§ 11 am
§ Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)
I am delighted to win the opportunity of holding the debate this morning—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Frank Cook (in the (Chair)
Order. I request hon. Members leaving the Chamber do so quietly, to enable our business to proceed.
§ Dr. Ladyman
I have been trying to win the chance to hold this debate since the start of the year, and it has finally come through—on my birthday. Unaccountably, the card from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has not arrived yet, but I am sure that it is held up at the post office. My delight at winning the debate was slightly tempered when I discovered in Edinburgh yesterday that I had to get up at 3.50 am to catch a plane to get here today.
The topic is of vital importance to my constituency. For hon. Members who do not know the constituency of South Thanet, I should explain that we have a wide variety of gambling interests that will be directly affected by the Budd report. We are first and foremost a seaside resort, and the thrust of my comments will be about the impact of the report on the seaside. We are also a permitted area, so there is a casino in Ramsgate, and another in Margate, in the constituency of North Thanet—I see that the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) is in his place.
In addition, we have several social clubs and two significant suppliers of gaming machines. We also have two world-leading manufacturers of the type of seaside arcade gaming machines that are sometimes called "pushers" but which the industry prefers to call "penny falls". For those who do not know what they are, I should explain that they are machines into which one puts a 2p piece and a little platform moves backwards and forwards, knocking off another couple of coins; young children are delighted when they win a few coins and adults are delighted that their children are so easily amused for a few minutes on holiday. Those machines are directly threatened by some of the recommendations in the Budd report.
I shall concentrate on seaside issues. I know that other hon. Members will comment on some of the other aspects of the report on which I shall touch only briefly.
Like all the other hon. Members present, I cannot see into the Strangers Gallery; nor may we speculate about who is present there, but it would not surprise me if business men who between them employ several hundred people in my constituency were listening to the debate. Those people also represent other business men from my constituency who employ several hundred more constituents. For us, this is a vital business. It is not something that anyone takes lightly. The industry is one of the mainstays of our local economy.
I do not expect the Minister to make firm commitments today. The consultation period on the Budd report has recently ended. He has said that he is still prepared to accept representations, and I know he will be reflecting on what he has been told. However, it is vital that he realises that some of the recommendations of the report are causing considerable blight to the industries in my constituency.
25WH My right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport has not yet commented on the recommendations one way or the other. No one knows what is in his or the Government's mind, or whether the recommendations, which are already having a significant effect on our local economy, will be accepted. The sooner he can comment about what he is and is not considering, the better it will be for us.
The report was thorough, touching on many aspects of gambling, and many of its recommendations have been widely accepted; there appears to be a consensus that they are good and sensible ideas. In a different world, where the sky was always blue or there was no gambling, and we were starting with a clean sheet of paper and deciding how to organise gambling, some other aspects of the report would be sensible. In our world, however, they are barmy and simply will not work. They will have a practical impact not only on employment but on problem gambling, social factors and crime. My right hon. Friend must sift those aspects out of the report before he accepts it.
I started to talk about blight. My right hon. Friend will be fully aware that all businesses have business plans based on the regulatory system in which they work today. That is the only way in which a business can plan. When a report is published that completely cuts away the foundation on which those plans were written, the consequences must be serious for those businesses and the economy that they support. That is exactly what has happened.
We can see that with the recommendation covering social clubs. During parliamentary questions yesterday, the Minister said that he had received 1,500 representations from a variety of not-for-profit organisations including political clubs, working people's clubs and other social clubs, so I know that he has been heavily lobbied on the subject. That will not have surprised him, because the Budd report effectively takes away the main plank of such clubs' business plans. We cannot expect to do that suddenly without its having devastating effects.
There has been less lobbying for other some businesses of which we need to be aware. Many are in seaside areas, and I call them marginal businesses. They include small hotels that are not making considerable profits, but perhaps are just breaking even. The presence of a small-prize gaming machine in such a hotel is the difference between the business carrying on and closing down. At a time when we are trying to regenerate seaside economies and hoping that they will recover, we cannot afford to lose any businesses, and the little gaming machines that Budd just sweeps away, almost with a stroke of the pen, are vital to marginal businesses.
Other businesses are less marginal because they have considerable assets. They are established businesses such as seaside arcades in areas of town that suit them, and the local authority—through planning permissions—and others are happy to accept such establishments in those locations.
If one recommendation in the Budd report—I think that it is number 43—is accepted, local authorities will have the power to decide that gaming will not be allowed in certain areas of their towns or districts. If Budd is applied literally, they will have that power retrospectively. In other words, someone whose business is currently thriving and worth a considerable 26WH amount of money could be left with no business. That creates a blight on the industry, as the Minster will readily appreciate. The recommendation is a sword of Damocles hanging over those businesses.
The blight on pubs and social clubs will affect every constituency. As far as I can see, Budd makes all those proposals without the slightest scrap of evidence that there is a gambling problem caused by that sector.
§ Brian Cotter (Weston-super-Mare)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the Budd report's recommendations is to reduce the number of machines in pubs to two per public house? The Licensed Victuallers Association has estimated that if the proposal were implemented, the effect in Weston-superMare would be a tremendous loss of staff and facilities in pubs, many of which are struggling already.
§ Dr. Ladyman
I agree. The Budd recommendation was made on the premise that the presence of a gaming machine has a corrupting effect on children. If machines have such an effect, it does not matter whether there are two of them or 20. Surely it should be for the licensee to decide how many machines there should be to entertain his customers in a licensed premises. Whether it loses or gains him business should be a matter for him, not for regulation, which will have a devastating effect on many businesses.
§ Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)
Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the Budd report's recommendations are based on anecdotal evidence and speculation? There is little statistical, accountable evidence for its findings, the results of which could have serious effects on seaside resorts such as Blackpool, part of which I represent, and my hon. Friend's constituency?
§ Dr. Ladyman
My hon. Friend is right. I would call the evidence on which the report is based not even anecdotal, but blind prejudice. It expresses a view of small-stake gambling that neither I nor, I think, my constituents share.
We are trying to encourage families to use pubs and other licensed premises because the family has a civilising effect on them; it is nonsense to suggest that the presence of a gaming machine will have a corrupting influence. We do not assume that because children are allowed into pubs and see adults drinking alcohol, which they themselves will be allowed to do only when they reach the age of 18, it will turn them into alcoholics; we take the opposite view—that it will help them to understand social drinking. Why do we not take the same position on gambling?
