§ The Parliamenatry Under-Secretary for Northern Ireland (Mr. Christopher Patten)
I beg to move.That the draft Betting, Gaming. Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved.The purpose of the order is to bring up to date the social law in Northern Ireland on all forms of betting, gaming, lotteries and amusements with prizes. The present law is outdated, is proving increasingly difficult to enforce and has fallen into disrepute in many respects. The order seeks to remedy that highly unsatisfactory situation by replacing all existing enactments with legislation which will reflect current attitudes to gambling and demands for gambling facilities and which can be expected, therefore, to command general public respect and to be capable of proper enforcement.
The legislation is lengthy and complex, and I shall not go into it in impenetrable detail. Instead I shall concentrate on the main provisions. Hon. Members may raise issues of detail with which I shall attempt to deal later if I have the opportunity.
Part II of the order largely re-enacts the existing betting law, but makes several changes aimed at making it more efficient in its operation. The major change of substance is to allow greyhound tracks to operate a tote. Because of a quirk in the existing law, only horse racecourses can be licensed to operate the totalisator in Northern Ireland, even though the law for the rest of the United Kingdom permits the tote at greyhound tracks. The Government see no reason why greyhound racing in Northern Ireland should not have the same facility, thus giving punters at the four greyhound tracks the choice of betting with bookmakers or the tote.
The order contains new rules for the conduct of bookmaking offices. Restricted sound broadcasts of race commentaries—the Extel service—will be allowed. Also in line with recent changes in the corresponding law in Great Britain, it will be possible to relax, by subordinate order, the restrictions on the facilites which may be provided in bookmaking offices. These will include television broadcasts. The Government have no immediate plans to exercise that power in Northern Ireland, but the law both here and elsewhere needs to allow for a little judicious flexibility to cope with changing social habits.
Part III of the order deals with gaming. It has five chapters. The first applies to gaming of a private kind, for example, in a family or between friends. Its aim is to force all gaming with the potential for abuse into the control system to be established by chapters II and III, as well as prohibiting all gaming in public places. Bankers' games and games which by their nature are not of equal chance, are prohibited except on domestic occasions, for example in one's own home or in places such as hostels.
Chapter II provides a comprehensive code for the control of bingo promoted commercially in private bingo clubs licensed by the courts for that purpose. The Government considered carefully whether to provide, as in Great Britain, for the licensing of gaming clubs in which other forms of commercial gaming may take place, such as casinos. We concluded that there is no evidence of any significant demand in Northern Ireland for that type of 633 gaming club. We have tried throughout the order not to stimulate demand for betting or gaming that does not clearly exist.
Chapter III deals with gaming by means of gaming machines. Anyone who wishes to supply or maintain a gaming machine will have to obtain from a court a certificate or permit authorising him to do so. The purpose of this and the other provisions of the chapter is to prevent racketeering and the spread of machines to places where there is no real public demand for them.
Gaming machines which may pay big prizes, usually known as jackpot machines, are prohibited except in registered private members' clubs or when used for fund raising at bazaars, sales of work, fetes or similar entertainments promoted for non-commercial purposes.
To have gaming machines, a club must register with the court, either under the order or the Registration of Clubs (Northern Ireland) Act 1967. As in Great Britain, a registered club will be limited to operating a maximum of two gaming machines. A few clubs in Northern Ireland already have more than that because the existing law has been interpreted by the courts as permitting the use of machines as a means of running private lotteries.
We see no good reason why clubs in Northern Ireland should have a greater entitlement to machines than clubs in the rest of the United Kingdom where the limit of two applies. Apart from the objections on social grounds to a greater number of machines—I do have such objections—the Government are concerned on the basis of Royal Ulster Constabulary advice that in certain areas of Northern Ireland the proceeds from the machines in certain clubs are helping to finance the operations of paramilitary organisations. Indeed, there is a strong case for a complete ban on the use of machines in clubs.
However, the Government recognise that such a ban would be regarded as unreasonable since it would unfairly penalise the majority of highly respectable clubs that have no links with the paramilitaries. Taking all that into account, the Government conclude that the limit of two is reasonable. The choice was between none at all and two, not between two and more than that.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Instead of limiting the number of machines to two, have the Government considered limiting the stake to 2p so that more machines could be operated for the same amount of money?
§ Mr. Patten
We considered all sorts of options. The real problem is controlling the number of machines to ensure that paramilitary organisations do not find it easier to put a hand into the back of the machine. It is easier to meter a smaller number of machines. We considered a number of options in close consultation with the RUC. I believe that we have come to a right and sensible decision.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
How many clubs does the RUC suspect are being used to raise funds for paramilitary organisations? What percentage do they represent of the total number of clubs in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Patten
I cannot give an exact figure, but it is relative small as a proportion of the total number of clubs in Northern Ireland. However, the number is sufficiently large for us to take a severe view. It is sufficiently large for us to take a similar view when preparing legislation for the registration of clubs which we hope to bring before the 634 House in the next Session. I am absolutely determined that we should ensure that a number of the abuses that exist at present are dealt with in that legislation.
