Select Committee on Deregulation Fourth Report


Appendix 3

Exchange of letters between the Acting Clerk of the Deregulation Committee and the Home Office

Letter from the Acting Clerk of the Deregulation Committee to the Home Office (dated 6 April 2001)

Proposal for the Deregulation (Bingo and Other Gaming) Order 2001

The Deregulation Committee of the House of Commons began its consideration of the above proposal last week, immediately after the proposal was laid. Following more detailed scrutiny of the papers submitted, including the responses to your consultation exercise, I am now instructed to raise a small number of questions with you.

1.  Proposal 1: Notification of charges: The Committee has noted the contention of the Home Office that "The notification requirement has been found to serve no useful purpose", and that consultees have generally supported this view.

The Committee would nonetheless be grateful for an explanation of why the provision was originally inserted in section 14 of the 1968 Act - what protection did the original provision seek to secure, and why is that protection no longer thought necessary?

2.  Proposal 2: Mix of gaming machines: GamCare in their submission welcomed the Code of Conduct agreed between the Gaming Board and the Bingo Association regarding the admission of minors so long as it is "effectively carried out". The Explanatory Document states that the Code of Conduct "should act as an effective safeguard against the use of gaming machines in bingo clubs by children and young people" and refers to the fact that there should be "notices and staff training to ensure that this is adhered to".

The Committee is concerned about the need to retain proper protection for children and young people, particularly in view of GamCare's claim that "some operators have been negligent in excluding children from gambling areas".

The Committee would therefore welcome rather more information about how the Code of Conduct is intended to be policed and enforced, and what if any will be the consequences or penalties for those concerned if it is not so enforced, including those clubs which are not members of the Association and therefore not party to the Code of Conduct.

3.  Consultation: The Committee note that only about a quarter of those consulted responded to the consultation exercise, and that all were generally supportive of all three proposals. The Committee are somewhat concerned however that the consultation paper does not seem to have been issued to organisations with a specific concern for the interests of children and young people (such as the YMCA, the teaching unions or social services departments) and seems to have been issued to only what appears to have been an arbitrary selection of church and other religious organisations (eg neither the Church of England, nor organisations representing minority faiths, appear to have been consulted) which might also have concerns in this area. The Committee note also the concern of the Police Federation about both young people and other vulnerable groups (such as the aged) "who may well be tempted to gamble beyond their, in some cases, meagre means".

The Committee would be grateful for an explanation of the rationale behind the original list of consultees and for information about what steps if any have been taken to ascertain the views of religious organisations and organisations concerned with the welfare of children and young people, and the aged, who were not part of the formal consultation procedure.

Future changes in the law: The Deregulation Committee has previously expressed its concern about what appears to be the piecemeal approach of the Home Office to the reform of licensing and gambling law by means of the 1994 Act procedure, a concern raised by some of the consultees in this exercise (such as Camelot). The Committee also note that a further consultation (under Regulatory Reform Act procedures) has been commenced in relation to Gaming Machines: Methods of Payment.

The Committee would welcome an explanation of why the Home Office consider these relatively small changes to be of sufficient importance to be proceeded with ahead of the outcome of the wider review of gaming and gambling (due, we understand, to report in autumn 2001), and whether this piecemeal approach is likely in the long run to contribute to greater coherence and clarity in this area of the law.

I would be grateful for a reply to this letter (by e-mail or fax if necessary) not later than Tuesday 24 April.

I am copying this to the Clerk of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in the House of Lords, and to the Regulatory Impact Unit.

Letter from the Home office to the Acting Clerk of the Deregulation Committee (dated 24 April 2001)

Proposal for the Deregulation (Bingo and other Gaming) Order 2001

Thank you for your letter of 6th April.

Question 1

2.  The Committee has posed four questions. First, it asks about the original purpose of section 14(4)(b) of the Gaming Act 1968, which the draft Deregulation Order seeks to repeal.

3.  Section 14(4)(b) requires bingo clubs to give the licensing authority 14 days notice of changes in their charges to players. Our understanding from the official Notes on Clauses to the 1968 Act is that it was intended 'partly by way of information ¼.. partly to facilitate enforcement and to inhibit too frequent alterations' in the charges. That may have reflected concern about clubs possibly levying arbitrary or excessive charges on players. However the licensing authority does not have, and never has had, any power to amend bingo clubs' charges to players or to delay changes to them.

4.  The charges to players are of two kinds — charges for admission, and charges for playing the game. Bingo clubs must display these charges to players on the premises and at the point where the charge is made, in other words at or near the principal entrance, in the case of the entry fee, and at the main pay-point or points inside the club, in the case of the charges for playing the game.

5.  The Committee will find these requirements set out in the Gaming Clubs (Hours and Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 2000 (SI No 899), made under sections 14 and 51 of the 1968 Act. These Regulations also set out the maximum fees which clubs can charge to players. As we have explained in our consultation document on this draft Order (paragraphs 2.2 to 2.4) the arrangements for these charges which are set out in last year's Regulations are considerably simpler than those which applied before.

