§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. At the outset I would wish to express my gratitude to the noble Lords on the Benches opposite and on the Cross-Benches, who, since this Bill was ordered to be printed, have evinced considerable interest and have also drawn to my attention certain drafting effects which impinge upon the principle of the Bill. Taking those into account, it is proposed that the incidence of the Bill should be confined to 5p and 10p machines, which is the legal limit under the Gaming Act. These are machines to which, under this Bill, certain provisions of the Gaming Act will no longer continue to apply.
The very broad picture is that at present in an average amusement arcade the Gaming Act applies to about 60 per cent. of the machines, while it does not apply to 40 per cent. of the video type, or electronic, machines. Under the revised definition as proposed by the Bill, in the average amusement arcade the Gaming Act would apply to about 40 per cent. of the machines—those which take less than 5p—and this Bill would apply to about 60 per cent. of the machines. Of course there is no such thing as the average amusement arcade. I merely attempt to draw with a broad brush on a wide canvas the kind of perspective needed to show the incidence of the Bill.
Therefore the proposal is to carry appropriate amendments at Committee stage to limit the incidence of the Bill in that way by inserting in the definition clause—Clause 1(2)—the qualifying words,of the value in aggregate of five new pence or more for a single operation of the machine".That would have a consequential effect on Clause 1(4), where similar words would have to be inserted before the proviso. In the result within the range of the five and 10 new pence machines, but not below, the incidence of Section 34 and Schedule 9 of the Gaming Act will be ousted. Thus a single effective system of licensing and control of the five and 10 new pence machines may be provided and enforced—and I say "enforced", because there is no effective enforcement 770 at the moment—by the local authority where such machines are on premises to which the public have access. If the public does not have access to the premises, the provisions of the Bill cannot bite in any event.
Apart from the mandatory requirement to seek to ensure that access is proscribed to those under 16, unless accompanied by a guardian or parent, a wide discretion is conferred on local authorities to impose conditions. That is contained in Clause 2(1) of the Bill. This relates to the conduct of business on the premises, including hours of opening and closing, supervisory staff in attendance, adequate illumination, and such like.
Under Clause 2(2) the local authority is also given a very wide discretion to grant, refuse, or revoke a licence for breach of condition. As regards grant or refusal, community considerations, such as the interests of the neighbourhood, the sufficiency of machines in the locality and the character of the applicant or the operator may all be taken into account. That is not the case today. In such regard the exercise of the administrative discretion by the local authority under Clause 2 will be subject, of course, to judical review which would prevent, as a matter of public administrative law, an unreasonable exercise of the discretion.
As to enforcement, under Clause 3 the local authority may institute proceedings in a court of summary jurisdiction, which both as regards conviction and sentence will be subject to all the usual appellate procedures.
On drafting there is some tidying up to be done to make it plain that the licence referred to in Clause 1(1) relates to the premises—attaches to the premises—and to remove Section 32 from Clause 1(4). As the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, pointed out to me—and I am so grateful to him—that was included in error, and I confess it. Transitional provisions must be introduced by way of new subsections (5) and (6) in Clause 1 to avoid oppression or hardship to commercial interests.
Those who have carried on business for at least two years prior to the commencement of the Bill after it becomes an Act should not be subject to the imposition of conditions under Clause 2(2)(b) as to the number and lay-out of machines, or Clause 2(2)(a) and (b) in regard to grounds of refusal based on detrimental effect to the neighbourhood and sufficiency of machines in the locality. Also if the local authority grants the licence—it has a discretion to do so—it must not take these matters into account. But if it grants the licence, it must be a licence for two years. Such is the proposal to avoid hardship or oppression.
There is also, of course, on the tidying up exercise, a new Clause 4 which must be introduced to cover appropriate financial provision to enable the Secretary of State to defray expenses out of money provided by Parliament, to vary the limit of the prescribed fee referred to in Clause 1, and to enable fees to be paid into the Exchequer.
The definition of "amusement machines" is new. By amendment, to which I have spoken, it would include the 5 and 10 new pence gaming machines, to which Part III of the Gaming Act 1968 already applies, and also the new video machines to which that 771 Act does not apply but if, and only if, the public have access. I give a brief word of explanation. The siting of a single machine on premises to which the public have access would require a licence for such premises. The effect of the definition is also to exclude machines which provide no element of advantage other than the mere pleasure of the single operation. In this I have not followed the contrary concept in Section 34(3)(d) of the Gaming Act.
As to the merits, I have no interest whatever to declare other than my personal concern; a concern which since I tabled a Question for answer in your Lordships' House has been reflected by urban local authorities, the national and provincial press, the police, churches, voluntary associations, the National Council on Gaming, and Gamblers Anonymous which says that one in five of its clients are young teenage addicts. under the age of 16. They are addicts of these arcades.
On 26th October when the Question came before your Lordships' House, this concern which I felt, and which was felt by all these institutions, was reflected on the floor of your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—who was particularly concerned about the planning aspect—the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, among others. The right reverend Prelate asked the Minister whether he was aware that,the National Council for Social Aid, which is one of the General Synod Councils of the Church of England, is producing a new document concerning gambling? Moreover, in an advance copy there is reference to the indiscriminate spread of gaming machines and the deliberate appeal to excitment and excess".—[Official Report, 26/10/83; col. 251.]That was the way, at that time, that the right reverend Prelate expressed his concern.