I appreciate and sympathise with the drift of the hon. Gentleman's question. However, it seems difficult. if not impossible, to have one law for one sort of club and another law for another—to have one law, as it were, for Bangor or Holywood and another for other parts of Northern Ireland. I appreciate the strength of feeling on the subject, but we could not conceivably have made that sort of distinction.
Amusement with prizes machines which pay prizes not exceeding £3 in value are restricted to travelling showmen's fairs, licensed bingo clubs and premises of a type prescribed in regulations made by the Department and either licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor or granted an amusement permit by a district council. These provisions are much much restrictive than those in the law of Great Britain, where virtually any type of premises qualifies.
In Northern Ireland, primarily to prevent exploitation of the machines by paramilitary organisations, but also on social and other grounds, the Government consider it essential to have the power to limit the range of premises entitled to install machines. In the short term, the Government intend that only amusement arcades and similar premises used mainly for the provision of amusements should be allowed to install machines, subject to the grant of an amusement permit by a district council.
There is no prospect in the immediate future of the Government allowing machines in other types of premises—in particular, public houses. I fully appreciate why, in this respect, the licensed trade in Northern Ireland should feel that it is being treated unfairly compared with clubs, which will continue to be allowed to have up to two machines which may be of the jackpot type. However, I trust that the House will accept and understand why the security advice must be a major consideration in deciding if and when any particular types of premises which are open to the general public should be prescribed. The Government will keep the position under close review.
Chapter IV provides for small gaming which consists of games played at entertainments promoted otherwise than for private gain. This will primarily cover such charitable and non-profit making activities as bridge and whist drives, but will also allow other games such as bingo to be promoted, for example, by clubs for the benefit of the membership in general.
Chapter V is the last chapter of part III of the order dealing with gaming. It allows clubs to make modest charges for taking part in equal chance non-banker gaming without contravening the general prohibition on participation charges in chapter I. Clubs will be able to make charges sufficient only to cover the cost of providing the facilities for the gaming. The Department may by order vary the limits on the daily charge or specify different limits for different games. The chapter also prohibits, subject to specified exceptions, the advertising of facilities for gaming and allows a landlord to evict a tenant or occupier of premises convicted of using the premises for illegal gaming.
I should, before leaving that chapter, mention that the various regulatory and enforcement functions which in Great Britain fall to the Gaming Board will be discharged 635 in Northern Ireland by other agencies, the courts, district councils, the police and, for some purposes, my Department.
The Government recognise that in Great Britain the Gaming Board plays an important role in supervising gaming and has been highly successful in purging it of criminal elements. However, as large-scale commercial gaming is not to be permitted in Northern Ireland, we do not think that the establishment of a Northern Ireland board would be justified. There are, in addition, security considerations which we cannot ignore.
§ Mr. William Ross
The Minister said that there were security considerations which could not be ignored. Is he really saying that those security considerations apply to clubs and especially to clubs that are under the control of paramilitary organisations? Was that behind his remark?
§ Mr. Patten
Yes, that was behind my remark, and I believe that the RUC is in a better position to deal with some of those pressures than would be, for example, the inspectors of a gaming board, even if such were necessary.
Part IV of the order deals with lotteries. It makes all lotteries unlawful, other than small lotteries at exempt entertainments, private lotteries and public lotteries promoted by a registered society for the support of charities, sports, games, cultural activities or other noncommercial purposes.
The provisions for small and private lotteries largely reenact the existing law. The major change is that societies registered with a district council for the purpose will be able to promote public lotteries. For the most part, these provisions mirror similar provisions for societies and lotteries in Great Britain. An important protection is that anyone who wishes to act as an external lottery consultant or manager will have to hold a lottery certificate issued by a court.
I have made no reference to local lotteries, such as those which local authorities in Great Britain may promote for specified objects. The Government's published proposals had provided for these, primarily so that we could test reactions, particularly the reactions of district councils in Northern Ireland. However, responses from the councils showed that few, if any, would want to run local lotteries. Furthermore, several councils strongly opposed the provision on moral and social grounds. In the circumstances, we decided, I am sure rightly, against local lotteries.
Part V deals with amusements with prizes and prize competitions. It allows amusements with prizes other than by gaming machines at non-commercial entertainments, and subject to specified restrictions on a commercial basis of travelling showmen's fairs, in licensed bingo clubs and in premises used wholly or mainly for the provision of amusements under permit by a district council.
That part re-enacts the existing law in Northern Ireland relating to newspaper and other competitions. It prohibits the conduct, through any newspaper or in connection with any trade or business, of any prize competition which involves forecasting the result of an event or any other competition in which success does not depend to a substantial degree on the exercise of skill.
Part VI covers a variety of matters. Cheating will continue to be an offence, and gambling debts will remain irrecoverable in law. The police will have rights of entry 636 without a search warrant to all premises with facilities for engaging in betting, gaming. lotteries and amusements with prizes and, with a warrant, to any premises at all.
That is a necessarily brief outline of the main provisions of the order. I hope that I have given an adequate picture of its principal aims. I assure hon. Members that the provisions have been carefully thought out. They have been the subject of months, indeed years, of careful scrutiny and consultation, as the House would think appropriate, with the RUC.
