expertise, that we would end up with about 300 casinos. That provoked the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg, from these Benches—he knows a thing or two about casinos—to see me afterwards and say, “No, you are completely wrong. I shall tell you why: casino operators do not operate casinos where they will not work and there are not 300 places in the country where they will work. I shall tell you something else: one of the results of this flawed legislation is that the 16 places, which are to have these new casinos inflicted on them, are the wrong places”. He mentioned two areas where he did not think there was a chance in hell of any respectable casino company wanting to operate. I checked with the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg, who unfortunately is absent—he had to be in Belfast today—and I believe that I fairly reflect his view that not all 16 may be taken up.
That prompts the question raised by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner; that is, that if all 16 are not taken up, is there enough flexibility in this legislation, or can the Government use enough common sense, to reallocate those licences to areas that come forward? Secondly, as my noble friend asked, what is the scope for the Government responding with flexibility to the requests by the British Casino Association that, where there is a willing transfer of licences, 1968 licences could be transferred from one area to another?
I believe that some of the benefits, which would have come from a resort casino, could still be won by Blackpool, by attracting willing casino investors who would operate not just a stand-alone casino operation, as they would in many of the towns that are mentioned, but a resort casino, which, as I have seen operating in other parts of the world, would operate as the nucleus of an entertainment centre, a retail centre, a leisure centre and a restaurant centre. That is why there was such a strong argument for resort casinos. If we could have some action on those requests for regeneration and flexibility in licensing policy, Blackpool would be on the way to getting the help that it deserves.
In a previous debate, the Minister suggested that there was a difference of opinion between me and the two Members of Parliament for Blackpool. Perhaps I can put on record that I strongly support and admire the way in which Joan Humble and Gordon Marsden have fought for their constituencies. I pay tribute to their courage and determination—I know how government Whips operate at the other end of the building—in serving the best interests of the town.
Of course, there are problems with problem gambling. However, I am worried that this is a typical piece of legislation which has been drawn up by civil servants and Ministers who operate in a world a million miles away from the reality of casinos and how they operate. Most people’s only idea of a casino is seeing George Raft in an ancient B movie. As a result, this House and the other place have nodded through relaxations of our gambling law which need closely to be studied. As I said in the previous debate, you can drive through some of the poorest parts of our towns and cities, and pass betting shops that are now open until 9.30 pm and contain four gaming machines. They are there not to collect money for betting on horses, but because they take money out of the poorest areas of the country. They pose a far greater threat of problem gambling than the well regulated, closely watched ambience in which casinos operate.
I hope that we put these matters in proper perspective. One hundred years ago, Blackpool had the imagination and vision to establish the most successful seaside resort in Europe. It now needs a little help from its friends and it can do so again.
My Lords, I reiterate what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for the manner in which he has brought forward these instruments. It is so nice to see him at the Dispatch Box with a proper brief. If noble Lords throw their minds back to the previous occasion when we threw out these instruments, they will remember that he had to work off a letter, most of which we had all seen before the House sat, and cobble together a deal to try to salvage the Government’s casino policy.
It gives me great pleasure to be able to say that, for the first time in my parliamentary career, I completely agree with everything that the two speakers from the Liberal Democrat Benches said. That is an unusual comment from an old Tory dog like me. When I came into the House, I thought that the debate would take about five minutes as I had forgotten your Lordships’ capacity to dig up and chew an old bone. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, pointed out, this is a classic example of a policy of the Government being in complete tatters: this is the end of the Government’s casino policy. If noble Lords take the trouble to look at the instruments in detail, they will see that they are confirmed by Section 175(4) of the Gambling Act, which carefully lists the one regional and the eight-and-eight casinos. That one regional casino, which, as noble Lords have said, was originally the flagship of the Government’ policy, no longer exists. What is left is a rump which, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, quite rightly told the House, has been immensely damaging to Blackpool. I hold no brief for Blackpool, but I remember visiting it as a member of the scrutiny committee, as did the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. I hold no brief to condemn Manchester for its bid. But they have both been treated appallingly by this Government. They were encouraged to bid for the regional casinos. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, in being rejected for the one regional casino, they have had no ability to bid for either the eight or the eight. So they have been doubly damned for doing an extremely good job—which is what happens in practically every area of this Government’s policy. It is pretty unpleasant and unsatisfactory.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, there has already been a significant growth in the number of casinos under 1968 Act. He gave quite a lot of figures; I am sure that they are very accurate and better than mine—I had worked out that it had been about a 30 per cent increase. One should put that in the context of what the Minister said in opening the debate. One of the primary purposes of the Act was to prevent the “proliferation of small casinos”—the Minister used those words—but that is precisely what we are seeing. It is therefore a complete and utter failure of government policy.