The concern is twofold. First, it is concern for those under the age of 16 who stand like zombies before these newfound gods, some of whom are tempted to petty crime and others to casual sex to find the ready cash with which to feed their addiction. In this context, although licensed premises are excluded from the Bill, is it not fair to point out that as regards enforcement there does not appear to have been too much difficulty in enforcing the age condition on access to premises where intoxicating liquor is sold to the public?
The second aspect of concern—to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, spoke: the planning aspect—is concern for the community which in this regard is truly ill-served because planning law is only concerned with change of use. Already the Minister, on appeal, has overturned some 30 cases where the local authority has refused planning permission for amusement arcades. Indeed, there is one applicant who has won appeals in respect of 11 amusement centres in London against strong local opposition. In several cases there was already an amusement arcade in the same street which had already been a source of trouble. At the time of the question my noble friend Lord Elton. the Minister, said.the first thing to do is to decide whether legislation is needed".—[Official Report, 26/10/83: col. 252.]772 On the evidence of the concern evinced from all sides of your Lordships' House on a previous occasion is there not a strong prima facie case? Moreover, my noble friend conceded specifically at col. 252 that there was dissatisfaction with planning control.
I conclude by saying that if this measure of concern should be shared by your Lordships' tonight either as regards the protection of the interests of the young or the protection of the interests of the community—or, perhaps, the protection of both because in practice the interests do tend to merge—then surely if only as a matter of principle the Bill is worthy of further consideration in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Campbell of Alloway.)
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for introducing this very important Bill and for his extremely clear presentation of it. I am sure I speak for all your Lordships. I should also like to ask your Lordships' indulgence towards any error I might commit in this my first appearance at the Dispatch Box on this side of the House.
First, may I say that we on these Benches are most certainly in favour of the general principle behind the Bill. We think there is a very genuine concern at the lack of control within local authorities over this new phenomenon which has entered into life in many areas of the country. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, pointed out, and the Minister will no doubt recollect, my noble friend Lady David, during the passage of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill last year, put forward amendments both in Committee and on Report aimed at giving local authorities some power to control these premises. The amendment which my noble friend put forward in Committee was designed to give district councils power to licence such places. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, responded by saying:Crazes sweep the country from time to time and it is possible that playing on video machines may be one of those crazes".He therefore clearly thought that it was premature to take any action at that time.
In response to a further amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady David on Report which gave local authorities the power to specify a minimum age of entry to such premises, my noble friend was told by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that although he did not think this amendment was a proper way of dealing with the problem, nevertheless,the Government were aware of the desire of local authorities for increased powers in connection with the grant of permits for amusement places and the local authorities have made some constructive suggestions that are being considered. I think I can safely say that if those representations are persuasive and if their purpose is workable the Government would be quite well disposed to doing something in a later vehicle".That is what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said in that debate.
Eighteen months later the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is asking the Government to look at this matter again. I think that it can be said without any shadow of doubt that the amusement 773 machine craze then sweeping the country is still doing so—in fact, even more so than before. Furthermore, it could be maintained that the later vehicle referred to by the Minister at that time could be seen to be the Bill which today is before us. I can only conclude that the Government's two objections to doing something about the problem must now in some way be overruled.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, made a very clear presentation of his Bill to which I can in no way add. I should merely like to make a few general points and to concentrate mostly on the aspect of the Bill which affects young people. I am a mother of three. Two of my children are in adolescence and a third is about to enter it. I have learned that it is not only wrong but highly counter-productive to stop young people doing things unless those things are understood by them to be unequivocally contrary to their interests. It can even he said that, if we block off too many things, they will in some way find something even worse to do. I feel very strongly that one of the dangers in our present society is that sometimes young people are made to feel alienated from their parents and their parents' generation. They feel that adults tend to show insufficient sympathy and understanding for the very real pressures and tensions which affect them in today's world. This makes me look at this Bill very much in the light of whether its provisions are truly in the interests of young people and can indeed be proved to be so.
As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said, local authorities base their fears regarding the welfare of young people on the following grounds. They are concerned that, while local councils have powers to control the deployment of amusement prize machines in premises such as cafés and public houses where they are no more than an incidental feature, they have no powers to control premises used wholly or mainly for providing amusements. The chief complaint is that these latter premises tend to become the resorts of prostitutes, adolescents who are liable to be picked up for immoral purposes, and truanting school children.
As the Minister knows, the Royal Commission on Gambling, reporting as long ago as 1978, suggested a wide range of improvements which could be made if local authorities were given the power to carry them out. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities is now most concerned that nothing has been done to bring these recommendations into operation, especially as such premises have been proliferating in the present climate of unemployment. As I said, while this craze goes on unabated, the recommendations that the AMA would like to see considered concern the hours of operation of the premises, as the noble Lord said, the provision of music, the supervision of the premises, the dishonest operation of machines, illumination, display of notices and, finally, the admission of children. It has become absolutely clear that children are spending an increasing amount of money on these machines. Those are some of the very legitimate worries of the authorities. They are truly not against anything that could be described as harmless fun in today's technological world, but they see it to be in the interests of the local community whom they serve that they should be given some power of control over these premises.