I emphasise that while they have been based broadly on comparable provisions in the law in Great Britain—taking account, of course, of the later recommendations of the Royal Commission in 1977–78—the Government have also taken care to ensure that they are tailored to meet the needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland. I believe that the new laws will provide a clear and firm framework which will enable gambling to take place in Northern Ireland under proper controls, and I therefore commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
The Minister described this as complex law. Looking at this massive order, with its 187 articles, 21 schedules and 191 pages of legislation—a rehash of existing law, the revocation of existing law and new legislation—one sees how well-founded are the comments that regularly come from this Bench about Northern Ireland legislation. If ever there was an order which should have been treated as a proper Bill, with opportunities for adequate debate and the tabling of amendments, this is such an order. It is a huge and very important piece of legislation, yet we have to deal with it by a procedure that is seen to be more and more unsatisfactory as each order passes through the House. It is quite mad that legislation like this, dealing with such an important matter in Northern Ireland, should be dealt with in this manner.
I understand that there are all sorts of consultation periods, that the Assembly has looked at the order, and that many bodies and organisations have taken an interest in it, but at the end of the day the defects in the legislative process still remain. The Members of this House who are finally responsible for it have not had the opportunity to discuss and probe to find out what lies behind the words which appear on the face of the order.
We on this Bench give a general welcome to the fact that the law is now being not only clarified but brought together inside the pages of one document. Under the order, there is liberalisation in the law. The order might bring the law into a form that is more enforceable and will not, as the Minister said, fall into disrepute in the manner of some of the previous legislation which in many areas was not enforced.
We appreciate that the order follows closely the law in Great Britain, and we can give a general welcome to that; but, from the Minister's remarks, the House will have gathered that there are differences in the social scene in Great Britain compared with that in Northern Ireland. We would have wished to table amendments to try to make changes to meet more closely the needs of Northern Ireland.
We deeply regret that we never seem to have produced for us a complete list of the changes which have been made 637 in existing law, nor do we have an opportunity to examine those changes and try to work out in our own minds what they will be.
We appreciate that the Government tried to get the order passed before the summer recess last year, and that it was brought before the Assembly at that time in great haste. Now we are dealing with it a year later. If speed is so important, why has it taken an extra year——
§ Mr. Chris Patten
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we published a 33-page explanatory document which fairly clearly answers some of his questions on the order.
§ Mr. Ross
I have read the explanatory document, but I should have liked to have rather more detail. Perhaps it is our fault for not asking for it at a much earlier stage.
The law dealing with bookmakers appears to be largely a rehash of the existing law. In some of the evidence presented to me, there were allegations that bookmakers' premises had increased in number, but the bookmakers, at another point in the evidence, alleged that 40 premises were not in operation. Is that allegation correct? If it is, can we take it that there has not been any increase in the number of bookmakers' premises in the past few years in Northern Ireland, and that the need for such premises in the community is at present adequately met?
If the number of premises is adequate, why is the concept of demand being introduced in place of the concept of need? My understanding is that there is a difference of emphasis here, and I am curious to know why we have got into this position. Does the Minister envisage the possibility of some of the larger bookmakers expanding their operations, or is he leaving the door open for further competition beween them? Indeed, I should like to have an explanation as to how bookmakers compete.
Will the Minister explain the benefits that will arise from the extension of the legislation to include greyhound racing? I know that there has been a demand for it, but I am not clear whether any real benefit will accrue to greyhound racing in Northern Ireland, given that it is controlled not from within the United Kingdom but from without. Therefore, can any real benefit be expected from the change?
I am concerned about the differences in treatment between public houses and clubs. I understand that some of my hon. Friends will be dealing with the problem of gaming machines. Over the years, the owners of public houses seem to have had a bad deal. They are not places that I frequent very much, nor do I frequent clubs. However, people complain to me that whereas clubs enjoy considerable benefits in rating valuation, the machines that can be operated, the hours of opening, the sale of alcohol and so on, with a charter to receive even more benefits, public houses, which provide similar services, are tied to the current restrictions. There seems to be a degree of inequity which should be examined. I am not happy about it, and many people in Northern Ireland are not happy either.
I have read the clubs' submissions. They say how badly off they are and how much they need the machines, but the figures which are published every year show that vast sums are received by the clubs from their sales of alcohol. Indeed, one wonders whether many public houses sell as much alcohol as is sold by some of the clubs. I should like 638 to know what happens to the profits from the sale of alcohol in clubs. I do not think they are doing it as a social function without profit. Therefore, I take a jaundiced view of the clubs' claim that they need the profits from the gaming machines if they are to survive. I just do not believe the stories that I am told.
Various churches in Northern Ireland have raised the question of bingo, and there was considerable comment in the Assembly. A brand-new gambling industry is coming into being. We are seeing not only the legalising of the existing position, to which a blind eye has been turned for many years, but the creation of a new commercial industry that will be different from the present one, and many people are not altogether happy about it.
I hope that the Government will keep a very close eye on the development of bingo in Northern Ireland in the coming year. I hope that they will look closely to see how the entire body of legislation, especially the new concepts in it, will work. I hope that they will be prepared, if necessary, to make further changes if they find that it is not having the good results that we hope will follow from it.