We passed the Gambling Act in 2005. Here we are implementing it three years later, or trying to implement it in a rather shambolic way. However, since 2005, the economy has turned significantly. Quite a few casinos have closed because the economic climate has changed. The smoking ban has led to a reduction in income of between 10 and 15 per cent. These are difficult times for any industry without it having a Government climbing all over it at the same time.
I, too, draw your Lordships’ attention and the Minister’s attention to the debate in the House of Commons on 25 March. My honourable friend Mr Malcolm Moss and Mr Don Foster from the Liberal Democrats both pushed the Minister, Mr Gerry Sutcliffe, very hard. It is clear from reading the debate—and I commend it to the House—that the Minister appeared to give an undertaking to work with the British Casino Association on its proposals to correct this. I hope that in winding up the noble Lord, Lord Davies, will confirm to the House that the Minister is going to do that. We have heard from all sides of the House—from this side, from the Liberal Democrats, from the government Benches and from the spiritual Benches—that this is a muddle, and a muddle of the Government’s making. They have an obligation to go a bit further to sort it out, which means talking to the industry that they have damaged.
The Gambling Act 2005 is now a fact—we have got it. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, to whose judgment I bow, talked about the quality of regulations. There is no doubt that we have quality in our regulations. But I ask your Lordships to think back to the rich origins of this policy, in Sir Alan Budd’s report. He made it perfectly clear that we had, at that time, an extremely well regulated industry in this country. We still have one—the quality is there, but, my God, the quantity is there too. The amount of regulation that we have! The old Gaming Board did a very good job with 46 employees; I wonder how good a job the current Gambling Commission is doing with 200 or 250 employees. And at what cost! Who is paying for it? The industry is getting the same quality of regulation but at what an increase in cost. The consultation is now out from the commission on those costs, which are considerable. The industry is hurting from that, and I hope that the Government will take that into account.
While we are here, we may as well talk about the other primary purpose of this legislation, which was to regulate the most dangerous part of gambling, about which we knew little at that stage—internet gambling. The right reverend Prelate talked about the social damage that can be done when gambling gets out of hand. There is no more difficult area to regulate than internet gambling, and one of the singular purposes of this Act was to do that. However, thanks to old “Prudence”, our current Prime Minister, racking the tax rate up, not one single company has come from offshore to onshore to be regulated. That is another complete area of failure in this Act—a policy failure almost without parallel.
Again, we need to think about this in the context of what is going on at the moment. We have witnessed in the past 18 months a very significant collapse in the bingo industry, for a variety of reasons—one of which is smoking and one of which is the way in which the Government have treated slot machines. It is an important industry in lots of ways, especially social ways. A lot of old people spend their afternoons there, which they will not do any more because a lot of the clubs are closing. A lot of them have closed and more will close. Some of your Lordships may not like the slot machine industry in pubs, but slot machines paid the rent—and one reason why pubs are closing at the rate of 25 a week is because of the way in which the Government have handled slot machines. They need to look at that.
So we should not look only at casinos in this debate. We should look at these instruments as part of an entire policy—and one that is in complete tatters. It is another example of poor old Britain with a third world regulation system. That is pretty embarrassing for all of us—a major industry so damaged by this Government’s policy. We cannot do anything about that today, but we can help casinos. The Minister has the opportunity in winding up the debate to put at rest some of the concerns raised on all sides of the House today. I hope that he will do that.
My Lords, I was prompted to take part in this debate by a brief remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. He remarked that Luton had three casinos. In 1968, when there was legislation on casinos, I was the Member of Parliament for Luton, at which time we had one casino—which was called, rather grandly, Caesars Palace. I think that that was perhaps overdoing it, but I used to go there on a Friday night, though to the cabaret, not the casino. I can say that because I am not really a gambling man. My parents were great race goers and would go to the races throughout the Scottish circuit, to half a dozen or so races. When I became a teenager and likely to follow my father in his footsteps he said, “Look Willie, don’t go to the races”. I said, “Why not, you go?” He said, “You may have noticed that it’s the bookie’s wife who has the fur coat, and not your mother”. So I am a reformed non-gambler. I buy a lottery ticket now and again in the hope of being able to join the opposition Benches, but that is another matter.