774 I fear that I am not a great authority on these amusement centres. I have had some experience through my son, who between the ages of 10 and 15 was a very great expert. We were in France at that time. He felt a positive compulsion towards these arcades, which the French in their inimitable way call "jardins de loisirs", which gives them a special connotation. He became extremely adept at playing the machines. I do know that, as far as small boys go, these machines have a veritably hypnotic influence.
I felt that before speaking this evening I should make a brief and rapid examination for myself. Over the weekend I visited a few of these amusement arcades in London. Out of the three or four that I visited. certainly more than half of the occupants were clearly under 16 years of age. Equally clearly they were playing the machines with extreme intentness and skill. It was also obvious that. given enough time, these young players could get through an enormous amount of money.
However in the last of the establishments I visited, which was in West London, to my great surprise, there were no children at all. I inquired as to the history of this centre and was told that initially there had been a great outcry in the neighbourhood when the news broke that a centre was to open. It was indeed mainly parents who were opposed to it. They feared that it would lead not only to their children spending a great deal of money but also to their truanting from school. Consequently, the local authority planning committee turned down the application to set up the amusement centre, but subsequently this decision was reversed by the Department of the Environment. However, I am glad to say that it all ended very happily. The premises were set up. The local council environmental health department laid down conditions—the same conditions that were required by their local community. They included one that children under 16 should not be allowed in. The owners of the premises subsequently conformed to those requirements. There have since been no children in the centre and no problem. The proprietor confided in me that evening that he much preferred children not to be allowed to enter his premises.
On another aspect, I tried to elicit a little information from those concerned and responsible for children in schools and youth clubs. I asked them what they considered to be the risks and disadvantages to children of free entry into amusement centres. They expressed the following concerns. First, it has been shown that playing these machines becomes an addictive habit, leading to compulsive gambling. I heard one example that one out of five of the members of Gamblers Anonymous is aged between 12 and 16. I do not know whether this is true but it is what I have heard. Secondly, they were concerned that children can get through an enormous amount of money with adverse consequences such as stealing and so on, and that their addiction to these places can lead to truancy.
As to the profit side of this affair, I inquired from a social club which is open only during licensing hours and was told that a net profit of £320 per week was made out of its one machine. Of one thing we can be sure: these machines provide immense scope for profit and no doubt for tax avoidance as well.
775 This brief examination led me to conclude, first, that the craze for playing these machines is not over; it is probably even increasing. Secondly, the existence of high profit margins will ensure that these machines will always be available. When a profit on those lines can be made, the machines will certainly not disappear. Thirdly, in spite of the lack of concrete provision, it is possible to implement the wishes of the local community at the present time if there is consultation as to what the conditions should be. Fourthly, after all—and this is the other side of the argument—in these days in our permissive society playing with space invaders and machines that operate with only 2p pieces could be regarded as relatively harmless. As I said at the beginning, if you block one avenue for young people the risk is that they find another which is a more dangerous one.
The proposed powers, however, as I understand them, will apply also to seasonal seaside amusement arcades which provide holiday entertainment and this I do find of concern. I find it difficult to think of Brighton and Blackpool and many other places where the family goes, and I find it difficult to imagine that children will have to ask someone to accompany them to put in their 2p piece when they are on holiday.
There is the side of it which I think the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, put very well: there is this mixture of machines in the same premises and it would seem a pity to bar the very harmless, or relatively harmless, occupations that these children have, though protecting them from the more serious ones.
While I agree that there are other laws which protect minors from addiction, such as that of alcohol and so on, and so it would be only consistent to legislate also to protect such minors from becoming addicted to gambling and to the other risks from it, I do, however, have a slight trepidation that this Bill in its present form might go too far, and, as I said, while protecting some young people who need protection, might spoil what can only be described as relatively harmless fun for many others. I know the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has kindly said that he is very much open to changes in the Committee stage of this Bill.
I will conclude by saying that we welcome very much on this side the principles contained in this Bill and we believe that the Bill provides the Government with a very good vehicle as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said 18 months ago; and this could be used for deciding on what controls local authorities should have which would at the same time allay the fears and anxieties of parents and all those concerned with the welfare of young people while maintaining some kind of entertainment for all those young people who, after all, see things in a very different way from the people of our generation. Those space invaders are very much part of their own generation, so I would like to support this Bill and I very much look forward to the Committee stage.
§ 8.42 p.m.
My Lords, I am happy to rise in support of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. It is also a great pleasure for me to follow the noble Baroness, 776 Lady Ewart-Biggs, whose concern with the welfare of young people of our country is so well known to all of us in your Lordships' House.
I have not been, as I think is probably the case with most of your Lordships, directly concerned with these machines; nor have I been directly concerned with the interests of young people, except that apart from my service abroad which took up most of my adult life, I have been involved with various youth organisations and I am also now concerned with a voluntary committee of friendship for overseas students which has students from something like 65 different nationalities.