Up to now, bingo has been permitted by the RUC on the ground that it is a private lottery and can be held to fall within the law. It is only when it is openly and blatantly run as a commercial enterprise that warnings are issued and action is taken. I am aware of bingo halls being closed. I do not believe that bingo can be regarded as a lottery. I understand that cases have been fought in the courts on the question that bingo cannot be held to be a lottery because more than three numbers have to be drawn in order to get a winner. That seems to be the make or break point. The law has been openly flouted in the past The existing situation is now being legalised and a new situation is being created. Until we see the end result, we should be wary about going any further than necessary down that road.
Nobody in Northern Ireland is particularly happy about that aspect of the law. Northern Ireland is not generally a gambling society. At least, we say that it is not—sometimes one wonders. However, powerful forces in Northern Ireland view the new concept of the bingo halls arising as a result of the order with a fairly sceptical eye. I hope that the Minister will assure us that he will he very careful about the way in which that is monitored and that he will keep an eye on it over the next year or two.
There is also the whole argument about people running the various gambling organisations in Northern Ireland having to be members of the community in Northern Ireland. I can appreciate the general thrust of that argument. However, I hope that we would not be so inflexible as to bar all persons who live outside Northern Ireland, in other parts of the United Kingdom. I appreciate that there might be a problem if owners of gambling establishments lived outside the United Kingdom. That is different. However, if a ban is put on other United Kingdom citizens who live in the United Kingdom, we should see that not all such folk are banned. Some people who formerly lived in Northern Ireland still have interests there. That matter needs to be kept under review.
My understanding is that a lottery is a distribution of prizes in a competition without the use of any skill. In other words, it is pure chance. Some lotteries have been legal up to now, although in general terms all lotteries are illegal. Can the Minister tell us who in Northern Ireland would want to organise a lottery on such a scale that 639 £1 million-worth of tickets would be sold? Would that number of tickets be sold in Northern Ireland alone? Who would want to organise that? For what purpose? Alternatively, could tickets for the lottery be sold outside Northern Ireland? Lotteries are popular. Everyone hopes to get a plum the size of a house for a small outlay, but it does not often happen.
I do not like large lotteries, although, like everyone else in the House, I am dogged with requests to buy tickets for this, that and the other good cause. In the past, loopholes have been caused by using small print to say that the money is a donation to the charity involved—not an entry fee or anything else. I am curious as to whether such small print will be affected by the part of the order dealing with lotteries. Is it still an escape clause for those who organise lotteries, or is that loophole being closed?
One thing that has puzzled me and many people in Northern Ireland over the past year is the reason behind the Government's blunt refusal to create a gaming board in Northern Ireland. In reply to my intervention, the Minister said that security considerations were involved. What an enormous can of worms was opened up by that remark. The Gaming Board in Great Britain has been highly successful and was fulsomely praised by the Minister. Such a board is not being created in Northern Ireland. There had to be some good reason behind the Government's refusal to countenance a gaming board in Northern Ireland. It has been exposed at last—security considerations. The Government believe that only the police have the manpower, and perhaps the fire power if it comes to that, to organise raids on premises where paramilitary organisations reign supreme and to keep such premises under some modicum of control. Only the police have the expertise, the ability and the back-up to do the job that may become necessary in some aspects of the law.
If the Minister had been more forthcoming much earlier, some of the misgivings that many of us have had in regard to a gaming board and the failure to set one up in Northern Ireland would have disappeared. That was a welcome remark. In giving the reason and saying that it is a matter for the police, the Minister has cleared the air considerably. Can the Minister also tell us what steps the RUC has taken to build up the necessary expertise, and what co-operation, co-ordination and exchange of information there will be between the RUC and the Gaming Board in Great Britain, which has the body of expertise from which the Northern Ireland enforcement agency will have to draw in future? That is an important point. We should like an assurance that the police in Northern Ireland will be able to draw on the skills over here and, if necessary, personnel—only for advice—from this side of the water. We do not want the police to be bereft of the expertise that they need to deal with the matter. We are setting up a completely new group of people in the RUC to do the job in Northern Ireland that the Gaming Board does on this side of the Irish sea.
The Minister touched on the disrepute in which the present law is being held in Northern Ireland. It is a damnable thing when the law of the land is openly flouted and broken, and no attempt is made to enforce the law. I greatly welcome—as I think does everyone in Northern Ireland who is concerned with the subject—the effort that has been made to clarify the law and make it more 640 easily enforceable. I hope that in his winding-up speech the Minister will say that it is the intention of the Government and the police rigidly to enforce the law.
Law that is flouted eventually not only falls into disrepute, but is completely disregarded. It is difficult if it reaches that state of low esteem in the minds of the public and the police. It is difficult to retrace one's steps and try to enforce it. This is a brand new start. It is an opportunity to screw down the gambling industry in Northern Ireland and see that it complies with the regulations that the House makes. I hope that the Government will see to it that the law is enforced.
Now that we have had a chance to consider new legislation and changes that are being made to legislation, I hope that the Government are prepared to review it in two or three years at the maximum, or possibly before that. I am not absolutely sure that we have got it quite right yet. We need to keep an eye on it. We want to be assured that the Government will be prepared to look at it in future and that, if any further changes are necessary, it will be possible to make them.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
I welcome the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) in this short but important debate.