6.  We consider that the Regulations provide adequately for enforcement. In practice, clubs rarely if ever impose the maximum charges which the Regulations allow. But if some club were to exceed these limits, that would quickly become apparent on routine inspection by the Gaming Board, even if it had not already been detected by the players themselves. The Board would then require that the club reduce its charges — if it declined to do so, then it would be acting unlawfully and the future of its licence under the Gaming Acts would be at issue.

7.  The Home Office takes the view that it is not the role of the law to 'inhibit too frequent changes' in the charges which clubs make. That must be a matter for their own commercial judgement, so long as the charges which they are making on any particular occasion are — as the law requires — made apparent to players. It will then be for the players themselves to decide whether they want to pay these charges.

8.  Consultation has revealed no objections to our proposal to repeal section 14(4)(b). The Gaming Board have told us that licensing authorities throughout Great Britain rarely if ever make use of the information which 14(4)(b) requires clubs to supply to them.

Question 2

9.  The Committee have asked for more information about the Code of Conduct agreed between the Gaming Board and the Bingo Association which requires that any under-18's who are allowed into bingo clubs are not permitted to use any gaming machine.

10.  This requirement was added to the Code of Conduct last year, following discussions between the Board and the Association. The Association, which represents about 75% of all licensed clubs, told its members about the change in July 2000 and has since disseminated it to them by way of changes to the Code as printed in its Bingo Managers' Handbook.

11.  The Code of Conduct applies to all bingo clubs whether members of the Association or not. Gaming Board Inspectors police the requirements of the Code as part of their routine inspections of all bingo clubs and they would bring them to the notice of any operator who did not comply with them.

12.  As our consultation document explains (paragraph 3.15) the law does not prevent people under 18 from entering a bingo club or from playing gaming machines there (though they may not play bingo). In practice, most bingo clubs do not admit under-18's to their premises at all, but there is currently no statutory bar to their allowing children to play on gaming machines.

13.  To that extent, the introduction of the requirement in the Code of Conduct represents a clear advance over the situation which existed previously. The Home Office welcomes it as such even though it has no statutory force.

14.  The part of the bingo industry most at risk of non-compliance with this aspect of the Code is clubs in holiday camps, where there will always be a lot of children in the vicinity by the very nature of the site. We understand from the Gaming Board that their inspectors have not since the agreement come across any examples of children playing gaming machines in bingo clubs, either at holiday camps or anywhere else.

Question 3

15.  Question 3 asks about the rationale behind the list of consultees, in particular about consulting religious organisations and groups concerned with the welfare of children, young people, and the aged.

16.  The recipients to whom we sent the consultation document on its publication on 6 November 2000 included the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility, the Baptist and Methodist Churches, the Salvation Army, the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Scottish Churches Council. At the end of November we also sent copies to the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the Board of Mission of the Church of Wales, and the United Reformed Church National Synod of Wales.

17.  The Committee are right to point out that we did not specifically consult representatives of other faiths, although the document was published on our website. The responses which we received included only one from a religious group (the United Reformed Church National Synod of Wales) and wider consultation might have produced others.

18.  Our consultation list did not contain any organisations specifically concerned with the welfare of children or the elderly. But the impact of gambling opportunities on these groups—especially children and young people—is an issue on which some of those whom we did consult, for instance GamCare, Dr Sue Fisher, and the Society for the Study of Gambling, are leading commentators.

19.  Our proposals do not include any diminution of the controls on young people and gambling.

Question 4

20.  The Committee asks why the Home Office considers that the changes in the draft Order are important enough to be proceeded with ahead of the completion of the current overall Review of gambling controls. It also asks whether amending successive parts of the legislation by Deregulation Order in this way is likely to improve the coherence and clarity of the law.

21.  We anticipate that the overall review of the controls, chaired by Sir Alan Budd, will report to the Home Secretary within the next few weeks. As we have said in our consultation document, the Government considers that the proposals in the current draft Order are justified on their merits and that they will not cut across the work of the Review. They will result in immediate benefits for the bingo industry, and need not await the enactment of comprehensive legislation on gambling in the light of Sir Alan Budd's report. The draft Order will also remove an entirely unnecessary and redundant administrative burden from licensing authorities.

22.  Of the three changes proposed in the draft Order, one (the repeal of Section 14(4)(b) of the Gaming Act 1968) will in our view simplify the law. Another (the amendments proposed to section 1(1)(c) of the Gaming (Bingo) Act 1985) will have no effect on complexity— its effect is to turn references to a 'prize' into references to a 'prize or prizes'.

23.  The third proposal in the Order will make a substantial change to the Gaming Act 1968, in particular to its section 32. The provisions about gaming machines in Part III of the 1968 Act, including Section 32, are already difficult to follow and we would not argue with the Committee's proposition that this change adds a further layer of complexity to the statute book.

24.  But we think that this is justified in the circumstances. While the statute book itself may be more difficult to follow, the overall effect of the law will not be.


 
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