I have on occasions met—admittedly it was some years ago—young people who have been, as the noble Baroness said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, said in reply, wholly addicted to these compulsive gambling machines; but I felt that, before I had the temerity to speak in your Lordships' House on a subject which was largely alien to me, I should try to inform myself about it.
The other evening I went round no fewer than five amusement arcades in Soho, which is, we are told, the centre of vice in London; and one might assume they were quite typical. It may surprise your Lordships to hear that my experiences were not those of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. In all those five amusement arcades that I visited, four or five things were quite clear to me. First, they were well supervised; second, each one—and I looked at this very carefully—had a notice clearly saying:Entry is strictly forbidden to persons under 18— 18, my Lords, not 16—unless accompanied by a parent or guardian".In fact, the people I met in these arcades were all in the (what shall I say?) 18–30 age group. Indeed. I found some quite elderly men there; I even found one old woman there although, of course, it is an almost wholly male addiction—98 per cent. were men, I would say. There were certainly no youngsters. In all five arcades I visited there were two boys who might perhaps have been 17, but one could pass them off as 18. That was my second impression.
My third impression was that most of the people in those arcades came from the ethnic minorities—in whom I am particularly interested, as some of your Lordships know. In one arcade—of course, it shall be nameless—I counted 18 people, of whom no fewer than 16 were from the Far East: Japan perhaps; Hong Kong, China and so on; and there was also a scattering of West Indians and Africans; only two Britons, one of whom was a friend of one of the African boys. That experience was paralleled to a large extent, in the other arcades.
My fourth impression was that there were no unsavoury characters hanging around; no paederasts waiting to pounce. There might have been one or two people of perhaps dubious reputation outside the doors but not inside. As for compulsive gambling, one saw people enjoying themselves, but I did not see anyone going on and on until he had spent every single penny in his pocket.
I am quite prepared to admit that my experience may not he typical. I adduce these arguments not 777 because I want to speak against the noble Lord's Bill: on the contrary, I feel in many ways it is admirable. But I do feel from my very limited experience—and I emphasise again it is very limited and perhaps not typical—that there must be a great variety in the operation and control of these machines, as to who uses them, and as to the effect they have. In supporting this Bill, therefore, I would ask the noble Lord to bear that in mind.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, my interest in slot machines originated from countless visits to the Palace Pier in Brighton when I was a young person well under the age of 16, and when I could win 6d for a stake of a penny at a game called "The Little Stockbroker". My interests were maintained through my membership of your Lordships' Standing Committee on the Gaming Bill of 1968, as it then was, in conjunction with which, of course, this Bill has to be considered, and which then went into enormous detail of every aspect covered by the Bill.
My interest was maintained this afternoon when, like the noble Viscount and my noble friend on the Front Bench, I went to pay a visit myself to an amusement arcade in Leicester Square, where I too found that persons under the age of 18 were not admitted. On inquiry, I was told that this was the policy of the management; that they did not like having young people there and that they made it a strict rule and enforced it so far as they could. But there are, of course, amusement arcades all over the country where very young children go. I agree completely with, and support, the main provision of this Bill—and the noble Lord is to be congratulated on introducing it—that would proscribe the visit of young children under the age of 16 to premises in which certain machines are played.
I have been a bit confused since the debate started because the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and my noble friend spoke as though games of the space invader type, the video games, the games that take skill to operate, came within the ambit of this Bill. That has certainly not been my reading of it, and if I am mistaken I hope that the noble Lord will interrupt me. It is clear to me that under Clause 1(2) the operation of the Bill is confined to what we used to call gaming machines—
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, at the noble Lord's invitation, and only for clarification, the new video machines are included within the definition of this Bill unless they are of the type where you put in the token or money for a single operation and there is no further free play. If you have a video machine and you are just looking at it as a single operation for pleasure, that is not included within the definition of the Bill. If you can get a free play, then it is.
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, yes. I appreciate that if your use of sufficient skill gives you the opportunity to play another game free, then it comes under the Bill. But if it is confined to machines where you put in your 10p, you have five or 10 minutes' amusement and then you put in another 10p, it is not covered.
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, I am not at all sure that I would not prefer it if all such video machines were covered, whether or not you had the opportunity of a free game. The noble Lord was kind enough to give me advance notice that he intended to introduce an amendment that would confine the operation of this Bill to machines accepting 5p and 10p stakes only; in other words that if the machine accepts 1p or 2p, it will not be covered. If it does not, it will then remain subject to the conditions of Part III of the Gaming Act and Schedule 9 to the Gaming Act, because Section 34 will not apply to it.
That will have two rather unexpected consequences. One is that if you have low-stake machines taking 1p or 2p, you have to go through all the rigmarole of Schedule 9 to the Gaming Act and come under the control of the Gaming Act, whereas if the stakes are higher, if they are 5p and 10p, they would come under the scope of the Bill. But it would also mean that if there are at present premises with machines that will take stakes of 1p, 2p, 5p or 10p, a licence will be needed under the Bill for the 5p and 10p machines and they will be subject to the conditions of this Bill, whereas a permit under Schedule 9 will be required in respect of the 1p and 2p machines. It seems to me that, under those circumstances, a proprietor, rather than having to apply for a permit and a licence, would simply eliminate the low-stake machines, which are the lesser evil, and confine himself to the 5p and 10p ones.
