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12.20 pm

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): I support the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) on pyramid gifting schemes; they are scams, as the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) pointed out, and should be outlawed. I also ally myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso): we shall want to follow up the matter and as a fellow member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport I hope that we will receive a memorandum on it. We may not be able to include it in the current report, but we may be able to issue it as an addition.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate and look forward to the proposed Bill, which I hope will be introduced soon.

We must realise that gambling is an industry and that the people employed in it play an important part in their local economy. Gambling is also a modern leisure pursuit. As our disposable income has increased, we have started to see gambling in a different light. Shopping is now a leisure pursuit, enjoyed by many, many people—it even forms part of the tourism industry; but just because some people, unfortunately, become shopaholics, we would not attempt to ban it—nor should we react to gambling in that way. However, there are serious concerns about addiction that we must take on board.

We need modern legislation to simplify the rules and regulations so that they can be easily understood. I was especially glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport said that modernisation would go hand in hand with protection. We cannot have one without the other and I strongly support calls for both.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) talked about modern betting shops. That reminded me that when I was a small child my grandfather used to visit an illegal betting shop in the back close of a rundown building near our house. It was common knowledge that the police arrested only the young men—the bookies paid the fines—while the elderly gentlemen were ushered out and went off to a friendly local house for a cup of tea until the bookie could open up again a couple of hours later. What a huge change we have seen since then. It is great that people feel that they can take part in gambling and, as has been pointed out, women are also able to participate. I welcome those changes.

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I want to speak first on the role of local authorities. I disagree with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross: local authorities have an extremely important role to play in local life, and I disagree with the claim that the Government have removed powers from local government. I was involved in local government throughout the entire former Conservative Administration and I could spend all day listing the powers that they removed from local government. I shall not bore the House by doing so, but remind hon. Members that the Government are beginning to change their attitude to local government. In certain parts of Scotland, they are considering giving local government powers of general competence—I should like to see that happening throughout the country.

It is absolutely crucial for local government—all local authorities—to bring its local knowledge to bear on local issues. I sat on a licensing board where we granted and removed liquor licences, and local knowledge was crucial. That board also gave members of the local community an opportunity to express their views. I have no qualms about saying that local councillors are crucial to such communication. Their role is absolutely right.

Sometimes the board was tempted by the people who applied for a licence. A local butcher came before us, saying that he thought it would be very appropriate to be able to buy a bottle of wine at his butcher's shop. He said, "Wouldn't it be nice if you were on your way home one evening and you thought, 'I will go into the butcher's and buy a really nice piece of fillet steak'"—Scottish fillet steak, of course—"and then I could offer you a piece of passion cake and a bottle of claret?" I do not know whether that was intended as a bribe to board members, but we reminded him that we thought that the right shop was called a supermarket. That undermined his argument about a one-stop butcher's shop.

Local democracy is crucial to the role of local government, which places a democratic overlay on the decision-making process. All aspects of gambling should be subject to local government control.

I am sure that we all share the concerns that have been expressed to me about the misery that gambling addiction can cause. Particular concerns have been raised about online gambling and the use of credit cards. I understand that it is very difficult to control such gambling, but we must try to find ways to help those who get into trouble. However, the industry must contribute more towards offering help and counselling to those who get into difficulties.

Children must be protected, and I look forward to reading what the Bill says about that, but I have no doubt that responsible parents always ensure that any gambling is done responsibly. We all gambled at the seaside—it was part of our holiday—but I accept that we need clear rules and clear statements about which machines children may use. As a former teacher, I know that children gamble on everything, from a game of marbles to football. It is harmless fun to them and they do not know that they are gambling. How that impacts on their home and whether it leads to addiction is absolutely unknown; no research is available. Some well-founded research would be very welcome to help inform any future debate on that issue.

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It would gain the industry a great deal of credit if it were willing to support some independent well-founded research on the issue.

On gaming machines, like every other Member of the House, I was inundated with letters from various clubs. My constituency has several social clubs and a couple of miners' welfare clubs, which do tremendous work in the local community in support of local charities. The local communities would be completely undermined if those clubs could not have gaming machines on their premises. Therefore I was delighted when the Minister said that he would respond positively to their representations and that the Government would continue to allow them to have gaming machines. We would all welcome that.

I welcome the Government's response to the review. Like other hon. Members, I do not consider myself a gambler, but I do buy lottery tickets, and like every other Member of Parliament I cannot possibly refuse to buy raffle tickets at all the local events to which we are invited. However, I was once forced to take part in a very important piece of gambling that was not seen as gambling, when I had to cut cards with the leader of the opposition in a hung council to see who would be the provost—or in English terms, the mayor—of the town for four years. I drew the king of diamonds, at which point there was silence throughout the room, until the leader of the then opposition drew the eight of clubs. As a result of that act of gambling, I had to chair a hung council for four years.