The blight will not stop there. One of my main concerns is the effect on amusement-with-prize machines—the type found in seaside arcades. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not say that I do not need to worry about such things because the Budd report says that there will be some research and there may be another view of the matter in five years' time. That just means that the sword of Damocles would be hanging over those businesses, and they would be blighted, for five years or even longer.
On the subject of regulation and crime, we forget at our peril that the gaming legislation was introduced by a Labour Government to get the gangster out of 27WH gaming; it was designed to stop the Kray twins dominating the gaming machine industry in London, and it was extremely successful in doing so. The industry is now well regulated. We have evidence of what will happen if the Budd report's recommendations are introduced, as it suggests a return to what happened in the 1960s. Why does the Minister not expect the same consequences as were seen in the 1960s?
If my right hon. Friend wants more evidence, he should consider what is happening in France. I quote from an article in Coin Slot International about an underworld war currently raging in France over illegal fruit machines, whichclaimed its latest victim when the body of a man was found riddled with more 9 mm bullets than could be counted.That is what happens if there is no legal regulated way for people to operate in an industry and provide gaming machines. If all the gaming machines that offer significant jackpots were forced into casinos—as has happened in France—organised crime would take over the provision of those machines.
For further evidence, look at this country: machines with small prizes are usually regulated by local authorities, which are allowed section 34 certificates. Section 34 certificates govern where machines can be placed, and the local authorities monitor them. That works extremely well in an area such as Thanet, in which the machines are monitored carefully and thoroughly. Machines are not put in places where children can have access to them. However, other local authorities have a blanket ban. As a consequence, the only access to gaming machines in those authorities' areas is through an illegal source. Gaming machines can be found in taxi waiting rooms and cafes—places where children can get access to them—and organised crime is involved. If my right hon. Friend wants evidence of that, I suggest that he take a walk around the area that we are in now, because it is one of the areas in which gaming machines are largely associated with criminal activity. The ban proposed by Budd would not be effective.
I find other parts of the Budd report baffling—for example, the comments about the national lottery. PricewaterhouseCoopers has estimated that the effect on the national lottery—the loss to the good causes during the lifetime of the second licence—could be as high as 1.3 billion if the Budd report were accepted. It is nonsense to set up a lottery that provides useful and substantial amounts of money for good causes, but then to allow a big chunk of the money to be taken away from those good causes and fed into the gambling industry for no good reason.
I accept many of the Budd report's recommendations on casinos, with which it deals in considerable depth. Casino advertising and the abandonment of the 24-hour rule are long overdue, but I would be a bit worried if we were to allow gambling on credit cards. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that issue. Of course, there is nothing to stop someone in a casino walking down the road to the bank machine and using a credit card to get money, which they then gamble in the casino—but, if they do that, at least they have a breathing space to cool down and think about what they are doing.
28WH I like the idea of resort casinos, but they are successful in the United States because they work on the basis of high turnover and low margins. The gambling industry in this country tends not to work on that model, so those who think that huge resort casinos will be built on the Las Vegas or Nevada models are probably engaging in wishful thinking.
I have a personal concern about the ending of permitted areas: I admit to a vested interest, in that Thanet is a permitted area and would be opened up to considerably more competition if permitted areas were to be abandoned. However, I am also concerned about what we put in place to control the growth of casinos if we do not have permitted areas. Everyone agrees that something has to be put in place, so until someone comes up with a decent idea about what that something is, I suggest that we stick with the permitted areas.
The Minister could implement most of the report's recommendations about casinos through regulation. I do not believe that primary legislation is needed, so he could move forward quickly with the positive recommendations.
The recommendation that many of the machines in seaside arcades should be limited to 18-only areas would completely devastate the atmosphere of the seaside resort. I took my little girl to the arcades when I was on holiday with my family in Torquay—I see some west country colleagues in the Chamber today. My seven-year-old went into many of the arcades on the seafront with her little handful of 2p pieces to play pusher machines—all of which, I was delighted to see, were made in my constituency. It did not have a corrupting effect. She has not become a problem gambler as result—and if she became one in adulthood it would have nothing to do with the fact that she went into an arcade and had an exciting and enjoyable half-hour playing on pusher machines. People play pusher machines not to gamble but to buy time, to buy fun in an atmosphere of lights and excitement and to while away an hour while they are on holiday.
§ Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)
While we are talking about families enjoying the traditional seaside experience, does my hon. Friend agree that many of the businesses that we see along our seafronts, as at Scarborough, have been put together by families? They understand what families want. My hon. Friend referred earlier to blue skies, but sadly, we do not get permanently blue skies, even in places like Scarborough and Whitby. Families can go to arcades and have a good experience at the seaside. That is probably what is at risk as a consequence of the Budd report.
§ Dr. Ladyman
My hon. Friend is right. In Scarborough and Whitby the skies usually are blue, although not quite so often as they are in Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs—but he has made an important point. Arcades provide an all-weather facility for people on their holidays. They are harmless fun and no more than that. It is nonsense to take cranes out of the seaside arcade or to class those small pusher machines, the so-called "penny fall" machines, and the wheel-them-in machines, as gambling that will have a corrupting influence on our youth.
§ Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the particular problem that the 29WH report tries to address is under-18 gambling? What it does not recognise is that holidaymakers come to seaside resorts for only a week, or two weeks, at a time. Does he not agree with the sentiments of one of my constituents, who says that a visit to an arcade is a big part of a family holiday, and an experience that people probably have only while on holiday? How would under-18s become addicted on a one or two-week holiday?
§ Dr. Ladyman
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Budd recognises that fact when he says that fairgrounds should be allowed to have those machines. Travelling fairgrounds can have them because they do not stay in one place for long, so will not corrupt anyone. It is nonsense to suggest that they have a corrupting influence. Economically, such a ban would be pretty much of a disaster.
§ Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)
Clacton-on-Sea is sunny and has very blue skies; it is on one of the best sunshine coasts in the country. I think that we should commend many of the seaside resort arcades for their self-discipline. My arcades in Clacton-on-Sea now have separate areas for adults only, and when children are found in arcades when they should be at school they are sent out and their names are taken. The arcades have strong disciplinary codes, and we should commend them.