The deletion of the application of Section 34 to this Bill means that the maximum stakes and maximum winnings laid down by that section will no longer apply to gaming machines taking a stake of 5p and 10p. Originally, when I was working on the Bill before it was an Act, the maximum prize was a shilling, and that was gradually raised to £1. That is not enforced. In the arcade that I visited this afternoon, the maximum prize at all the machines was £2, which is twice the legal limit. But, as the Bill stands, no maximum stake and no maximum winnings per game are laid down. I feel that it is not clear whether the local authority is empowered to set such maxima under its right to regulate the conduct of the business in the appropriate clause. I cannot find it. It is under Clause 2.
§ Lord Kilbracken
Under Clause 2(1)(b) the local authority is empowered to regulate the conduct of business. But it is not clear whether local authorities have the right to decide, as they must have, what the maximum stakes and winnings should be. I suggest that these should be the same as those contained within Section 34 of the Gaming Act; namely, a maximum stake of 10p and a maximum monetary prize of £1.
I draw attention to the fact that pubs are excluded from the operation of the Bill, but they will, of course, remain subject to the permits required under Section 34 of the Gaming Act and will therefore remain subject to the maximum stakes and winnings laid down in Section 34. It is about time that these maxima were applied.
779 This Bill will remove gaming machines from the Gaming Act and the very complicated regulations laid down under it. Schedule 9, which deals with licensing, occupies six closely written pages. There is machinery for appeals, different rules for Scotland, and so on. All of that is now covered by a couple of short clauses. I think that possibly under the Bill there is an oversimplification of the procedures to obtain a licence.
Finally, I should like to draw attention to the fact that at present a permit under the Gaming Act, which is what these premises require, which used to cost 25 shillings for three years, now costs only £8.50 for three years, and that there is a very substantial difference between £8.50, which is what is paid at present, and a fee which "shall not exceed £500", which is mentioned in the Bill. I support the Bill. I think that it needs amendment, and I hope to be able to help in amending it.
§ 9.2 p.m.
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for very long. I came here tonight to support my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, who is also a colleague of mine in various other matters. It delights me to be able to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, on a very fine first performance at the Dispatch Box. I am afraid that I have not done my homework as she has done and as have my noble friends Lord Buckmaster and Lord Kilbracken. However, I declare an interest. I am chairman of a charity—the Gordon House Association—which, with the help of the Home Office, maintains a hostel in South London for compulsive gamblers. It is in that capacity that I speak tonight, having heard this awful statistic which has come from Gamblers Anonymous of one in five of, as it were, the new entry to gambling being under the age of 16.
I should like to say just a few words about Gordon House. It is supported by, among others, the Casino Association itself. That association gives us very substantial support and we are very grateful for that support. The gamblers who go to that hostel are compulsive; and, once a compulsive gambler, one never ceases to be a compulsive gambler. To my mind, the gaming machines in the amusement arcades are leading to an addiction among the young which, unless we are very careful, will make many of them compulsive gamblers. In fact, I should like to see the age limit increased from under 16 to under 18, but perhaps that is not possible. However, I certainly think that these places must be licensed and I give my whole support to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, in getting this Bill through.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, it may be helpful if I intervene at this stage to explain the Government's attitude to this Bill and the issues with which it seeks to deal. I should like to start by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, to the Front Bench and Dispatch Box opposite, over which I hope I shall gaze at her with no greater hostility on future nights than I have tonight. She is always able to smooth the path of her arguments with charm, and I assure her that it was 780 not necessary on this occasion to promote me to an unmerited Earldom in order to secure a friendly reception for what she had to say.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway has given us the opportunity to debate an issue about which there is undoubted concern in several quarters. For that opportunity, I am very grateful. But I must confess to a shadow of doubt as to whether using a Bill for this purpose and at this time is absolutely appropriate. Your Lordships may remember that, in reply to a recent Question from my noble friend, I explained that we were looking at the whole subject of controls over amusement arcades and I referred to our proposed consultation and consideration; this so disarmed and encouraged him that he did not press me further, and I rather thought that he was content to let us proceed with due determination on that course.
To legislate ahead of consultation seems to me to carry with it dangers which I am sure my noble friend and all noble Lords would wish to avoid. However, your Lordships' House does now have an opportunity to express a view on this whole question and the Government will give full weight to the points made in this debate in the course of their wider consideration. It may be helpful to the House if I try to explain the background to this subject, the present position, the issues raised and the way ahead as we see it.
Although my noble friend's Bill deals with amusement machines as such, it is rather their concentration in amusement arcades which has led to a number of local authorities pressing for changes in the law so as to give them greater control over arcades. This pressure has arisen from local authorities whose decisions to refuse planning permission for arcades have been overturned on appeal by Department of the Environment inspectors. These authorities are concerned at the limitations on planning control and the cost implications when their decisions are overturned on appeal.