When the 1968 legislation was going through Parliament, the proprietor of Caesars Palace—who was not a Roman—came to me for assistance. He explained all the good things that his casino did. It was rather like drawing in the argument—quite a relevant one—about regeneration. Regeneration had not been invented in 1968, but he would have used it had it been so. Casinos did good work for old age pensioners and that kind of thing. His name was Ivor. I said, “Look here, Ivor. I'm on your side. The vast majority of my constituents in Luton like gambling and they like going to casinos. This is an enjoyment of theirs with which we should not interfere”.
Caesars Palace was at that time threatened with the hatchet. As noble Lords will remember, because of threats from the Malta Mafia who were thought to be overwhelming the casino and gambling operations in this country, the number of casinos was to be reduced. I managed to persuade Jim Callaghan, who was the Home Secretary and who I knew quite well at the time—my old friend the noble Lord, Lord McNally, did too. He was persuaded that good work should be allowed to continue—not the good work of quasi-regeneration, but of allowing my constituents the enjoyment they wished for, which was to gamble and have a lot of fun. The British people have been doing that since time immemorial. Why should they not?
The gambling business has been tightly regulated. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, drew attention to the small group who suffer from gambling, but the great majority do not. It is a public enjoyment that should be allowed to be publicly enjoyed. The less regulation there is the better. I think that about many other aspects of our society as well, but let us not get into that.
I make only one further observation, which is irrelevant and nobody should really listen to it. The Minister will recall the late John Maynard Keynes. Does it rhyme with cleans or canes?
Milton Keynes rhymes with cleans and John Maynard Keynes rhymes with canes. Anyway, he described the Stock Exchange as a casino, and he was right. I know that I am a little wide of the regulations, but describing the Stock Exchange as a casino affects the entire finance industry where people bet on things. It is now described as betting on things, but it did not used to be. Would it not be more sensible to apply casino-type regulations to the Stock Exchange and the finance industry than to casinos and gambling?
My Lords, I first apologise for my late arrival to the Chamber. I often wonder at the consequences of massive investment in the west coast main line. I wish to make a brief contribution on behalf of the city of Manchester, because if an overwhelming case has been made for Blackpool, the case for Manchester is absolutely overwhelming.
The right to license a regional casino was the subject of one of the most intensive national competitions for many years. The recommendation that Manchester should be awarded the right to license a casino followed an independent review, which was fully endorsed by the Government. All the bidders for the regional casino licence promoted their proposals on the basis of the significant economic benefit that would be generated by the proposals. Manchester indicated that the total employment benefit would be between 2,700 and 3,500 jobs, with the vast majority being made available to local people. This level of economic impact was also validated through the independent process.
The decision to change policy where the regional casino is concerned has been, to say the very least, a major disappointment in the city of Manchester. Two issues have caused particular concern. First, the report produced by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, which is often quoted by Ministers as the reason why the regional casino will not go ahead, did not consider the specific impacts of a regional casino in Manchester. It also did not conclude that other means of regeneration would be a better way of meeting economic and social need. Most of the evidence base quoted in that report was available to the Government and others before the Gambling Act was enacted. In my view the report does not provide any justification for the regional casino decision.
Secondly, it has also been stated that the regional casino decision is what Parliament called for in March 2007. In my view, that is not the case. The Commons agreed the recommendations and, while by a small margin the Lords did not, the resolution that was passed criticised the terms of reference of the Casino Advisory Panel and its concerns applied with equal force to the large and small casinos, given that the same terms of reference applied to all the casinos.
The House of Lords Merits Committee drew the particular attention of the House to the grounds on which it may imperfectly achieve its policy objectives. The reason for the report is that the Merits Committee was concerned in 2007 about the process for arriving at a recommendation in relation to all 17 authorities, and no new process was conducted to arrive at this list of 16 authorities. The report draws special attention to two factors in particular: whether the Casino Advisory Panel’s interpretation of its terms of reference and the list of authorities it recommended as a result sufficiently reflected the 2005 Act licensing objectives, and the fact that the locations chosen in the 2008 order may not necessarily provide the,
“best test of social impact”.
The House of Lords demanded a review of the process, not the abandonment of a regional casino. That review should apply to all casinos, large and small, as well as the regional casino, and we have heard supporting comments for that today. Not to do so would be to say that large and small casinos are acceptable but regional casinos are not, without any evidence to support that position. I hope the Minister will reflect on that in his closing statement.