§ Dr. Ladyman
My hon. Friend is right. The arcades in my constituency are rigorously policed. Children who play there when they should be at school are sent out. I have seen children trying to get into the over-18 areas; I had thought that operators might turn a blind eye, but that is not the case. I would also be perfectly happy with a recommendation that we use CCTV in such areas to ensure that there are further controls.
The economic impact of the Budd report has been estimated by the Henley centre. The report hints that it would like to review the situation in five years' time and introduce a complete ban on gaming machines in seaside arcades. Without a complete ban, the cost would be £20 million per annum in lost profits and 1,500 jobs. With a ban, the cost would be £117 million in lost profits and 5,000 lost jobs. The loss to the Treasury would be approximately £14 million in licence duties, £51 million in VAT, £29 million from national insurance, and £19 million from rates—a total loss to the Treasury alone of £113 million if the ban were implemented.
I can tell my right hon. Friend that the publication of the Budd report has already cost jobs in my constituency. Some local manufacturers have taken a pessimistic view of the future and allowed staff to go. There is usually a seasonal loss of staff, but that has been exacerbated by the Budd report creating uncertainty in the industry. Nobody will buy pusher machines until they know what my right hon. Friend intends to do.
Before I conclude, I shall refer to some research done by one of my local employers—a company called Crompton's—that sent out survey forms through Coin Slot International magazine to other operators. There were about 500 responses from operators of seaside arcades or family entertainment centres. To the question "Do you think that the proposed changes will affect jobs?", 91 per cent. of companies said yes. To the 30WH question "Do you believe that the public will be entertained enough by just casinos?", 98 per cent. said no. To "Do you currently experience any problems with under 18's?", 81 per cent. said no. To "Do you get more or less families than 5 years ago?", 40 per cent. said that more families were using their premises. If my right hon. Friend is interested, I could let him have the other statistics from the survey. Overall, the industry clearly believes that the Budd report will lead to substantial job losses. The losses have already started to take effect because of the blighting effect of the report, and they will continue until my right hon. Friend feels able to give the industry some comfort.
Will my right hon. Friend consider making a statement in the coming weeks? He could say that if recommendation 43 were accepted, local authorities would not be allowed to introduce changes retrospectively. We are all aware that the control of local authorities changes from time to time, and a new council can have a different attitude to gaming from that of the previous council. My right hon. Friend could make it clear that once an area has been designated for gaming and a business has been built there, the council will not be able to take a retrospective decision to close it down.
Seaside machines—coin-in, coin-out machines, penny falls and cranes—could be treated as trivial amusement-with-prize machines, which is what they are, and my right hon. Friend could make it clear that they will not be attacked, either now or in five years' time.
A snippet in The Times this morning suggests that my right hon. Friend has already decided to exempt social clubs from the Budd recommendations. I am not sure whether that is true, or a misreading of what was said yesterday, but I hope that he will provide the necessary statement in the near future.
My right hon. Friend could also move ahead on making changes to casinos, which do not require primary legislation. He could also break down the Budd report into its separate components and implement each separately on a different time scale rather than handle it all at once.
I can assure my right hon. Friend that if he introduces the Budd recommendations as written, he will be responsible for giving organised crime a fillip and closing down many social clubs and pubs. He will also find it difficult to get a drink anywhere in these islands, and he will be responsible for closing down most of the seaside. I would not like to be the politician responsible for that.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to make these points, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to respond positively to them.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (in the Chair)
Order. Having seen how many hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, I advise the Chamber that it is the usual convention to start the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before the termination of the debate. At least eight hon. Members want to speak, so I appeal to those in the Chamber to keep their remarks pertinent and concise, which will be helpful to me.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)
I shall continue to follow the thinly veiled threat of the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) to the Minister. Regular readers of the Isle of Thanet Gazette and the Thanet Times—that means most people in the Chamber—know that he and I have a reputation for not always agreeing with each other. Indeed, some people say that we never agree with each other. However, I shall not rain on his birthday parade and I take this opportunity, because it is cheaper than buying a stamp, of both wishing him a happy birthday and congratulating him on securing an important debate for seaside towns. I agreed with literally every word of his speech.
As the hon. Gentleman said, two of the country's foremost machine manufacturers are located in Thanet. One is run by Jim Crompton. I think that it was founded by him or his dad, the doyen of the manufacturing business and the inventor of the penny pusher machine. Such companies employ a significant number of local people and many outworkers and contractors use the United Kingdom as the test bed for those machines, which are world brand leaders. Having been tried out and any problems ironed out in the United Kingdom, machines are sent to the far east and other countries where their sales have been massive. They are worth a great deal of money to the local, national and international economy. That such firms are facing serious difficulties is not a state secret. It is happening because of the instability in the industry that has been caused by the Budd report.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the business is suffering acutely from blight. Banks are examining seriously the finances of the companies. They are querying whether they will survive because they wonder whether their customers in the seaside towns of the United Kingdom will survive. The Minister must take that point on board. I am not scaremongering, but if such a serious problem is to be resolved, it must be dealt with now, not in six months or six years. Otherwise, the companies will not survive.
I return unashamedly to the value of the arcades to seaside towns. It is fashionable in some quarters to say that amusement arcades are bad. Lurid pictures of arcades in Piccadilly and rent boys spring to mind. However, in the main, the arcades in Britain's seaside towns are policed well. They are well regulated and operated responsibly. They provide considerable facilities for the holidaymaker in the United Kingdom. God knows that with the tourist industry suffering as it is because of foot and mouth disease and the events on 11 September, we need every facility we have to encourage people to take holidays in the United Kingdom.
It is well known that Thanet seaside towns enjoy 12 weeks of unbridled sunshine throughout the summer months with scarcely a cloud in the sky. However, occasionally there is drizzle and the arcades provide shelter and amusement for people who have nowhere else to go and little to do if it is bucketing with rain. The removal of amusement arcades will destroy the golden mile, the golden half-mile and the golden hundred yards in seaside resorts. Herne bay in my constituency has Cain's amusement arcade. The whole of Margate 32WH seafront is interspersed with amusement arcades, pubs and fish and chip shops. The three are interrelated and killing one kills all three.
