HC Deb 18 April 1986 vol 95 cc1200-2

Considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

Order for Third Reading read.

1.14 pm
Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am grateful for the expeditious manner in which the early stages of the Bill have been taken. It did not have a Second Reading in this House. As it was introduced in another place, perhaps I should explain its purpose. Its only purpose is to amend section 16 of the Gaming Act 1968 so as to enable a person who has bought chips by means of a cheque in a casino, during or immediately after the time during which he has been gambling in that casino, to redeem that cheque.

The Bill has a most respectable parentage, in that it carries out the recommendation made by the Royal Commission on Gambling and implements two of the proposals of that Commission. No one can say it has been brought forward with undue speed, because the Royal Commission reported as long ago as July 1978, and as long ago as 1979 the then Home Secretary said that the Government accepted the proposals for change and would be prepared to implement them when there was an opportunity for legislation. That opportunity has now arrived.

The Bill was introduced in another place by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, an ex-Minister of State, Home Office, and it had the important support of Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who, as Sir Philip Allen, was a permanent secretary in the Home Office at the time the original legislation was taken through. More importantly, for the last few years he has been the chairman of the Gaming Board for Great Britain.

Gaming in Britain is strictly controlled. The Gaming Act 1968 exercises strict control over the operation of gambling casinos, and one of the important provisions of that Act deals with the granting or the prohibition of credit. The effect of the 1968 Act means that any cheque that is given in exchange for chips or cash to enable a person to take part in gaming has to be delivered to a bank for payment or collection within two banking days.

Under the law as it stands at present, a cheque once given by a person cannot be redeemed by him when he cashes up at the end of the night, should he be successful and have chips that he wishes to return for cash. It means that the casino, having accepted that person's cheque in payment for the chips, is required to give back to him either cash or the casino's own cheque for the total value of the chips that he returns. A casino cannot give back to him his own cheque for redemption as part payment.

The only person who can possibly benefit from that situation is a dishonest person who gave a cheque, was then successful in the casino and received either the casino's cheque or cash in exchange for the chips that he returned, and the casino then found that the person had dishonoured his cheque when it was taken to the bank to be cashed.

In preparing its report, the Royal Commission on gaming visited some 40 casinos. I should like to quote one sentence from its report: From our visits to casinos we have found that this aspect of the gaming laws"— that is, the inability to redeem a cheque— causes more irritation than any other, both for the casino proprietors"— obviously, for the reasons that I have explained—

and for their customers who equally often wish to redeem the cheque that they have earlier given. This is a sensible amendment. As I say, it has been brought forward with the knowledge and approval of the Gaming Board for Great Britain. The only other matter that I should add is that it is accepted that this change in the law will require that the right to redeem a cheque should be accompanied by regulations specifying the detailed records of transactions that casinos will be required to keep for inspection by the Gaming Boards for Great Britain. Therefore, the Bill ensures that it cannot come into being until a date appointed by the Secretary of State so that one can be sure that the amending regulations are in a suitable position before the Bill becomes law.

1.21 pm
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

I thoroughly approve of this measure and congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) on the skill with which he has brought it to this stage. His arguments have been heard by no one until now, but that is a measure of the success and wisdom of this legislation. I agree with the Bill, but I believe that one point is missing; it may be an extension, but it would strengthen further the power of the casino to enhance the way in which credit asked for temporarily by a customer with the deposit of a cheque could be enforced. Nowhere in the Bill does it provide that a customer, when the casino tenders back to him a redeemed cheque, has to receive it; it merely says that the casino may give back a cheque. It allows, through this change of the law, for the customer to receive his own, as it were, IOU, and to tear it up after a successful night's gambling. Nowhere does it say that the customer has to receive back his cheque.

I believe that in this Bill we should take the opportunity not only to allow a casino the right to give a cheque back or to give its own cheque if it wishes to do so, but also to make it an obligation on the person presenting the cheque in the first place—the person who has given credit to that cheque and held it out to value—to receive back that cheque if the casino so requires. At the moment, it does not seem that the law forbids a customer to refuse his cheque, although in those circumstances the casino would be put upon inquiry and no doubt it would be within its rights to hold on to the cheque prior to encashment. Perhaps the Minister will explain why there has not been included in the Bill the insistence that the customer should take back his own cheque if the casino so requires.

1.23 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Giles Shaw)

First, I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) for introducing the Bill—a modest measure, as he pointed out, in relation to a fairly complex background of legislation formed by the 1968 Gaming Act. The Bill has been recommended by, and has withstood the scrutiny of, another place and amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken. In addition, I assure the House that the Gaming Board, which is the watchdog set up by Parliament to regulate this industry, is satisfied and considers that the measure is good. As has already been made clear, regulations will be made, on the advice of the Gaming Board, by the Home Secretary in relation to the content of the provisions required.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) raised a point on which I will have to take advice. However, there are two aspects to it. The first is the extent to which "may" and "shall" in legal terms are exchangeable. I realise that my hon. Friend knows about that. Secondly, there is the question whether there is indeed a material weakness, as he seems to point out, in the new emphasis placed on the conditions under which redemption takes place. It would certainly be the intent of the legislation that the casino would deal with the initial cheque in the redemption process; that is the whole point of it. However, I see my hon. Friend's point. I will look into the matter and write to him clarifying the point that he has raised, which I trust will satisfy him. I hope that the House will give this modest Bill a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.