The Government have endorsed legislation to implement small and large casinos and a regional casino. However, they are trying to pick and choose which parts of the legislation they are willing to implement. For the people of Manchester, that is not acceptable. As a result, Manchester is being denied the opportunity to create up to 3,500 jobs for some of the most deprived communities in England. We have always accepted that if the regional casino was to be dropped, there was an obligation on the Government to put back the jobs they had taken away. As we have heard, a ministerial task force is in place to work with the city council to evaluate the opportunities, but it must come forward quickly with concrete proposals for investment and the jobs that go with it as a matter of urgency.
If the case has been made for Blackpool, as I understand it has, then it equally applies to Manchester, particularly because Manchester actually won the competition to have a regional casino. If the Government do not follow that route, they will be reneging on their commitment to the people of Manchester. I assure the Minister that unless the task force comes forward with proposals in the near future, this matter will not be left but will be vigorously pursued in both Houses.
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to chew—for the last time, I hope—on what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, called “this old bone”? Those of us on the Joint Scrutiny Committee have been chewing away on this bone and there is not much meat left.
If I may take a subjective view, I was on the Front Bench, now ably replaced by my noble friend, who has spoken so well today, I was on the Joint Committee, and I have done a bit of gambling in my life. I have rather grown out of it now. It is more a young person’s affair. I think that you can grow out of it, as long as you do not go completely bankrupt. On a sad note, two days ago I went to the funeral of a friend who had committed suicide. Gambling was a large component of his despair. It was compounded by drink and matrimonial problems, but gambling was definitely an important part of that tragedy.
Gambling has always been with me. When I was a boy at school, I had a penchant for gambling. That continued to my boarding school days, where I enjoyed the only profitable time in my gambling career, as the school bookmaker. In those days, it was a risky path, because public policy—this is very much relevant to what is before us today—came from the Victorian period and probably before, and decreed that gambling was a fact of life, but one that had to be watched carefully and indeed discouraged. That was public policy and it has now completely changed without anybody realising.
One piece of evidence for that is that gambling is now controlled by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, rather than by the Home Office. When the department took on the weighty role of deciding what to do with gambling, it had to get some ideas. One idea was that gambling should be looked at in a modern way, because new Labour has always told us how modern it is—we have a somewhat jaundiced view of that now. We were told that gambling was a pleasant recreational activity; that a few people got damaged, but not very many; and that a committee under Sir Alan Budd would be given the task of guiding us forward.
Sir Alan Budd, without knowing a great deal about gambling, I gather, had the very good idea that what we should do, if we were going to encourage gambling, was at least get some regeneration out of it. One problem of the Government’s abject failure on this gambling legislation is that they have not managed to get precision on any idea. I could go through a list of aspects of the legislation where there is no precision, but I will take just two that struck me, and which have been mentioned today in the House.
One concerns harm to the vulnerable and the young. The young are particularly vulnerable. I have mentioned this outside the Chamber to the Minister and he listened very attentively. It has always been the Government’s contention that statistics show that the incidence of gambling harm in this country is one of the lowest in Europe. I asked him how they knew that. They know that because they have looked at some statistics. However, my friend who committed suicide was not a statistic—he had a gambling problem. By “problem”, I mean that you conceal things from your family, you spend money that you do not have and you lie to people—all aspects of addiction. Most people’s gambling problems are not recorded. I reckon that in this country we have a serious problem with the young and gambling. This can be seen in betting shops with what are actually gaming machines. They are called “fixed odds betting terminals”. What a British thing that is—to disguise a gaming machine with a completely unintelligible term. They are gaming machines.
There is so much to tempt young people. As was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, we are now reaching the stage where people—particularly those on low incomes—will have to budget very carefully for their normal costs. They will not have a surplus with which to gamble. The problem is that once you gamble and lose, you get caught up in a terrible vortex—I know; I have been through it. The Government have not been precise about that. I would not go so far as to say that they have tried to deceive anyone; I just think that they have been gullible. The worst legislation is that which goes on to the statute book as a result of the Government being gullible and uninformed, and I am afraid that that is the case with this measure.
The other aspect of the legislation that I want to mention is the lack of precision in relation to regeneration. Sir Alan Budd thought that regeneration would come about in seaside resorts as a result of them having casinos. However, with plenty of flexibility and so on, the change was made from seaside resort casinos to regional casinos. The idea of going for a weekend with a limited amount of money to a casino in a resort was swept aside, and the principle of not having gambling where people would come upon it accidentally on the street seems to have been forgotten. That was a major principle when we started our work in the scrutiny committee, and at the time it was agreed by the committee and the Government.