This in turn has led to pressure for a system of licensing control over amusement arcades and similar premises on the lines of Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 relating to the licensing of sex shops. The initiative on this has been taken by the Amusement Arcades Action Group which has been formed by four London boroughs—Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Croydon and Wandsworth. An official of the Home Office attended the conference organised by the action group in September. Since then there has been a meeting between officials of the action group and those of the Home Office. Further meetings are expected to take place, but, at that meeting, it was agreed that the action group would submit details of the problems posed by amusement arcades to the Home Office and that my right honourable friend the Minister of State would then meet representatives of the action group. When we have received details from the action group and considered them, a meeting with my right honourable friend will be arranged. I understand that my noble friend has had some contacts with the action group That, my Lords, is how the issues have arisen and is the position that has been reached.
Before I go on, I think I ought to pause to explain the position on planning controls, in which the noble 781 Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, and others have expressed an interest. The difficulty with planning controls is that they are not by nature apt to the kind of control which we are speaking of today. The planning system is designed to control the development and use of land, and is obliged to concentrate upon land-use issues. Thus, in considering a planning application for an amusement centre, the local authority may properly take into account issues such as noise, disturbance or pedestrian traffic and congestion. But they are not able to deal with matters which are not land-use matters, such as the moral arguments which noble Lords have heard put forward this evening. Issues of this kind would need to be the subject of some other specific control—rather than the town and country planning system. The role of the Secretary of State for the Environment and his inspectors is of course governed by this fundamental limitation of planning control.
With regard to amusement centres in particular, Development Control Policy Note 11 sets out certain national guidelines, pointing out, for example, the importance of considerations of road safety, noise and appearance, and advising that amusement centres are usually best sited in areas of mixed commercial development. This note is currently being reviewed. The local plans applying to any area may have its own policies relating to the siting of amusement centres. The Secretary of State and his inspectors, however, are obliged to consider every appeal on its own merits, and, if no good planning reasons can be adduced for turning down a particular proposal, they will be obliged to allow it.
Turning now to machines; there are three types. The first are those which offer no inducement to play other than the expected pleasure of beating either your opponent or the machine itself. They are, I suppose, the linear descendants of the old pinball machines that flash staggering totals onto an illuminated screen at the end of a spring-loaded bagatelle board and which still survive. Of these, one type—space invaders—has become so popular that its name has almost passed into the language.
The second offers as a further inducement a prize of some sort—usually in cash, or tokens that can be used as cash in the place where the machine is kept. This category of machine is still intended to rely upon the attractions of the game itself as the main incentive to play. These machines are, I suppose, the linear descendants of those infuriating little cranes with which as a child, I tried, with complete lack of success, to extract an aniseed ball or a plastic boat from a heap of dusty goodies in a big glass case. On such machines the prize is added to give a little zest to the pleasure of playing. These machines are therefore called Amusement with Prizes Machines—AWP for short. The size of the prizes is regulated under Section 34 of the Gaming Act 1968 in order to ensure that the value of the prizes shelled out by the machines shall not increase to a size that would change the nature of their attraction. The maximum values stated in the regulation are reviewed by the Gaming Board every three years in order to keep them roughly in line with the value of money. In fact, a review has just been completed in the normal course of events, and an order, laid before Parliament by coincidence today, 782 will increase the prize limit for AWP machines from £1 to £1.50 for a money prize, and from £2 to £3 for a non-money prize.
The third category of machine is the kind which decants a prize of substantial value on fairly infrequent occasions. They are amongst the machines that used very appropriately to be called one-armed bandits, though electronic developments have rendered some of them limbless. The maximum prize may be prescribed by regulation. As these machines are permitted only in premises licensed for gaming and in registered clubs and miners' welfare institutes, they can be discounted for the purpose of this debate.
As things now stand a person who wishes to install an AWP machine in any premises must have a permit issued by the district council or London borough, except that, for public houses, the issuing authority is the committee of the licensing justices. The law draws a distinction between premises used wholly or mainly for providing amusements, such as funfairs, seaside piers or amusement arcades, and premises where the amusements are incidental on the other hand, to the main purpose of the premises, such as cafés, shops and take-away restaurants. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, had his education in the former type.
The relevant legislation empowers a local authority to pass a resolution either that particular classes of premises of the type where the machine would be incidental to the primary purpose should not be granted permits, or that it will limit the maximum number of machines permitted in a particular class of premises. Although this sweeping power is subject to appeal to the Crown Court, if a resolution is in force the court is bound by its terms. No such power exists in respect of premises used wholly or mainly for providing amusements. This means that an appeal against the refusal of a permit in such a case may be decided on its merits. If a local authority has refused a permit arbitrarily or has had regard to improper considerations, an appeal against the decision may succeed. A person who wishes to install video machines or other non-gaming amusement machines only, whether in a cafe, amusement arcade or elsewhere, does not require a permit. These machines do not come within the scope of the gambling laws.