I have some sympathy with the interested party which, when this matter came before the Northern Ireland Assembly, found that it had to digest, in unseemly haste, 180 pages of parliamentary draftsman's language and formulate a reply—and all within eight weeks. This short debate, by its very nature, amounts to a Second Reading debate, in which we are discussing the principles behind the legislation, and a Committee stage, in which the detail, too, has to be examined.
The Minister referred to an explanatory note prepared by the Department. I found that particularly helpful. However, I wonder why it is that, for as long as we have a United Kingdom consisting of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—notwithstanding the aspiration for Irish unity which, if it does not blow with the gust of the wind of change, is nevertheless a wind that is rising and increasing in vigour—legislation for Northern Ireland, which may be modern and progressive or simply seek to bring uniformity, lags so far behind that of mainland Britain. It must be in the interests of all citizens of Northern Ireland to have the benefit of uniform legislation.
I understand that the Government wish to introduce what they describe as a single piece of modern legislation that more accurately reflects present-day attitudes to gambling and the demand for gambling facilities in Northern Ireland, which fulfils the dual purpose of attracting public support and reflecting present-day attitudes to gambling. The Minister described the order before us as lengthy and complex but pointed out that the Government were not seeking to stimulate demand for betting and gambling. He also referred to the moral and social grounds that led some local authorities to oppose the extension of local lotteries to them.
The legislation before us will last until the end of the century and well into the next. We are told that some people who were consulted regarded gambling as a sin and a wholly evil activity, which could not be reconciled with their religious beliefs and principles. In this context, I am reminded of an incident many years ago when a 641 Conservative Chancellor, Harold Macmillan, introduced the premium bond. I was a junior reporter at the time and all the local churches sent telegrams of dissent because they felt that the Chancellor was doing a wicked, wicked thing. Few would now look upon premium bonds as wicked, especially people who have won prizes from them, but even more especially the state, to which revenue has accrued from their sale.
§ Mr. William Ross
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that people who thought that premium bonds were wicked would not have bought them in the first place?
§ Mr. Bell
I appreciate the logic of that intervention. Many people enjoy participation in a national lottery, but the main beneficiary is the state. The Minister said that most local authorities opposed the lottery system and that the only major change in the original proposals had been to delete a provision for the running of public lotteries by district councils. I note that that change was requested by the Assembly and by several councils, which strongly opposed such a provision on moral and social grounds—I assume that that was the basis of the intervention of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross)—and on the ground that there was no demand on the part of councils to run public lotteries. Those of us who have seen the success of the French loterie nationale regret such a short-sighted decision, the only effect of which is to deprive local councils of funds.
I do not wish to reflect discourteously on the views of others, but Voltaire once said that when it comes to money we are all of the same religion. When it comes to the extension of betting, gaming, lotteries and amusements and the provision of a legal framework to encompass such activities in Northern Ireland, we are entitled as democratic Socialists to say that the people of Northern Ireland themselves must choose whether they wish to have the freedom to indulge or not to indulge in activities of that kind, bearing in mind the views of the RUC and the existence of paramilitary organisations to which reference has already been made.
I tend towards the view that gambling is an innocent leisure activity that should cause little or no harm. It is possible to lose all one's money on the horses, but it will not be possible to lose all one's money at the casino table because there is no provision for casinos. Nevertheless, when pitch and toss was illegal it was still played in the pit villages of old, with one pit lad always keeping an eye out for the local bobby. It is right, therefore, that if there is to be gambling it should be regulated and supervised within the context of a legal framework known and understood by all.
I well understand the embarrassment and shame that descended upon Downpatrick race club when bookmakers welshed on bets and failed to pay out. It is rather like the capitalist system in which we live—you pays your money and you sees the show or, as we say in law, damage lies where it falls. Bookies welshing on bets, however, is a matter for the race club rather than for the statute book—it is a fact of life and one to be avoided, especially if the punter has backed a winner.
I read with amusement that members of the Assembly committee were able to ascertain what every law student knows—that wagers are not enforceable contracts—and that if there are bookies who welsh on bets there are also punters who do not pay their betting debts. Such people are usually warned off the course.
642 I note that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, meeting in Belfast, registered its strong disapproval of anything that makes gambling more attractive, tempting or popular and the Government have borne those views in mind in framing the legislation. One sure way to increase the attractions of gambling would be to cloak gambling debts with the authority of law. That has never been done so as to avoid stimulating demand and to ensure that gambling remains what it is—a pleasurable pastime and not a business or a contract carrying enforceable obligations.
I smiled, too, when I saw that although members of the Assembly opposed betting and bookmakers they thought that bookmakers' fees were too small. I have forgotten what the wages of sin is, but in relation to gambling, bookmakers' fees are apparently not high enough for such an allegedly sinful activity.