I agree with the noble Lord who said that the list of casinos is now very strange, although I shall limit my remarks to Torbay. I was brought up around Torbay. People used to call it the English Riviera. Torquay was built, like Rome, on seven hills. It was covered with trees and developed in the Napoleonic period as a naval station, but it is now one of the most depressed resorts in England. I do not know any resort that has deteriorated so much. Because of the seasonal aspect of life there, many people who run boarding houses and hotels are very short of money during the winter, and a lot of people who do occasional work for them lead a very low quality of life. What are they going to do in a casino in Torbay? I agree with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Steinberg, a point to which my noble friend Lord McNally referred. I would not be at all surprised if that was one of the casinos that the noble Lord said he would not bother to operate—at least, I hope that he does not.
There is no regeneration to be had from gambling. Can anyone tell me where there has been any such regeneration, other than from an Indian casino in the United States? There is a special tax regime in the US, for reasons that I shall not go into now. The benefits do not filter down. In any case, the Government were unable to define regeneration. Even the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister did not seem to have any idea when it gave evidence to the committee, and local authorities did not know either. American companies, which know a thing or two about this subject, said that we would not get any regeneration out of gambling. They said, “Forget about gambling. Go for entertainment and put a bit of gambling in if you like. That might add to the mix but it’s entertainment that will regenerate if anything does”.
I have had my chew on the bone and, as usual, have enjoyed it. I think that this is a deplorable piece of legislation. The lists are ludicrous and the Government’s arguments are ill-informed, but the Minister who is to respond will, as always, be good-natured and pleasant to hear, and I look forward to his comments.
My Lords, I shall be brief. I apologise that I arrived late. Unfortunately, I had been led to believe that the debate would start somewhat later and therefore I apologise to the House. I have just three or four points to make.
I have never gambled and I loathe gambling. When I was chairman of the planning committee in the city of Leeds many years ago, throughout the duration of my office I never gave approval for any gambling outlet. Times have moved on and there is now all-party support in Leeds for the large casino that is the subject of this instrument, along with others.
On the question of regional casinos—in a sense, the dog that does not bark today but has barked although it is not here—I feel that Manchester was very shabbily treated, in part by your Lordships’ House. It was this House which effectively spelled doom for Manchester, not because of the desire not to have one in Manchester but rather the desire to push the case for Blackpool and so on. That is not a good way to take decisions. Rather than get on our high horse and blame the Government, we should examine our own selves on occasions. I hope Manchester is able to come back at some point.
A great deal has been said about destination gambling and regeneration. I firmly believe that gambling, as part of a major entertainment industry, is entirely capable, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said eloquently, of providing the basis for a major entertainment centre that includes cinemas and concert halls, with retail and restaurants and so on to support it. Your Lordships’ Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, while quoting other research and by implication supporting that research, itself seemed to be very confused on the whole question of the best location for casinos. The idea that casinos should not be in urban areas—one could almost draw that conclusion—seems absolute madness. Blackpool would be an urban area in any case, and Manchester and Leeds certainly are. Whether they should be in a city centre or outside depends entirely on the nature of the urban area. To have a prescriptive view, as your Lordships’ Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee almost appeared to, seems inappropriate. The committee twice referred to the fact that the large casino in Leeds would be in the city centre. That decision has not been made and the city council asked me to bring that to the attention of the House. Whether or not the casino is in the city centre seems to me to be entirely a question of what is an appropriate location to have genuinely regenerative and developmental effects. That should be the criterion, not sitting in committees arguing about the fine points of different principles to apply.
Despite my opposition to gambling in any form, we are where we are now. I regret that Manchester has been badly let down and I hope that it is able to come forward again. I hope the Minister is able to give some reassurance that as and when a major proposal for regional casinos comes forward in future, this will be looked at in a way that gives Manchester a fair crack of the whip. Meanwhile, I shall certainly support these instruments.