Amusement machines with prizes do not constitute a grim gambling den designed to fleece young people of their last four pence of pocket money. They are and were designed to be fun. Remove modest gaming machines and what remains? A few kids could either bring their electronic machines with them or play at home. The vital ingredients of the seaside resort will die.
There are two reasons why the Minister must act quickly to scotch the ill-thought-through elements of the Budd report and reintroduce stability to a vital sector of a vital industry—tourism. The Budd report is not all bad. Those of us with casinos in our towns welcome many of its recommendations on casinos. It is nonsense that someone who joins a club that is a member of a chain of casinos and travels from, say, Margate to Blackpool, must join another club and wait 24 hours before he can use his membership card to game in what is effectively the same establishment. That is rather like saying that a member of affiliated clubs may be a member of Margate Constitutional club or the British Legion club but cannot drink in an affiliated club in another seaside town. That is nonsense. I welcome anything that can be done not to relax the control, responsibility and need to police gambling, but to knock some sense into a nonsensical system, and on that basis I welcome much of what Budd has to say on those issues.
Mr. Cook, you asked us to be brief, and I shall be. I want finally to touch on an issue that I am sure that colleagues in the House will want to mention—the effect that the proposed restrictions on gaming machines are likely to have on clubs. I am sure that we are all, rightly, wearing poppies. I doubt that there is a Member in the House who is not. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are not."] Am I not? I have dropped it. How embarrassing! It has fallen out. All of us should be wearing poppies today.
§ Mr. Gale
I shall borrow the Minister's. It is quite all right. I have bought three, but I shall go and buy a fourth.
All of us have received representations from the Royal British Legion. Most of us will have received representations from Conservative clubs, and one or two will have received representations from Labour and Liberal clubs, too. Social clubs, British Legion clubs and Royal Air Force Association clubs will all suffer immeasurably and possibly, in some cases, to the point of extinction if the measures are implemented. Those are three good reasons why the Minister must act quickly and positively to end the blight and lay the ghost to rest once and for all.
§ Mr. Alan Campbell (Tynemouth)
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on having secured this important debate. I intend to keep my contribution brief.
I, too, welcome the review that the Government have set up. Many of our gaming laws are outdated. It is important to protect children and young people. There is much to commend in the Budd report, but in some instances its conclusions are wrong.
33WH As a representative of the seaside towns in my constituency, I fully endorse the comments that hon. Members have made about seaside towns. However, I shall limit my comments to recommendation 70, which refers to the availability of up-to-£250 jackpot gaming machines in private clubs.
My constituency contains many private clubs, most of which are social clubs or continue to call themselves, in a wonderfully politically incorrect way, working men's clubs, although their membership extends much more widely than that description implies. As hon. Members know, such clubs are an important part of the local community and are to some extent part of the heritage of the north-east. They are not-for-profit organisations, mutual organisations or co-operatives and they are exactly the type of organisation that the Government should encourage, rather than undermine. They play an important role in the market, give choice and variety to consumers, and keep down beer prices in the local economy. In my experience, they are usually well-policed and, indeed, self-policed. Most members of or visitors to clubs would not dare to cross either the secretary or members of the committee. Under-18s cannot become members of clubs, admittance of under-18s is remarkably rare and, anyway, there is a law to deal with under-age drinking on such premises. We must set against that the useful role that clubs play. They often allow over-18s access to an environment in which they can be socialised into moderate consumption and behaviour on licensed premises. Sadly, that is often lacking in our pubs.
Our clubs have a difficult time. They face competition from public houses which can often access investment that is denied to many clubs. Their survival often depends on the local economy and that can fluctuate. There is a longer-term problem of a stay-at-home culture. Wine consumption is rising while beer consumption is falling. That says something about the way in which society is moving. Many of our clubs—and, indeed, pubs—face competition from duty-free imports that are beyond their control. Income from jackpot gaming machines is crucial to the survival of many clubs. They already pay their way in terms of their gaming licence and value added tax. Many clubs welcomed the changes in the 2000 Budget and wonder why they are apparently under threat.
Clubs use profits from gaming machines to keep down beer prices and annual membership subscriptions. However, many spread the benefits of those profits more widely. For example, North Shields Catholic club in my constituency does not operate £250 jackpot machines; it operates £75 jackpot machines, which would be affected if the changes were made. The machines return a profit of between £6,000 and £7,000 per year. Part of that subsidises beer prices, but some returns to the local community to help people suffering from Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis, and people who have received hip replacements. A Friday luncheon club for the infirm is also held.
North Shields Catholic club hosts meetings of the North Shields branch of the North East Pensioners Association. The secretary of that branch said that the clubdo not charge us for the use of the facilities and they are extremely kind to us. They would find it difficult to run the club without the revenue from the bandits and we would be without our meeting place.34WH There we have the matter in a nutshell. The recommendation is to tackle a problem that might not exist; it probably came from someone who had not frequented such clubs and does not understand how they work.
The secretary continued:I cannot understand a Labour Government even contemplating such a move.Quite frankly, neither can I. The Government have the opportunity to avoid making a mistake and I hope that they take it.
§ Mr. Michael Weir (Angus)
I congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on securing the debate. As someone who departed at an unearthly hour from even further north than Edinburgh, I understand how he feels this morning.
I am not a gambler. I have never been to a bookmaker in my life, and I must be one of the few people to visit Las Vegas and not even play a slot machine. However, I have received a substantial postbag about the matter and I dug out the report to allow further investigation. I shall concentrate on the effect on clubs, to which the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) referred. I represent a rural constituency, which is made up largely of small towns and villages. All have sports clubs, pensioners clubs and other clubs and many will be devastated if the proposals are introduced.
The annual accounts for 2000 of a bowling club in a village in my constituency showed a surplus of £3,300. Its gaming machines earned £4,700 and, clearly, if it lost that income, it would be plunged into deficit. That would make it difficult—if not impossible—for the club to survive. It has searched for ways to deal with such a drop in income but if it were to increase its membership fees, many of its members—and, in particular, the elderly ones—would have to leave the club because they would be unable to pay their subscriptions. Falling membership and finances would lead to a cycle of decline, which would be particularly difficult to reverse in a rural area where the pool of potential members is relatively small. If the bowling club fell into that cycle of decline, it might lead to its demise. As the hon. Member for Tynemouth has stated, such clubs provide a focus for many communities and that would be lost, along with many of the other activities that are carried out at such clubs.