I am also somewhat bemused about why the Presbyterian Church in Ireland believes that the extension of the tote to greyhound tracks would not merely add to the attractiveness and ease of gambling and be more likely to tempt the casual punter but would be especially attractive to women. I have no idea why women should be singled out as being more likely to be tempted to gamble on such a masculine sport, but if that is the view of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland it must be so—although I am glad to note that that argument did not carry weight with the Social Services Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are as anxious for women to have a fair deal in Northern Ireland as elsewhere in the British Isles, but I doubt whether they would be especially likely to succumb to the temptations of totalisator betting at the dogs, to use a colloquial expression. I doubt, too, whether a supply of one-armed bandits, public lotteries and bingo halls will dountold damage to the fabric of our societyor constitutean attack on our very national character".I accept the views of the Minister in relation to paramilitary organisations which may be involved in social clubs, but it is specious to argue that because there is now to be a legal framework for betting. gaming, lotteries and amusements, additional policing and law enforcement will be required. Even if that were so, I doubt whether if could be established as a corollary that the police would have less time for security duties or that more police or more police overtime would necessarily be required.
The Opposition join the Government in welcoming the legislation and commending it to the House.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
I am not a gambler. I do not go to the horses or to the dogs, I do not play cards or bingo and I do not play any of the many amusement machines which induce people to part with hard-earned money for so-called amusement. However, I suppose that many hon. Members have gambled their previously secure careers on a somewhat precarious one. Their future depends upon those who elected them. By our endeavours, diligence and willingness to serve our constituents, we hope to persuade them to return us as Members of Parliament. But that is not provided for in the order.
Representations have been made to me by the licensed victuallers and publicans in my constituency. They feel that they have been unfairly treated. All that they want is to be given an equal opportunity with the registered clubs 643 to sustain their livelihood. There has been a considerable decline in the number of public houses. If the drinking pattern of recent years is maintained, pubs will continue to disappear as more clubs come into existence and obtain licences to sell alcohol. I agree with the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) that clubs obtain a substantial part of their income and profits from the sale of alcohol. The records show that there is a steadily increasing turnover in clubs from the sale of alcohol.
I am also worried that the choice offered to tourists will be more restricted if the number of public houses continues to decline. Visitors do not easily obtain membership of clubs. Public house proprietors believe that the order is a charter for clubs which already enjoy a considerable advantage over public houses. I do not agree that the claim by clubs that they need the income from amusement machines to finance the running of their club activities is valid. The same argument could be used by public house proprietors. They could validly claim that they have to pay higher rates and higher wages to retain regular staff. Some people admit that clubs contribute to the black economy because the unemployed are ready to volunteer their services behind the bar or within the club for cash payment.
The overheads for publicans continue to rise while more and more of their customers drift away and join the latest club. They have, therefore, valid grounds for complaining that they are being unfairly treated. If gaming machines can be sited in clubs where the consumption of alcohol is steadily rising, I hope that a convincing reason will be offered for denying this source of income to the public house sector.
I hope that we shall be told what control is exercised over the pay, out from gaming machines. The machine is always the winner. Those who play it live in hope of winning the jackpot. They become addicts and play for as long as their money lasts. They are like the elderly, retired lady who goes to her local golf club, has her gin and tonic first thing in the morning, collects the change from a £5 note in lop coins and plays the machines until they have all gone. Whether or not the machines pay out in the meantime, she plays until the 10p coins have run out. Amusement machines undoubtedly cause addiction.
Young people also become addicted. They live in the false hope that they will have a big win. There is evidence that not only are they prepared to spend money to satisfy their addiction but that they are prepared to steal, rob and mug in order to gamble. As the former vice-principal of a very large school, I found that the biggest single problem for my colleagues and me in 27 years was the amusement arcade craze. There was an endless trail of truancy and theft both inside and outside the school from parents or any other possible source to obtain money with which to play the machines. Nobody benefits from the gaming machines except the proprietors and those who are involved in the manufacture and allocation of the machines.
The majority of people in Northern Ireland are opposed to the installation of gaming machines in either public houses or clubs. However, they are prepared to be fair and would readily accept parity of treatment between pubs and clubs. They do not accept that amusement machines should be permitted inside clubs but not in pubs. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland say whether, even at this late stage, the order can be amended to ensure 644 parity of treatment between pubs and clubs? If he is able to justify the siting of gaming machines in pubs, I hope that he will be able to explain why they should not be permitted in public houses.
I agree that the legislation will help the Royal Ulster Constabulary in its law enforcement role. Can the Under-Secretary of State give the reason for the registration of clubs under this order? There is already the Registration of Clubs (Northern Ireland) Act 1967. If clubs are to be registered under two different measures, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each measure for clubs?
§ Mr. Chris Patten
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) began this interesting, albeit short, debate by noting that this legislation is very complex. He is right about that. I note what he said about the legislative process. I was not surprised. I shall pass on his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He gave a general welcome to the order. We shall keep its operation under review.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East asked why it had taken us since last summer to brine the order before the House. In our defence, I repeat what the hon. Gentleman said. This is complex legislation; it is probably the most bulky and complicated Northern Ireland legislation for 20 or 25 years. That accounts for much of the time that we have taken to bring it from the drawing board to the Dispatch Box.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East began his detailed critique of the order by asking about the change in the criteria regarding bookmakers' offices. He may be misinformed, as others have been, about the consequences of the amendment of the 1957 Act which provides that a licence shall be refused if there are already an adequate number of licensed offices in the locality. The "adequate number" is the maximum number of offices previously licensed in the locality. However, that provision is qualified by the wordsunless there are special circumstanceswhich have proved decisive in practice.