My Lords, I owe an apology to your Lordships’ House, in the same way as has just been confessed, as a result of the railway system. I had an appointment at 3.15 pm today of a long-standing nature in relation to Northern Ireland which I was unable to break. Therefore, what I have learnt about the debate, I have learnt in the relatively short time that I have been in the House since I arrived, but because of history, I would be sorry not to make a small contribution to this debate. I see a number of former colleagues in the House from the pre-legislative scrutiny committee. When we assembled, I can recall feeling, in a spirit of all honesty, that I ought to declare an interest as the holder of a telephone account with Ladbrokes, and I do so again today. It is an account which I use only for the Grand National and the Derby and an occasional political bet. In the aftermath of our pre-legislative scrutiny committee report, the Daily Mail made me out, on the strength of this account, to be some form of gambling degenerate. All is fair in love and war and you take these things in your stride.
My own involvement in the story goes back nearly 50 years, when my late noble kinsman was Home Secretary and felt that it would be desirable to have the opportunity to make a disguised visit to Soho. He was taken around for about a hour by an inspector from the Saville Row police station, seeing all aspects of Soho life. At the end, my late noble kinsman said to the inspector, “It did not seem to me that we were recognised anywhere. The only place I thought that we were recognised was that shiny cellar, where it seemed a game—whatever was being played—had a strong resemblance to gambling”. The inspector said, “I feared, Home Secretary, that you would notice that. We think it is probably gambling, too, but the game is so complicated that we are absolutely convinced that we would not be able to explain it to a metropolitan magistrate. Since money is only changing hands within the Chinese community, we think it is all right to turn a blind eye to it, particularly as it is below ground”.
As I say, I have lived with the narrative of these dramas for a long time. I fast-forward to my 24 years as Member of Parliament for the two Cities, which obviously included Soho. In the constituency, 4,500 were then employed in the gambling industry. That would make it a major constituency employer in most constituencies; in the two Cities, it is 0.6 per cent of the total employed population and therefore very much a case of business as usual. Nevertheless, it has given me an insight, through my constituents, into the industry.
After joining your Lordships’ House, I was conscious, both from the constituency and the continuance of the narrative, that government policy not only on gambling but also on alcohol licensing—obviously a related matter to come extent, which in the course of the narrative transferred from the Home Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—seemed to be taking a long time to work out what it wanted to do. We were constantly being asked to respond to consultation papers; I include the Home Office in that. There was therefore a certain discontinuity in the narrative.
We had a debate in your Lordships’ House where the proposition was put forward that there was a lack of philosophical principle behind the present Government, a Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Patten. I said in that debate that leaders of the Labour Party have historically and correctly said that there was much more in the history of the Labour Party from Methodism than from Marxism. That was at exactly the moment that the larger-scale ambitions of the Government for the gambling industry were emerging. It looked as though the Methodist elements of the Labour Party’s history were becoming a little diluted.
The pre-legislative scrutiny committee was then set up. One of the immense pleasures of serving on it was the company of a number of people in this House, including the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, whom we were able to cross-examine as a Minister within the procedure. The confusion and discontinuity to which I was referring were further compounded at that stage by the fact that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister had clearly not got its planning policy together in conjunction with the work we were doing. That of course produced the unique precedent that we actually had to sit again once it had got its policy together, after we had initially reported.
On the past 10 years—obviously not on the circumstances that led up to 1968 and the decisions taken then—all I can say is that the discontinuity and the fact that decisions have been reversed and there have been changes of policy may all have been for the good, but have actually imposed considerable strain on the gambling industry because of the uncertainty with which it has had to live.
My one plea to the Government, in the decisions taken from now on, is to have sensitivity and, indeed, charity toward the industry given its experience.
Obviously, I share the response to Blackpool; equally, I can understand the problems in Manchester but other places around the country have been the victims, too, of this uncertainty. May the Government bear that in mind, so that we can have a happy end to this story rather than one that has not been altogether tidy along the way?
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this fascinating debate, although I feel that I am dealing somewhat with Winston Churchill’s famous pudding. I am not quite sure where the theme is, particularly when I hear it suggested around the House that all sorts of noble Lords who usually disagree with each other are agreeing on points today. Those points all seemed fairly narrow at that stage; they do not lead up to a general theme to which I can so readily reply.
If I may, I will concentrate on responding to the discrete points that have been made, and through that I hope to portray a thread of consistency on the Government’s position. After all, I have already outlined that in my opening statement and do not have a great deal to add to how I began the debate on the virtues of that position. The criticisms that have been voiced do not lead to a conclusion in any way, shape or form, so this regulation and the order ought to be supported.
