HC Deb 13 March 1997 vol 292 cc276-7W
Mr. Hargreaves

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on casino deregulation. [20446]

Mr. Kirkhope

The information is as follows:

The Deregulation (Casinos Order) 1997

I am pleased to report implementation of the first deregulation changes to the casino regime since the 1968 Act.

Following approval by Parliament on 6 March, I made the Deregulation (Casinos) Order, which comes into force on 3 April.

This will allow casinos in England and Wales to provide alcohol after midnight, until 3 am in London, and 2 am elsewhere.

In casinos in Great Britain, it also reduces from 48 to 24 hours the waiting period before new members may take part in the gaming.

The Deregulation (Debit Cards) Order 1997

The order has now been cleared by the Deregulation Committees and awaits parliamentary approval. It would allow acceptance of payment by debit cards.

The Second Casino Consultation

Advertising, group and postal membership and slot machines:

Following initial consultation earlier in 1996, we went out to consultation on 12 November on a package of measures to relax certain other controls on the operation of casinos. The proposals were as follows: Relax the total ban on advertising to allow casinos to give their name, address, telephone number and limited factual information about their facilities in non-national publications, including newspapers and magazines; Allow group membership and postal applications; Permit a maximum of three slot machines per gaming table subject to a discretion for the licensing justices to substitute a lower number on grounds of demand and suitability of the premises; There would be a power to regulate the size of stakes and prizes, although this would not be used initially; Make a number of detailed requirements including certification of manufacturers and agents by the Gaming Board and a monitoring and testing regime.

There was broad support for the advertising proposals. A few organisations were against any relaxation in the controls. However, this is a very modest relaxation, allowing casinos merely to give out information about themselves. I do not believe that necessary protection for the public would be removed by this measure.

Most respondents also supported the proposals for group membership and postal applications. A few were opposed but most were content with the detailed safeguards proposed.

We will prepare draft proposals in the form of a deregulation order.

I am still considering the more extensive proposals for slot machines in casinos. Some concerns have been expressed about the nature of such machines. However, they are common in casinos throughout the world, usually in substantially greater numbers than we propose. But I consider that such machines must be strictly regulated. More detailed work would be required on the technical specification, monitoring and other arrangements before we could introduce legislation. We will continue our discussions with the Gaming Board and the industry.

Permitted areas

We proposed to allow casinos in 21 new locations, including London docklands and a special category of seven conference towns.

Outside London, most of the proposed new areas attracted support or neutrality from their local councils and reasonable support from other local interests. I propose to remove Peterborough from the list; its council remained opposed and there was also significant other local opposition.

In the London area, most local authorities have welcomed our proposals. Slough is considering its position. I am in further contact with Croydon council, which has recently sought more information about the implications of permitted area status and its role in the regulatory regime for casinos.

I have taken account of representations in favour of greater casino provision in east London. In addition to Dartford and Redbridge, I intend to designate a permitted area within docklands, which will put it on a par with other urban development areas within Great Britain.

On the basis of up-to-date information provided by the British Association of Conference Destinations, I propose to add Milton Keynes and Weston-super-Mare to the category of conference towns to be designated as permitted areas.

I also propose to redefine existing permitted areas to reflect local authority boundary changes.

The changes that I wish to make could be implemented by secondary legislation. Before any new areas are introduced, however, I will need to address the resource, timing and other practical implications.