I also want to point out that golf clubs in particular, but also other sports clubs, such as cricket clubs—cricket is still played in Scotland—run youth development programmes. If they lost the income from gaming machines, many of them would be put in jeopardy. A golf club in Carnoustie provides a good example. Hon. Members will be aware that golf is very important to the economy of Angus and particularly to Carnoustie. The Scottish Executive is seeking to ensure that every nine-year-old child should have access to the sport of golf within the coming few years, but its work could be put in jeopardy if golf clubs do not have enough money.
I wondered why the Budd report made the recommendations. Its terms of reference state that it wants to secure protection for children and vulnerable 35WH persons, but it also claims that it will take account of the wider social impact of the recommendations and paragraph 1.26 defines what it means by that. It states:We take this as referring not only to the risk of increased problem gambling but also to the broader effect on communities.One such broader effect might be the loss of clubs that have a huge part to play within communities. That would be disastrous for rural areas, many of which are already suffering from the fallout from foot and mouth, as well as from the loss of tourism and the general downturn in agriculture.
The Budd report makes some reasonable recommendations, such as those regarding machines in cafes and taxi offices. Many local authorities have already passed resolutions and taken action, especially in Scotland, to remove such machines from fish and chip shops, cafes and similar premises.
The main basis for the recommendation in respect of clubs appears to be in paragraph 23.38, which states:the 1968 Act does not prohibit children from playing on jackpot machines, and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that they do. We are anxious to ensure that children are not exposed to high stake/high prize machines and our preferred option would be to remove jackpot machines from private clubs.
The reference is to anecdotal evidence, as hon. Members will note and as has already been stated. Nowhere in the report is detailed evidence given. It is a running theme throughout the report that more research is required into gambling and it would be a travesty if clubs were to be decimated on the basis of merely anecdotal evidence.
In many such clubs the chances of youngsters playing the machines are lower than on other premises. The machines are almost invariably located in bar areas where staff are on the look-out for people's ages. The staff in a club are more likely to know their ages and to notice when junior members are attempting to play the machines. I asked about that in a survey of clubs in my constituency and all of them were clear that they had strict rules preventing youngsters from playing the machines. It seems bizarre to crack down on that when anyone over 16 can go into their local supermarket or newsagent and buy as many national lottery scratch cards as they wish. Given the jackpots on those cards, they are much more likely to be addictive than jackpot machines. It also seems slightly strange that we are trying to encourage sport with substantial funds from the national lottery, which is, after all, a form of gambling, while considering a proposal that would severely restrict the funds raised by sports and other clubs.
The proposal has the dubious merit of uniting almost every age group in opposition to it—even those who, like me, previously had no interest in gambling. I accept that gambling can lead to misery and personal ruin for many individuals, but we are not proposing an end to gambling. As has been said, in many ways this argument mirrors the argument about the licensing and sale of alcohol. I appreciate that the consultation process is only just ending and no doubt the Minister has a huge number of submissions to wade through. However, I ask him to take the matter on board, put clubs out of their misery and announce quickly that the recommendation will not be accepted.
§ Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough)
Thank you, Mr. Cook, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this morning's important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on securing it.
There is no doubt that Sir Alan Budd and the other members of the review body were given a difficult task: to modernise the regulation of gambling in the UK. British gambling has long been regarded as among the best in the world, and I hope that when the Government respond to the report, UK gambling will establish itself as the best in the world. I shall confine my remarks to one or two specific recommendations in the report.
This morning, we have heard a travelogue about British shores, primarily the seaside resorts. I should now like to move into the hinterland of south Yorkshire. As every Member knows, the sun shines a lot brighter in Barnsley and Doncaster than in Rotherham and Sheffield.
§ Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South)
In private, one or two Members have said that the Budd report should be shoved where the sun does not shine. That could include my constituency, which is probably the furthest from the coast. Does my hon. Friend accept that there is much concern among clubs and associations in Northampton, whether Royal Navy clubs, working men's clubs or political clubs, that it is estimated that 20 per cent. of those clubs might close if the recommendations are approved?
§ Jeff Ennis
I thank my hon. Friend for making a telling point, with which I concur and on which I would like to enlarge.
I want to speak against the inclusion in the report of recommendation 70. The Minister has already referred to the fact that he received a great deal of representation on the issue. In fact, he referred to 1,500 representations from clubs in his response to an oral question in the House yesterday, and rightly so. Following on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell), I can tell the Minister that my constituency has 41 clubs, many of which depend on jackpot machines for their financial survival. Many of those clubs have written to me and the Minister. Ten years ago, there probably would have been about 80 such clubs, but many of them closed as a direct consequence of the pit closure programme undertaken by a previous Government in the early 1990s. In addition, as a result of changing social habits, people do a lot more of their entertaining at home, rather than in the formal setting of a club atmosphere. The closure rate underlines the great difficulty in surviving, which many clubs face even without the removal of jackpot machines.
Many clubs in former mining communities are not just places to enjoy a drink and have a good night out; they form the heart of many local communities, as has been said. Many clubs support local sports organisations, local dance groups and local music groups. The most famous example in my constituency is the long association between Grimethorpe miners' welfare institute club and the world-famous 37WH Grimethorpe colliery band. Some even act as outreach centres for local colleges, which is an important initiative to help former miners back to work. We should not underestimate the regeneration initiatives that the Government have implemented in, for example, working men's clubs. Many clubs have a children's section that raises money for annual trips to seaside resorts such as Skegness, Bridlington, Scarborough and Whitby.
§ Jeff Ennis
Great Yarmouth is a bit too far away, but we should include Blackpool. We should not underestimate the impact of these initiatives on local mining communities. For many children, the local working men's club trip is their only annual holiday. Likewise, many clubs have an old folks section that raises money for a Christmas party and allocates cash to elderly members to help them enjoy Christmas. Many clubs also support local charities. I attended a recent event held by my own local club—Brierley social club—which raised more than £1,000 for Grimethorpe St. John Ambulance brigade. Many clubs also raise funds for the purchase of special equipment by local hospitals, and for organisations such as Macmillan nurses.