I agree, of course, with what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, indicated a moment ago; it was reflected in the debate that the issues regarding gambling are complex and challenging. He was, after all, buttressed by my noble friend Lord Woolmer indicating some fluctuations over the years among certain local authorities. That was one consistent theme; while it is all right for noble Lords to say, “Well, it’s absolutely clear what the nation wants”, in rather a negative stance on some of these issues, that is not the voice of the people as represented by their local authorities. Where do your Lordships think that the applications have come from, if not from a succession of local authorities representing their people?
It is important to respond to that aspect of the disappointed position on Blackpool that the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Clement-Jones, reflected. My noble friend Lord Bradley also indicated that Manchester was disappointed with the decision. Let us get one thing clear: the legislation allows for only one regional casino, so there is no compromise suggesting that the Government could think about it and produce two answers to which should be chosen. They could not, for the legislation binds us to one.
Did this Labour Administration only ever want one regional casino? No; we had proposed more than one, but in the famous wash-up period prior to the 2005 general election it will be recalled that the Conservative Opposition insisted on there being only one. Let me be clear: if it is suggested that the Government lacked a policy in this area: there are a number of significant constraints in the legislation creating our difficulties.
I am not going to discriminate between the rival claims of Manchester and Blackpool. Talk about going over the old bones that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, referred to! That would be something to chew. I agree that it is important that Manchester put forward its case to obtain the regional casino and that Blackpool was unable to sustain its case, even though we all knew it had advantages in its need for regeneration and its strategy to address it. On both those cases, I am in agreement. So are Ministers who count more than I do in the Administration, and they are determined to ensure that Blackpool gets the resources it needs.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, presented the issues in this House, but he was kind enough to pay tribute to my honourable friends in the other place, the elected representatives for Blackpool, who argued their case with the greatest force. Their arguments need to be met, and we need to make progress on that. Likewise, my noble friend Lord Bradley is scarcely alone as Members in the other place are determined that Manchester should not be disadvantaged by this decision, although in one obvious sense it is because it won the position and a decision by Parliament took that opportunity away. I am not going over the debate that led to that decision, save to say that when the noble Lord, Lord McNally, says that there is a congruence of opinion with regard to the order— there certainly was one in the voting Lobby—he is a sophisticated enough politician to know that people can arrive in the voting Lobby through different motivations. Although I listened to his arguments with the greatest care, as I always do, when he said that he won over the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, I do not think that that was the case. The most reverend Primate had a clear set of principles against the casino strategy and did not think it would promote regeneration. He did not think it would promote regeneration in Blackpool either. The idea that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, won over to that Lobby such a significant Member of the House is wrong.
Let us come to the detail of the decision. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, emphasised that there are two classes of casino to which different considerations obtain. That is so. That is the fact of the legislation. There are 144 casinos under the 1968 Act and 16 under these orders. We have been able to modernise the position as far as the orders relating to the 2005 legislation are concerned, but the other casinos exist under the 1968 Act, and there is bound to be a difference in approach to the two classes of casino. He also suggested that the level of taxation on gambling is too high and warned us of the consequences. Of course the industry protests that the tax is too high. Is there any industry or individual that does not protest that taxation is too high? Any industry will do so in every forum. It is clear that when opportunities provide themselves the industry responds and seeks to be creative.
I recognise the point about bingo. Ministers are in discussion with interests concerned with bingo because it is having difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, identified that issue. The Government are not going to resile on the ban on smoking in public places. If an unintended consequence of that is that people who used to go to bingo and enjoyed the smoke-laden atmosphere are now not able to do so and go with less frequency, the Government are going to regret the consequences for bingo, but will not resile from the legislation for obvious reasons. We recognise that there is a drop in bingo attendance and want to look at aspects of that.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that the total increase in casino numbers under the Gaming Act is a marginal increase at this time. He is right that in the most extreme case there could be 216 casinos in that category. I indicated that in my opening statement. The numbers will be nothing like that. Again, I emphasise that local authorities have to agree to these proposals. If local people decide that a casino is a good business for their area—and certainly as far as the 16 are concerned it is quite clear that they do, which is why they went through the long process of application—noble Lords must have reservations about the extent to which we can be critical of a process in which local decision-taking is of crucial significance.
I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for clearly indicating that with this order the Government are fulfilling exactly the decision that this House took when it rejected the order, and based that almost overwhelmingly on the issue of the regional casino and the difficulties that noble Lords identified with that position. The House will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, proposed an amendment to the effect that we should proceed with the other 16. That is exactly what we are doing. I give way.
My Lords, the Minister has half-interpreted the proposals of last March correctly, but he has to admit that there was a second level to the proposal, which remitted the decision on the supercasino to a joint Select Committee. The Government have acted in a way which means that no supercasino goes ahead.
