HC Deb 13 September 2004 vol 424 cc970-2
5. Mr Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)(Con)

When she intends to introduce legislation to reform gambling laws. [187896]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn)

We plan to introduce the gambling Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. The Bill will modernise the law and provide stronger safeguards. We are considering the second report of the Joint Scrutiny Committee that examined our draft Bill. It made 24 recommendations on regional casinos, and we will consider all those and give our views in the near future.

Mr. Mackay

"As time allows" is very vague, and I am delighted at that. Is the Minister aware that many of us believe that the American-style hard-gambling sheds that will be placed on the edge of towns will adversely affect our communities? We would be strongly opposed to that element of the legislation.

Mr. Caborn

That means that we have cross-party support on that issue. Let me make it perfectly clear: we have been driven into this review, which, as many Members know, goes back to Budd, because of the development of new technology in relation to gambling. Many people are being exposed to online gambling who were not exposed to gambling previously. Let us make no mistake about it: the priority of the Bill is "protection, protection, protection." The world has moved on since the 1960s.

May I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who chaired the Joint Scrutiny Committee? He and his colleagues took a realistic view, with deregulation and modernisation on the one hand, and protection on the other. Having examined the impact of gambling in Australia, I note that in a very short period, once the cap had been taken off, it was very difficult to put it back on. All those whom I spoke to in Australia said that they wished that they had moved more proportionately and carefully in their deregulation. We learned a lot from that, and we will make sure that this Bill is informed by some of their experiences.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)(Lab)

My right hon. Friend, who visited Burnley football club last week, will know that we all think the gambling laws need to be reformed. We have no problem with casinos in places like Blackpool, but as my right hon. Friend will appreciate, there is some anxiety about football clubs, churches and other organisations for which lotteries and other forms of gambling are the main source of income. Does my right hon. Friend think that the reformed laws will ensure that those sources of income are protected for worthy causes?

Mr. Caborn

We have been increasing the limits on charitable lotteries, and have done everything we can for the community. Some of the relaxations in the laws that have already taken place are intended to ensure that any surpluses and profits from that type of gambling are returned to the community. We have just been discussing the protection of the lottery. It is ring-fenced, and in that sense it is a private monopoly; but it is ring-fenced in order to help good causes.

It seems from what I read in the papers that every football club in the country is to have a casino. We shall have to wait for the Bill, but I can assure my hon. Friend that casinos will not be springing up at every corner as they did in the 1960s. At that time they were commonly used for purposes of crime and money-laundering, but in this instance there will be protection and strong adherence to the law.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)(Con)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his earlier remarks, but does he agree with the Joint Scrutiny Committee's recommendation that without a reforming Bill, gambling of doubtful legality would continue to increase?

Does the right hon. Gentleman welcome the code of practice jointly adopted last week by his Department and the betting exchanges? That area of gambling is currently not regulated. Is it not the case that without reform we shall not be able to introduce strong new powers through a new gambling commission, strengthen consumer interests, or reinforce the fight against problem gambling by means of greater social responsibility?

Mr. Caborn

Obviously I welcome all the steps that have been taken, including what has happened with the Jockey Club and the exchanges on the memorandum of understanding that was signed only a few weeks ago. It appears that in the last few weeks cheating has been looked at very carefully in that part of the industry. We need to go much further, though, and I think that the new gambling commission—which will have far more teeth than the Gaming Board currently has—will ensure that the police and other authorities can move in, in a concerted and effective way, to control problem gambling. We want to prevent crime, and also to ensure that vulnerable people, including children, are protected.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)(Lab)

My right hon. Friend will know of the research that was presented to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which concluded that 2 per cent. of the British population are already addicted to gambling and that simply liberalising the laws will make things worse. Will he take account of that research in pursuing his legislation?

Mr. Caborn

A good many reports have been produced, and I do not accept the findings of that one. In fact, the figure is 2 per cent. in Australia and marginally under 1 per cent. here. Nevertheless, the issue is important, which is why Budd recommended the setting up of the Gambling Trust. He wanted us to think not just about how we could mitigate the worst effects, but about some of the causes, and he therefore asked for the establishment of a £3 million fund. The industry has responded effectively to date, and I hope that we shall continue to look at both cause and effect.

As with any other deregulation, there are some who will behave sensibly. People should be able to gamble sensibly, just as they should be able to drink sensibly without indulging in binge drinking. We must introduce laws that protect without stifling.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)(Con)

Few Bills could have undergone greater or closer scrutiny than the Gambling Bill, under the expert chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning that. The Government's report has elicited almost universal support for the Committee's findings. Given the desire of more or less all involved in the industry for the Bill to be introduced as soon as possible, what reasons can the Government have for delaying it?

Mr. Caborn

The reason is parliamentary time. As a seasoned Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman will know that such matters are within the gift not of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport but of those who order the business of the House—in which regard, I look to the Whips to my left. However, I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we have been pressing very hard on this issue.