That ground has been replaced in the order by the provision that a court shall refuse a licence unless it is satisfied thathaving regard to the demand in the locality … for facilities afforded by licensed offices, the number of such offices for the time being available … to meet that demand is inadequate".We do not agree that that wording is less restrictive than that in the 1957 Act. I repeat that the decisive phrase in that Act wasunless there are special circumstances".The onus will continue to lie on the applicant to satisfy the court that existing facilities in the locality are inadequate.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East referred to the allegation that there is in the order, and more generally, an inequity between clubs and pubs. The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) made a similar point in his interesting speech. The question is whether the Government are justified in treating clubs and pubs differently in relation to gaming machines.
Unlike licensed premises, clubs are not open to members of the public and are not run for avowedly commercial purposes; therefore the Government accept that, as in Great Britain, private members' clubs in Northern Ireland should be allowed to operate up to two jackpot machines, which is fewer than they can operate at present.
645 Although licensed premises in Great Britain may be authorised to operate amusement-with-prizes machines, the Government consider that in Northern Ireland, because of its special security problems and because of the need to prevent exploitation of gaming machines by criminal and other undesirable elements, it is essential to be able to control strictly the types of premises open to the public that should be allowed to have such machines.
Decisions on whether particular types of premises, such as pubs, should be prescribed for that purpose, will be taken in the light of prevailing circumstances, having regard, among other things, to the advice of the police. All life is about drawing lines. On security grounds, we have drawn the line in this place on this occasion. However, in responding to the major anxieties of the hon. Members for Londonderry, East and for Antrim, East, I repeat that we hope to legislate on liquor licensing and on clubs in the next Session. I trust that that will remove the sense of unfairness that lingers, as I know from having met representatives of publicans.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East referred to commercial bingo and suggested that there might not be much evidence to support our proposal to allow bingo clubs in Northern Ireland. He also hinted that we might be encouraging reckless spending at the expense of housekeeping needs.
There is adequate evidence of demand for bingo in Northern Ireland where, in recent years, a number of private clubs have been established. Strictly speaking, bingo is illegal, except when run as a private lottery or for non-commercial purposes. There are grounds for believing that a number of existing clubs are primarily commercial ventures.
The Government believe that, where there is a discernible public demand for this sort of activity, it is preferable to recognise that fact and to allow it be run legally and subject to appropriate controls. That is what the legislation aims to do.
The Royal Commission on gambling in Great Britain found in 1977–78 that it had not been possible to substantiate suggestions that bingo clubs had been the cause of family neglect and that overspending in clubs at the expense of housekeeping contributed to domestic friction. There are many more important reasons for domestic friction. On the contrary, the Royal Commission accepted that the clubs provided a valuable social function in relieving loneliness and boredom and by providing places where people could meet socially and at little expense. The number of bingo clubs in Northern Ireland will be restricted to what the courts consider justified, having regard to the demand for such facilities and the extent to which they are available in the locality.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East asked about residential requirements. We appreciate that the requirement that applicants seeking licences under the order should ordinarily reside in Northern Ireland may present difficulties for some individuals or companies, particularly because of the introduction of legal restrictions in some areas not covered by the existing law.
The purpose of the residential requirement is to facilitate enforcement of the law and to enable the police and the courts to be satisfied of the fitness of applicants for various licences under the order, including licences for bookmakers, bookmaking offices, bingo clubs, gaming machine certificates and so on. I am sure that hon. Members will accept that a residential requirement is 646 essential. The advice from the RUC was that 12 months was the minimum period of residence that would be appropriate.
As a residence requirement would apply to an individual and to members of a partnership seeking a licence, it is logical that the same requirement should apply to those responsible for the local management and control of a company. That is in line with the policy followed generally by the Gaming Board in Great Britain, which almost invariably insists that the directors, or at least a majority of them, of a company seeking a certificate of consent or a gaming machine suppliers' certificate should reside in Great Britain.
In effect, therefore, a Northern Ireland enterprise wishing to extend its operations to Great Britain would encounter the same difficulties as would a company from Great Britain wishing to operate in Northern Ireland. Of course, it is open to any company to establish a locally based subsidiary company under the control of locally resident directors, thereby meeting the residence requirement in the order. I hope that that will provide the sort of flexibility that the hon. Member for Londonderry, East seeks.
The hon. Member asked about the benefits of the operation of the tote at dog tracks. Representatives of greyhound track operators have insisted for many years that the lack of that facility has had a detrimental effect on their business and on the greyhound industry generally. I sympathise with that view.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East asked whether lottery tickets could be sold outside Northern Ireland. That would depend on the relevant social law applying in the country in which the tickets were to be sold.
The hon. Gentleman understandably dwelt at length on our decision not to establish a gaming board in Northern Ireland. I draw his attention again to the security considerations to which I referred earlier.
§ Mr. Bell
The Minister mentioned companies in Northern Ireland in the betting business. Will he confirm or comment on the possible gain of 240 jobs in Northern Ireland and the generation of an extra £6.92 million for the public purse if gaming laws in Northern Ireland were brought into line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Patten
The hon. Gentleman might have pool betting in mind. Throughout the consultation period, we received no representations on that subject. Had we clone so, we should have taken account of those representations when drafting the order. By the time that we received those representations, we were unable to redraft the order. We have made it clear throughout that we are trying to meet known existing demand rather than to stimulate demand. In any future amendments of the legislation, we shall have to take account of the representations made to us.