Many clubs are under severe financial pressure. If recommendation 70 is implemented, I guarantee that it will lead directly to the closure of some clubs in my constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Members. I suppose that I should declare an interest: I am a member of the CIU, my father worked as club steward of Brierley British Legion club for more than 25 years and I lived on the premises for at least 10 years before I got married. I know exactly what it is like to be at the centre of a local community.
I know that the Minister will not be able to tell us in his concluding remarks that recommendation 70 is dead and buried, but it would be nice if he could say that we will shortly receive an invitation to its funeral.
I shall deal with the report's other recommendations briefly as I am conscious of time and that other hon. Members want to speak. One main recommendation—to set up a gambling commission as the single regulatory authority to oversee all gambling in the United Kingdom—appears to have been well received by all sections of the gambling industry and I share that view.
Recommendation 103, which would allow betting on the UK national lottery—on which other Members have briefly touched—is a major concern of Camelot. It said in its submission to the review that, if implemented, the recommendation could have a detrimental impact of up to £400 million a year on returns to the Exchequer and to good causes. I do not know whether Camelot is scaremongering, but I am not convinced of the need to allow betting on our lottery. After all, the bookies already have their own numbers game and take bets on the Irish lottery. Camelot says that 20 per cent. of Irish lottery sales have been lost to betting since the provision was introduced in Ireland.
In conclusion, I congratulate Sir Alan Budd and his team on producing an excellent report. It has given us all food for thought, and we eagerly await the Government's response to its recommendations.
§ Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)
I shall try to be brief, but I should first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on securing this debate. I agree with virtually everything that he said—apart from his slightly dismissive attitude towards the concept of resort casinos. In my Blackpool constituency, casinos are seen as providing an enormous opportunity to regenerate the resort.
Like my hon. Friend's constituency, mine already has casinos, amusement arcades and social clubs—the three main types of establishment that will be affected. The recommendation to abolish the 24-hour rule and allow advertising will impact on our existing casinos, but it will also offer the opportunity to develop casinos as a tourism product. The millions of people who visit Blackpool are looking forward to that. The idea enjoys widespread support in the local community, because it could provide many more jobs and regenerate tourism in the town.
However, one or two people have certain reservations, especially with regard to safeguarding the interests of children, young people and—as has been mentioned—those who are addicted to gambling. When my right hon. Friend the Minister considers the proposal, I hope that he will take account of the opportunities and reassure those with genuine concerns so that a balanced response can be reached.
I agree with the comments of all hon. Members on amusement arcades. However, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis), who represents the South Yorkshire hinterland, I must say that the seaside sector is a special case. If one message comes out of the Budd report, it is a lack of understanding of the whole concept of seaside amusement arcades and how much families enjoy visiting them. A recent MORI poll showed that 72 per cent. of people are in favour of, or not opposed to, fruit machines in pubs, clubs and amusement arcades. We must take into account that consensus of opinion.
The amusement arcades that I have visited are careful about how they police their business. They do not want young children coming in and misusing their premises or parents complaining about such behaviour—they want a family atmosphere in which mums, dads and grandparents can have a cup of tea. Although the sun shines for 99 per cent. of the time in Blackpool, hon. Members who have attended party conferences there will realise that it rains occasionally and people visit amusement arcades to benefit not only from the amusements, but from some of the other facilities on offer. Let us appreciate the importance of traditional amusement arcades and the contribution that they make to tourism in seaside towns.
I support everything that has been said about working men's clubs, social clubs, the British Legion and Royal Air Force Association clubs. I have even had a letter from a Conservative club. Everybody is united in the view that the proposals could have a devastating effect on such clubs, which are often the centre of their local communities. The Budd report has good elements—it is a shame that we are concentrating on those with which we disagree—such as recommendations on safeguarding the needs of young people, stricter 39WH enforcement, and monitoring the qualifications of those who work in gaming establishments. However, we must be aware of the dramatic and disastrous effects that it could have on seaside towns and social clubs.
§ 12.3 pm
§ Nick Harvey (North Devon)
I welcome the debate and congratulate the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on securing it. I also welcome the Government's decision to review arcade gambling rules. The Budd report makes some welcome proposals, but it has serious flaws, which I hope that the Minister will deal with in framing his response to it.
The hon. Members for South Thanet and for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) gave useful expositions of the potential impact of the suggested changes on our seaside resorts. I represent Ilfracombe, Woolacombe, Croyde, Combe Martin and Lynmouth, and the points that were made about the interrelationship between arcades and other parts of the tourism industry were correct. We should be wary of embarking on actions that would have knock-on consequences across the tourism industry, which is already seriously ailing, if not reeling.
Gambling is a significant industry, which should be handled with care. It contributes £42 billion a year to UK plc, of which it retains a relatively small £7.3 billion. Although we probably do not like to think of ourselves as a nation of gamblers, 72 per cent. of us have gambled in the course of the past year, with an average expenditure of £3.50 a week.
The overall thrust of the review is welcome—it has a largely deregulatory theme, although it is peppered with some reactionary proposals. I also welcome the fact that it recognises the problem of gambling, calling for more research to be done in that area. It suggests the establishment of a new gambling commission with new and wider powers. That is a welcome proposal, and the commission should take on some of the challenges of addressing the problems of addictive gambling. In a sense, the new body is the Gaming Board in all but name, but it has a wider remit and broader investigative powers. They are welcome, but must be used with caution.
The report also suggests that local authorities should have the power to institute a blanket ban on all or certain types of gambling premises within their area. That would have to be carefully examined. I welcome the idea of local authorities having the discretion to make final decisions, but I think it essential that they should look at all applications and licences on a case-by-case basis, rather than imposing a blanket ban. It would also make sense for the same authority to be dealing locally with gambling, liquor and entertainment licences.
Many hon. Members have rightly referred to the impact that the proposals would have on social clubs. Many of those, from all over the country, have been writing in to us because they often rely on the income that they make from jackpot machines to be economically viable. There is currently no provision for Gaming Board inspectors to have the right to enter private clubs. That may be one reason for the proposals in the Budd report. The police, similarly, have no right of entry unless they have grounds for suspecting that an offence is being committed in the club.