The complaint made about amusement arcades, the machines located in them and the problems they are said to cause, vary. Some relate to amenity and environmental considerations; others to social or moral issues; and some to crime or gambling addiction. It is said that there are too many arcades, that they affect the character of the locality in which they are sited, especially if they are located close to schools, churches or other premises with which they are not compatible. They are also said to be a focus for noise and disorder because of their attraction to young people, who tend to congregate in the vicinity of arcades. The attraction of arcades to children is put forward as one of the major causes for concern. The tendency of arcades to attract children is said to encourage truancy and delinquency and to expose them to the influence of undesirable and criminal elements who might frequent such premises. Some children are said to steal money either from their 783 parents or elsewhere in order to play the machines. This leads to a further problem for it is said that children become addicted to these machines and that their addiction may encourage them to gamble in other ways. I know the noble Lord, Lord Spens, will be interested in that.
I have to say, however, that there is not much hard evidence that amusement arcades pose serious problems for the police or that they have other seriously harmful social consequences. An independent study conducted in 1974—if I can begin at that point—on behalf of the Churches Council on Gambling looked at the social effects of amusement arcades because it was then being said they were a major cause of truancy and child theft. The council found that there was no evidence to support the view that the availability of arcade facilities was linked in any degree with juvenile crime or delinquency, especially theft. Nor could arcades be held to be a major cause of truancy. The study did not disregard the risks inherent in such premises but considered that these should be seen in perspective. Although there was no evidence that children got into bad company at arcades, there was a need for vigilance and co-operation between the local authorities and the police. Local authorities were consulted in the course of the study about the need for amending legislation but no solid case was made out. Where local authorities did want change, this was to enable them to impose age restrictions. Some authorities had reached a voluntary agreement with the operators; a trend the study considered should be encouraged. It concluded that overall the legislation (which is still current) struck a sensible balance between control and the operation of a legitimate commercial activity.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway referred to a later report by the National Council for Social Aid, mentioned also by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. The report is called Christians and Gambling. It devotes only about three paragraphs to gaming machines, but none the less we welcome this informed contribution not only to this question but to the wider question of gambling. In a review of gambling literature published in 1978 it is stated that there was no evidence that arcades or leisure centres constituted any material danger to their customers so far as their primary purpose and service was concerned. I hope your Lordships will notice that.
Since then, however, the advent of new technology has resulted in the phenomenon of the video amusement machine, and particularly space invaders. These games together with computer games have become an integral part of the modern leisure industry not only in amusement arcades but in the home. There was some publicity a few months ago—and noble Lords have referred to it—for a report by Gamblers Anonymous that was considering setting up a junior section to deal with children aged 12 to 17 because of its concern at the time and money some children were devoting to machines. More recently. the chairman of the National Council on Gambling has conducted a pilot survey in secondary schools into pupil participation in gambling and we await the publication of his findings with interest.
784 The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said that a fondness for video games was a danger. In excess such a fondness may have its dangers as many otherwise harmless preoccupations. But a fondness for video games can offer advantages as well as dangers. In August, the Department of Education and Science published a paper called Micro-Computers and Mathematics in Schools. It was written by one of Her Majesty's Inspectors and says that the use of computer games of the kind found in amusement arcades has a place in schools. Games programs often involve techniques well beyond O-level computer studies courses. They provide strong initial motivation—some of your Lordships would say too strong—and are a route to more academic activities.
These examples of recent activity and research in this area are interesting, informative and sometimes disturbing, depending on one's point of view. But they do not point clearly in any one direction. Even the experience of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, casts a very different light on it from that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. I am surprised that I did not bump into both of them and several others of your Lordships on my own recent reconnaissances.
The Government recognise the concern that has been expressed and we have a genuinely open mind on this whole question. But, before considering whether there should be tighter controls, it would be necessary— and I am sure the House would agree on this—to be satisfied that arcades and machines posed a threat or danger to those who played them, to other members of society, or were otherwise harmful. The fact that some young people who play these machines—and enjoy doing so—may cause a nuisance would not, in itself, provide a sound basis for tighter controls. Nor should we forget that some arcades, especially at seaside resorts, are provided primarily for children. The problems of an inner-city area such as Westminster (which includes Soho) are very different from those of a holiday town.
I recognise the concern of many people about what happens to young people in amusement arcades. But I am not at all certain that the events which concern them derive from the nature of the machines rather than from the nature of the other people frequenting the arcades. The attraction to these people—the predators, if you like, on the young—is simply the fact that the young are apt to congregate there. Now the fact is that the young are going to congregate somewhere, whatever we do, and to legislate against amusement arcades, or against amusement or gambling machines, is likely merely to move the problem on to somewhere else, somewhere that may be less well lit and less frequented than the places we are now talking about. If that is the likely result of legislation we want to be very sure that the new attractions and the new location will be preferable to the old and not a good deal worse. If they were to prove worse our efforts would have been misdirected.
And that means that we do need more information about the nature and extent of the problem, the supposed inadequacies of the present law, and the likely effect of any changes, whether they could be enforced and at what cost. We also need to consider how far it should be the Government that intervene in this even if intervention is required. There is no 785 certainty that tighter controls would solve this problem; it might simply move it elsewhere. Problems that happen in arcades can perhaps be dealt with by enforcement of other legislation depending upon the priorities and resources of the police.