My Lords, my arguments were somewhat different from that expressed in the statement, but I accept the chiding from the noble Lord. I have strayed on to that ground and it would be better, and probably safer, if I went no further down that road.
The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, indicated that he thought the Government needed to talk to the British Casino Association because there are outstanding difficulties. I assure the House that we recognise that fact. We are continuing discussions. There are a number of issues on which we need to make progress. I assure the noble Lord that Ministers are in regular contact with the British Casino Association. The noble Lord also raised the thorny issue of regulating internet gambling. It is difficult. After all, we all recognise anything to do with regulation of the internet as a challenge to all societies when the internet provides for the development of activities about which there may be strong reservations. I indicate to the noble Lord that only three internet gambler organisations have permission to advertise in the United Kingdom. We are able to regulate advertising. The advertising that appears indicates that those bodies meet certain criteria. However, I recognise the warning signs that he has given with regard to internet gambling and I have referred to his points about the bingo industry.
My noble friend Lord Howie delighted us with his account of Luton and its provision. He indicated that Luton casinos are fairly modest but also the source of much benign entertainment in their locations. My noble friend is right: the whole of this debate inevitably is about the area of greatest difficulty—gaming and casino action—but casinos attract people as places of broader entertainment. We should not underestimate the extent to which many of our fellow citizens are eager to go out and enjoy themselves at casinos, with gambling playing a relatively small part in the evening.
I have mentioned that my noble friends Lord Bradley and Lord Woolmer both thought that Manchester had been treated badly. There has been a consequence to that decision to which I give an assurance that the Government will respond. That is why we have established the working group. I do not know the site as well as my noble friend, who was a representative for central Manchester for so long, but east Manchester is an area which needs significant regeneration and huge resources and it is important that the Government give support to Manchester in its rightful ambitions.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, suggested that regeneration was scarcely the theme of casinos. If that was so, local authorities would not have applied for casinos. I went to several presentations in the company of representatives of local authorities, one or two of which eventually made the list. Many fell by the wayside. There were more than 100 applications, as I recall—I am speaking from memory—and the local authorities would grill experts on the gambling industry and economists about the potential regeneration opportunities. They carried out that exercise with the full responsibility of being elected councillors and they reached their conclusion that their bids were right for local people.
I reiterate the fact that much sporadic criticism has been made of the Government’s position with regard to this order. The House knows that this is not the order the Government first presented and will recall the occasion when the original order was rejected. The Government are responding to the proper applications of 16 local authorities to present their cases for casinos in their areas for the benefits they have identified. We are responding to that with this order. The Government are also placing an emphasis on the other issue before us today and are determined that the Gambling Commission and the legislation should protect the vulnerable. Problem gambling is showing no significant increase since the passing of the Gambling Act. Indeed, it looks as though there is a marginal improvement among young people. I am well aware that I am basing such propositions on limited evidence over a short period of time, and therefore cannot be held to them to any great extent, but I emphasise that the Government are concerned that gambling should be carried out responsibly and within a framework where opportunities occur for mature people—not children—to enjoy themselves while at the same time safeguarding those whose interests need to be safeguarded.
My Lords, the Minister has put on a bravura performance this afternoon but there are many questions raised by noble Lords that he has not answered. I refer to the issue of flexibility for Gaming Act 1968 casinos and the whole question of the review of stakes and prizes, to name but two. If he cannot answer now, will he undertake to write to noble Lords who have raised questions?
My Lords, Ministers ancien should stay ancien and Ministers present should deal with questions as they are put to them. The Minister was also asked whether there was any flexibility about what happens if any of the 16 change their mind. What happens to those as well?
My Lords, I am grateful for help and advice from whichever quarter in the House it comes. It just tends to come more frequently from the Benches behind me and perhaps more pertinently.
Inevitably with this debate, it went wider than the two issues in the order and regulations. I want to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that in our discussions with the British Casino Association it is exactly the issues he has raised which need to be considered further. Ministers are exercised about these matters because the representations have been made and we are aware of the points that have been made in this debate.
With regard to the question of whether a 17th can be added to the 16th the answer is no. The order names the successful authorities. If there were a question at all of one being substituted for another we would have to bring a new order before the House. There is no more an easy sleight of hand with regard to this order than there was any suggestion that one could easily substitute Manchester for Blackpool in the previous order; and look where that left us.
On Question, Motion agreed to.