40WH It would make more sense to allow investigations into clubs than to ban the use of the machines altogether. I have communicated in written representations to the Minister my view that private clubs should be allowed to continue to operate jackpot machines on their premises. The stakes on such machines, already relatively high, act as a deterrent to children. The proposed doubling of the stake to a pound would provide a further disincentive. Proposals to allow registered clubs to use all-cash machines as an alternative, as pubs and other licensed premises do, should be examined cautiously.
It is clearly anomalous that the Gaming Board has no right to enter clubs to look into such things. In representations from the pub trade, it has been pointed out that the playing field is not level because pubs are not allowed to have jackpot machines. Minors are rarely, if ever, allowed to enter a pub unaccompanied by an adult, as they are in some clubs. Penalties for those running pubs are considerable if that is found to be happening. If we were simply setting out to have a level playing field, it would make more sense to allow those machines in pubs than to get them out of clubs.
Hon. Members have referred to casinos. Some of the proposals for those are welcome, such as ending the rule on permitted areas, which is long overdue, and repealing the rule on 24-hour membership. However, the idea that employers should be required to obtain a certificate from the Criminal Records Bureau each time a person is promoted or changes employer seems bureaucratic, time-consuming and potentially expensive.
The suggestion that casinos should have a minimum floor size is interesting but, in my view, flawed. The measure would be more useful if it were applied to the total space in the casino rather than just to the table space. I can see that the measure aims to prevent the proliferation of casinos, but it is essentially illiberal. Where demand exists for gaming tables, why should it not be filled, providing that any new facility meets statutory requirements? There was some confusion in that passage of the report. The Government should examine it carefully before arriving at conclusions.
In the short time that I have, I would also like to comment on the proposals on lotteries and the impact that they would have on the national lottery. There are many concerns about the deregulation concerning the rules governing lotteries, especially given the success that the national lottery has had in raising money for good causes. In opening the debate, the hon. Gentleman referred to the PricewaterhouseCoopers estimate that £1.3 billion could be lost annually to good causes. Of all the proposals in the report, that is one of the ones that will have the most profound impact, and the Government must examine it with the greatest caution. Out of every pound spent, the lottery contributes up to 44p to the Government's revenues. I should have thought that they, or at least Treasury Ministers, would think cautiously about that. The national lottery has been an outstanding success, and allowing a proliferation of lotteries, some of which would not be as well run and would have uncertain outcomes and impacts, is potentially dangerous.
I welcome the fact that the Government set out upon the review. The report contains several useful suggestions, but some of them would have a profound and damaging impact on many different areas, not least social clubs and seaside resorts. The Minister will be 41WH unable to show his hand completely, but many people are waiting on tenterhooks for some welcome signs that the Government will pick up the report a la carte, and not take it up lock, stock and barrel.
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on securing this debate—and I wish him many happy returns on his birthday. I also look forward to hearing the Minister conclude what has been a positive debate.
In my view, and in that of the official Opposition, the Budd report is a step in the right direction. We welcome its deregulatory thrust. Moving licences from magistrates courts to local councils would be fine if the Government were simultaneously prepared to issue planning policy guidance to prevent the NIMBY syndrome. Several hon. Members referred to the issue of permitted areas, to which PPG would be pertinent. Many of us with rural constituencies such as those in north Yorkshire find that magistrates courts are few and far between. As for retrospection, we should like to see the removal of retrospective powers.
With jackpot licences, there should be a safeguard for under-18s, but we are concerned that the impact on youths has been insufficiently considered in the Budd report. What specific research have the Government undertaken following the limited consultation process? This is the first major review since 1978, and it is important to put on record the fact that the 1978 review took two years to reach its conclusions; the Budd report has taken only one year.
About 33 million adults in this country—72 per cent. of the population—have participated in gambling in the past year. More than half the population have gambled in the past week—not as high a proportion as in the United States, where 63 per cent. have gambled, or in Sweden, where nine out of 10 adults gamble. The suicide rate is significantly higher in Sweden than in Britain, but I do not know whether we should draw the conclusion that that is a result of the higher incidence of gambling in Sweden.
The Budd report recommends deregulation for adults, which we support, but it also recommends tightening regulations for children, which is why we should like to know about the Government's research.
§ Miss McIntosh
No, I have only eight minutes.
Several hon. Members have expressed their concern about recommendation 70, which is something that I support. In the article in The Times, the Government were reported to have alluded to a possible exemption for social clubs. Perhaps the Minister will put on record today whether that is a leak of Government policy.
I have several questions for the Minister. If he cannot reply to them today, perhaps he will be able to respond in writing. The idea of a single regulator in the form of a gambling commission is welcome, but will he respond to hon. Members who have raised questions about fruit machines in pubs? My experience is that they are an 42WH accepted institution in pubs and places of leisure, and I question the Government's assessment of the impact of their removal on pub incomes. That could have a dramatic impact in seaside towns and rural constituencies.
On the question of seaside amusements, can the Minister say what impact has been estimated in areas particularly hard hit by the collapse of tourism? No one has yet mentioned the recommendation, which, I suggest, will be difficult to police. How will the Government ask police to prevent people under 18 from gambling on the internet? The recommendation is that operators should prevent such gambling, but how can age be proved online? As for the licensing of premises and the role of local authorities, I repeat that we believe that it is right for local councils to be the planning authority, subject to the removal of blanket retrospection and to the Government's agreeing to issue planning policy guidance.
I do not believe that retrospection is in keeping with the broadly regulatory thrust of the Budd report. Budd's proposals for casinos would permit the development of resort casinos. As a result, will Harrogate or Edinburgh become the Las Vegas of the north? The report states that whether a particular location should be granted a monopoly right to provide a gambling centre is a matter of public policy and outside Budd's terms of reference. Can the Minister indicate the Government's thoughts on such a public policy matter? Can he also tell us what impact the more liberal and less regulated market envisaged by the report will have on Camelot as the national lottery operator?
I am immensely grateful to the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) for placing on record the impressive contribution, particularly to good causes, made by the national lottery, which was set up by the last Conservative Government. Has the Minister assessed whether that contribution could be jeopardised by the Budd conclusions? Will the Government consider publishing a White Paper on their proposals for legislative change before introducing a Bill? I ask that because the Budd report has been concluded in just over one year. More than 200 memoranda of evidence were received and there were 20 sessions of all evidence, but there has been no pre-consultation period prior to the Budd report, so it is incumbent on the Government to offer a White Paper. That would be welcome indeed.
