§ 3. Mr. Matthew Taylor
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is now able to announce whether he proposes to seek to amend the law concerning the accessibility of gaming machines to children and young persons; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office, (Mr. Tim Renton)
Not yet. I refer the hon. Member to the statement which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, made during discussion of a proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill in Committee on 24 March. We are examining the various reports and other work that we commissioned into the subject last year and all the other material that we have been sent by those interested. We shall make our views known as soon as we are ready to do so, which we hope will be before the summer recess.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am sure that the Minister is as worried as I am about the increasing addiction and the devastation that that causes to parents, particularly in tourist areas such as mine, which have many such units and many applications coming in for more. I understand that the Minister has had the reports for some considerable time. Will he say how long they have been in his possession? At 975 present, operators have a voluntary code banning those under 18. Does the Minister agree that it would be sensible to consider amending that code and imposing a statutory ban, at least up to the age of 18, if not up to the age of 21?
§ Mr. Renton
I appreciate the anxiety of hon. Members who, like the hon. Gentleman, represent tourist areas. However, he will know that opinion is divided on whether it is right to introduce further regulations on fruit machines in amusement arcades. We have not had the reports for very long. We are now studying them very closely, and, as I said, we shall inform the House of our conclusions, we hope, before the summer recess.
§ Sir Peter Emery
Will my hon. Friend consider the difference between amusement arcades run in holiday camps or other controlled areas, where children often have their families with them, and arcades in towns or on sea fronts, to which children can go without their parents' permission or knowledge? It would be very much appreciated if action could be taken, even before the end of the summer recess, as a number of town councils are worried about the growth in the number of children going into the arcades and then finding themselves in the courts.
§ Mr. Renton
My hon. Friend puts his finger on one of the points being studied. We need to make a distinction between seaside towns, for example—where only a few fruit machines are available and to which families should be allowed, or, indeed, encouraged to go with all their children—we do not want to be killjoys—and those areas that are devoted to fruit machines, where the possibility of addiction is even greater.
In answer to my hon. Friend's last point, local authorities have considerable powers at present. The Home Office proposes to produce model byelaws for them. I do not think that we shall be able to produce our conclusions before the summer recess.
§ Miss Lestor
Is the Minister aware that many local authorities, mine included, are sick and tired of objecting to developments such as amusements arcades and having their objections overridden by the Department of the Environment? May I remind him that it is nearly three months since I sent to his Department a report produced by Parents of Young Gamblers? His Department told me that it would see me and a representative of that organisation, before it reached its conclusions, to discuss parents' real fears. When is that meeting likely to take place?
§ Mr. Renton
I understand that the hon. Lady is to have a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I shall certainly check with him as to when it will be. I know that the report that the hon. Lady sent in has been carefully studied.
In answer to the hon. Lady's first point, the planning issues are separate, as I am sure she knows. They deal with environmental issues. The Home Office considers licensing issues, and it is about those that we shall report to the House.