What we are concerned with are the problems actually caused by amusement arcades and machines. This poses difficulties in relation to video and amusement-only machines which are not at present controlled and which can be played freely even at home or at school. A trip to the toy department of any store will show what I mean.
I want to draw to a conclusion. My noble friend was admirably brief as well as clear in his introduction. His Bill is, I fear, technically defective and I doubt whether the amendments that he has so far suggested would suffice to put it right. I will not go into a catalogue of examples for this is not a Committee stage, but I would say that from the Long Title it would seem that the intention is to license machines, as defined in the Bill; but from the Bill it is not clear whether it is the machines, the premises in which they must be located, or the occupier of those premises that is being licensed. Second, definition is always difficult and it seems to me that what is proposed here might well cover all manner of things, including pay telephones and juke boxes; but I have little doubt that that could be put right.
There is always a danger that legislation enacted in haste may be regretted at leisure. I have explained the Government's recognition of the concern over this whole subject and the serious consideration that is being given to it. Those who are pressing for tighter controls recognise that they must produce evidence to support their case, that wider interests must be consulted and that, if the case for tighter controls is established, the precise need must be precisely met in the drafting. I am sure that my noble friend's sagacity, together with the careful help of the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, would achieve that at any later stage.
My noble friend's Bill has provided us with an opportunity to debate the issue, but he is entering a field that has been very imperfectly explored, and it is certainly not yet clear that we have anything like enough knowledge of it to enable us to come to an agreed decision on exactly what to do about it.
The Government are not dragging their feet on this matter; we have already begun to take account of the views of interested parties. Consultation and inquiry are essential, both to establish that legislation is needed and to secure that, if it is needed, it is sound, effective and fair. I very much hope, therefore, that my noble friend will not feel compelled to try to perfect his own piece of legislation ahead of this essential process. Indeed, he may well feel that the best course would be not to proceed with it at this stage. We would not wish to obstruct him if he decides otherwise, but our own view is that it would be preferable if he were to withdraw it now so that he might return to the fray better armed a little later.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I shall seek to be very brief. I wish to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and I would very much wish to 786 congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, on her eloquent, informed and very moving "maiden" at the Dispatch Box. We hope to hear much more from her from that particular quarter in future. I very much thank her for her support. Her point about barring harmless machines is, with respect to her, in fact met, because they are only barred if there is, as I would describe it, a harmful machine. But certainly this is a matter that could be looked at further at Committee stage.
The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, made a telling point about variety, and it is because of this variety that this wide discretion is given to the local authority under Clause 2 of the Bill.
As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, it is not the intention to have a situation of dual licence for the premises; and, in answer to my noble friend Lord Elton, yes, it is a licence for the premises. If only 1p and 2p machines are concerned the Bill has no incidence and the provisions of the Gaming Act obtain, and it is all quite straightforward; but if a single 5p or 10p machine is on the premises then the provisions of the Gaming Act are ousted and the provisions of this Bill would obtain.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I have tried to deal with that twice. I wonder how I can explain it better. If you have a 5p machine or a 10p machine on the premises—one machine—then you require a licence for those premises, irrespective of whether there are 2p machines or 1p machines, too. That is the proposal under the Bill as it is intended to amend it. Of course, these are matters which require consideration at Committee stage, and I fully take the point that your Lordships might take a different view; but that is the proposal.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, about enforcement, it is not really within my competence to comment on want of enforcement, and the Bill really is not concerned with that. On another point made by the noble Lord—and I am extremely grateful to him—I agree that the monetary value for means of operation of these machines is not sufficiently included with making conditions as to conduct of business. That would require the introduction of an amendment at Committee stage to Clause 2(1)(b). I am most grateful to the noble Lord.
As to the simplified system of licensing, the present system is not only hopelessly complex but totally ineffective for any purpose whatever, practically incomprehensible and very wasteful. The simplified system proposed by this Bill was proposed to meet a simple need; the need to prevent addiction of the young and the need to provide for the interests of the community. But, again, consideration could be given to that at a later stage.
787 I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Spens, for his humanitarian speech on a broad plane and his obvious concern for the addiction of the young—a concern reflected from so many quarters, as I have already mentioned—apparently a concern as regards which my noble friend Lord Elton wants hard evidence. We can come to that in due course, because, before dealing with what my noble friend Lord Elton said, I wish to thank him for his dextrous and sympathetic handling of a subject which appears to have been somewhat of an unwelcome baby dumped on his departmental doorstep.
All that I wish to say at this hour is that, with the greatest respect to him, I could not have heard the case for vast profit to be earned by amusement arcade operators argued better in a Chancery Court. It was superb. But the problem of how to deal with what is an addiction of the young. how to prevent it, is something for which there was no real proposal other than the rather defeatist approach of, "Well, move the addicts on. They can go on somewhere else". That is not the approach of those of us who support this Bill. Our problem, our concern, is not to move them on somewhere else, but to prevent them from becoming addicts.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at twenty-six minutes before ten o'clock.