On seaside gambling and section 34(1) machines, we urge the Minister to put Budd to one side and leave the law as it stands, pending further research into child gambling, and the implications for change in seaside tourism that we have heard about this morning. Will the Minister see fit to amend the law to prohibit those under 18 from playing section 34(5)(e) and section 31 machines, wherever situated? The official Opposition support the proposals for deregulation of casinos generally, but in the context of casinos' no-minimum-stake, no-maximum-prize machines, will the Minister undertake to review the impact on attitudes to casino expansion, and other gambling premises? I agree to the licensing by local councils, subject to the withdrawal of blanket retrospection and the issuing of planning policy guidance. We await the Minister's response with bated breath.
§ The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) on securing the debate, which is part of the on-going process of consultation; hon. Members' contributions this morning have been very helpful to me, and to my officials. The comments have been objective—slightly more objective than weather forecasts in the United Kingdom. I wish my hon. Friend many happy returns and I will see him in the bar later.
The fact that so many hon. Members are present and that they have argued so forcefully shows the concerns felt in their constituencies. It is not in our interest for industries, whether they are in manufacturing or tourism, to be damaged by Government action.
The 1978 royal commission was mentioned, but the last real review of gambling was in the 1960s, and things have changed dramatically since then. Although the debate has rightly focused on specific issues, we are discussing an industry that is worth tens of billions of pounds and makes a major contribution to the nation's well-being and enjoyment. We want to ensure that we get things right.
Several changes since 1960 have forced the review. The internet and interactive television are increasingly important gambling media throughout the world. There is a much bigger picture to consider, and I give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), for taking the initiative in setting up the important gambling review when he was a Minister.
My Department is responsible for the gambling industry; it is a major and well-respected employer and we must ensure that its integrity is maintained when we consider legislation. As the Budd report reflects, with the introduction of the national lottery, gambling has become a mainstream recreation and leisure activity, rather than being seen as rather seedy. We must be careful how we approach the issue, and take account of all the risks involved. The debate has focused on the Budd report, the risks of deregulation, problem gambling and young people's access to gambling machines.
No one has argued that there should not have been a review; indeed, the prospect of a review was broadly welcomed. Sir Alan and his colleagues took evidence from a wide range of people. We published the report in July and asked for comments, and we shall take the points made in the debate into consideration.
The consultation ended on 31 October. We received more than 2,000 comments, which we are going through carefully, and I am mindful of what has been said today. We considered the experience of countries where the laws were changed—Australia, for example—and where fundamental mistakes were made, as it is difficult to claw back if there are errors. We must be cautious and prudent as we proceed.
Blight is a strong word, but as I said when I was at the Department of Trade and Industry, uncertainty is an expensive commodity in business. I still believe that, and I will try to apply the principle of getting decisions made as quickly as possible. We intend to review all the responses, and I hope that we will be able to make some announcements early in the new year about how to take the process forward. I am mindful of what has been said 44WH today, and we must get the Government's position clear. There will be further discussions about that, including more Adjournment debates and questions in the House, which is right. When we come to a decision, we will then have to find out how we can manage the change and see it through.
I cannot answer many of the questions—indeed, I would not answer them, even if I could. I have asked people to examine the Budd report, which is a serious piece of work that took a lot of time to take evidence and come to conclusions. We respect those conclusions and want them to be debated properly. Equally, we want to ensure that we go through the process thoroughly, in the knowledge that there are industries that want us to do that as expeditiously as possible. I assure hon. Members that we will do that. There are many and varied ways in which we can manage through change. It does not all have to come as one big bang, and after we have made our decisions, we will think about a management strategy for delivery.
§ Ms Ward
Will the Minister examine the age at which gambling can take place? At the moment the age limit is 16 for the national lottery, but the proposals would maintain 18 as the limit for every other form of gambling. Will he consider that carefully, discuss with other Departments the need to review the age at which people attain their right to gamble, and decide whether to reduce that universally to 16?
§ Mr. Caborn
Several people raised that question in their submissions for consultation, and it will be part of the review.
We have had many representations. Of the 2,000 representations, about 1,500 were about gaming machines, especially the recommendation that members clubs, including sporting, social, community and political clubs, should no longer be allowed to install jackpot slot machines. I have a vested interest, as I am a member of the CIU. Four of its secretaries met me one Sunday evening in my club, the Sheffield Trades and Labour club—but I can assure hon. Members that they were not there to buy me drinks. I took their points and told them that they could make representations via the Ministry, and that if they wanted to put their thoughts in writing rather than verbally, it would be helpful. They did not resort to the vernacular.
§ Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)
The 1,500 clubs that have written to the Minister are emphatic in assuring him, and our Government, that they are capable of policing gaming machines in their own clubs. I speak as the acting chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on non-profit-making clubs. There are 200 members from this House and the House of Lords, and the Minister will know that they are all urging him to drop recommendation 70.
§ Mr. Caborn
I am aware of those representations, and we take them on board. We do not want to do anything that would affect the social infrastructure of the surrounding areas. I told the House yesterday that about £250 million goes into clubs' finances, according to the information that has been passed to us.
Slot machines in pubs and other licensed premises are at present allowed a maximum prize of £15. The gambling review body recommended that members' 45WH clubs and pubs should both be limited to machines with a maximum prize of £25. Underlying that recommendation was the review body's serious concern that the present law does not sufficiently protect children and vulnerable people in relation to gambling machines. I accept what has been said this morning, and we will examine the matter seriously. If the clubs took steps to ensure that concerns were met, that would be extremely helpful for the Government in reaching a decision.
As a result of evidence from this country and overseas, the review body vas worried that gaming machines potentially involved a hard form of gambling with addictive characteristics. It noted that most countries do not allow children to play slot machines. As far as I know, we are the only country in the western world that allows young people to play slot machines, even at the seaside. That is a characteristic of the UK and something that we have to take—
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (in the Chair)
Order. I regret that I must bring this important debate to an end, but I have no alternative. We now move to the next debate.