Mr. Goodman: Could the hon. Lady tell us which were trumps?

Rosemary McKenna: Well, I think that I came up trumps.

Gambling can take many different forms and, very often, people do not realise that they are gambling, because in many circumstances it can be harmless fun. I look forward to the Bill.

12.30 pm

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I apologise to the House for being slightly late this morning. I took a gamble on public transport that did not pay off.

I want to declare that although I have gambled many times, I have never won until recently, when, like the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Rosemary McKenna), I took part in a raffle. However, I discovered that one of the difficulties of being a Member of Parliament is that one is not allowed to win the raffle and that, if an MP wins the raffle, he or she has to give back the prize.

We have been presented with an interesting and very good set of proposals. I want to begin by quoting paragraph 7.1 of "A safe bet for success", which the Government have published. It states:

Well, there we are. That is a very handsome statement by the Government, who are about to ban tobacco advertising and have imposed all sorts of restrictions in a massive exercise on alcohol, travelling by motor car and all sorts of other pleasures, but no one could call this a nannying

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or puritan measure. In the words of the casino industry, that statement could have been written by the casino industry, or so we are told.

We have the prospect of a significant change to our landscape and culture. As I look ahead and as I read the report and the Government's response, I seem to see neon strips flashing away, cocktail dresses and all manner of things like that. You and I will be able to walk in off the street into one of these new casinos, Mr. Deputy Speaker, without membership—we will not have to be members for 24 hours before we slap down our credit cards on the bar and get lots of chips. Alcohol will be provided, and there will be live entertainment of all kinds.

It is possible to imagine that, in the near future, some of our duller seaside towns will answer to the description of fleshpots. Frankly, I welcome that. If that is the intention, it is perhaps not wholly uncivilised. I think it unlikely, however, that all these new casinos will be cultivated places, full of black-tied croupiers and James Bond-style girls, draping themselves over people's shoulders as they go into the final rubber with Le Chiffre, playing vingt et un. They will not all be high-class establishments.

It is more likely that there will be a great profusion of establishments with wall-to-wall, winking one- eyed—[Interruption]—one-armed bandits. [Interruption.] Possibly one-eyed, too, and people will robotically feed coins into the slots in a state of narcosis, as that is the prevailing experience of places with such liberalisation, such as Las Vegas, which I have not visited, or Surfers Paradise in Australia.

That is why I very much agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) and several other hon. Members about the necessity to have a strong regulatory framework, and why the policing of this proliferation of new establishments must be very careful. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who reminded us of how gambling went wrong in the 1960s. If we are to see an expansion, it is important that we should control it and be very careful. Let us be in no doubt that there will be a great increase in gambling. The Government will raise much more revenue from gambling, but there is also a risk that more low-life types will be associated with it, and that there will be more money laundering as well as all the other criminal problems that have been mentioned.

I stress that I do not disapprove of gambling. I welcome the Government's cavalier, romantic approach to the subject. I echo the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe about education in risk. Gambling is a valuable utensil of public education. That point could also have been adduced in the earlier statement, which you did not hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the MMR debate. The public have been stampeded away from using the MMR vaccine by a false appreciation of the public risks involved—that may be a heterodox view from the Conservative Benches. Consequently, we run the risk of a measles outbreak.

Understanding risk is important not just for public health policy but for capitalism. It is integral to capitalism. How did the late Jimmy Goldsmith make his first fortune? He bunked off school one afternoon and went to Windsor races. It is important that people understand, contrary to the title of the Government's response, that there is no

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such thing as a safe bet, as those who follow the stock markets and who are worried about their pensions will appreciate. On the other hand, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

It would be a great shame if the proposed measures did anything to damage the viability of bingo parlours. I recently played bingo for many hours in south London, wholly unsuccessfully. It struck me as a game not just of chance but of considerable skill. It was played in an atmosphere of great charm and conviviality, and it would be a shame if, through any of the proposed measures, hard gambling were introduced into those very nice parlours. I hope that that will not be the case. I am reassured by some of the remarks that I have heard from bingo associations that they think that will not be the case. I notice, however, that the Government's intention is to liberalise bingo parlours.

I am baffled by the proposal to reduce not just the stakes but the prizes available to those of us who enjoy playing the crane machines in seaside arcades. If, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you had spent a considerable amount of time trying to win a prize on one of those very difficult machines by grabbing a watch or a fluffy toy, you should be entitled, at the end of all of that, to a seriously up-market fluffy toy worth up to £8, or to a watch that will last for more than a year. I see no reason why the Government are cutting the maximum value of those prizes to £5—it is pointless nannying. I hope that the Minister will tell us why they are doing that, and why they intend not to do it after all.

With that serious criticism, I generally welcome the provisions outlined in the Government's response. I prefer to take a punt on it.

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