I suppose that it would be possible to argue that, if we had allowed the establishment of casinos in Northern Ireland, it might have created a great deal of employment. However, I do not think that there is an existing demand for casinos. We would have stimulated it, and much against the judgment and social habits of many people in Northern Ireland who would have found casinos offensive. I am always prepared to meet and, I hope, deal helpfully with people who make proposals to create employment in 647 Northern Ireland. I have met some of the representatives of the interests to which the hon. Gentleman referred before and I would be happy to meet them again.
The need for a gaming board in Great Britain arose primarily from the decision to allow commercial gaming clubs there. As there is no evidence of demand for such clubs in Northern Ireland—the order does not provide for them—it is considered that the establishment of a gaming board would not be justified. The certification and policing functions related to other types of gaming activity carried out by the board in Great Britain will be discharged, where appropriate, by other bodies in Northern Ireland including the courts, the local authorities, the police and, for certain purposes, the Department. I hope to satisfy the hon. Gentleman that the RUC will take appropriate measures to ensure that it can uphold this law.
In an interesting speech, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) referred to the limit on the time that we have given the Assembly to consider this extremely complicated piece of legislation. A limit has to be put on consultation periods. We were anxious to press ahead with such speed as the complexity of the legislation allowed, but we were able to take account of comments made by the Assembly and others after the end of the consultation period.
§ Mr. Bell
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm the Assembly's disappointment at the Government not accepting more of its recommendations? I understand that the order includes but two of the Assembly's 15 suggestions in full and another two in part. Does he agree that that reflects the curious dichotomy in the thinking of those who want legislation relating to Northern Ireland to approximate to that for the rest of the United Kingdom but who, when confronted with legislation with that in mind, back away from it so quickly that the obverse turns out to be true? The public perceive that there are such differences in outlook and temperament that, in the end, separate legislation is necessary. Would the hon. Gentleman like to spend a moment discussing that attitude in the Northern Ireland Assembly?
§ Mr. Patten
It is not for me, but perhaps for divine providence, to fathom the workings of the Assembly on this issue. The hon. Gentleman criticised us for not accepting local lotteries. That was one of the Assembly's suggestions that we accepted. Some of the arguments that lay behind the Assembly's recommendations were a little Byzantine for me. I think that we have taken adequate account of the Assembly's recommendation.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
Does the Minister recall that, when the ill-fated Northern Ireland Act 1982 was going through the House, many of us warned—and the House generally agreed—that, if a body were established without being given any responsibility, it could be expected only to be irresponsible and unconstructive?
§ Mr. Patten
I have had the opportunity, since I have taken a more active interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland than I took in 1982, to take a certain amount of Northern Ireland legislation through the House. On most occasions when I have had that great privilege we have 648 dealt with Assembly recommendations that have been more helpful than they were on this occasion. I do not mean to criticise the committee over which one of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends presided with such distinction, but we have had more useful reports on other orders. I understand some of the social pressures that made it difficult on occasion for the Assembly to deal as one might have liked with this order.
I accept that there is a demand for lotteries. We are meeting it in the order. All that is at stake today is whether we have been right to say that district councils should not run local lotteries. As local councils did not want to run local lotteries, I do not think that we would have been right to force them to do so.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East said that he is not a gambler and therefore came to this subject with some humility. My knowledge of this subject is not based on anything so vulgar as experience, though I did once go into a betting shop.
The hon. Gentleman referred to what the hon. Member for Londonderry, East said about the comparison between the treatment of pubs and clubs. I think that I have dealt with that matter in my response to the hon. Member for Londonderry, East. As for control on pay-outs from machines, we are establishing a regime of controls under chapter III of part III and in schedule 11. I hope that they will be adequate.
We realise that the order raises important social and environmental issues and that many people hold strong, albeit widely divergent, views about what legislation on these matters should contain. We are also conscious of the serious harm and suffering that excesses of gambling can cause individuals, their families and society. We are also conscious of the need to ensure that facilities for gambling will not be open to exploitation by criminals and other undesirable elements in the community.
However, we respect the freedom of the individual and do not want to interfere any more than is necessary in activities which, for the vast majority of those who engage in them, are normally quite harmless. We also accept that, when there is demand in a substantial section of the community for facilities that enable them to participate in various types of gambling, it is neither realistic nor desirable to attempt to suppress such activity. We have borne all those factors in mind when considering what measures would be appropriate for Northern Ireland.
It is inevitable that, when dealing with issues of this type, finely balanced judgments have to be made. That applies no less to Governments than to individuals. Although we make no claim to infallibility in this respect, we believe that the order achieves a reasonable balance between the legitimate interests of those who want the law to reflect the demand for gambling facilities, and the need to ensure that gambling takes place in a framework of statutory control that protects the interests of society in preventing abuse of those facilities. In that spirit, I have great pleasure in commending the order to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Betting, Gaming, Lotteries and Amusements (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved.
§ It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings).